The Further Adventures of Miss Hyacinth Hunter

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Last month we published some extracts from letters written home to her family during 1917 by Miss Hyacinth Hunter, a spirited young ASC driver seconded to the Royal Arsenal at Woolwich. By courtesy of the RCT Transport Section at Aldershot we are able to follow up these extracts from letters which the driver’s daughter allowed them to publish in The RCT Review. We left Miss Hunter bemoaning the fact that she had been put back on a Ford, while her Studebaker was being overhauled. This seems to have been the beginning of a bad time for her, because she was involved in a number of accidents before 1917 was over. Driving someone else’s car, she was run into at right angles by a horse and cart, at Hackney. The shaft of the cart winded her, the horse fell down but got up, with only a slight cut over its eye, and the car’s horn was damaged:”I bandaged it up with my hanky and drove on”.

Alas, on the way back that same day, returning in the dark, Miss Hunter ran into a pair-horse van when doing about 25 m.p.h. across Blackheath. The Ford suffered a smashed radiator and bonnet and two of its lamps were damaged; one horse cut its mouth but the van went scot-free. A “nice sailor-man who said he heard the crash right across Blackheath” arrived and lent Miss Hunter his notebook, for taking particulars. She then had to sit for 1 1/2 hours waiting for the tow-car, which nearly went on fire it got so hot — Model-T transmission bands, perhaps?

The damaged car was soon back on the road but, her own being in dock, Miss H was put on a Ford van, “a beastly thing to drive”. She had a straight run of about 20 miles to do, from Hampstead to Croydon, “rather nice over the Heath”, getting back in the dark. Was this in connection with arming aeroplanes, one wonders? Then came a “6-o’clock Ministry” run, with a puncture on the way, but a helpful Captain and an unhelpful messenger in the car. The fog was so dense on the way back that “Major Donelly had to walk in front, across the Heath . . . we met another car doing the same thing”.

Another accident happened late in November. When corning home at 8 p.m. in London Miss H came upon a column of soldiers, unlit. She “banged on the brakes and swerved”, from about 20-25 m.p.h., which caused her to skid in among the men, and a ‘bus coming towards her to go onto the pavement, putting its radiator through a fence, after the car had “caught it an awful biff”. The squeals of the passengers made Miss H laugh. The car had a broken spring and the ‘bus no steering, so there they remained, until help arrived. Its indicative of how many Fords driven by girls were then passing to and fro, that again one of the Arsenal cars came by and sent for the breakdown-crew. The messenger Miss H had been driving thought he was hurt and nearly fainted. He was a friend of her “Uncle Bob”, provoking the comment: “I think Uncle Bob should have more discretion in selecting his friends!” This accident pointed to the dangers of men marching unlit and the cars having no headlamps. Miss H thought the lesson would have been learned but one remembers a very sad case of some cadets being run down under similar circumstances, long after that war . . . Another girl had run over a sailor, in the dark.

However, the car was soon going again and its young driver had a “topping run” out to Waltham Abbey, some 20 miles. Her front number plate hadn’t been refitted but she “easily disposed of” the two policemen who stopped her. The girls had been served with sleeveless leather jerkins, “great thick Tommy’s things, awfully nice”, contrasting with the “silk panjams” she bought “at Deb’s”. On Dec. 10th bombings were reported, two falling outside the RA Mess, and all its windows and those of the Garrison Church and the theatre roof being damaged. At St. Pancras there was much damage and people were looking at the bomb craters. The guns were deafening and shrapnel fell on the roof of the girls’ hostel.

Leaving out a long account of the ASC drivers’ New Year’s Eve dance at the Grafton Galleries, we find the Ford “going like a train; I do about 60 miles a day in the beastly thing”. They expected to have all Fords by the New Year. The Section was inspected by their Major and much praised and when Winston Churchill came to F77 to present a bravery medal, Miss H convoyed him in a Ford, with old Sir Percy Lake sitting beside Winston. “They made enough fuss of that little pasty-faced cub as they would have of the King.” Little could she have foreseen the future!

