Glen Kidston

23/1/1899 - 5/5/1931

Record updated 13-Feb-23

W.O. Bentley described Glen Kidston as "a born adventurer." He was rough, tough, sharp and as fearless as Birkin. He was one of the four core members and perhaps the most wealthy of the infamous Bentley Boys of the late 1920s. From a wealthy family, Kidston was perfectly set-up to spend his whole life mucking about, pretty much as he saw fit.

Glen Kidston
Of all the Chappiest Chaps that history has ever chucked-up, few, if any, were ever more classically steeped in Chappist lore than was Glen Kidston. Glen was born in Natal, South Africa to a wealthy family of Scottish industrialists and bankers. And was perfectly set-up to spend his whole life mucking about, pretty much as he saw fit.

His early ambitions saw him join the Royal Navy, where he rapidly rose to the rank of Lieutenant Commander. And as such, found himself on the strength of the cruiser HMS Aboukir during WW1.

HMS Aboukir

In 1914, they were crossing the North Sea in convoy with their sisters ships HMS Hogue and HMS Cressy, when the Aboukir was hit by a torpedo launched at close quarters from the German submarine, U-9. The Aboukir sank rapidly, but the captains of the Hogue and the Cressy, thinking that the Aboukir had struck a mine, closed in quickly and began picking up survivors.

Glen climbed aboard the Hogue, just in time to find himself torpedoed and tossed into the briny for a second time! By the time that Glen had reached the apparent sanctuary of HMS Cressy, it’d dawned on the ship’s captain that there might just be a U-Boat on the loose. And he strained to manoeuvre his charge towards a safer position. But it was all too late.

The commander of U-9 was on a roll, and Glen Kidston was soon getting his feet wet for the third time that morning! Soon after this, Glen volunteered for submarine duties and became seconded to the notorious X1.

The X1

Commissioned in 1925, the X1 was an experimental cruiser-submarine. And was, at the time, the largest submersible that had ever been built. The idea was to have a craft that would be as effective as a surface vessel as it would be underwater. The result though, was just a vehicle that was crap at being either! An effect that was compounded by its impressive talent for sniffing-out disaster at practically every turn of its propeller.

During Glen Kidston’s tenure on the X1, a faulty depth gauge allowed them to dive too deep on one occasion and get stuck in the mud lining of the North Sea. Luckily an extrication was eventually established. But not before they’d spent a worrying few hours shuffling along in the recruiting queue for the Davy Jones Line.

Glen later got command of his own H-class submarine and, having already developed a personal interest in aviation matters, also became enthusiastically involved in the Royal Navy’s blossoming flying division before leaving the sea to concentrate on the family business empire. And, to stimulate the soul, pursue his general interest in sporting matters of a mechanical bent.

He tried his hand at motorcycles and took part in the 1929 Isle of Man TT. And, true to form, he managed to survive a major crash in the race. He raced power-boats. And inevitably, he raced aeroplanes. But it’s for his competitive activities in motor cars that Glen Kidston is now best remembered.

Kidstone in his Bugatti T35

He drove a Brescia Bugatti at Brooklands before becoming the first British customer for the celebrated Bugatti Type 35 acquiring one in 1925. Aside from Brooklands, Kidston also raced on the continent and finishing fifth in that year’s Provence Grand Prix at Miramas.

However later in the year he stopped racing in order to marry however, his life remained exciting. He and his wife had survived a high-speed boating accident outside Southampton in 1927 and his first recorded aircraft crash came on a hunting expedition outside Nairobi in 1928.

Then an invitation came to become a full-time member of the legendary “Bentley Boys”, via his friendship with the Bentley company Chairman, Woolf Barnato. He would play a major part in Bentley’s emphatic 1-2-3-4 result at Le Mans in 1929. When he shared a car with Jack Dunfee to finish in second place for the Cricklewood based firm. Behind the winning sister car of Woolf Barnato and that other 'Alpha Chapster', Sir Henry Birkin.

And, later that summer, he lead the motoring headlines again after an epic solo drive in the Irish Grand Prix around Dublin’s Phoenix Park. Where, in front of a packed crowd, he toughed-it-out in a race long battle with the nimble, little Alfa Romeo of exiled, former Russian Army officer, Boris Ivanowski.

Glen though, was hampered badly by the crumbling track surface and captured as a consequence, more than his share of the post-race anecdote material. Like this little high-speed, off-piste loop around the back of one of the safety banks! But Ivanowski’s lightweight Alfa was far less bothered by the deterioration. And despite putting body- and-soul into the effort, Glen was forced, in the end, to settle for a hard won second place.

