SPEED - Its Necessity



SPEED its Necessity

EVERY time a citizen of the British Empire sets up a new speed record, whether on land, sea or in the air, it is bringing us one step nearer to absolute supremacy in the race for world trade and world influence.

“Speed,” as Commander Sir Cecil Burney, the designer of the airship R.100, said in his recent book, “is the principal factor upon which the cohesion and stability of the Empire will most largely depend in the future.” I would like to frame those words and hang them up over the beds of all the complacent critics who never fail peevishly to enquire, “What’s the use ? ” when someone sets up a new record.

You hear that question asked by all sorts of people. It is one of those hardy annuals which a certain type of robustly self-satisfied British householder feels it his duty to ask. He asks it whenever anyone is killed, whenever a new motor-boat or motor car is being built, whenever a new air race is being planned, whenever a record is set up or a trophy is won.

Usually, I fear, he regards the people who attempt or do these things as brainless lunatics who, because they are clearly unfitted for what he would inevitably describe as “honest work,” must needs create a diversion by attempting or achieving the spectacularly useless. There is a very definite answer to all this. Speed, as Sir Cecil Burney has pointed out, is the main factor which will succeed in linking this Empire more closely together. Already we are linked by blood and sym By


pathies, by loyalty and race tradition. But they are not enough. It is no good being loyal to the British Crown when you are a settler in South Africa, a farmer in New Zealand, a squatter in Australia or a planter in Malaya, if, when war breaks out suddenly, you find yourself cut off from the Mother Country by weeks, perhaps even months, of arduous and uncertain travel. No matter how excellent your intentions, the human link with the heart of the Empire cannot be as quick, as spontaneous, as living, when you are thousands of miles away, as it would be if you lived within the confines of the British Isles. Speed alone will bring you nearer.

The value of speed is still far too ill-appreciated, too misunderstood and too belittled in this country. We are apt, in our conservatism, to regard speed as something “fast,” arguing an impetuous mentality, a somewhat unbalanced outlook, a rash and hasty sense of judgment. We think that speed means lack of thoroughness. So it does in certain respects. The fast worker is too often the superficial worker.

But when you come to speed as applied to matters of transport, when you regard speed as a link of Empire, as a vital nerve, influencing the enormous destiny of that stupendous all-red route which girdles the world and is known as the British Empire, you come to a very different conception of the term. Speed to-day means everything to us. If we are to Jive we must be quick. The quicker we are on land, on sea and in the air, the quicker we shall capture trade, strengthen our

Empire links, regain our commercial prosperity and. teach the world once more that British influence, whether in trade or politics, means fairness, straight dealing and peace.

Every time a new speed record is set up it means a new step forward, a new improvement made in the design or use of whatever machine helped to make the record. It means, eventually, that the outermost parts of the Empire are brought so many hours or days nearer to the heart. We are only just on the threshold of the possibilities of speed. Civilization has developed in every other direction during the last few hundreds of years. Comfort, luxury, medicine, clothing, hygiene, food and a dozen other vital factors in life have all been developed to an extent undreamt of by our forefathers. Speed was the last to be tackled.

A hundred years ago our grandfathers travelled at twelve or fifteen miles an hour and thought it positively devilish. When the railway first came in, most of them opposed it bitterly. They said it was against all the laws of God and man. They said that if you were to travel at a mile a minute your blood would clot, your heart would stop and it would serve you right. They said that railways befouled the face of England. They made men with red flags ride on horseback in front of motor cars. They thought bicycling was immoral. And when aeroplanes began to fly some of them thought that the Christian religion was at its last gasp. To-day, only thirty years or so after the dawn of the motor car, less than thirty years after the first Channel flight, we can travel at six miles a minute and our hearts do not .stop. We can fly faster than any bird, faster than the wind. We can drive boats so fast that they almost leave the sea and fly, we can control motor cars at speeds so stupendous that the onlooker cannot

distinguish the face of the man in the car, and the driver himself cannot pull up in less than a mile

Yet, as I said, we are only on the threshold of the possibilities of speed. I am not a sensation-monger, but I have no hesitation in saying that speed on land will be doubled in the next few years. Four to five hundred miles an hour in a motor car is within the bounds of possibility. Speed in the air is so potentially terrifying that I hesitate to say where it will stop. Its limit will probably only be reached when. we find that the machine is capable of more than the man. One day there will probably come a time when an aeroplane will be able to travel at a speed at which no man can live. Speed on water is the least developed of all. To-day a British boat can do ninety miles an hour on water and beat the world ; tomorrow we may see that speed doubled. The speeds of to-day in all three elements will be the commonplaces of 1940.

I have said that I believe that the possibilities of speed are limited only by the weaknesses of the human body and the imperfection of mechanical construction and design, and that of the two, the body moy fail first. I quote that not as a probability but only as a possibility, for I believe that the faster we travel the more we shall get used to it. The human constitution adapts itself with astounding ease to the amazing changes in life and environment which it is called upon to face.

For example, we live to-day at a pace and in a bedlam of noise which would have killed our grandfathers or driven them mad. Imagine Browning working in an office in the Strand, Carlyle writing in a flat in Piccadilly, Ruskin thinking ponderously in the office of a daily newspaper or Tennyson composing odes in a tube train from Piccadilly to Hammersmith ! We have changed all that and the change has been

brought about largely by the uses and demands of speed. Wireless, the telephone, the taxicab, even the penny bus and. the penny post are all the hand-maidens of Speed. I believe that we think more quickly, act more quickly, work more quickly than our grandfathers. We certainly travel more quickly—and we shall travel quicker yet.

Speed in the old days helped to forge the Empire. The clipper ships mapped our trade routes and captured our trade. The fast frigates won our battles on sea and the mobile troops of Wellington and Clive, of Roberts and Napier, won them on land. Speed to-day will serve us just as well.

Quicker transport brings quicker trade. Quicker trade creates more employment and more employment means greater prosperity and contentment. Faster freighters will speed up trade just as fast liners and air services will encourage emigration, populate the thousands of square miles of Empire lands which are lying idle and destroy for ever that dreadful feeling of loneliness and isolation which has always been the principle handicap to colonisation and development. Think of the tremendous advantages of an Empire,

wide network of air routes on which freight, passenger and mail-carrying aeroplanes will be travelling day and night at high speeds. Think of the advantages of great inter-continental arterial roads on which fast motor traffic will be continually travelling at a hundred miles an hour or more—for although we can now drive at more than two hundred miles an hour, I do not imagine that the time will ever come when the average driver will wish to travel at much over, shall we say 100 m.p.h. When the day comes that mails will travel in a quarter of the time they take to-day, trade will expand, money will follow and finally every unit of the earth will be working to capacity instead of, as to-day, producing in spasmodic patches and working in ill-balanced connection.

You may say that this is all a dream, an Utopia. Utopia never happens to anyone and perhaps I have sketched one which the world will never see—but whatever happens, in whatever direction we may develop, whatever nations may rise or fall, the economic future of the world depends on speed. It is up to Britain, if she is to save herself, to hold and maintain the lead in speed.