Cars in books, March 1970

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Book review

NOTHING much in the way of cars in books came my way at the beginning of the year but it was interesting that in “The Best We Can Do”, by Sybille Bedford (Collins, 1958), which is an account of the Trial of John Bodkin Adams, which took place in 1956, Counsel for the Defence goes into some detail about the Rolls-Royce which the deceased patient had left to the Doctor. He established that it was a 1938 model and in his address to the Jury played it down as “a pre-war Rolls-Royce”. Which is a reminder that less than a decade and a half ago pre-war cars were hardly speculators’ items and their value regarded as notably less than that of more modern vehicles. . . . I next read a book which not only scarcely referred to motor vehicles but whose author makes it plain that he dislikes them, and the book is none the less worth reading for that—”Arabian Sands”, by Wilfred Thesiger (Longmans, 1959). In contrast, although “The Lakes”, by W. Heaton Cooper (Warne, 1966) is concerned with the peace and beauty of Lakeland, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the author, apart from including some very fine colour plates and drawings of the area, refers to the Water Speed Records exploits at Windermere, Coniston Water and Ullswater of Segrave and Sir Malcolm and Donald Campbell. I note, also, a reference to “an elegant 40-foot steam launch” which had lain on the bed of Ullswater since 1882 until it was discovered eight years ago and has since been running on the Lake, “powered by her original engine”. I hope she is still in service?

There are a few references to cars in Major-General Sir Edward Spears’ book “Liaison 1914” (Eyre & Spottiswoode, 1968), a very readable account of the opening phase of the Great War, to which my attention was drawn by a reader. The author saw this tragic but dramatic human conflict as Lt. Spears, British Liaison Officer with the Fifth French Army. He refers to wealthy car owners having been called up with their machines and how soon nearly all of these amateur chauffeurs joined the ranks, which led to a General, recognising the chauffeur holding the door open for him, the heir to one of the great Napoleonic families, said to him: “Allow me to congratulate you, sir. Your grandfather led men; you, I see, drive Generals”, a typical example of that smooth and polished irony found only in France, which, uttered in the most polite tones, is quite deadly in effect, yet so subtle, so insidious, that the writhing victim is entirely deprived of means of retaliation. Lt. Spears was the first British officer to start for the front in “a huge racing machine driven by a very nice man who had been mobilised as its chauffeur”. The driver stopped to buy two large Red Ensigns to secure to the windscreen, as a sign that the British really were in the war. This sounds as if it might have been Rawlinson’s TT Hudson, which has featured previously in this column.

There is a number of references to fast journeys by road, up and down behind the lines, sometimes across country, conveying vital information that on more than one occasion could be said to have affected the future course of the war. Unfortunately, the makes of these cars are never mentioned, but one English chauffeur, Johnson, is described as keeping very calm while having to turn his car under fire, and the incident is described of this driver waiting for his soldier escort to return with a new windscreen to replace the one smashed at Vauchamps before retreating from Reims, in spite of enemy shelling of the town, which had resulted in a number of cars in the motor park being on fire. The reader who recommended this fascinating book formed the opinion that at this period French cars, properly run-in and looked after by their owners, were more reliable than their British counterparts, which were thrust straight from the showrooms into very active service.-W.B.