To start at the beginning we have to look closely at Donald as a boy. The son of a mighty race ace and daredevil renowned in the form of Sir Malcolm Campbell winner of land and water world cups. A real speed king who had little time for his rejected son. For Donald worshiped him was not enough for this fame seeking father to love him. It was a feeling that would last even after Sir Malcolm Campbells death.
Donald was born on the 23rd March 1921 Canbury House Kingston upon Thames Surrey England. He lived in the shadow of his great victorious father. His desire was never to race as he believed he was no good at anything. He left school with less than average skills and sought a job in a factory. He was then to meet again his fathers able promoter and mechanic and friend in Leo Villa. Over time Villa was able to talk Donald into racing. It took time but here we are in Australia with Bluebird car winning the world championship.Donald at the wheel. His first comment was “Do you think the old man would be happy with me now.”
Over time Donald built up a track and water speed record as good as anything his father had managed. He was now land and water race winner in the same year. A speed king Ace who had been rejected by call up for war as health problems stopped him going into forces. Rejected by his father and now world champion with only the wish, to please his dead fathers memory.
He told of doing it all for England. It was true but under it all he felt a failure all his life. We think his father may even have beat him for being weak. Only no proof as Donald never spoke only to ask and annoy all he pestered ,”Will my father be happy with me?”
The day I saw Bluebird k7 power down Windermere water at such speed with a back view from where I stood massive water fountains like fish tail as the boat flew from sight. The roar of that Bristol Orpheus Gnat Fighter engine was deafening all ears around the lake end. It was really practice as Bluebird was moored in Norman Buckleys boat house in the shore line of lake and his Langdale Chase Hotel.
Buckley was a boat racer himself and the two hit it off. Campbell stayed at another hotel as Chase was always fully booked. I also know that he was short of funds at that time. Norman Buckley was one of the richest men around and so he introduced Donald to electrical engineering friends who ran a business in Kendal some 8 miles away. Here it was agreed that they would work on up dating Bluebirds wiring harness.
In records I did find that Donald was not left Blue bird in his fathers will.No he had to buy it off his fathers estate? I can quite see Donalds rejection now.
About six days prior to the death race on Coniston Water Donald had confided in a friend that that he was about to go through a nervous breakdown. That friend told him not to race or drive but to check in with hospital.
The day of that fateful race Donald had drawn the death card in play of cards. He was always a very superstitious man and had a premonition he was about to die. Here he should have said no. But public and TV had all arrived early. He put on his brave face buckled up and hoped for the best. I do not think for one moment that he had a death wish. He had come all the way up and was still and even now today the only man ever to hold both land and water speed races titles in the same year. He had nothing to prove but racing was now in his blood. He smiled, climbed in and powered Bluebird K7 down the lake for try one. He recorded 297 mph Southbound. One thing he saw was the bow lift away from the water. Bluebird K7 he now realized was going beyond her ability in design. If that nose lifted more than 3 degrees up the craft would simply take off from the lake. He made the turn round fast as he knew that wake he had to break before it became too high. Time was all he needed and with engine warm he gave her full power back down the lake to the one mile marker and hope going through he would break his own record. Campbell always gave a running commentary over the radio to his team on shore.
His last words before Bluebird hit 328mph and lifted out of the water.
” Full nose up.pitching a bit down here. Coming through our own wash,er! getting straightened up now on track in rather closer to Peel Island …And we are tramping like mad,over. I cant see much and the waters very bad indeed. … Im galloping over that top and she is giving a hell of a bloody row in here….. I cant see anything , Ive got the bows out … Im going .UHHH!”
At this moment the craft had raised far out from the lake and backwards into a somersault and crashed down into what would be a concrete hard surface of water at that speed. At that exact moment Bluebirds perspex wind shield cuts Donalds head right off his shoulders he is dead before the craft sank.
It was a tragic end to a great and noble gentleman who gave his all that day. The simple truth is Bluebird K7 was not made to cope with 300 miles per hour. She could not take the power of flat out with the skill of such a driver he brought even more out of her than was ever expected. Death wish no it was win win and win again.
He had almost cried over John Cobbs death in Crusader on Lochness just a short time before. Now all mourned Donald who would not be found for another 36 years.
That day of race 5th January 1967 the 46 year old Campbell was lost. In 2001 was brought back up from the cold deep waters. After a wide search for Bluebirds wreckage .In the deep gloom of an almost bottomless lake divers located the main fuselage of K7 but the nose cone end had not been located nor Campbells head. His helmet had been found still buckled proving he had been decapitated on impact. His blue overalls bearing the Union Jack flag found in bits around the headless skeleton that on DNA tests in Barrow in Furness Hospital matched with Daughter Gina and Donalds sister. 98 % fact recorded it was the remains of Donald Campbell.
He was buried in Coniston Village, Hawkshead Road cemetery, Cumbria UK.
Campbell had once told his sister that if anything happened Skipper and boat must stay together. He may still have that wish as nose cone and head will never be found in that cold dark waters of a Viking Lake in the land of mountains and legends he has joined the story of the area folk law. Along with Eric the Red and Kings Arthur and Dunmail who was the once and future King of legend. Roman fortress and Viking Halls, stone circles from before time was invented and now Donald Campbell is part of that story too.
He had not given up hope until Bluebird K7 killed him as it hit the concrete hard water he survived for just seconds after impact as the screen broke off and all was over. He had a quick ending and one hopes above he can stand up to the father who rejected him as weak with more titles to prove who really was the better man.
I hope you remember his name and stand with me to protect his memory as he was a real gentleman in life and a legend forever. He was not weak as his over powering father had predicted he was just unloved. Even so he made a champion who has my respect
Yours always my friends my readers and thank you for joining me again. Sorry it is not mystery now but at least his earthly bones are at rest from the deep.
Copyright Kevin Parr Bt 2018