Book reviews, January 1985, January 1985

Books For The New Year

“Those Magnificent Flying Machines — A Pilot’s Autobiography” by Don Robinson. 160 pp, 11 in x 8½ in. (Blandford Press, Link House, West Sussex, Poole, Dorset, BH15 1LL. £9.95).

Books spanning the between-wars period of flying, by pilots describing their life with aeroplanes during this fascinating and formative period of aviation, are naturally now very rare. So it is a real delight to be able to read Don Robinson’s autobiography, from the time when he made his first solo flight at Brooklands in the summer of 1928 in a Renault-V8-engined Avro 504 to his test-flying of the Supermarine Sea Otter in 1942, and his other varied Naval test flying during the war, with much work on Spitfires and Seafires under the great Jeffery Quill, and between those times much flying in Canada and here in sports events with a Salmson-powered Klemm, Tipsy, etc. This is heady stuff, rendered all the more attractive because the publishers, Blandford Press, have used very big pictures to illustrate Robinson’s story — I particularly like the one of the staff of the legendary Henderson Flying School at Brooklands with one of their Avros, G-EBSC, at Brooklands in 1928, with the Byfleet banking in the background. But there are many more of that kind, and the dust jacket has coloured pictures of the Shut tleworth Trust’s Spitfire Mk VC and Avro 504K in flight. Strongly recommended. — W.B.

“DH 88 — The Story Of The De Havilland Racing Comets” by David Ogilvy. 174 pp, 9½ in x 7 in (Airlife Publishing Ltd., 7, St John’s Hill, Shrewsbury, SY1 1JE. £11.95).

The racing DH Comet monoplanes, of which three competed in the memorable 1934 London-Australia MacRobertson Race, that flown by Scott and Black winning the speed section at 158.9 mph (a great British victory, as aeroplane and engines were made here, although French propellers were used) are in the news since the courageous project by the Shuttleworth Trust to restore the winning machine to flying order. So a book about how these Comets fared in this now-historic race, and about that race in general, is appropriate, and who better to write it than David Ogilvy, who instituted and pioneered the Comet restoration project while he was General Manager at Old Warden. Olgivy is an experienced pilot of the older aeroplanes and knows about flying organisation, which must have helped him to look dispassionately at this 1934 race half across the World — incidentally, he used to write flying reports on light aeroplanes for Motor Sport, before I was told that aviation has no place in this journal.

His story of the important, but largely, forgotten race comes over very well, written simply but sympathetically, with the Comets and other DH machines in the forefront, with all that befell them. Certainly the Comet victory was a significant one, although one is slightly disturbed by the troubles that beset the Gipsy Six engines, and has to remember the splendid performance of the KLM Douglas DC2 air-liner that finished second, flown by uniformed Parmentier and Moll, as a Company exercise. Also, that of the DH Dragon that finished fifth, and the DH Puss Moth that was third on handicap, hod what befell the Comets of the Mollisons and Waller Cathcart-Jones (the latter owned by racing-driver and “Bentley-boy” Bernard Rubin. All this is extremely well told in this well-illustrated book. The photographs are augmented by tables and interesting reproductions of items from that important race of 50 years ago. It is amusing that the author goes out of his way to say that these Comets should not be called racing aeroplanes, whereas the book’s sub-title refers to them as just that. — W.B.

“Stories of Round Timber Haulage” by Maurice H. Saunders. 118 pp, 9¾ in x 7½ in (Cortney Publications, 95-115 Windmill Road, Luton, Beds, £8.95).

This book, about the hauling of trees, in effect, may seem a very odd one to get a review in Motor Sport, but I found it absolutely fascinating, as I think will anyone who likes the transport scene as a whole, and certainly all commercial vehicle enthusiasts. The stories collected by the author are pleasing in themselves and they are illustrated by masses of photographs that are really the core of this unusual book.

The explanation about these photographs explains the spirit in which the book was compiled: “Most of them have never been published, and most of them have been taken by amateur photographers, many of whom were in the ‘eighty hour a week brigade’, and had no time to worry about posing refinements. Many come from pre-war Kodak Brownie days, delightful snapshots in themselves which when enlarged magnify the defects, leading to many darkroom nightmares! Three lots were stuck into family albums… One collection had been kept in the cab, and stunk to high heaven of diesel, and had tube cleaned up. Some were rescued from dusty attics where they had been for 40 years or more, several were literally folded in drivers’ wallets, and naturally the fold marks are reproduced. Where reproduction is poor, it is because this may be the only copy of any one vehicle. This is not meant to be a book of super photographs but rather of illustrations intended to give a better insight into the work and dedication of those wonderful men and women [engaged in timber haulage] . . . People ranging from ten years to 96 have contributed these pictures, hence the great variation.”

There are 196 of these pictures in the book, out of almost 400 timber-haulage scenes available, and I am sure they will fascinate you, depicting as they do such haulage from horse-drawn drays and the steam-wagons to modern transport. Latils, Unipowers, Leylands, Fodens both steam and ic-powered, AECs, Demises, ERFs, Scania, Taskers tractor, GMC, Mack Austin, Reo, Scammell, etc are seen at work (even a few mishaps included), their stories are told in 39 chapters about their operators. The hauliers are seen at work in such motoring-associated places at Silverstone in 1982 and Beaulieu and there is a picture of WWI Pagefield lorry, by permission of Forestry Commission archives. You even get two nostalgic poems about the fallen oak and the timber fellers and hauliers and picture of a 1940 Unipower still at work in 1982. The Latil service engineer used a white Marmon straight-eight car, this being misquoted as a Marmod. This book would make a splendid present to those interested in such vehicles as I have listed. It can obtained from bookshops or the Blandford Press. — W.B.

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Some time ago we reviewed Part 1 of “An Aeronautical History of the Cumbria, Dumfries and Galloway Region”, by Pet Connon, and now Part 2 is ready, covering the period 1915 to 1930. It is very comprehensive coverage, of the great appeal to aviation historians, and is copiously illustrated in its 182 large, magazine-size pages. Every kind of aeroplane, airship and water-craft that flew in the area defined seems to get its place in this book and personnel get their share of the photographs, some on their motorcycles and J. A. Coats with his 40/50 hp Rolls-Royce. There are hours of enjoyment for aeroplane followers in this book, and chance to give a present with a regional flavour… The publishers are St Panick’s Press, 52 King Street, Penrith, Cumbria the price is £11.95.— W.B.

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That unrivalled book “More Wheelspin”, about mud-trials by the late C. A. N. May, an avid competitor and well-known historian, has been reprinted in soft-cover form by Greenwell Publishing, Broom House, Ashcombe, Dawlish, Devon, priced at £6.50, postage 50p extra. — W.B.