The event needs little explaining to an audience such as this. Suffice to say Parry Thomas was attempting to wrestle the Land Speed Record back from Malcolm Campbell when, for reasons oft-speculated but still not definitively known, he lost control of ‘Babs’, his Higham Special powered by a 27-litre war-surplus Liberty aero engine, at something over 170mph. The car flipped and rolled, landed back on its wheels, did a half spin and stopped having suffered remarkably little damage. The same could not be said for its intrepid driver. Aged just 42, he’d spent the previous two days in bed, waiting for both the weather and his influenza to clear and now he was sitting bolt upright in the remains of his car and clearly already beyond helping, thanks to a head injury many but not all attributed to its flailing drive chain.
Whether it was Parry Thomas’s stated wish that Babs be buried under the sand I do not know for sure, but some guidance is perhaps provided by the death of another driver just six months earlier. Then it was a 25-year old Australian called Captain R.B. Howey who met his maker, this time against a tree in a race outside Boulogne. Howey was a popular figure in racing, a regular at Brooklands and successful too: in the year he died he won both the Gold Cup and Gold Star races in his straight-eight Ballot.
After he died, his body and the wreck of the Ballot were put on a cross-channel steamer, but only one of them would reach dry land. Half way across, the ship was stopped and the Ballot gently eased over the side, consigned to the deep by the man to whom the job had been entrusted: one JG Parry Thomas.
I don’t know if Parry Thomas and Howey were great buddies – it seems unlikely given their age gap and the fact that Howey’s apparently charming character would have contrasted with that of the famously reticent, borderline dour personality of Parry Thomas – but I do know both the Ballot and the Higham Special were bought from the estate of the late Count Zborowski so there seems to be a connection there. So maybe Parry Thomas also wished his car also to be buried as close as realistically possible to where it fell.