Sunday, 24 April 2016

Irene Schwedler (Charlotte Sadler)

Charlotte Schwedler's pilot's license photo

Irene Schwedler was part of the Brooklands ladies’ racing “set”, and an occasional rally driver. Her later, post-war career was in rallying, and under a new name, Charlotte Sadler.

She was born in Germany in 1906, and was originally named Ilse Charlotte. Racing-related records tend to refer to her as Irene, but she did not use this name personally, going by Charlotte or Carlotta, Lotta for short. It is not clear where "Irene" came from - possibly an administrative error somewhere.

Charlotte was a German national. She had come to live in England in 1923, in order to work as a nanny. She had several different jobs as an adult. At some point, she apparently owned a shop in Luton. Her pilot's license gives her occupation as “private secretary”. Other records have her as a “garage proprietress”.

During her early time in England, Charlotte took up motorcycling and toured the country. Back in Germany, her father and two sisters were also keen adventurers, with a preference for motorcycles. She seems to have been the first racing driver in the family; according to her nephew, she first raced at Brooklands in 1928, practising for a Ladies' race in an Alvis. She did not make the start due to a piston failure. A year later, she lapped Brooklands as a passenger in an MG Midget, before finally getting to compete in earnest herself.

The earliest media mention of her seems to be as a competitor in the Women’s Sport and Automobile Association (WASA)’s Lands End Trial in 1930, driving an MG. In a similar car, she entered a Ladies' race at Brooklands in March. 

She began racing an Alvis Speed 20 at Brooklands at the start of the 1930s, when she was in her mid-twenties. The car was a new model in 1931. A few years later, in 1934, Charlotte’s Alvis was described as belonging to a C.G.H. Dunham, although this may not be the same car. A small article in the Triple-M Register Bulletin from November 2015 states that Gerald Dunham was a personal friend of Charlotte’s, and that she raced more than one Alvis from his own showroom. Both Dunham and Charlotte lived in Luton.

Her first major Brooklands appearance was a Ladies' Handicap in 1931, in which she was third, in a 1645cc Alvis. There were eight entrants in the race, and she was behind Fay Taylour in a Talbot, and Elsie Wisdom in an Invicta.

In June 1932, she took part in the BARC Inter-Club Meeting at Brooklands. She was representing the Women’s Sport and Automobile Association. Her third place in a nine-mile handicap helped the club to second in the Stanley Cup, for the best club team of the day. Her team-mates were Miss Hedges and Margaret Allan.

At the same meeting in 1933, her individual performance was better; she won the Lightning Short Handicap, her first major Brooklands victory. The WASA team was second. This time, she was driving the Speed 20 that probably belonged to Gerald Dunham. At the Whit Monday meeting, she was one of the first female drivers to enter a mixed race organised by the BARC at Brooklands, when she drove in the Cobham Senior Short Handicap.

During her racing career, she often drove alongside other female drivers in the team relays and match races which happened at Brooklands. Her best performance in a relay was third, in the 1934 Light Car Club event, driving an MG Magnette alongside Margaret Allan and Doreen Evans. Despite their superior performance, they were denied a Le Mans place in favour of Kay Petre's Singer team, who had exploited a loophole in the rules that the Ladies' Cup, and the Le Mans entry that went with it, was not awarded to anyone finishing in the top three. The Singer crew had found a copy of the MG pit notes, and successfully intercepted their pit signals, allowing them to maintain position behind their rivals, and claim the Le Mans spot. Charlotte, although a capable driver, never seems to have competed internationally.

In 1934, she took part in the Brighton Speed Trials, driving Gerald Dunham’s Alvis. She was second in the Ladies’ class, behind her regular rival, Kay Petre, in her Bugatti.

As well as circuit racing, she occasionally drove in rallies in the UK in the 1930s. In 1935, she entered a Rover Speed Pilot into the RAC Rally, starting at London. She used the same car and start point the following year. For the 1938 RAC, she used a Hillman Minx, and began at Leamington. This year, she is recorded as finishing in 154th place. She drove the Hillman again in the 1939 RAC Rally, before rallying ceased for World War II.

Her last Brooklands appearance was in 1938, the year before the circuit closed. She drove a Talbot 10 in a one-make Talbot race, during the August Bank Holiday meeting, but she was not among the leaders. Her friend Gerald Dunham also entered.

After the war, she reappeared in the entry list for the 1947 JCC Eastbourne Rally, driving an Alvis, presumably one of her earlier cars.

Some time later, in December 1947, she formally changed her name from Ilse Schwedler to Charlotte Sadler, adopting her erstwhile middle name. This followed her naturalisation as a British citizen in November. She seems to have competed a little in sprints and hillclimbs in 1948, driving an Alvis Speed 20 in the Brighton Speed Trials. This was the start of the second part of her career, as the rally driver, Miss Charlotte Sadler.

After 1950, she was something of a regular on the Tulip Rally. In 1950, she drove a Hillman Minx, with Hazel Dunham and a Mrs. Plummer. Hazel was the daughter of Gerald Dunham, Charlotte’s earlier supporter. They were 37th overall.

The Sadler/Dunham pairing tackled the Tulip again in 1951, assisted by Mrs. DM Alcock. Driving solo in the Minx, Charlotte also tackled the Scottish Rally. The following year, Charlotte and Hazel in their Rover won the Closed Car Ladies’ Cup in the RAC Rally, as well as finishing 31st in the Tulip. Another appearance in the Tulip in 1953 seems to have been their last major event together. She retired from motorsport completely in 1959.

Away from the race track, she was quite an experienced pilot, flying from Brooklands and being awarded her license by the Royal Aero Club in 1937.

As a German national, Charlotte was interned during the War, as a “hostile alien”. She was held on the Isle of Man, after her classification was changed to a higher one. This was practice at the time, and does not reflect any personal misdemeanours or beliefs. She was a private person; other than her closeness to the Dunham family, little is common knowledge about her. One of her sisters emigrated to England later, having survived a prison camp. The two women lived together. She did not have children of her own, but was regarded as a family member by the younger Dunhams, joining her nephews on shoots. Late in life, she took up water skiing.

She died in Luton in the late 1970s.

This post was created with help from the TNF Nostalgia Forum, particularly the users "alvista", “Vitesse2” and “ReWind”.

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