I have been an interested and well satisfied reader of your “Pull no Punches” magazine for very many years, but this is my first letter. Your feature “Cars in Books” prompts this letter, partly because of the unusual locale, and also for the many memories it evokes for me. The book is “Tales from the Indian Jungle”, by Kenneth Anderson, a noted hunter of man-eating tigers and leopards. I quote, “In the old days of the Model T Ford it would give me childish and utter delight to sit at the steering wheel of my beloved “Lissom Lizzie”, the name painted in large letters upon the rear, press hard upon the left of the three pedals that controlled her, and attain the summit in clouds of steam, billowing from a red hot engine and a boiling radiator. On one occasion Lissom Lizzie climbed halfway up that hill but could not climb any more. I was bound for the forest lodge of Mutter, a dozen miles beyond Gerhetti, where I had arranged with Byra, my aboriginal Poojaree friend, to help catch a crocodile that had become stranded in the Forest Department well-situated on the banks of the Chinnar River, and I had to keep that appointment. What was I to do? Praise be to Henry Ford and the wonderful adaptability of the Model T. I turned the car around, placed the hand lever to my right in a neutral position, pressed upon the centre pedal of the three (which was the saver pedal in the Model T) and climbed the fearful gradient backwards with ease. The car was strained and so was my neck, but we made it.” My experience was not lack of power but when low on petrol, due to the gravity feed, the petrol ran back into the tank.
I would say that I first drove an Argyll in 1916 and subsequently drove, sometimes my own but mostly as a job, a 1914 Sunbeam, Brittania, Crossley, Daimler, Westinghouse 45 h.p. Fiat (a wonderful car in its time), four and straight 8 Hupmobile, Rover 8 h.p. air-cooled twin-cylinder and many others. Motorcycles innumerable, Morgan and Reliant 3-wheelers. Heavy stuff included British and Swiss Berna, Packard chain-drive, Kelly Springfield also chain-drive with Renault-type radiator at the scuttle end, and, a steering wheel about a yard in diameter, Tilling Stevens petrol electric bus. Various other P.S. vehicles, Maudsley 12-tonner and Foden steamwagon.
All the above had solid tyres, most had oil lamps, few had windscreens, a sheet of tarpaulin stretched across the cab was deemed sufficient and worst of all, nearly all had to be started with a handle. No job for a weakling on a cold winter morning. One of the worst trips I ever had was a ten-mile tow behind a Foden steamer with one of the British Bernas lacking a screen, it is easy to imagine what happens to your eyes, nose and features generally, every time a fresh shovelful of fuel is thrown into the firebox! Also with the connivance of a relative of mine who was a railwayman, I very illegally drove a steam train for about ten miles and was roasted below the waist and frozen above. My education was neglected in one respect, I never drove a tram. I ended up in the repair side of the industry and afterwards with aircraft.
In WB’s notes on Barbara Cartland’s book “We danced all Night” he mentions the Meopham air crash in 1930, in which he says everyone was killed; a few lines later he mentions Lt.-Cmdr. Glen Kidston. The combination of these two names reminded me of an account I had read, where Glen Kidston was the only survivor in a crash involving a German air-liner in Kent, “due to the quick reactions inculcated by motor racing”, or words to that effect.
Sure enough, on p. 21 Of Dr. J. D. Benjafield’s “The Bentleys at Le Mans” we find the account of this accident. When the ‘plane brushed the tops of trees—having come down through fog to find out where they were!—this was enough for Kidston, who thereupon braced hands and feet against a partition in front of him and was the sole survivor when the ‘plane crashed into a hill near Westerham a few seconds later.
Westerham is not far from Meopham, as the Junkers flew, and I am wondering if the crash which Kidston survived is the one mentioned by Barbara Cartland? Although one would have expected her to have got these facts sorted out, especially, as WB says she “has much to say about Lt. Glen Kidston”.
[Interesting how frequently we have been encountering Model T Fords in “Cars in Books” recently. Regarding the air-liner crash said to have involved Glen Kidston, I can find no record of any other accidents in 1930, apart from that of Walcot Air Lines Junkers F-13 at Meopham, nor any others that fit, so it may well have been that everyone was not killed in the Meopham crash. Those involving a Handley-Page O/400 in 1920, a Daintier Airways DH 34 in 1923 and an Imperial Airways DH34 in 1924 happened, respectively, at Cricklewood, Ivinghoe and Purley. Kidston was killed when a Puss Moth crashed at Natal in a storm in 1931.—Ed.]