William Grover-Williams

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William Grover-Williams
William Grover-Williams at the 1931 Grand Prix de Belgique.jpg
William Grover-Williams as the winner of the 1931 Belgian Grand Prix
Born (1903-01-16)16 January 1903
Montrouge, Hauts-de-Seine, France
Died February or March, 1945 (aged 42)
Sachsenhausen concentration camp, Nazi Germany
Occupation Racing driver
SOE agent
Spouse(s) Yvonne Aupicq (m. 1929–45)
Parents Frederick Grover
Hermance Dagan

William Charles Frederick Grover-Williams (born William Charles Frederick Grover, 16 January 1903 – February or March 1945),[1] also known as "W Williams", was a Grand Prix motor racing driver and special agent who worked for the Special Operations Executive (SOE) inside France. He organized and coordinated the Chestnut network. He was captured and killed by the Nazis.

Personal and early life[edit]

Grover-Williams was born in Montrouge, Hauts-de-Seine, France, on 16 January 1903 to Frederick and Hermance Grover. Frederick Grover was an English horse breeder who had settled in Montrouge. Frederick met a French girl, Hermance Dagan, and they were soon married. Their first child was Elizabeth, born in 1897. William had two other siblings - Alice and Frederic.[2] Born to an English father and a French mother, Grover-Williams grew up fluent in both the French and English languages.

When William was eleven, he was sent to live with relatives in Hertfordshire, in the United Kingdom. After the war, Frederick Grover moved the family to Monte Carlo. It was there that William developed a fascination for automobiles, having been taught to drive a Rolls-Royce by his sister's boyfriend. Grover-Williams passed his driving test whilst in Monaco and was granted a licence.[3] Mechanically inclined, and fascinated by motorized vehicles, at the age of 15, Grover-Williams acquired an Indian motorcycle and it became his pride and joy.[4] He would later go on to compete in motorcycle races in the early 1920s, although he kept it secret from his family by adopting the pseudonym, "W Williams".[5]

In 1919, the Irish portrait painter, William Orpen became the official artist of the Paris Peace Conference. Orpen bought a Rolls-Royce car and hired Grover-Williams, who had returned to Paris, as his chauffeur.[4] At the time, Orpen had a mistress named Yvonne Aupicq.[6] Aupicq and Grover-Williams became good friends and after the collapse of Aupicq's relationship with Orpen, the pair were married in 1929.[7][8]

Racing career[edit]

William Grover-Williams in 1929 Le Mans, Grand Prix A.C.F. driving Bugatti Type 35

By 1926, Grover-Williams had begun racing a Bugatti in races throughout France, using the alias "W Williams",[9] entering the Grand Prix de Provence at Miramas and the Monte Carlo Rally. In 1928, he won the French Grand Prix, repeating in 1929.[9] That same year, driving a Bugatti 35B, painted in what would become known as "British racing green", he won the inaugural Monaco Grand Prix beating the heavily favored Mercedes of the great German driver, Rudolf Caracciola.[9]

In November 1929, Grover-Williams married Yvonne Aubicq, whom he had met when chauffeuring the two around Paris. Successful financially, they maintained a home in a fashionable district of Paris while owning a large house in the resort town of La Baule, Pays de la Loire, on the Bay of Biscay, which was home to one of the annual Grand Prix races. In 1931 he won the Belgian Grand Prix at Spa-Francorchamps.[9] He also won the Grand Prix de la Baule three consecutive years (1931 to 1933). Then his career waned and he was out of racing by the latter part of the 1930s.

World War II[edit]

Following the Nazi occupation of France in World War II, Grover-Williams fled to England where he joined the Royal Army Service Corps. Due to his fluency in French and English he was recruited into the Special Operations Executive (SOE) to foster the French Resistance. He recruited fellow racing driver Robert Benoist and together they worked in the Paris region to build up a successful circuit of operatives, forming sabotage cells and reception committees for Allied parachute operations.

