The Vault

This letter hangs on the wall of my writing studio and is the next topic in “The Vault”

It is no surprise that motor racing took a back seat during the 1940’s. World War Two had ravaged every part of our world and the rebuilding process afterwards took some considerable time. However, this did not stop enthusiasts wanting to put motor racing back on the map.

Donington Park was the first permanent park circuit in England, it held the first motorcycle race along the narrow lanes of Donington Hall Estate in 1931 and later the track was widened to incorporate Grand Prix racing.

During World War Two the site was requisitioned by the Ministry of Defence as a military vehicle depot and it was from here the above photograph told the story of how one such person, John Dugdale, wanted to return this park circuit to its former glory.

This letter from Field-Marshal Montgomery hangs on the wall of my writing studio and it answers the questions posed with regards to ‘handing the park’ back or the idea of a dual control committee between Donington and the MoD. Montgomery felt Donington Park was not suitable to revert back to be a racing venue.

The letter, dated 21st May 1948, was addressed to John Dugdale, although Montgomery himself just addresses the journalist as ‘Dugdale’ at the beginning of the letter. John Dugdale was a a journalist for Autocar magazine, starting out in 1933. He served in World War Two and won the British Military Cross. He went to New York and became Western Manager for Jaguar, before eventually taking the role of Vice-President in 1966.

Montgomery explained in the letter that Donington Park was ideally situated for the purpose of a Vehicle Reception Depot and had been developed by the army even after the war. There had been much money spent on the location and the MoD had commissioned the construction of buildings which Montgomery himself quoted as costing £300,000. With the war only four years gone and the era, this was a huge sum of money.

Montgomery’s concerns for the army evacuating the site were listed as such:

– Finding alternative accommodation.

– A move of several thousand vehicles, all of which would have to be towed.

– The erection at the new site of workshop buildings, sheds, petrol pumps, etc.

– The army would probably get no return for the £300,000 which it has already spent and might have to face additional expenditure in putting the track in order.

The war hero believed that handing the park back would involve a great loss to the State and this just was not acceptable. He approached the option of dual control, which Dugdale had obviously mentioned in previous correspondence, saying he considered this to be impractical due to vehicle being parked at the edge of the track in regular, disciplined rows. It was not possible to move them further away due to tree lines and fencing which would mean it impossible for spectators to congregate on the grass to see any racing whatsoever. Montgomery was also concerned with what he stated as “pilferage” of army equipment if the public were allowed inside the venue. His trust in the public and the idea of racing at Donington was clear to see in the letter, he had no interest.

He suggested to Dugdale that he and the War Office took the view that there must be other parks in the country just as suitable to house a racing track. He conceded this would involve much capital expenditure but stated it would be far less than the loss of money to the State if the army were to give up the location.

In closing, Montgomery stated he sympathised with the desire to return motor racing to Donington Park but he was satisfied that the view of the War Office to keep the depot as it was being used for the correct decision. He felt he was not justified to intervene in the matter.

That was the end of the matter with regards to Donington Park hosting motor racing again until 1971 when Tom Wheatcroft funded the rebuilding of the circuit and the rest is history.

This letter is a fascinating insight into the thoughts of Montgomery who had no interest in assisting with Dugdale’s request of intervening with the War Office to return Donington to its former glory, it is difficult what Dugdale hoped to achieve by writing directly to a career military man asking him to side with the motor racing community against the army.

Every picture tells a story.

See You At The Chequered Flag.

Neil Simmons

Twitter: @world_racing

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