Malcolm Campbell

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Sir Malcolm Campbell

Malcolm Campbell rc10431.jpg
Sir Malcolm Campbell circa 1935
Born(1885-03-11)11 March 1885
Chislehurst, Kent, England
Died31 December 1948(1948-12-31) (aged 63)
Reigate, Surrey, England
Resting placeSt Nicholas Church, Chislehurst, Kent, England
Education Uppingham School
OccupationRacing motorist, journalist
  • Marjorie Dagmar Knott
    (m. 1913;div. 1915)
  • Dorothy Evelyn Whittall
    (m. 1920;div. 1940)
  • Betty Nicory
    (m. 1945)
Military career
AllegianceFlag of the United Kingdom.svg  United Kingdom
Service/branchFlag of the British Army.svg  British Army
Years of service1914–1945
Rank Major
Service number 86891
Unit Queen's Own Royal West Kent Regiment

Major Sir Malcolm Campbell MBE (11 March 1885 – 31 December 1948) was a British racing motorist and motoring journalist. He gained the world speed record on land and on water at various times during the 1920s and 1930s using vehicles called Blue Bird, including a 1921 Grand Prix Sunbeam. His son, Donald Campbell, carried on the family tradition by holding both land speed and water speed records.

Major (Maj) is a military rank which is used by both the British Army and Royal Marines. The rank is superior to captain, and subordinate to lieutenant colonel. The insignia for a major is a crown. The equivalent rank in the Royal Navy is lieutenant commander, and squadron leader in the Royal Air Force.

Water speed record

The World Unlimited water speed record is the officially recognised fastest speed achieved by a water-borne vehicle. The current record is 511 km/h (318 mph) - achieved by Australian Ken Warby in the Spirit of Australia in 1978.

Grand Prix Sunbeams 1921, 1922 TT

The 1921 S.T.D. ‘Works’ Grand Prix chassis was built to the three-litre and minimum weight of 800 kilogrammes formula for that year's Indianapolis 500 and French Grand Prix de l’A.C.F.. These team cars were modified by the Works for the 1922 Isle of Man Tourist Trophy, which was won by one of the cars. A few months later, and with 1916 4.9-litre engines, two of the T.T. cars competed in the Coppa Florio, Sicily and gained second and fourth position.


Early life and family

Campbell was born in Chislehurst, Kent on 11 March 1885, [1] the only son of William Campbell, a Hatton Garden diamond seller. He attended the independent Uppingham School. In Germany, learning the diamond trade, he gained an interest in motorbikes and races. Returning to Britain, he worked for two years at Lloyd's of London for no pay, then for another year at £1 a week.

Chislehurst district in South East London, England

Chislehurst is a suburban district in south east London, England, within the London Borough of Bromley. It borders the London Boroughs of Bexley and Greenwich, and lies east of Bromley and south west of Sidcup. It is 10.5 miles (16.9 km) south east of Charing Cross.

Hatton Garden Street and area in London, England

Hatton Garden is a street and commercial area in the Holborn district of the London Borough of Camden, close to the boundary with the City of London. It takes its name from Sir Christopher Hatton, a favourite of Queen Elizabeth I, who established a mansion here and gained possession of the garden and orchard of Ely Place, the London seat of the Bishops of Ely. It remained in the Hatton family and was built up as a stylish residential development in the reign of King Charles II.

Uppingham School co-educational independent school in England

Uppingham School is a co-educational independent school situated in the small market town of Uppingham in Rutland, England. The school was founded in 1584 by Robert Johnson, the Archdeacon of Leicester who also established Oakham School.

Between 1906 and 1908, he won all three London to Lands End Trials motorcycle races. In 1910 he began racing cars at Brooklands. He christened his car Blue Bird, painting it blue, after seeing the play The Blue Bird by Maurice Maeterlinck at the Haymarket Theatre. Campbell married Marjorie Dagmar Knott in 1913 but divorced two years later. [2]

Brooklands race track

Brooklands was a 2.75-mile (4.43 km) motor racing circuit and aerodrome built near Weybridge in Surrey, England, United Kingdom. It opened in 1907 and was the world's first purpose-built motor racing circuit as well as one of Britain's first airfields, which also became Britain's largest aircraft manufacturing centre by 1918, producing military aircraft such as the Wellington and civil airliners like the Viscount and VC-10.