Wearing a most racy fur-lined flying cap, Miss H next reports a “topping run out to Rochester through nice country lanes” but later she broke down near the Crystal Palace and had to be towed in, a girl-friend to whom she was giving an illicit lift hopping onto a ‘bus before Staff arrived and towed her home at an alarming 20 m.p.h. average — the mud obscured her windscreen and made it very skiddy but “I only ran over the tow-rope once”. The girls’ weekly Mess bills in those days came to 7/6d., but some complained. . . .

Miss H was now back on her Studebaker but a tinkling proclaimed its death-knell, so it was back to Fords. The Studebaker had had steering so stiff that she could not pull the wheel round and it was potentially dangerous. Punctures were another snag. In one day 15 were reported to the garage and when Miss H painted one of her Studebaker’s wheels to make it match the others, it immediately punctured on the painted wheel. They had another very lively dance and the Prince of Wales came past the Arsenal garage driven by “one of the Bush girls” and saluted the other girl-drivers standing outside — “. . . rather nice of him; he looks a topper”.

There was an alarming incident when, coming down Shooters Hill doing about 30 m.p.h., the Studebaker’s clutch gave out and as they stopped the hood was seen to be on fire. Soldiers came up and helped and they got the blazing spare wheel off and as the fire took hold they pushed the car round to windward. One girl driver with Spanish ‘flu and a temperature of 103 helped ably and in the end the car was saved. But the Pyrene was found to be empty in the toolbox, instead of in its correct place. The account of the Court of Enquiry over this and how the fire started (a messenger smoking in the back?), makes very good reading!

In the summer of 1918 Miss H was sent out with a Colonel in “a flashy great Vauxhall”, driving him back from Guildford. An oil-pipe burst and the engine nearly seized-up but an old lorry met in a country lane had some oil and they mended the pipe. Miss H could not see over the steering wheel but found the Vauxhall “a topping car, it could do 55 quite easily, and it wasn’t running well”. Asking the Colonel why she had been sent for, he told her it was to pour oil in for him but she thought it was to disguise a joy-ride, as she was in uniform . . .

So these very “period” letters unfold. On the last day with “Panting Percy”, the Studebaker, it broke down 30 miles out, so they sat in a cornfield and ate buns and drank lemonade until help arrived. Miss H then had a six-cylinder car, presumably a Studebaker, as Ford never made a Six. “A dream, she goes toppingly, I touched 50 on her in Epping Forest. . . it’s priceless, with no policemen you can go all-out, no traps, and you can go the wrong side of the islands when it’s the obvious thing to do . . .” A woman ran out from behind a tram and was run over but the indomitable Miss H “reversed off her and people came and got her out; her legs were very swollen, I suppose it was them the car bumped over!” They took her to “an awful slum near the Dockland, I followed, and she said she wasn’t much hurt”. Miss H had two witnesses but “it meant more reports and my name down in the black book again.”

These letters from the distant past conclude with a graphic description of how the Armistice was celebrated, after they had finally managed to book a table at the Waldorf. Joy-riding was rife and one WO Daintier had its wheels collapse when 40 people were riding on it, two of the ASC girl-drivers went to a dance and their taxi crashed into a gun in the Mall — “the driver was tight of course” — the Savoy was wrecked, and £100-worth of damage was done to the HQ cars. But they thought then, you see, that it was the finish of the War to finish all Wars. . . . — W.B.

