REME History: Ken Miles, Engineer and Driver
You might have heard the name of racing legend Ken Miles in the Academy Award winning 2019 film, ‘Ford v Ferrari‘. Miles, played in the movie by Christian Bale, was a British sports car racer, mechanic and engineer.
He’s best known for developing and racing the Ford GT40. He famously missed out on the Le Mans win in 1966, the subject of the film, giving up his lead to ensure a tied finish with the GT40 driven by Bruce McLaren.
Born in Sutton Colefield in 1918, Miles was initially interested in motorcycle racing. He later committed his mechanical expertise to the war effort, signing up in 1939. Initially, he served with an Anti-Aircraft unit in the Territorial Army, spending time as a driving instructor.
Ken’s World War II tracer card, held by the REME Museum, provides a summary of his REME service. This tells us that he was among the founder members of the Corps, starting at Training Establishment REME on 1 October 1942.
He was then posted to Guards Armoured Troops Workshops followed by 29 Armoured Brigade Workshop in 1943. He embarked from the UK on 15 June 1944 landing in Normandy and serving in North-West Europe, as evidenced by the 21 Army Group stamp on his card. Later that year he was posted to 15th/19th King’s Royal Hussars LAD. His trade is recorded as Armament Artificer. He was discharged to the reserves on 1 April 1946.
Miles’ tracer card, held in the Museum’s archive and deciphered by our research team.
The records explored so far do not provide any further details of Miles’ career. However, biographies indicate that he was present at the liberation of Bergen-Belsen. He was later discharged with the rank of Staff Sergeant.
At one point in the film, Matt Damon playing Carroll Shelby, says of Miles:
‘That man landed a busted tank on the beach at D-Day and drove it clean across Europe to Berlin.’
That’s probably not strictly true, but our initial investigations confirm new specifics about his wartime service
After VE Day, Miles began racking up an impressive record as a race driver, moving to the US in 1952. He built his own vehicles, raced for Porsche and Ferrari, before teaming up with Shelby to serve as competition director and test driver for Shelby American. He was renowned for his driving and engineering expertise but also for being exceptionally courteous.
A Le Mans win in 1966 would have brought Miles a unique treble, having won the 24 Hours of Daytona with Lloyd Ruby and then the 12 Hours of Sebring earlier the same year.
Two months after the ’66 Le Mans, Miles was killed in an accident while working as primary test driver for the Ford J-Car (later to become the Mk IV).
When Miles was serving with REME, the Corps was at its largest (8,000 Officers and 152,000 Soldiers in May 1945). Among that number are many servicemen and women who went on to fascinating civilian careers. We know about a few of them like Norman Thelwell, Benny Hill and Arthur Lowe. Have you heard of any famous REME people? If so, us. We’d love to share their story.