<i>The Blue Bird</i> (play) play by Maurice Maeterlinck

The Blue Bird is a 1908 play by Belgian playwright and poet Maurice Maeterlinck. It premiered on 30 September 1908 at Konstantin Stanislavski's Moscow Art Theatre, and was presented on Broadway in 1910. The play has been adapted for several films and a TV series. The French composer Albert Wolff wrote an opera based on Maeterlinck's original play, and Maeterlinck's innamorata Georgette Leblanc produced a novelization.

Maurice Maeterlinck Belgian playwright, poet, and essayist

Maurice Polydore Marie Bernard Maeterlinck was a Belgian playwright, poet, and essayist who was Flemish but wrote in French. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1911 "in appreciation of his many-sided literary activities, and especially of his dramatic works, which are distinguished by a wealth of imagination and by a poetic fancy, which reveals, sometimes in the guise of a fairy tale, a deep inspiration, while in a mysterious way they appeal to the readers' own feelings and stimulate their imaginations". The main themes in his work are death and the meaning of life. His plays form an important part of the Symbolist movement.

Campbell then married Dorothy Evelyn Whittall in 1920 and their son Donald was born in 1921, and their daughter, Jean, in 1923. [3] They divorced in 1940. Campbell married Betty Nicory in 1945 in Chelsea. [4]

Donald Campbell English racecar driver and land & water speed record holder

Donald Malcolm Campbell, was a British speed record breaker who broke eight absolute world speed records on water and on land in the 1950s and 1960s. He remains the only person to set both world land and water speed records in the same year (1964). He died during a water speed record attempt at Coniston Water in the Lake District, England.

Military service

At the outbreak of World War I Campbell initially enlisted as a motorcycle dispatch rider and fought at the Battle of Mons in August 1914. [5] Shortly afterwards he was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the 5th Battalion, Queen's Own (Royal West Kent Regiment), a Territorial Force unit, on 2 September 1914. [6] He was soon drafted into the Royal Flying Corps where he served as a ferry pilot, as his instructors believed he was too clumsy to make the grade as a fighter pilot. [5]

World War I 1914–1918 global war originating in Europe

World War I, also known as the First World War or the Great War, was a global war originating in Europe that lasted from 28 July 1914 to 11 November 1918. Contemporaneously described as "the war to end all wars", it led to the mobilisation of more than 70 million military personnel, including 60 million Europeans, making it one of the largest wars in history. It is also one of the deadliest conflicts in history, with an estimated nine million combatants and seven million civilian deaths as a direct result of the war, while resulting genocides and the 1918 influenza pandemic caused another 50 to 100 million deaths worldwide.

Battle of Mons battle during World War I

The Battle of Mons was the first major action of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) in the First World War. It was a subsidiary action of the Battle of the Frontiers, in which the Allies clashed with Germany on the French borders. At Mons, the British Army attempted to hold the line of the Mons–Condé Canal against the advancing German 1st Army. Although the British fought well and inflicted disproportionate casualties on the numerically superior Germans, they were eventually forced to retreat due both to the greater strength of the Germans and the sudden retreat of the French Fifth Army, which exposed the British right flank. Though initially planned as a simple tactical withdrawal and executed in good order, the British retreat from Mons lasted for two weeks and took the BEF to the outskirts of Paris before it counter-attacked in concert with the French, at the Battle of the Marne.

Queens Own Royal West Kent Regiment

The Queen's Own Royal West Kent Regiment was a line infantry regiment of the British Army based in the county of Kent in existence from 1881 to 1961. The regiment was created on 1 July 1881 as part of the Childers Reforms, originally as the Queen's Own , by the amalgamation of the 50th Regiment of Foot and the 97th Regiment of Foot. In January 1921, the regiment was renamed the Royal West Kent Regiment and, in April of the same year, was again renamed, this time as the Queen's Own Royal West Kent Regiment.

During the late 1930s he commanded the Provost Company of the 56th (London) Division of the Territorial Army. From 1940 to 1942 he commanded the Military Police contingent of the Coats Mission tasked with evacuating King George VI, Queen Elizabeth and their immediate family from London in the event of German invasion. [7] On 23 January 1943 he was transferred from the Corps of Military Police to the General List. [8] On 16 December 1945, having attained the age limit of 60, Campbell relinquished his commission and was granted the honorary rank of Major. [9]

Provost (military police) military police officer

Provosts are military police whose duties are policing solely within the Armed Forces, as opposed to gendarmerie duties in the civilian population. However, many countries use their gendarmerie for provost duties.