Boris Ivanowski (left)

The pinnacle of Glen Kidston’s racing career, though probably the one single achievement for which he’s now best remembered, came at Le Mans in 1930. When he shared Woolf Barnato’s Bentley to celebrate yet another 13. famous victory (on the left with Woolf Barnato on the right) for the legendary wearers of the British Racing Green. Allowing Woolf in the process, to notch-up a third Manselle win in just three starts. A unique record that still stands proud at time of writing.

Kidston and Barnato at Le Mans kn 1930

Woolf Barnato though, had been funding Bentley’s ongoing existence very largely from the contents of his own vast pockets. But that last success in the 24-Hours, had been enough of an excuse for him to hang up his both his sporting and his corporation head-gear. And without Woolf’s money to sustain their un-sustainability, Bentley Motors were left with no choice but to close down their racing team, and hurl themselves down the slippery-slope towards dissolution and, in 1931, take-over by Rolls-Royce. Presenting simultaneously, the pretence for Glen Kidston to terminate his own automotive exploits. Glen would now divert all his energy into the pleasures of aviation. A field in which he could’ve been said to have already built-up a bit of a dubious track record.

On the 6th November 1929, Glen Kidston would have been found boarding an Amsterdam bound, Lufthansa. branded, Junkers G31 at Croydon Aerodrome (then London’s principal airport) and settling down with the six other passengers and the two-man crew to enjoy the forthcoming decampment to the continent. Unfortunately though, the pride of German civil aviation developed issues shortly after take-off and the whole experience was prematurely terminated in a field near Godstone in Surrey.

Finding himself trapped in the burning wreckage, Glen escaped by, quite literally, punching and kicking his way through the side of the plane’s fuselage! And, having rolled on the grass to quell his scintillating clothing, leapt straight back into the conflagration to effect the rescue of one of his fellows.

Junkers G31

Realising that, back in those pre-radar days, the controllers at Croydon might very likely have been completely unaware of their plight. Glen set off across the fields to secure help. And startled a passing motorist with his charcoaled visage and smouldering clothing, when he burst unexpectedly out of a hedge to flag him down for assistance! His deliverer was called upon to proceed directly to the nearest public phone. Where Glen personally called the airport to report the disaster, before having himself driven off to the nearest hospital. The fellow flyer that Glen Kidston had pulled from the flames that day, turned out to be Prinz Eugen Von Schaumberg-Lipp, and was the only other escapee.

Prinz Eugen Von Schaumberg-Lippe (seen here on the right, with a couple of jolly aerobatic types)

Glen enjoyed some recognition from the grateful German authorities for his show of bravery. But in the end, the Prince sadly failed to qualify for a place on the, now rather limited, guest list for the Godstone Air Disaster Survivors Annual Christmas party. Glen made a point of getting himself back in the air as soon as possible. So as not to risk losing his enthusiasm for the medium. And he’d also retained his links with Africa. Where, incidentally, he’d built up quite a reputation as a bit of a big- 16. game hunter.

So that in early 1931, he departed Netheravon airfield in Wiltshire at the controls of a specially prepared Lockheed Vega. With the single-minded objective of reaching Cape Town quicker than anybody else ever had before. Which, of course, he did. In a record time of just six-and-a-half days!

Lockheed Vega

But just a month after arriving in South Africa. Glen, accompanied by his friend Tony Gladstone, hired a De 17. Havilland Puss Moth from the Johannesburg Light Plane Club (their plane ZS-ACC, was one of the sisters of the club’s ZS-ACA shown here). For a routine, hand-keeping-in flight from Johannesburg to Natal. Passing through the Drakensberg Mountains though, they would encounter an unexpectedly fierce, dust storm. And, unable to fly around it, over it or outrun it, their little plane got sucked in and thrashed about until it could stand no more leaving them still airborne but without the supporting element of a viable flying machine! And without Glen’s usually well-honed capacity for the dramatic escape, excluded him from the subsequent arrangements.

Their Havilland Puss Moth, ZS-ACC, was one of the sisters of the club’s ZS-ACA shown here

Glen left behind his wife and a young son. But Mr Kidston had also been quite the socialite in his time. Back in his Bentley days, he’d taken a flat in Grosvenor Square. Directly adjacent to those of his fellow drivers Woolf Barnato, Sir Henry Birkin and Bernard Rubin. The all-day-and-night parties therein, became a legend. And the street outside became so crammed with the produce of W.O’s temple of manufacturing, that 'Bentley Corner' became, for a while, a renowned, London landmark! And at least two of Glen’s acquaintances of the female persuasion, namely Margaret Whigham, the future 18. Duchess of Argyll, and the young novelist, journalist and socialite, Barbara Cartland (who was also a very effective glider pilot), later claimed to have publicly fainted on hearing the widely reported fact of his untimely demise! Barbara Cartland later even named one of her sons Glen, in his honour. So Glen Kidston then. Not just a Chap it seems. But a bit of a Lad too!

A memorial to him stands at the place where his aircraft crashed.t seems. But a bit of a Lad too!