Lieutenant-Commander Glen Kidston was a "Bentley Boy", Le Mans winner, aviator, naval officer and, according to W.O.Bentley, "a born adventurer". He may have only lived for less than 32 years, but his was a fuller life than most.
When he died, the national press was in a state of shock despite the danger of his chosen pastimes. He had survived so many scrapes that all believed Kidston to be immortal. It was just that his sixth major accident finally got him.
Background and initial racing career
Born into a great fortune, he served in the British Navy during World War I as an early submarine commander. He survived a torpedo attack on his cruiser "The Hogue" in 1914 and he started competing on motorcycles soon after peace was declared.
He then drove a Brescia Bugatti at Brooklands before acquiring a Bugatti T35 in 1925 – one of the first such cars seen in Britain. Kidston also raced on the continent and he finished fifth in that year’s Provence Grand Prix at Miramas.
But he retired from racing later that year to marry although the quiet life did not last – his passion for both cars and aeroplanes would not allow it. He and his wife had survived a high-speed boating accident outside Southampton in 1927 and Kidston’s first recorded aircraft crash came on a hunting expedition outside Nairobi in 1928.
Successful racing return
And the wish to race remained so he returned to the track with Bentley. He finished second in the 1929 Le Mans 24 Hours when sharing with Jack Dunfee before walking away from a 100mph accident during the Tourist Trophy. He lost control while trying to stay in touch with Rudolf Caracciola’s faster Mercedes – narrowly missing a telegraph pole and planting his Bentley Speed Six into a hedge. Kidston was the only one on board to survive when an eight-man German passenger plane came down in fog near Caterham later that year.
Kidston partnered Woolf Barnato for the 1930 Le Mans 24 Hours – company owner and winner for the past two seasons. It proved to be Kidston’s greatest day in racing as they led a 1-2 victory for the team.
Away from the track he had plans to open up Africa to air travel. Early in 1931 he set a new record by travelling from London to Cape Town in 56 hours flying time to demonstrate its accessibility. He then borrowed a De Havilland Puss Moth and set about a tour of the region with potential business partner Capt T.A.Gladstone. They left Johannesburg en route for Pietermaritzburg but crashed on the Orange Free State/Natal border – their plane apparently overloaded. Both Kidston and Gladstone were killed.
A note discovered later stated: "In case of my death I do not want any weeping or sob stuff. There must be no regrets, for I have had a thrilling life."