While writing an article about the Lord Wakefield Trophy Match I found its patron to be one of those storied Englishmen of business whose life began in Victorian England, passed through Edwardian Era, and ended in the reign of a later monarch. I was already familiar with, Sir Thomas Robert “Tommy” Dewar, Sir Thomas Johnstone “Tommy” Lipton, and Sir Thomas Octave Murdoch “Tommy” Sopwith. I like to refer to them as the three Tommys, Tommy Whisky, Tommy Tea, and Tommy Airplane.
Tommy Whisky was responsible for Dewar’s Blended Scotch Whisky’s world-wide popularity. A friend to competitive marksmanship, the sporting man endowed a large loving cup to Britain’s Society of Miniature Rifle Clubs (SMRC) which has made an indelible mark on the sport. Since 1909 English speaking nations annually compete in a smallbore prone postal match where teams of 20 shoot 20 shots at 50 yards and 100 yards for the possession of the Lord Dewar Trophy. The match gives its name to the course of fire, the Dewar, always a stage in any prone tournament.
Tommy Tea was a sportsman whose passion was America’s Cup yacht racing. Between 1899 and 1930 Lipton unsuccessfully challenged for the “Auld Mug” five times with his yachts Shamrock through Shamrock V. When the Dodgers decamped Brooklyn, and I lost interest in baseball, I found the America’s Cup. Fortunately, I became a Red Sox fan when the America’s Cup sold its soul to the Devil and mammon, abandoning the graceful 12 meters for trimarans which carried more commercial advertising than sail from their masts.
Tommy Airplane was cut from the same bolt of cloth as the other Tommys. The English aviation pioneer was a man business, sportsman, and yachtsman who challenged for the America’s Cup twice. He used his aeronautical knowledge to build two stately J-class yachts which he helmed. In 1934, his Endeavour won the first two races against Harold Vanderbilt’s Rainbow, but inexperience cost him the next four. He fielded the Endeavour II in 1937 against Vanderbilt’s Ranger, losing in four. As a pilot I was raised on imagines of his most famous airplane the Sopwith Camel.
This brings us to Cheers, Sir Charles Cheers Wakefield. One of my favorite aviation movies is Dawn Patrol, based on the short story “The Flight Commander” by John Monk Saunders who, like me, was a Quiet Birdman.
It is a story full of flying action in real airplanes, those with square radiators and axles. Two things stood out to me, all the drinking and singing in the Mess and the fact that whenever a silk scarfed pilot landed and took off his goggles the area around his eyes were white while the rest of his face was black with dirt, sort of a reverse racoon look.
As a youngster I was curious about it and asked my older brother Steve, who has just soloed and earned his pilot’s credentials, what he might know. Well versed in things aeronautical, and ready to pontificate at the drop of hat, he sat me down and explained that the boozing, scarves, and dirty faces were related. In the early days of aviation castor oil was used as a lubricant which would burn off and fly back in the slipstream, accounting for the pilot’s dirty faces. The scarves were used to prevent chaffing as the pilot swiveled his head looking for the ”Hun in the Sun” and to wipe the goggles clean of oil residue. As for the boozing, castor oil is a laxative. Pilots could not help but ingest it with the obvious side effects. Early aviators believed that healthy doses of brandy would counteract the oil, or so they said.
When Cheers Wakefield left school his first job was with an oil company. He later left to form his own company the Wakefield Oil Company, but changed its name to Castrol, because castor oil was a major component of its products. Timing is everything and Wakefield hit paydirt because the internal combustion engine was just coming into its own. In the early decades of the 20th century and the demand for lubricants for motorcar and airplane engines was tremendous making Wakefield a very wealthy man.
He did well and took to heart Andrew Carnegie’s belief that, “The man who dies rich, dies disgraced”, using much of his fortune for philanthropy. He established the Wakefield Trust, which exists to this day, to help good causes in London and particularly the East End, an area well known for its social ills caused by poverty and overcrowding.
Wakefield’s charitable works drew attention it was not long before Cheers’ name began appearing in the London Gazette on the King’s Honors List. Knighted for his good works he was later raised to the peerage as Baron Wakefield, of Hythe in 1930 and in 1934 made Viscount Wakefield.
He loved Hythe which was the site of the British Army’s School of Musketry. The anachronistically named school had been established just as the Brown Bess musket was being retired in favor of rifles. During the Great War it trained the trainer, just as Camp Perry did in the United States, so that officers would become competent small arms instructors. One of its successes was “The Mad Minute.” This exercise taught the British infantryman how to fire 15 to 20 well aimed shots in 60 seconds from their bolt action Short Magazine Lee Enfield rifles. Early in the war the “The Mad Minute” made the Hun believe that the British had more far more machine guns than they actually possessed.
Wakefield was a generous man and gifted trophies and cups to numerous organizations that supported interests of his such as aviation, aviation modeling, motor cars, and marksmanship.
As a member of the Council of the SMRC he donated a cup for competition between Great Britain and Sweden for a prone postal match series that ran from 1933 through the middle 1980s. When the match was revived in 1991 as a prone postal between English speaking nations it was first won by the United States with a record score that still stands.
But I have another connection to two of these sporting English gentlemen. Not to lord it over anyone, but I have I have served as the adjutant, coach, and captain of both the US Lord Dewar and Lord Wakefield International Rifle Teams. It just seems a shame that Lipton and Sopwith did not donate a toby, ewer, or jorum to the SMRC to give me a shot, pun intended, at clean sweep.