Home | News | Features | Drivers | Teams | Seasons | Galleries | Circuits | Forum | Shop
Joe Saward's Grand Prix Saboteurs has been a long time in arriving, eighteen years, and it is worth every minute of the wait.
It tells the story of three racing drivers who were involved with the French Resistance during WWII. There was William Grover Williams (right), who raced as 'Williams' and who was the most successful British driver of the 1920s. He won the first Monaco GP, the French GP twice and the Belgian GP. His father was English, his mother French. He grew up in France and perhaps became more English because of that.
Williams was recruited by the Special Operations Executive (SOE) and parachuted into France in 1942 to organise cells which would cause mayhem in support of the inevitable Allied invasion. It was no easy task, France was the only country to sign an armistice with Germany and, having lost 1.7 million dead in WWI, with countless more maimed, the French were not actually straining to become involved.
Joe Saward quotes a former SOE agent. "To understand the French Resistance you must think of an egg timer which was turned on its head when the Germans invaded France in 1940. The first grain of sand was called Charles de Gaulle and gradually others joined him. By the end of the war everyone in France was a member of the Resistance."
'Everyone' includes the collaborators, those who betrayed their Jewish neighbours and those who were able to wriggle out of the fact that they had joined the Waffen SS. Joe and I discussed this latter category more than 16 years ago and we had in mind a person known to us both.
Grover Williams (he had hyphenated his name by then) recruited his old friend and rival, Robert Benôist (left) who, in 1927, won four of the five Grands Prix. He had been World Champion in all but name. There had been a World Championship, but only for manufacturers. That had been won by Delage, with Robert taking all of Delage's wins. He became Competition Manager for Bugatti and came out of retirement to win Le Mans in 1937.
Benôist was anxious to recruit Jean Pierre Wimille, another outstanding driver. Grover Williams was wary of Wimille, who had flirted with right wing politics, and refused. When, in 1943, the Englishman was betrayed by someone he had every reason to suppose was a friend, Benôist assumed leadership of the cell and brought in Wimille. He had no reason to regret his decision.
In the late 1930s, Jean Pierre Wimille was recognised as being among the very best drivers in the world, so much so that Mercedes Benz offered him a drive. J P turned down the offer on the grounds of patriotism, he knew that war was inevitable, and so became possibly the only driver to turn down either of the 'Silver Arrows' teams . In the immediate postwar period, Wimille was widely felt to be the world's top driver, he was with Alfa Romeo, but was killed while practising for a race in Argentina in 1949.
We have secret agents who were all Grand Prix winners, operating in wartime Paris. It's a gift of a story.
Joe and I had a long conversation about his project in 1990 and I was very impressed at the research he had done then. It was outstanding by any standards, it was PhD level. He had interviewed fellow agents, surviving relatives and sifted through files, then everything went quiet.
Page: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | Next | Last
Copyright © Pitpass 2002 - 2013. All rights reserved.
About | Advertise | Contact | Copyright | Privacy & Security | RSS