John Hindmarsh

25/11/1907 - 6/10/1938

Record updated

Squadron Leader John Hindmarsh was a senior Test Pilot for Hawker Siddeley and flew the prototype of the Hawker Hurricane. He was also a talented racing driver winning Le Mans in 1935. He died in an aircraft accident at Brooklands, Surrey.

John Hindmarsh
John Stuart Hindmarsh was the son of Donald Stuart Hindmarsh (born 1875) and Annie Stuart Campbell. He went to school at Sherborne, Dorset before going to the Military College Sandhurst for Officer Training . He subsequently gained a commission in the Royal Army Tank Corps and was posted to the 2nd Battalion at Cranwell, in 1928. In 1930, John was seconded to the Royal Air Force and learned to fly at No.2 FTS, Digby.

John Hindmarsh was a noted Talbot and Lagonda driver, during the 1930's. His achievements included winning the Le Mans 24-Hour Race in 1935. He was as popular among the motor-racing fraternity, as he was in aviation. He participated in several important car races throughout the period 1929 to 1938 and was always a consistent competitor, racing the Lagonda and Talbot in long-distance events in England, Ireland and France. In June 1935, with Luis Fontes, John won the Le Mans 24-Hour Race in a 4 ½ litre Lagonda, with a Meadows Engine. Their average speed was 77 mph (or 124 kph) during the long distance endurance race.

John was a popular person, always cheerful and industrious but with a quiet and thoughtful personality. In 1936, he was a member of the team taken out to Salt Lake City, Utah, by John Cobb to attack twenty of the world's principal speed records; however, the results were inconclusive.

In September,1931 John married Miss Violette Cordery and by 1932 they were living in Cobham, Surrey. Violette, herself, was a famous long distance driver and racer who kept faith with the Invicta cars. She often raced with her sister, at Brooklands, in the 1930's. John and Violette had two daughters: Susanne and Sally Hindmarsh. Sally was born shortly after the 1935 Les Mans Race victory. Violette was not at Les Mans to see her husband win but quite often the young girls were taken to Brooklands, to watch their parents race.

Susanne married another racing driver, the one and only Roy Salvadori. Violette's sister Evelyn was married to Sir Noel Macklin, father of Lance and boss of Invicta.

If not a top rank driver, John was second to none in courage and engineering talent, yet he remained one of the friendliest and most unassuming of men. Utterly amenable to team discipline in a race, and happy to work with the mechanics, all through the night if necessary.

After completing flying training, he was first posted to No.16 Army Co-operation Squadron, at Old Sarum and then to No.4 Army Co-operation Squadron, at Farnborough. At this stage he was in the Army and seconded to the RAF. Deciding that flying was what he wanted to do and clearly a talented aviator, he resigned his commission with the Army and formally joined the RAF.

In February 1935, John Hindmarsh secured a post as a test pilot with the Hawker Group. An insight into his character is provided by the Chief Photographer of "Flight":

"Johnny was a particular good scout and I have enjoyed many flights with him. His uncanny judgment of speed and distance made him an ideal photographic pilot. Whether he flew the photographing or photographed machine, one could guarantee that he would be at the right spot at the right moment."
"He had one very English trait of character-that of keeping up a running fire of humorous disproval of the business in hand, though at the same time he was really flat out with enthusiasm and helpfulness. One had always to be careful how much one demanded of Johnny, for he never refused."

In the period from 1935-1939 there existed in Europe what has been described by some as the "phoney peace". Germany were re-arming apace but the rearmament was covert. Fortunately, Britain had in the persons of Sir Sydney Camm (Hawker Hurricane) and R J Mitchell (Spitfire) exceptionally talented aircraft designers. The Ministry of Defence plan for the RAF was to establish 4 Hurricane squadrons and 2 Spitfire squadrons during 1937 but this plan was thwarted by problems with the Merlin engines for the Hurricane. The protype aircraft when completed required test pilots to "prove" the operational capability of the new machines. So it was that John Hindmarsh together with two other test pilots, Flt Lt Bulman and Philip Lucas set about tackling the task. With the technical problems and the mounting "threat" in Europe the pressure was on to introduce the aircraft into service as quickly as possible. The first production Hurricane, was flown on October 12th, 1937 by P.G. Lucas, at Brooklands.

Sadly, after a comparatively short but very promising career in aviation, John Hindmarsh, a senior test pilot for Hawkers, was killed on September 6th, 1938 while testing a Hurricane at Brooklands.

Just what happened will never be known; however, he had apparently been advised not to fly above 10,000 feet without oxygen in case he 'blacked out'. It seems that he may have ignored this precaution either intentionally or inadvertently; whatever the reason, the Hurricane which had been wheeling high in the sky above Brooklands one moment, was suddenly seen to be in a headlong dive, the engine note rising to a terrifying howl which was clearly heard by the pilot's wife, in her cottage, at Cobham. It struck the ground in an explosion, at St. George's Hill Golf Course, Weybridge. A thin pall of smoke spiraling upwards marked the spot. The contents of the fuel tanks exploded, but the pilot was mercifully killed instantly on impact. It is perhaps ironic that the crash was clearly visible from the Brooklands Track, where John had driven so many of his greatest races.

At the subsequent inquest, no cause was ever found for the steep descent and crash. Pilot ill health was dismissed. Pilot error or 'black-out' was considered a possibility. Hawkers lost an excellent pilot. A number of people in the aircraft industry and motor-racing circles, lost a good friend and, above all, a young woman lost her husband and the father of two infant daughters.