BROOKL.ANDS Motor Course, with its wealth of tradition both in motoring and flying, presents a wide scope for the chronicler, and it was therefore with keen anticipation that ” Wheels Take Wings ; the Story of Brooklands,” by Michael Burn in collaboration with A. Percy Bradley, was awaited by all habitues of the famous track.
The book has now been published by Foulis at 7s. 6d., with a foreword by H.R.H. the Prince of Wales, and while most entertaining and informative in many ways, it leaves the reader with a sense of incompleteness, of an opportunity missed. The account of how the track came to be built, the engineers encampment, the first races and the famous lawsuit are well described, as are the early days of the aerodrome. But the post-war period has been strangely skimped by the authors. A few outstanding personalities have been described at length, types of races lightly touched upon, and the growth of the Flying School described. That is about all. These criticisms can to a certain extent be regarded as a compliment, for they arise from the brevity of the enjoyment one experiences in reading the book. 250 pages of large type cannot do justice to the stirring history of Brooklands. The magnitude and grandeur of the subject can best be described in the author’s own words, in a paragraph which expresses feelings which all regular visitors to the Track will have experienced :— ” When the meeting is over and the crowds are gone and the enclosures like
an emptied theatre, having nothing but torn paper and discarded programmes underneath the trees, the track becomes populous with ghosts reviving fading history . . . authors of ideas we now develop, who pioneered an age still young, with no propension to decline. . . Here is a certain story of mita life and adventure in a concrete bowl ; Tim Birkin and Parry Thomas made records here . . . Bleriot . . . Sopwith . . . A. V. Roe . . . all the young company of amateurs raced, the Lyndhurst Bruces and Graham Gihnours . . . crashes and accident and disaster . . . here the fifteen hundred workmen built their fern huts and camp fires, sang their songs and cut down trees and made a track ; before them nothing but a peaceful wood. To this wood at a meetings’ end Brooklatids returns most closely in the solitude, when quiet and evening and the last birds settle among the trees and purple flowers . . . for a moment it is back in the pastoral days and the days So little distant when there was no speed but only a jolting hither or thither behind horses. Then suddenly a car is on the concrete, an aeroplane alights softly as a gull, a train passes Eke a dragon with one red eye, and behold the three generations of speed, the new dynasty,, the aerodrome is an aerodrome, the track is a track again. Then you picture easily all the cars that ever drove on it, from Edge’s Napier . . . to Whitney Straight’s Maserati.” The fact that this is the sole mention in the book of the car which holds the Mountain Lap record is sufficient testimony of the author’s failure to grapple with the tremendous range of history, incident and detail at their disposal,
Mr. Bradley, in his introduction, says that a complete chronicle of all the happenings and records at the Track would be dull to all except those directly connected with motor racing. Leaving aside the major issue, it would surely have been possible to combine detailed information with the general story, and in any case there must be plenty of material in the archives of Brooklands for a story twice the size of the present book.
The book sadly lacks a map and an index. Many people would like to know the whereabouts of “Walpole House” and “the Summit.” Hemery’s flying half-mile at 127.88 m.p.h. in 1908 is described, but the make of car is not given. The M.G. Midget is said to have an engine of 850 cubic feet ! Birkin is stated to have driven in the 1926 J.C.C. race, by which the Essex Club’s 6 hour event is presumably meant. One of the most extraordinary errors, or misapprehensions, appears on page 96. Writing of the years 1907 and 1908 the authors say “The passengers on one special train to Brooklands had actually to be warned that there were five card-sharping gangs on board.” Of course card-sharpers never go to Brooklands nowadays !
In spite of these deficiencies ” Wheels Take Wings” is a book that should not be missed by any follower of motorracing, if for no other purpose than to remind us of the unbounded debt of gratitude we all owe to its founder, the late Mr. H. F. Locke King.