The Coats Mission was a special British army unit established in 1940 for the purpose of evacuating King George VI, Queen Elizabeth and their immediate family in the event of a German invasion of England during the Second World War. It was led by Major James Coats, MC, Coldstream Guards, later Lieutenant-Colonel Sir James Coats, Bt.

Royal Military Police corps of the British Army responsible for the policing of service personnel

The Royal Military Police (RMP) is the corps of the British Army responsible for the policing of army service personnel, and for providing a military police presence both in the UK and while service personnel are deployed overseas on operations and exercises. Members of the RMP are often known as 'Redcaps' because of the scarlet covers on their peaked caps, or scarlet coloured berets.

Grand Prix career

Campbell competed in Grand Prix motor racing, winning the 1927 and 1928 Grand Prix de Boulogne in France driving a Bugatti T37A.[ citation needed ]

Land speed record

Campbell broke the land speed record for the first time in 1924 at 146.16 mph (235.22 km/h) at Pendine Sands near Carmarthen Bay in a 350HP V12 Sunbeam, now on display at the National Motor Museum, Beaulieu. He broke nine land speed records between 1924 and 1935, with three at Pendine Sands and five at Daytona Beach. His first two records were driving a racing car built by Sunbeam.

On 4 February 1927 Campbell set the land speed record at Pendine Sands, covering the Flying Kilometre (in an average of two runs) at 174.883 mph (281.447 km/h) and the Flying Mile in 174.224 mph (280.386 km/h), in the Napier-Campbell Blue Bird. [10]

He set his final land speed record at the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah on 3 September 1935, and was the first person to drive an automobile over 300 mph, averaging 301.337 mph (484.955 km/h) in two passes. [5]

Water speed records

Campbell developed and flotation-tested Blue Bird on Tilgate Lake, in Tilgate Park, Crawley. [11] He set the water speed record four times, his highest speed being 141.740 mph (228.108 km/h) in the Blue Bird K4 . He set the record on 19 August 1939 on Coniston Water, Cumbria, England. [5]


Campbell stood for Parliament without success at the 1935 general election in Deptford for the Conservative Party, despite his links to the British Union of Fascists. [12] Reportedly, he once adorned his car with a Fascist pennant of the London Volunteer Transport Service, though there has been no photographic evidence to support this claim. [13] [14] [15]


Campbell's grave at St Nicholas' Church in Chislehurst. Grave of Malcolm Campbell.JPG
Campbell's grave at St Nicholas' Church in Chislehurst.

Campbell died after a series of strokes in 1948 in Reigate, Surrey, aged 63 years. [16] He was one of the few land speed record holders of his era to die of natural causes, as so many had died in crashes. His versatile racing on different vehicles made him internationally famous.[ citation needed ]

Honours and awards

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J. G. Parry-Thomas Motor-racing driver from Wales

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Henry Segrave racecar driver

Sir Henry O'Neal de Hane Segrave was an early British pioneer in land speed and water speed records. Segrave, who set three land and one water record, was the first person to hold both titles simultaneously and the first person to travel at over 200 miles per hour (320 km/h) in a land vehicle. He died in an accident in 1930 shortly after setting a new world water speed record on Windermere in the Lake District, England. The Segrave Trophy was established to commemorate his life.

The British land speed record is the fastest land speed achieved by a vehicle in the United Kingdom, as opposed to one on water or in the air. It is standardised as the speed over a course of fixed length, averaged over two runs in opposite directions.

George Eyston British racing driver

Captain George Edward Thomas Eyston MC OBE was a British racing driver in the 1920s and 1930s, and he broke the land speed record three times between 1937 and 1939. He was also an engineer and inventor.

Napier-Campbell Blue Bird

The Napier-Campbell Blue Bird was a land speed record car driven by Malcolm Campbell. Its designer was C. Amherst Villiers and Campbell's regular mechanic Leo Villa supervised its construction.

Campbell-Napier-Railton Blue Bird

The Campbell-Napier-Railton Blue Bird was a land speed record car driven by Malcolm Campbell.

Campbell-Railton Blue Bird

The Campbell-Railton Blue Bird was Sir Malcolm Campbell's final land speed record car.

Leopoldo Alfonso "Leo" Villa was the long-serving mechanic of Sir Malcolm Campbell and Donald Campbell. He was born in London, of Italian and Scottish parents.

<i>Blue Bird K4</i>

Blue Bird K4 was a powerboat commissioned in 1939 by Sir Malcolm Campbell, to rival the Americans' efforts in the fight for the world water speed record.

