Gwenda wore her hair in a mannish cut to disguise her femininity. She started racing motorcycles but switched to cars. She raced at Le Mans in 1934 and 1935 but prefered record breaking and held the ultimate Brooklands Ladies Outer Circuit lap record at 135.95 mph.
Gwenda Stewart died 30 years ago, she was 96
Born Gwenda Mary Glubb was born in Preston, Lancashire, daughter of Sir Frederick Manley Glubb, the famous soldier, she drove ambulances on the Russian and Rumanian fronts in WW1 and was decorated with the Cross of St George and the Cross of St Stanilaus.
It is said that in her youth she trekked alone in the northern wilds of Canada and that she wore her hair in a 'mannish' cut and disguised her femininity. She was the sister of Glubb Pasha, a British officer famous for turning a desert police force into an elite fighting force called the the Arab Legion (now known as the Jordanian Royal Army).
Before she started racing she became involved in the inquiry set up by Churchill to look into the dismissal of Violet Douglas-Pennant, the head of the Women's Royal Air Force. She was sacked due to her unpopularity within the service. Miss Douglas-Pennant had made various allegations including those of sexual impropriety at Hurst Park Camp involving the Camp Commander and Gwenda Glubb. The 14 day inquiry found that there had been no impropriety between the officer and the Miss Glubb was virgo intacta. Gwenda was later briefly married to the commanding officer accused of seducing her, Colonel Sam Janson. After the war Janson was a director of Spyker cars.
It was as Mrs. Gwenda Janson that she started her career on motor cycles. In November 1921 she rode a strange two-wheeled American machine called a Ner-a-car. It had a single cylinder motor and only a single rear brake. With it she completed 1000 miles in scrutinised daily 190 mile runs and in 1922, she broke the Brooklands Double 12 Hour Record on a 249 cc JAP engined Trump achieving an average of 44.65 mph. It was called the double 12 as local residents had obtained an injunction preventing the use of the track at night. Thus any 24 hour race or record had to be run in two 12 hour sections.
She divorced Janson and married Lieutenant Colonel Neil Stewart, the Managing Director of the Trump Motorcycle Company. She loved France and together they moved there and operated from premises under the banking at the newly opened Montlhéry track just outside Paris.
In 1925 they made a successful attempt on the 24 hour record riding a 350cc Rudge in two hour shifts. At the end of the 24 hour period they had broken 21 long-distance motorcycle records and all marks in their class.
In 1929 she met Douglas Hawkes a talented English engineer also based at Montlhéry. He prepared a very special single-seater Morgan for her and the following year she used it to take the world one hour record at Montlhéry. She also drove it to the mile and flying kilometer records at Arpajon in 1931. The boat tail Morgan three Wheeler used both the 761 cc and 1100cc engines in record breaking attempts. She held close to 50 records in the class J (three-wheel cyclecars with passenger not exceeding 750cc) and K class (three-wheel cyclecars not exceeding 1.100cc).
Douglas had bought into the Derby factory, helped by his then father-in-law Charles Kinisson, and still owned a small engineering company in England (the Brooklands Engineering Works). With his workshops at Montlhéry, he had the industrial experience to help Derby in France. When his Miller was damaged in an accident during record attempts at Arpajon, he had it rebuilt by the Derby factory and renamed it the Derby-Miller.
By now Gwenda was also breaking records in cars, setting the new standing start 10 mile record in December 1930 at 137 mph driving the Derby-Miller. George Eyston had taken the International Class H record at Montlhéry for MG and so Austin hired Gwenda to try to improve the record for them. An Austin 7 Special was quickly shipped out and she with it she took the 5 kilometre record at 109.1 mph, the 5 mile at 109.06 mph, the 10 kilometre at 109.5 mph, the 10 mile at 109.06 mph, the 50 kilometre at 98.08 and the 50 mile at 98.43 mph! The crankshaft then broke! She also took the one mile and 200Km records in 1932.
In 1930 Douglas had to put more money into Derby and in late 1933, he got the factory to build a roadster to be entered into the Monte Carlo Rally to be driven by Gwenda. She also drove at Le Mans in 1934 (with Louis Bonne) and 1935 (with Charles Worth) in a Derby L8 1100, failing to finish on both occasions.
Gwenda preferred record breaking to road racing as she felt she could compete on more equal terms in that branch of motor sport. However Douglas built a Derby-Maserati for her in 1935 specifically for use in road races. At the Grand Prix de Dieppe in July that year she retired on the first lap with clutch failure and in the Prix de Berne (Voiturette Swiss Grand prix), in August she finished last having been lapped five times in the 20 lap race.
In August at the BARC Meeting she was due to have a match race against Kay Petre. However on the Saturday before the race Gwenda had lapped at 130.17 mph (becoming the first woman to lap the track at over 130 mph) and in the evening Kay had managed 134.24 mph. The officials thus decided that on the Monday they would have to run individually with the fastest lap taking the prize of £30. Kay managed 134.75 to Gwenda's 133.67 before the Derby's silencer exploded! Thus Petre took the win. The next day however Gwenda re-took the ladies lap record with a speed of 135.95mph which also set a new Class E Outer Circuit Record. She also held the outright record at Montlhery at 145.94 mph (234.68 kph).
George Duller gave the Derby-Maserati a go, partnering Gwenda in the BRDA 500 at Brooklands in September but damaged the timing gear in practice. The problem was caused when the front wheel drive car went over the Brooklands bump and the front wheels came off the ground causing the engine to over rev. Also despite being capable of 150 mph, it apparently had serious handling problems. In the race they drove the Derby-Miller but retired with a broken piston. October she drove the Derby-Maserati in the Ladies Handicap at Brooklands but was slowed with gear linkage problems.
In 1936 with a new engine and a stiffer chassis she raced the Derby-Maserati in the Grand Prix de Picardie where she was lapped twice in the second 10 lap heat. She also made a couple more appearances at Brooklands as well finishing fourth and taking the Ladies prize in the Light Car Club relay as part of Miss Chaff's F.I.A.T. Balilla team along with Mrs Lace. Then in the BRDC 500, driving a single seater Duesenberg with George Duller, she finished 7th.
By now the economic situation at Derby was desperate and the company closed its doors in 1936.
She married Douglas Hawkes in 1937 and together they returned to England. The following year Douglas was at Brooklands for the Junior Car Club International Trophy and was one of the spectators injured in Joseph Paul's crash which claimed the lives of a young girl and Austin designer Murray Jamieson. Kay Petre was also amongst the injured.
During World War II the Brooklands Engineering Works concentrated on the business of producing pistons and valves while Gwenda joined the London Auxiliary Ambulance Service.
With the war over, they bought a yawl, Elpis, and travelled extensively in the Mediterranean.
Douglas died in 1974, aged 81, and Gwenda in 1990, aged 96.
Billy Cotton was a British band leader and entertainer, mainly remembered as a 1950s and 60s radio and television personality. He was also an amateur footballer, a power-boat enthusiast, an accomplished racing driver, a boxer and the owner of a Gipsy Moth which he piloted himself.