The Crosses of St George and St Stanislaus
There were only a handful of female drivers able to compete in terms of sheer speed with the racing motorists of the inter-war period - although this is no reflection of ability, but a result of little opportunity. One to break the mould, so to speak, was Gwenda Hawkes.
Hawkes father was Sir Frederick Manley Glubb CB, KCMG, DSO, who served with distinction during both the Boer War and World War 1, while her brother John was Glubb Pasha of the Arab Legion. Gwenda herself had a war record of some note, having driven ambulances on the Russian and Rumanian fronts between 1914 and 1918, and was awarded the Crosses of St George and St Stanislaus and mentioned in official war despatches.
After the war Gwenda looked around for an activity which offered some of the excitement of her wartime career. She found it in motor cycling, and during the harsh European winter of 1921 she set up a 1000-miles record on a Ner-a-Car under official ACU scrutiny. Then, in 1922, she rode a 249cc Trump-JAP at Brooklands to break 'Double-12' records (local protests had caused a ban on 24-hour events at the Weybridge track); her average speed was 44.65 mph.
Soon after this, Gwenda, who had been Mrs Janson, married Lieutenant-Colonel Stewart, who was her co-driver on long-distance records. Finding the ambiance in France to their liking, the Stewarts set up home there, and Gwenda began setting up records with Morgan
three-wheelers; her most notable achievement was a fantastic 118 mph at Arpajon. Helping her prepare her cars was Douglas Hawkes, who had made his name at Brooklands driving vehicles as diverse as a 1914 Tourist Trophy Morgan, a sports Hoestmann and the 1st-litre Grand Prix Lorraine-Dietrich Vieux Charles Trois.
Douglas Hawkes had come to France to take up his controlling interest in the Derby car factory, near Paris. Gwenda Stewart was a stickler for immaculate preparation of her racing cars: this was probably a legacy of her military background. Two hours before any record attempt, her car had to be lined up on the track for inspection, immaculate and ready to go in all respects. The mechanics, too, had to be impeccably turned out, dressed in spotless white overalls, for which Gwenda gladly footed the laundry bills.
It was a policy which paid off time and again in broken records. In 1930, Mrs Stewart began racing the Miller which Douglas Hawkes was using as a mobile testbed for Derby front-wheel-drive designs; her first notable achievement with this car was a batch of records at Montlhery, covering a mile at over 118 mph, and breaking hour and 200km records, too, while the car shattered the world 100km record several times. In 1931, the Derby-Miller (now bored out to take it from the 1500cc into the 2-Iitre class) lapped Montlhery at 141.37 mph, a new record. The Montlhery lap record fell to Mrs Stewart several times, her fastest speed being recorded in 1934, when the Derby-Miller achieved an extremely impressive 147.79 mph.
She also set up the all-time ladies' lap record of 135.95 mph at Brooklands
with this car, which seems to have been almost a good-luck mascot for her, as she escaped from death when this tricky vehicle went out of control at 150 mph at the Montlhery circuit in France. She had less success with the second Derby FWD
racer, which Hawkes (whom she married in 1937) built for her: this slim single-seater was independently-suspended all round, and had a twin ohc supercharged 1500cc Maserati
Away from the banked tracks, Gwenda seems to have been less fortunate, as she entered FWD
Derby sports cars at Le Mans in 1934
, but was forced to retire in both events. When war broke out she trained as a lathe operator and served in munitions factories. After the war she settled with her husband in the Greek islands and lived there until her death in 1990, at the age of ninety-six. But her exploits with the Morgans and the Derby-Miller have secured her place in motoring history, a place made all the more remarkable because few women racing drivers have ever achieved universal fame in the field of motor racing.
As a side-note, one of the most successful cyclecars at Brooklands made its debut on the Easter Monday meeting of 1925. The Jappic was a tiny two seater cyclecar had a 344cc JAP motorcycle engine. The car was designed by H.M.Walters and built by the coachbuilders Jarvis of Wimbledon. The frame was made from the wood ash with 3/32 inch steel flitch plates and tubular cross-members. It had expanding rear brakes on the rear, but no front brakes. The wheels where shod with 650x65 motorcycle tyres, which were attached by a chain-driven axle to a two-port overhead valve 74x80mm single-cylinder JAP engine via a three-speed gearbox (chain-driven from the engine).
Walters managed to break the Class J flying mile record in the car at a speed of 70.33mph, but by 1926, the original engine was replaced with a 495cc JAP engine. The car was then obtained by Gwenda (then Stewart), who changed the cars name to Hawkes-Stewart and refitted the original 344cc engine. Unfortunately the car was destroyed in a garage fire at Autodrome de Linas-Montlhéry in 1932.