Motoring Pioneer awarded DBE for Wartime Services to her Country
Dame Ethel Locke King was a keen motorist and oversaw the completion of the Brooklands Motor Course. During the First World War, she had a key role within the Red Cross as Assistant County Director and Commandant of more than 12 hospitals, including her home at Brooklands House, Weybridge.
Born Ethel Gore-Brown in Tasmania in 1864 whilst her father was serving as Governor, she moved to Brooklands House in 1884 when she married local landowner Hugh Locke King.
In 1906 Hugh decided to build a motor racing circuit on his land at Brooklands, and it seems certain that Ethel was a key influence behind his decision because of her own motoring passion. Indeed, she travelled to Turin in May 1906 to personally drive home her new 24/48 hp Itala (which she named ‘Bambo’) after it won the inaugural Targa Florio race.
The construction of the track grew to become a much larger undertaking than originally thought, causing Hugh’s health to deteriorate under the strain. By December 1906, the stress had become too much and Ethel stepped in to take control of the project. As the costs rose rapidly, the Locke Kings faced bankruptcy but were saved by several members of Ethel’s family loaning funds to pay their debts.
At the official opening of the Brooklands Motor Circuit on 17th June 1907, the first permanent race track in the world, Ethel Locke King led the parade around the track in ‘Bambo’. She returned to the track in 1908 to take part in the first ladies race held at Brooklands, coming in a close second behind Scottish motor racer, Muriel Thompson.
By 1912, Ethel had become involved with the Red Cross as Vice-President of the Chertsey branch and was to become a key figure in the organisation’s work in the area both before and throughout the First World War.
As war approached, Ethel suggested a large-scale exercise at Brooklands to demonstrate the effectiveness of the Red Cross Voluntary Aid Detachments (V.A.D.s) when working alongside the Territorial Army in the event of an invasion. On 20th June 1914, a mock battle was held within the racing circuit.
600 members of the Surrey VADs were on hand to man the First Aid stations and hospitals behind the ‘line of battle’. With the outbreak of war expected, the exercise drew a great deal of attention and was attended by Queen Alexandra, Empress Marie Feodorovna of Russia, The King’s Surgeon Sir Frederick Treves and Field Marshall Lord Roberts.
As the war progressed, Ethel took a prominent role in the local work of the Red Cross. In her role as Assistant County Director, she was responsible for establishing and organising 15 auxiliary military hospitals, including in her own home at Brooklands House, and managing 700 volunteers in 19 VADs. She additionally took on responsibility for the area’s donations and subscriptions, used to run the hospitals and buy motor ambulances for the front.
In honour of her work she was appointed Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire on 1st January 1918.
Use the links below to find out more about some of Brookland’s spectacular racing cars:
- Brooklands: 1927 Racing Norton
- Brooklands: The Napier-Railton Racing Car
- Brooklands: The Single Seater Duesenberg