Cars in books, May 1967

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It really is quite remarkable! Having referred last month to Fred Coleman’s book about driving in the R.A.C. Corps in the 1914-18 war and mentioned therein a Baker Carr who, I was informed by the Imperial War Museum, drove a borrowed Mercedes on the same tasks, Baker Carr’s own reminiscences have come to hand – “From Chauffeur to Brigadier,” by Brig. Gen. C. D. Baker Carr, C.M.G., D.S.O. (Ernest Benn, 1930).

The book was lent to me by a reader, the Hon. Geoffrey Wilson, who used to run a Wolverhampton Sunbeam and now has a 1927 Morris-Cowley two-seater, two Packards, one a 1929 6th-Series, and is restoring a 1920 Model-420 Chevrolet. In his book Baker Carr refers to the make of car he drove in the war as a Mercedes, and tells of borrowing it from “an elderly patriot” and of equipping it with a set of new tyres “free of charge, from a German company that had been taken over by the British Government.” This could have been Continental and makes sense when one knows the car to have been a Mercedes. The R.A.C. Corps which sailed from Southampton on August 17th, 1914, is described as “a motley collection” which included “several well-known racing drivers, Toby Rawlinson, brother of Gen. Sir Henry (afterwards Lord) Rawlinson, Oscar Morrison, and Jimmy Radley.” Coleman is also mentioned.

There is not a great deal about cars in the book, which is mainly an intriguing account of the formation of the Machine Gun Corps and the coming of the tank. But one difficult incident is described, when a tiny spring in the petrol pressure pump of the Mercedes broke, so that when the engine was allowed to stop it could only be restarted by two persons, one pumping up pressure, while the other cranked up. The author allowed pressure to drop while under gun-fire and was only able to extract his car after an Officer had produced a rubber band with which to replace the spring and then only after a French poliu who was at the radiator helping to crank disappeared, shot through the head by a stray bullet. The car was driven fast, once it had been started, for two miles over pavé at the head of a horse-drawn gun-battery whose passage it was blocking.

Several times the car’s occupants were fired upon because a Mercedes looked so suspicious that sentries could not restrain their trigger fingers. Yet this German car did yeoman service for the British Army. It was a tourer, and speeds of 50 to 60 m.p.h. are frequently mentioned, while it reached 70 m.p.h. in an emergency. It survived hitting a cow in the dark and was peppered with German bullets. And once, when Baker Carr had covered the five miles to Le Cateau in about six minutes and was coming downhill into the town at 50 m.p.h. a column of horse emerged from a side street. He jammed on all his brakes, swung the steering wheel, skidded onto the pavement, missed a wagon by a foot, grazed a lamp-post and rejoined the road. The General he was carrying got out trembling with rage – or fear? For some time, when Baker Carr was driving Major Price-Davies of the 60th Rifles, they made a daily journey of 200 or 300 miles, such as from Ferè-en-Tardenois to Ypres and back. Once the cemetery gates at Soissons had to be opened to admit the Mercedes because the road from Compiègne had a huge chasm across it – do these gates still exist, I wonder? The car obviously had electric lighting. There is mention of only one other car by name, Sir John French’s Rolls, but the W. & G. taxis are referred to as “not designed for the service demanded of them,” which probably explains the picture in Coleman’s book of a body of one being used as an office! All most interesting!

W. B.

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