Friday, June 30, 2006

That Gallant Little Lady, Gwenda Hawkes, 1894-1990

Gwenda Glubb's motoring exploits are well known - she raced variously as Janson, Stewart and perhaps most famously as Gwenda Hawkes in the pre-war period, a time when women competed against men at the highest levels of the sport.

The daughter of a general, the much decorated Sir Frederick Manley Glubb, her brother John, still remembered as Glubb Pasha the commanding general of Jordan's Arab Legion.

Better known as a record breaker than as a racer Gwenda was the fastest woman at Brooklands, 135.95 mph and the outright record holder at Montlhery, ( she lived in Paris for many years ) with a lap of 145.94 mph in husband Douglas Hawkes' Derby Special.

Adventure was in her genes and Gwenda's motoring skills had been honed in the First World War where she served as an ambulance driver with the Scottish Women's Hopsitals on the Russian front and the Balkans.

What the motoring historians seem to have missed is the central part played by Miss Glubb in what has been described as Britain's Dreyfus case, the public inquiry set up in 1919 by Churchill into the dismissal of, and perhaps also to publically discredit Violet Douglas-Pennant, head of the Women's Royal Air Force. Miss Douglas-Pennant had taken over a service of 14000 young women supervised by only 75 officers scattered over 500 camps. Correctly diagnosing that the training of a new officer corps was a priority, Douglas-Pennant was frustrated at every turn by what she perceived as an alliance of lesbian female and chauvinistic male subordinates. Despite bringing some order to the chaos and training-up 450 new officers, Miss Douglas-Pennant was sacked in 1918 because of her unpopularity with the service. The enemies of the Liberal Government saw that an inquiry would be an opportunity for trouble-making, while the Government realised that such an inquiry could be turned to its own advantage by destroying Douglas-Pennant's reputation. Enter Miss Glubb.

Miss Douglas-Pennant had made various allegations in a private letter to Churchill which he immediately published in the form of a White Paper. It was alleged for example that there was a good deal of sexual immorality at Hurst Park Camp involving the Camp Commander and a young air woman, Miss Gwenda Glubb. The 14 day inquiry - the salacious details were published in a Government Blue paper and lapped up by the press - found that there had been no impropriety between the officer and Miss Glubb, medical evidence was presented that showed that the "gallant little lady" was virgo intacta. Miss Douglas-Pennant was clearly a snob, a prim and vindictive primadonna.

The affair dragged on for 20 years being periodically raised in the courts and in Parliament by friends of Miss Douglas-Pennant who, it was said, had been driven somewhat mad by the whole business. As for Gwenda Glubb, she was indeed briefly married to the commanding officer accused of seducing her, Sam Janson.

A Radnorshire connection? A government report into the living conditions of girls in camps had been written by Lady Rhondda whose mother came from Pen Ithon, Llanbadarn Fynydd. Her evidence to the inquiry was not favourable to Miss Douglas-Pennant.

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