Stirred on by the release of my own latest work, VICHYSSOISE, about WWII, Angela reminisces about Her Grandfather’s car…
It was a sultry August afternoon at the archives. The tedium level at ceiling height until an elderly lady walked in.
‘That’s my grandfather in his chauffeur’s uniform,’ she said shoving a faded photograph into my hands. ‘He drove all the big stars to the film premiers in the thirties, you know. Kay Francis, Myrna Loy and he even drove Gregory Peck once.’ I was lost in a sea of satin, silk and fur and expensive perfume as I pictured her grandfather driving through the most fashionable streets of London…photographers’ flash bulbs as he drew up at…
’Montgomery,’ she said shattering my daydream. ‘He drove Field Marshall Montgomery during the war, when he was in London.’
I was sceptical. ‘Surely not. Montgomery would have had his own batman, wouldn’t he?’
‘General De Gaulle too,’ she continued with pride. ‘And I was wondering if you could find the car and the proof for me.’ She smiled sweetly as though the task were as simple as popping out to the corner shop.
With nothing other than the photo, the registration number (GU1909), a name (William James Norton), dates of birth, death and marriage, and an address in Colliers Wood, I had very little else to help me.
The DVLA website responded with ‘Not recognised’. A second email prompted a bald : ‘Try sending the photo to a car magazine.’ So I did. Christmas came and went without a response. A cold February day and I decided I needed a different approach.
I spent the next month at the newspaper archive looking at articles about De Gaulle. There were many covering his time, June 1940 –1944, in London. But I couldn’t spot William Norton in the background of any of the pictures in the papers.
Then a phone discussion with Amy, his granddaughter, led me down a new path and a myriad of emails to all the car museums in GB. The response? ‘That registration is not in our collection.’ However, I was able to narrow the make to Trojan, Wolseley or Austin. I phoned my client, but there was no reply.
It was April when an unexpected email turned up. William Norton’s car was ‘a Wolseley E4 12/32 hp, probably a 4 cylinder saloon with a coach-built body and registered in London between March and May 1929,’ it said. I read further and my euphoria dissipated. ‘Sorry we can not help with the registered owner – vehicle registration would have been undertaken by the London dealer.’
I called Amy but again there was no reply. So I was left to think out what to do next. More Internet searches and three weeks later I was in Teddington browsing through the archives of ‘Autocar’ – the oldest surviving car magazine in the country. Four hours later I knew that William’s vehicle was coach built with a fabric interior, non-dazzle lights, electric horn and the latest in vibrationless suspension. It retailed at the time for £315 and for an extra £12 10s you could have Triplex Glass and, the sole London dealer was Eustace Watkins, Chelsea.
Files at the National Archives confirmed that the registration was issued in July 1928 for use from August 1st that year. A tube to the London Metropolitan Archives and the registers for the licensing and taxation of vehicles and...the register for the GU series was lost.
Home again and I phoned Amy, but her son picked up the call. His mother had died the previous month, he explained.
‘All that about my great-grandfather,‘ he said. ‘They're just stories you know.’
Perhaps they were, I thought as I looked at the photo of William James Norton for the millionth time. But the journey’s been fascinating.
I was delighted when Angela's own novel was published by Crooked Cat. It's a novel featuring France, where I live, and so a subject dear to my heart.
Here's Angela, in her own words, telling us something about herself.
Having followed a career in Project and Business Change Management, I now work as an Actor and Director at a local theatre. I’ve been writing, in a serious way, for about 5 years. My work in project management has always involved drafting, so writing, in its various forms, has been a significant feature throughout my adult life.
I particularly enjoy the challenge of plotting and planning different genres of work. My short stories vary between contemporary romance, memoir, mystery and historical. I also write comic flash-fiction and have drafted two one-act plays that have been recorded for local radio. The majority of my stories are set in France where I like to spend as much time as possible each year.
Can you give us a taster about your wonderful novel, Messandrierre?
Sacrificing his job in investigation following a shooting in Paris, Jacques Forêt has only a matter of weeks to solve a series of mysterious disappearances as a rural gendarme. Will he find the perpetrators before his lover, Beth, becomes a victim?
But, as the number of missing rises, his difficult and hectoring boss puts obstacles in his way. Steely and determined Jacques won't give up and, when a new Investigating Magistrate is appointed, he becomes the go-to local policeman for all the work on the case.
I've already read and reviewed Messandrierre, so can tell all readers that it's a lovely, atmospheric read about rural France. How can readers buy it Angela?
A mystery novel set in France, available in e-book format from :
Amazon : Amazon
Website : www.angelawren.co.uk
Blog : www.jamesetmoi.blogspot.com