Monday, August 21, 2006

Bernard Laurence Hieatt, 1909-1930

My latest thing (Tudor portrait memorial brasses) being recondite even by my standards - though I found a nice example in the University Church, St. Mary's in Oxford this last Sunday), I post instead about a more recent piece of memorialising. This marvellous monument is very local to me here in Reading, being in the far reaches of the Cemetery Junction burial ground.

It is 'To the proud and beautiful memory of Air Pilot Bernard Laurence, the beloved eldest son of R. L. & L. Hieatt, who was suddenly called away in his hour of victory on May 3rd 1930, after creating two world records in the two hundred miles motor cycle and sidecar race at Brooklands, aged 21 years'.

His grieving parents had their aviator and motorcyclist depicted in his flying jacket, with lace-up puttees. He nonchantly holds his flying helmet, and I suppose that only piety prevented the sculptor from carving in the cigarette which you have to feel that his left hand would inevitably have had poised. He grins, this youthful Icarus, who has for the moment harnessed all the technology of speed. In early May 1930, he died at Brooklands, that steeply banked Surrey circuit beloved of the record-breakers. The extensive Brooklands-related website doesn't record any 200 mile motorbike and sidecar race records, but there is a photograph on the site which maybe gives a glimpse of how insanely hairy that type of event might have been - for the sake of aerodynamics, the sidecar rider lies prone, facing backwards!:

If this fine piece of 30's art has any signature by the sculptor, I missed it. At the corners of the plot, what were once winged helmets, with goggles draped over them, add another heroic touch. The biplane depicted on the side of the monument looks vaguely like a Hawker Hart. What we are seeing is W. H. Auden's airman, glamorous and doomed, ready to step into or out of the exactly contemporary The Orators.

As for myself, too many churches, and now cemeteries ... I suspect myself of admiring the dead too much, simply for having got through an ordeal to which I find myself peculiarly averse.

Update: John Pulford at Brooklands Museum fills me in on the details of Hieatt's death and career: "He was leading a 200miles motorcycle and side car race at Brooklands on a Rex Acme combination when he ran into a fence coming off the Byfleet Banking after complaining at his last pit-stop of very poor visibility caused by heavy rain. He took several world records and won races, achieving a coveted BMCRC ‘Gold Star’ in 1929 for lapping the track at over 100MPH"


Dangermouse said...

Hello. I am Bernard's great great great Nephew. Thank you for this write up. I have not yet visited Bernard's grave but plan to do so soon

David Hamill said...

Hi I’ve just been to the grave I had never heard of this gentleman but now I know who he was. He flew tiger moths and raced motorcycles. This was a guy who lived hard and died young but his story will never be forgotten because I have 2000+ friends on Facebook from all over the world and have shared the photos and story of a legend. Thank you for paving the way in motorcycle racing.