Veteran - Edwardian - Vintage, March 1977
A section devoted to old-car matters
A Royal Accident
Some time ago I questioned whether the accident which befell HM Queen Mary’s Daimler in 1939 occurred in the Borough of Wandsworth and not Wimbledon, as had been stated in a book I had been reading. This led to a reader coming to the rescue and adding some interesting details about this unfortunate occurrence. One would not wish to gloat over an untoward happening that befell a very popular member of our Royal Family, but at this length of time the facts about this accident have some historic significance and a particular interest to those who follow this period of motoring. So I feel that with the review of Brian Smith’s excellent “Royal Daimlers” on page 275, which refers to this accident but not in any detail, the time is opportune to allow Motor Sport to enlarge on it.
Incidentally, the accident carries with it a minor mystery. Queen Mary had been to the Royal Horticultural Society’s Gardens at Wisley and was on her way home. The accident happened in Wandsworth and it may be thought that the Royal chauffeur was off-course for a direct drive from Wisley to London. It seems possible that he realised he was lost and was rejoining another route used when he took Royalty to the Wimbledon lawn tennis tournaments. On an informal visit like the one to Wisley, made in one of the smaller Daimlers, no police escort would be provided but it seems likely that constables along the route would have been alerted to the approximate time when the unescorted Royal car would be in passage. If the expected route had been adhered to, assuming the Daimler to have been lost, there might have been a watchful policeman at each crossroads; which may explain why the collision happened on the route actually used. What follows is an account by a reader who was at the time in a position to know the facts and to whom I ass indebted for disclosing them to me:
“HM Queen Mary’s accident happened at the junction of Wimbledon Park Road with West Hill Road, at about 4.30 p.m. on Tuesday, 23rd May, 1939. She was accompanied by her Comptroller and Treasurer, Lord Claud Hamilton (who suffered a cut hand) and her Lady-in-Waiting, the Lady Constance Milnes-Gaskell (who had a grazed arm). Mr. Humphreys was Head Chauffeur and there was an Assistant Chauffeur. (No personal detectives in those days!)
They were on their way back from a visit to the Royal Horticultural Society’s Gardens at Wisley, and Mr. Humphreys chose to use a route he commonly used when going to and from Wimbledon tennis. (Surely they must have called somewhere on the way back, because there seems no rhyme or reason why he could have got into the Wimbledon Park area otherwise?)
However, the Royal Daimler was travelling north eastwards along Wimbledon Park Road to get into Merton Road, and when crossing over West Hill Road, was run into on the offside by a lorry coming at West Hill Road—it is a fair gradient up to this intersection from Merton Road. The Daimler was thrown over onto its near-side and finished up beyond the intersection by the small grass triangle at this point. The collision was heard by Mr. H. Austin of the Southfields Engineering Works, a few yards down West Hill Road. (It is now H. L. Austin & Son, Limited, Motor Agents, at the same premises, No. 60.) He was standing outside his works with one of his staff, and they ran to the scene and arrived before the wheels had stopped spinning. Decorators working at a house close by also ran out and between them all they put a ladder up to get to the top of the car, to get in through the off-side doors, and put a step ladder down into the car to help the occupants to climb out. Queen Mary, who was on top of her companions, apparently got up the step ladder quite well, but was not too happy about getting down the ladder to the ground. She walked to a doctor’s house nearby in West Hill Road (a Dr. Revill, who had died only the previous week) but the partner (?) Dr. Shaw, was out and the late Dr. Revell’s son tried to get neighbouring doctors, but none could be reached.
Queen Mary insisted she was all right, but asked if she could rest for a few minutes, and whilst the maid gave her a pot of tea which the cook quickly made, Mr. Revill dressed and bandaged the wounds of the others. He also gave Queen Mary a `pink’ Aspirin, which was one of his father’s ‘specials’.
The car was taken into Mr. Austin’s works with the near-side windows splintered, the glass screen behind the chauffeur’s seat broken, the near-side wings crushed, the running-board ripped away, and a near-side wheel `displaced’ (whatever that may mean).
The garage was besieged next day by souvenir-hunters for pieces of glass and chips (or enamel?) from the mudguards, so that Mr. Austin had to get the police to come and keep people out.
Incidentally, Queen Mary found that she had lost a pearl and diamond earring, and Mr. Austin found it lodged in a bunch of flowers which was in the wrecked car. Whilst still talking of Mr. Austin, he evidently spoke to a local reporter because so many false stories were getting about, prefacing his remarks by saying that he had earlier ‘deemed it best to give no report to the Press at the time until permission had been given’. Other times, other manners!
At any rate, there was great activity at the locus the next morning, with the Borough Engineer, Chairman of the Highways Committee, police, etc., etc. A traffic census was taken which established that West Hill Road was, traffic-wise, the major road, but that as the heaviest period gave only 180 vehicles-per-hour over the intersection, it would be impossible to get Ministry approval to the installation of a set of traffic lights. However, ‘Major Road Ahead’ signs were erected in Wimbledon Park Road, `Slow’ signs were put up and down, and the piers of the gates to Nos. 27 and 29 Wimbledon Park Road were lowered to the level of the gate tops to improve the sight lines. The works cost £35, and the work at the crossing was known as ‘Queen Mary’s Own’.