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V-E-V Miscellany

A reader, Mr. Ray Jones of Worsley Mesnes, who says he has followed us avidly for 25 years, has thoughtfully sent us a little booklet issued in 1970 by Glover Webb — Liversidge Ltd., coachmakers to HM The Queen, to celebrate their 250th Anniversary. The Company has since moved to Hamble from the Old Kent Road in London and has forfeited its Royal Warrant. It began making coachwork in 1720 and had premises with an impressive entrance which was destroyed in the London blitz of WW2. The Royal Commissions were renovating the Royal State landau in 1960 and the Royal Irish coach in 1959. Of more interest from our point of view was the fact that the Company made some early commercial vehicles, known as Gloverleys. The first came out at around the turn of the century and was very much an elongated horse-drawn wagon, on solid tyres and cart springs, but with an engine under the entirely exposed driving seat, or bench, and absolutely nothing except a vertical steering-column and wheel ahead of the driver. A similar vehicle, also on solid tyres and chain-driven, but with gilled cooling-tubes on its prow, followed, Hamptons of Pall Mall using such, with van bodywork, in 1905. Thereafter many famous concerns had their vehicles bodied by this pioneer Company, one example being Selfridge’s, a picture showing their striking van body on what is, I think, a long-bonneted Star chassis. Other pictures in the booklet depict a 15-ton Courage’s beer-tanker, a Whitbread’s lorry, also eight-wheeled, an Evening News delivery van and a fine van used by the Mobiloil Racing Service — shades of John Cobb’s Mobil Land Speed Record car.

Another commercial-vehicle book is that issued by Dodge Trucks of Dunstable. It covers the history of Dodge, Commer and Karrier commercial vehicles from 1905 to the present day. There are some excellent pictures, to delight the HCVC brigade. For instance, one shows a Type HC Commercar with the patent gearbox taking part in the Commercial Vehicle Trials of 1907, the driver completely without weather protection but aided in his task by a pair of oil-lamps and a bulb-horn. This Commercar belonged to the Gas Light & Coke Co., and its picture is so clear that one can see that a full-stop was used in the Reg. No., between the lettering and the number. Indeed, the entire book is full of interest and fine illustrations, with its engineering drawings of the aforesaid gearbox, reproductions of two old Commer advertisements, and many sepia and colour pictures. There are even pictures of the 1924 10-cwt. Dodge van used by Brentwood Royal Laundry and one of the Humber Super Snipe vans employed by United Service Transport for hustling out fresh editions of the Evening Standard. This large-book is issued jointly by Dodge Trucks and the Talbot Motor Co., but is not at the moment available to the public.

Brian Demaus bravely returned to the difficult historical conundrum, that of which 1914 TT Humber racing-car is which and whether there were four such cars, in the September/October 1980 issue of the Humber Register’s magazine. Last summer’s Barbon speed hill-climb of the Westmorland MC, sponsored by Furmanite International Ltd., marked the 70th Anniversary of that event, so the programme contained snippets from the past, such as a picture of the Shap hill-climb of 1910, notes on some rather unhappy spills in 1912 at Tow Top and in 1914 at Greyhound hill, a couple of cows holding up the riders in the latter public-road event, and a lurid account of how Frank Smith and his Clyne and sidecar conquered Tow Top in 1912. We also learn that lead weights were disallowed at the last minute in the 1914 Shap Fell climb, Dixon’s New Hudson losing one of these from its rider’s belt, which gave the game away, and others hoping to have ridden accompanied by large chunks of lead or even lead footboards, to stop wheelspin! The Easter 1914 Greyhound climb attracted 202 starters, some of the machines being brought to the venue by train, from all over the country.

