Captain D.M.K. Marendaz was a swashbuckling ex-Royal Flying Corps pilot, who has his niche in the history of the sports car for the series of elegant custom built vehicles which bore his name…in the Twenties and thirties’ said the Times. A flier of the old school who regarded his generations of pilots as the last of the true knights of the air…in their fragile contraptions of wire and fabric. The story was also told of Merendaz’s part in the historic battle of Cambrai when over 300 tanks were launched on the German lines as a spotter pilot to penetrate the fog over the battlefield and transmit vital information. They also paid tribute to his exceptional qualities and the service given to many aspects of our national life.
But what was left unsaid in those national newsheets was that Captain Marendaz, who like so many other fighting men of World War 1 had proved their patriotism in that holocaust, had been imprisoned without charge or trial under the infamous 18B Regulation in World War 11, an obituary in a classic car magazine alone reporting his detention, “despite his unquestioned patriotism” and who later were to intimate that it was for being a “committed supporter of Sir Oswald Mosley.”
Donald Marendaz joined the RFC in 1916 and was in combat over the Western Front after only twenty hours flying. In November 1917, he was the only spotter pilot to penetrate the fog over the battlefield on the first day of the offensive , which for the first time massed tanks were to be used in battle. Marendaz was in fact spotting for the cavalry which had remained inactive for most of the war. The order of battle was that the cavalry would charge across the bridge on the St. Quentin-L’Escaut Canal at Masnieres after a gap had been forced in the German front by the tanks.
All allied and German aircraft had been grounded, but there was Marendaz, cruising at 5,000 feet after nearly an hour’s climb at 8 am that cold November morning. Unable to see a thing he took his Armstrong-Whitworth down to 150 feet, risking the onslaught of enemy rifle fire. Breaking through the fog blanket, he immediately saw that the severely damaged bridge would not stand the weight of a cavalry charge so he sent a message in Morse, an action that prevented a disastrous end for the cavalry.
After the war he devoted his tireless energy to engineering, and partnered the launch of the original Alvis car, followed by the Marseal which developed a sports model which Captain Marendaz frequently raced at Brooklands.
In 1926 came the Marendaz Special which over the next ten years established a high sporting reputation, the Captain beating many records at Montlhery and Brooklands.
The highest point of his achievement was the Coventry Climax-engined Special raced by Aileen Moss, mother of Stirling, but in 1936, production ceased at his Maidenhead factory owing to the increasing competition from the mass production car industry.
Captain Marendaz then devoted his energy and abilities to his earlier love and become the owner of two airfields, where at Government request, he set up flying school which turned out nearly 500 pilots, many of were to achieve distinction in the Battle of Britain. He also designed and build three aircraft, one of which was a trainer with a retractable undercarriage and could ‘hover’, and a Marendaz Special fighter which he claimed was superior to the Spitfire. Both were rejected by the same Air Ministry department who rejected Whittle’s jet engine.
As war clouds gathered, he was granted facilities – just six weeks before the British war declaration to visit the Luftwaffe to observe the training of their pilots.
After the war he emigrated to South Africa, where he was born, and manufactured industrial diesel engines, returning to Britain in 1971, where in the seclusion of his Lincolnshire home, he ensured by his Marendaz Special would live on among the names of the giants of that exhilarating age of 1930s motor sport.
It was also the age of the birth of British Union, and many such men as Donald Marendaz found a home within its ranks. He was certainly a ‘committed supporter’ of Mosley, and is believed to have been a personal friend – Mosley was also ex-Royal Flying Corps. He took a great interest in the BUFs Automobile Club and was frequently at their gatherings at NHQ, as was Sir Malcolm Campbell – he carried the pennant of the BUFs London Volunteer Transport Service on his world record breaking run in his “Bluebird” at Daytona in March 1935.
Detained in the summer of 1940 with several hundred Mosley supporters, one-third of whom were ex-servicemen of the war of his youth, Donald Marendaz no doubt pondered on the quality of the ruling politicians who labelled as potential traitors, men whose loyalty to Britain was proven by their past.