On 2 August 1943,[9] Grover-Williams was arrested by the SD and underwent lengthy interrogation before being deported to Berlin and was then held prisoner in the Sachsenhausen concentration camp.

Death[edit]

Grover-Williams was executed at Sachsenhausen concentration camp in the spring of 1945 along with Francis Suttill, another important SOE network leader.[10][11]

However, there is a theory that Grover-Williams may have survived the war, and lived on under an assumed identity as "Georges Tambal" who allegedly lived with Grover-Williams' widow for many years.[12][13]

Legacy and recognition[edit]

Grover-Williams is recorded on the Brookwood Memorial in Surrey, England,[14] and as one of the SOE agents who died for the liberation of France, he is listed on the Valençay SOE Memorial's Roll of Honour in the town of Valençay in France.

Grover-Williams was recommended for an MBE by the head of the SOE, Major-General Colin Gubbins, in September 1945 but when it became clear that he had died, the honour was not awarded.[15]

The Saboteur, a video game released in 2009, features an Irish protagonist named Sean Devlin who is inspired by Grover-Williams.[16]

Results and records[edit]

Grand Prix wins[edit]

Year Grand Prix Location Car Report
1928 France French Grand Prix Saint-Gaudens Bugatti Type 35 Report
1929 Monaco Monaco Grand Prix Monte Carlo Bugatti Type 35 Report
France French Grand Prix Le Mans Bugatti Type 35 Report
1931 Belgium Belgian Grand Prix Spa-Francorchamps Bugatti Type 51 Report
France Grand Prix de la Baule La Baule Bugatti Type 51 Report
1932 France Grand Prix de la Baule La Baule Bugatti Type 51 Report
1933 France Grand Prix de la Baule La Baule Bugatti Type 54 Report

† Grover-Williams shared a car with Caberto Conelli.

Complete European Championship results[edit]

(key) (Races in bold indicate pole position)

Year Entrant Make 1 2 3 4 Pos. Points
1931 Usines Bugatti Bugatti ITA
FRA
Ret †
BEL
1 †
9= 14
1932 Private entry Bugatti ITA
FRA
6
GER
9= 20
1936 Bugatti Bugatti MON
9
GER
SUI
ITA
18= 28

† Grover-Williams shared a car with Caberto Conelli.

References[edit]

Books[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Saward. The Grand Prix Saboteurs. pp. 27, 317–318. 
  2. ^ Saward. The Grand Prix Saboteurs. p. 27. 
  3. ^ Saward. The Grand Prix Saboteurs. p. 28. 
  4. ^ a b Saward. The Grand Prix Saboteurs. p. 29. 
  5. ^ Saward. The Grand Prix Saboteurs. p. 30. 
  6. ^ Sometimes spelled Aubicque, see http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/art/art-news/7691212/The-WWI-copy-thats-worth-250000.html
  7. ^ Saward. The Grand Prix Saboteurs. p. 32. 
  8. ^ Saward. The Grand Prix Saboteurs. p. 39. 
  9. ^ a b c d e Higham, Peter (1995). The Guinness Guide to International Motor Racing. Guinness Publishing. pp. 200–208, 542. ISBN 0-85112-642-1. 
  10. ^ Saward. The Grand Prix Saboteurs. pp. 317–318. 
  11. ^ "One of motor racing's greatest mysteries is solved", MARCH 7 2007, grandprix.com
  12. ^ "Formula One: Uncovering the mystery of William Grover-Williams", Richard Bath, Sunday 27 May 2012, The Scotsman on Sunday
  13. ^ "A different danger - three champions at war", Richard Armstrong, May 12, 2002, forix.com
  14. ^ "Casualty Details: GROVER-WILLIAMS, WILLIAM CHARLES FREDERICK". Commonwealth War Graves Commission. Retrieved 4 January 2009. 
  15. ^ Saward. The Grand Prix Saboteurs. p. 343. 
  16. ^ "Saboteur Interview". IGN. 9 April 2007. Retrieved 12 January 2009.