The Sunbeam Tiger was a racing car of the 1920s, built by Sunbeam of Wolverhampton. It was the last car to be competitive both as a land speed record holder, and as a circuit-racing car.

Silver Bullet (car)

The Sunbeam Silver Bullet was the last attempt at the land speed record by Sunbeam of Wolverhampton. It was built in 1929 for Kaye Don. Powered by two supercharged engines of 24 litres each, it looked impressive but failed to achieve any records.

Kenelm Lee Guinness British racing driver

Kenelm Edward Lee Guinness MBE was an English-born racing driver of the 1910s and 1920s mostly associated with Sunbeam racing cars. He set a new Land Speed Record in 1922. Also an automotive engineer, he invented and manufactured the KLG spark plug. A member of the Guinness brewing family, and a director of the company, he lived and died in Putney Vale, and was buried at the nearby cemetery, bordering Putney Heath.

Blue Bird K3

Blue Bird K3 is a hydroplane powerboat commissioned in 1937 by Sir Malcolm Campbell, to rival the Americans' efforts in the fight for the world water speed record. She set three world water speed records, first on Lake Maggiore in September 1937, then later twice raising her own record.

Aero-engined car

An aero-engined car is an automobile powered by an engine designed for aircraft use. Most such cars have been built for racing, and many have attempted to set world land speed records. While the practice of fitting cars with aircraft engines predates World War I by a few years, it was most popular in the interwar period between the world wars when military-surplus aircraft engines were readily available and used to power numerous high-performance racing cars. Initially powered by piston aircraft engines, a number of post-World War II aero-engined cars have been powered by aviation turbine and jet engines instead. Piston-engined, turbine-engined, and jet-engined cars have all set world land speed records. There have also been some non-racing automotive applications for aircraft engines, including production vehicles such as the Tucker 48 and prototypes such as the Chrysler Turbine Car, Fiat Turbina, and General Motors Firebirds. In the late 20th century and into the 21st century, there has also been a revival of interest in piston-powered aero-engined racing cars.


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  4. "Index entry". FreeBMD. ONS. Retrieved 17 September 2016.
  5. 1 2 3 4 Calley, Roy (1 September 2014). The World Water Speed Record: The Fast and the Forgotten. Stroud: Amberley Publishing. ISBN   9781445637860.
  6. "No. 28910". The London Gazette . 22 September 1914. p. 7496.
  7. Julian Paget (2000). Second to None: The History of the Coldstream Guards 1650 – 2000. Casemate Publishers. p. 488. ISBN   1783379391.
  8. "No. 35872". The London Gazette (Supplement). 22 January 1943. p. 435.
  9. "No. 37454". The London Gazette (Supplement). 5 February 1946. p. 802.
  10. Motor Sport, March 1927, p.282; Motor Sport, September 1927, p.77; Thrust, by Richard Noble (Bantam Books, 1999), p.401.
  11. Plaque #2138 on Open Plaques .
  12. Julie V. Gottlieb, "British Union of Fascists (act. 1932–1940)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Jan 2008 (Accessed 5 February 2014)
  13. Zander, Patrick Glenn. Right Modern: Technology, Nation, and Britain's Extreme Right in the Interwar Period . Georgia Institute of Technology. May 2009. Page 99.
  14. "Sir Malcolm Campbell Carries the Fastest Flag." Blackshirt. 26 April 1935. Page 1.
  15. Dorril, Stephen (2006). Blackshirt: Sir Oswald Mosley and British Fascism. London: Viking. p. 356.
  16. "Index entry". FreeBMD. ONS. Retrieved 17 September 2016.
  17. "No. 31378". The London Gazette (Supplement). 3 June 1919. p. 7029.
  18. "No. 33692". The London Gazette . 24 February 1931. p. 1283.
  19. Gray, Will (12 November 2016). "10 great winners of the Segrave Trophy". Red Bull . Retrieved 12 November 2017.
  20. "Malcolm Campbell honoured". The Cairns Post . Cairns. 27 January 1940. p. 5. Retrieved 12 November 2017.
  21. "Sir Malcolm Campbell - 1885-1948". International Motorsports Hall of Fame. Retrieved 1 September 2018.
  22. "Campbell, Sir Malcolm - At Large - 1994". Motorsports Hall of Fame of America. Retrieved 2018-09-01.
  23. "CAMPBELL, Donald (1921–1967) & CAMPBELL, Sir Malcolm (1885–1948)". English Heritage . Retrieved 4 August 2012.