We have received a letter from a reader living in Lowestoft who remembers that I have a considerable collection of sparking-plugs, kindly donated by Motor Sport readers and put in a handsome display case by courtesy of Champion, who supply the best-known of modern sparking-plugs, and who wonders if this collection includes a Massa plug. As a matter of fact, although it includes all the well-remembered and some very rare ones, there isn’t a Massa amongst them. It seems that this plug was made in Freemantle Road, Lowestoft, and our correspondent wonders if the name derived from the African masser, for master, as the factory was in Freemantle Road, if you follow. Anyway, two of these Massa plugs have survived, one having been used in a stationary engine situated at the Gisleham Brick Works. Our correspondent thinks this the only car component maker operating from Lowestoft although, as he rightly says, Brooke cars were manufactured there, from 1901 until 1913. Another correspondent, living in Hudderfield, offers two tools for contracting wheel-rims, which are of between-wars period and possibly intended for Fords, to any reader who collects them or for the cost of carriage. One of these tools is a Pacific Rim Tool, heavy-duty model, for high-pressure tyre rims, the other a Kennedy Rim Tool, marked 1630-5. Letters can be forwarded.

To commemorate their Golden Jubilee the Patrick Motors Group last November issued a very fine book, recalling their 50 years in the Motor Trade. This Birmingham-based Group remains a family concern. It covers the only total BL range among Birmingham BL Distributors, has 20 offices in the Midlands and Bournemouth areas, including Peugeot and Vauxhall franchises in Evesham and Malvern, employs 700 people, and it sells more than 5,000 cars a year. It has also had three outright wins in the British Saloon Car Championship. It all began in 1930, as a showroom, forecourt and workshop at Selly Oak, on the Bristol Road. It was from there that more than a thousand Patrick Specials were built, mostly on Wolseley Hornet and Austin Ten chassis. The beautifully-produced commemoration publication recalls this and other aspects of the early days of the PMG. There are pictures of J. A. M. Patrick competing in speed-trials with a 1750 Alfa Romeo and as a member of the 1 1/2-litre Singer Trials-team. He also drove Patrick Specials, Alta, and Wolseley Hornet Specials in such events as the Vesey Cup, Abingdon-to-Abingdon and MCC trials, gaining a Triple-Award in the MCC events in 1932. After the war Patrick Aviation was formed and at one time it was using 15 aeroplanes, such as Miles Gemini, Aerovan and Messenger, Airspeed Consuls, Percival Proctors, an Auster Autocrat, and eight DH Rapides (the latter charged at 2/6d. per mile for the entire aeroplane), on charter-flights and internal and Continental holiday-flights. The Patrick Collection of historic cars includes some 40 vehicles, and was started in 1960 when their Training Officer found a 1934 Austin Ten with Patrick Special body abandoned in a field near Alvechurch and purchased it for £5. It was rebuilt by a team that included two of the original coachbuilders and has since been joined by a 1913 Austin two-seater, a 1936 Austin Eight, a 1937 Austin Light-12 Ascot saloon, a 1936 LG45 Lagonda drophead coupe, a 1930 4 1/2-litre Invicta S-model, and other post-vintage historic cars. The collection was opened in 1969 under the care of Ben Martin.

When Cyril Elsmore’s old cars were auctioned at Dean Forest recently, when the Coalroad Garage there had to be rebuilt, a 1938 Ruby Austin 7 went for £820 and a 1935 Norton motorcycle for £400. A 1937 Alvin was withdrawn and may be sold next spring. The collection was commenced in 1950 and Mr. Elsmore is keeping his Morris Eight and a 1925 bull-nose Morris two seater, according to the Dean Forest Mercury. As part of the Golden Jubilee celebrations of Croft & Blackburn, who employ 200 people and have six garages in the North of England, two of their apprentices are restoring a 1930 Model-T Vauxhall Grafton coupe-cabriolet. The car was used by Mr. W. D. Moss in Hitchin from 1932 until he went north to found a chain of grocer’s shops just before the war, and again until at least 1949, clocking up 53,452 miles before being retired, according to the North Yorkshire News. Some old photographs of pre-1914 cars which have come to light have reached us from Michael Doland. One looks like a two-seater RMC Underslung, which is also seen in company with a group of cars which include a Clement-Bayard, what may be two big Mercedes, possibly a sporting Mors, and an open 40/50 Rolls-Royce, lined up in the drive of someone’s house. — W.B.

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