Cars in books, January 1983

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No makes of cars are mentioned in “A Heroine In Her Time — A Life of Dame Helen Gwynne-Vaughan 1879-1967” by Molly Izard (Macmillan, 1969) but there are interesting new aspects of women drivers in both wars, and it seems likely that Col. Janson, who was Commandant at Hurst Park “and at loggerheads with the women over the administration of the MT drivers under his command”, may have been the Col. Janson who was Gwenda Stewart’s first husband and who rode with S. F. Edge in the Spyker when he bettered his “Double-Twelve” record at Brooklands in 1922, although as his initials are not revealed by the author I cannot confirm this. She makes the point that in 1917 “To be even familiar with a car, let alone to have any idea how to handle it, indicated a certain social and financial standing. As half of the national income went to less than one-tenth of the population, motor-owning before 1914 was the prerogative of a very limited class.” This led to disputes among the girls in the Services, and the “MT drivers were a thorn in the flesh of others beside the WRAF directorate”. Lady Londonderry had raised the WRAF force of drivers early in the war from among her own friends and connections; they were a high-spirited, well-to-do set of young women very far removed from the deferential lower-class women who formed the bulk of the WAAC. So when the Women’s Legion was formed in 1917 the MT drivers, about a thousand strong, stayed out, their Quartermaster General arguing that women responsible for army vehicles could only be controlled by the Army Service Corps. A similar situation arose, the author reminds us, in WW2, when FANY drivers were incorporated into the ATS. Incidentally, the senior woman officer at Hurst Park in 1914 was a Mrs. Kitto. The book looks at the Douglas-Pennant Scandal and tells how Col. Janson was cleared of a charge of having had immoral relations with a driver “who had been through the Serbian retreat with the Scottish Woman’s Hospital Unit and was the daughter of a senior military officer” (and to think I began to read the book, thinking it was by a lady doctor who drove in post-war Monte Carlo Rallies!) and it refers to Sir Sefton Branker, who died in the R101 airship tragedy.

Two readers of this feature have kindly weighed in with extracts from recent books, pointing out that “August 1914” by Barbara Tuchman (Constable, 1962) refers to Joffre, the French C-in-C, as follows: “placidly seated in the back of his car, he would be driven on his rounds at 70 m.p.h. by his appointed French chauffeur Georges Bouillot (obviously intended for the top French racing driver of his day, Georges Boillot), three times winner of the Grand Prix auto race” — actually, of course, Georges won the Grand Prix in 1912 and 1913. What car was this, our correspondent wonders? And from “Guderian, Panzer General”, by Kenneth Macksey (Macdonald & Jane’s, 1975), we are reminded that in his speech at the 1937 Berlin Motor Show Herr Hitler pronounced: “This much is certain. The replacement of animal power by the motor leads to the most tremendous technical and consequently economical change the World has ever experienced”. It had all commenced in Boillot’s day, however…

Some time back I mentioned a book in which a Beardmore taxi was seen at Cardington Airship Station, beneath the great bulk of the R101 and queried why it should have been there. The same photograph is used in “To Ride The Storm”, Sir Peter G. Masefield’s great study of the R101 disaster (William Kimber, 1982) and it now dawns on me that as the R101 was powered by Beardmore heavy-oil engines this Beardmore taxi was probably provided for the use of technicians who were servicing those engines. On the other hand, the author thinks that this was simply a Beardmore taxi plying for hire, probably used by journalists who came from Bedford Station to see the R101 on its first flight. Also referred to are the “large blue Daimler” that drove across Cardington aerodrome on that fateful day in October 1930, bringing Lord Thomson, the Secretary of State for Air, for his long and expectantly-awaited flight to India in the R101, from which he was not to return, and the “open Renault Tourer” owned by Dick Casey, liaison officer in London between the Australian and United Kingdon Governments, that Casey, his wife and Lord Thomson a year earlier along the Great North Road past Hendon, Hatfield and Stevenage to Bedford, for a look at the R101 in which inflation of the gas-bags was half-completed. Was this Renault, one wonders, one of the great Reinastella straight-eights, then new, or a lesser model?

Later in the book Sir Peter Masefield describes how “the blue Daimler accompanied by a Trojan van for the luggage” arrived at Ashley Gardens in London to take the ill-fated Lord Thomson, Secretary-of-State-for Air, to Cardington for the flight in R101 that ended in disaster. The journey is described in much detail, even to the pause for “tea with Hovis”, but it would be unfair to the author, and against his publisher’s rules, to quote this in full, splendid cameo of the 1930s though it is. The Trojan was an Air Ministry van, presumably one of the early versions of these chain-drive, two-stroke vehicles, and that this “even more upright” van was able to keep pace with the “angular Dairnler” is explained when I remark that the running-time average-speed between London and the White Hart Inn at Shefford, where tea was taken, seems to have been about 22 mph.

Finally, for this month, from “Murder at Buckingham Palace” by T. E. B. Clarke, OBE (Robert Hale, 1981) we learn that at the time of this crime, just before the Silver Jubilee of King George V and HM Queen Mary, in May 1935, the woman Police Constable who assisted was allowed to use “her secondhand Austin Seven” to drive out the 15 miles to Watford to conduct enquiries and that, on the same case, the Police Inspector involved “drove himself in his own Austin Twelve to the twin towns of Windsor and Eton” to make other enquiries. There is also a reference to one of the black Royal Daimlers being used outside Buckingham Palace as a look-out car by the Police, a car without “the usual shield with the Royal Arms on the front of its roof, being reserved for use by members of the Family wishing to travel unnoticed”; it is described as having “a blue glass window”, suggesting a one-way view. Incidentally, this book is fact, not fiction, about the remarkable murder at the Palace which was covered up for 46 years, the murderer not being charged because she committed suicide while the Jubilee procession was taking place, after being released by a Detective Chief Inspector who should have arrested her. Some might think that the author of the book could have spared the Royal Family this belated exposure. Some of the dialogue most presumably have been imagined, and no doubt Brian Smith, author of “Royal Daimlers”, could confirm whether this car from the Royal mews was in fact black, which may have been so for a Household Daimler, although I believe the Royal cars were maroon. — W.B.

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