Chauffeurs Corner

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The other day I had the good fortune to meet Mr Andrew Oliver, a fit-looking ex-chauffeur of nearly 90, who went as a boy direct from school to work with the horses on the estate of Col. Bourne at Much Cowarne, near Hereford. Cars were slow to arrive in Herefordshire but before the first World War the Colonel had acquired a 28/35 hp Fiat landaulette. The son of the household had a smoky sleeve-valve Daimler, driven by his own chauffeur us Oxford and it was the latter who taught young Oliver to drive, on the Fiat.

Being a country chauffeur did not last long, because in 1915, at the agc of 22, came the call to the colours. So Andrew Olives went to war, on the understanding that his job would be available to him if and when he returned. He went first to an MT depot so John Watt Street, Birmingham, and front there to the Grove Vehicle Park, having passed his driving ‘test at 4 am one morning on a 5-ton Pierce-Arrow lorry in London streets, although he had previously never driven anything bigger than the Fiat.

The first weeks after this were occupied taking convoys of lorries to the docks at Avonmouth, returning to Grove Park by train. There was then a spell on Salisbury Plain and, after five days’ leave, Oliver drove in an ambulance convoy to Southampton, for shipment to Le Havre. He had become a driver in the 1st Field Ambulance Unit, which proceeded to the depot at Rouen, saw service that winter on the Somme front, and at Paschendale, etc. The ambulances were a mixed bag, with adapted bodies, on Sunbeam, sleeve-valve Daimler and the fore-runners of the W & G taxi chassis, etc. Daimlers predominated in this ambulance unit which saw service at Arras, had a hard time during the final battle of the Somme, and with which Oliver remained throughout, surviving the Italian campaign, and service in Belgium during which they lost their CO, who was second-in-command. He returned home in August 1919, to marry that October the daughter of the coachman at Much cowarne — I was shown a group photograph of the staff taken at the mansion (now a school) in 1911 and counted 26 servants, from the Butler downwards, to be told not all were present…

The Colonel having died in 1915, Oliver did not resume chauffeur’s duties. Instead he drove lorries, mostly war-surplus chain-drive Pierce-Arrow, Daimler and Swiss Berna, in the employ of a Hereford transport company which had been started by the ex-farm-bailiff from Much Cowarne. The task also involved attending to Blackstone stationary-engines, driving one of the first Fordson tractors, with the Model-T flywheel magneto, and on one occasion going up to Kew to bring home a new Chrysler for his boss.

In 1922 Andrew Oliver bought the only motor vehicle he has ever owned — a nearly new Morgan two-seater De Luxe three-wheeler of that date, from the widow of a Hereford ironmonger. It had the i.o.e. MAG water-cooled V-twin engine and gas headlamps and served faithfully into the late 1930s. It than lay derelict until 1977, but has since been admirably restored by Mr K. Lee of Kidderminster, who has taken Mr Oliver and his wife for a ride in it, to the delight not only of them but most of the village where they now live in contented retirement.

It was there that we talked of the pre-1914 days — of the outrage felt in those times When the sister of H. F. S. Morgan, a clergyman’s daughter what’s more, was seen testing new Morgans in the lanes near Stoke Lacy, the sparsity of motor-cycles on those same lanes, the first one in Bromyard Probably being the unwieldly FN ridden by a doctor, of the competition events up Croom’s Hill, which some of the  competitors couldn’t climb, of the tiller-steered Lanchester at Rowden Abbey, and the chauffeur-driven Austin and Hotchkiss cars owned by Col (later Sir) Edward Hopton of Cannonfrome Court, where this expert on gunnery had a private firing-range, of B. C. Hucks flying from near the river at Hereford before the war clouds rolled up. . . .

Emerging into the hot sunshine to retrieve the Ford Sierra, I marvelled at Mr Oliver’s good memory and had to pinch myself before returning to the tempo of the 1900s, and a satisfactorily fast drive home in the ever-co-operative XR4i — W.B.