A Fleeting Peace

Golden-Age Aviation in the British Empire

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Fourteen stories - featuring twenty seven extraordinary adventurers, and a lion - that made the world smaller, in aviation’s Golden Age


This is the story of the fleeting peace, told through the stories of some of its most extraordinary and flamboyant characters.

The men and women (ignore the lion for the moment...) came from all social classes, and from throughout the English-speaking world; England, Ireland, Scotland, America, Kenya, and Australia. Some of them were very rich, some were most definitely not.

What unites these 14 stories is that two people - often from widely differing backgrounds - flew together, and then parted.

Until I can find time to write the actual book, you'll just have to look them all up in the 'Aviator' pages.



What it's about: Amelia Earhart’s record-breaking flights and her visits to England; the collapse of the Selfridge Empire; lifestyle of the rich and famous; flying holidays in the 1930s; successful children

c amelia earhartc gordon selfridge


·         Amelia was one of the most famous people in the world after her long-distance flights in the early 30s; Gordon was the playboy son of Harry Selfridge.

·         Gordon acted as her personal pilot on her trips to England.

·         Amelia famously disappeared in 1937 somewhere in the Pacific. Gordon, once his father had lost control of the Selfridges Empire, moved to the USA and worked as a ‘retail executive.

Chapter2  - Amy Johnson and Jim Mollison


What it's about: Snobbery; class; insecurity; marriage and divorce; alcoholism; role of women in WWII; failed long-distance flight


c amy mollisonc jim mollison


·         Amy, the daughter of a fish-merchant from Hull, was the nation’s sweetheart after her famous solo flights; Jim was a hard-drinking and hard-living Scot.

·         They married and set a number of aviation records together, but fell out spectacularly and divorced after their failed attempt in 1934 to fly from England to Australia.

·         Amy died in WWII, flying for the Air Transport Auxiliary; Jim became the owner of a London pub.



What it's about: mass slaughter in WWI; post-WWI politics; the rise of the Nazis and how it was perceived in England; Canada; women’s role between the wars

c andrew hamilton gault c dorothy hamilton gault

·         Andrew Hamilton Gault was an English-born Canadian who served in the Boer War and then founded a regiment in WWI, which was all but wiped out within months. He was one of only two officers to survive, but lost his left leg. Dorothy had her own plane, registered G-AAGA.

·         Andrew and Dorothy flew to Germany in 1933 and met the Nazis.

·         He became an MP for Taunton then moved to Montreal and died there in 1958.


Chapter4 - Charles Barnard and the Duchess of Bedford


What it's about: the Aristocracy; Woburn; manslaughter; prison in the 1920s; Flying Circuses in the 1930s; long-distance record-setting and the fame it brought; deafness; ornithology; suicide

 c barnard and duchess

·         Mary du Caurroy Tribe was brought up in Sussex but met and married the future 11th Duke of Bedford in Lahore; Charles Barnard was convicted of manslaughter just after WWI but became Mary’s personal pilot and later ran a ‘flying circus’.

·         They made many flights together, setting a number of records - India and back, Cape Town and back, and toured Europe and North Africa by air.

·         Charles died in 1971; only 2 people went to his funeral. Mary (who was deaf) flew herself out over the North Sea in 1937 ... and disappeared.



What it's about: Colonial Africa (White Mischief); RAF; boxing; post-war Germany; suicide; long-distance flight triumph.

c cwa scottc tom campbell black

·         Charles was a tough ex-RAF boxer from London, with many record flights to his credit; Tom was a quiet ‘soldier settler’ in post-WWI Kenya.

·         They flew together from England to Australia in 1934, winning the first prize of £10,000.

·         Tom was killed in an aircraft accident in 1936 in Liverpool; Charles committed suicide in post-WWII Germany.


Chapter6 - Elsie Mackay and Hinch


What it's about: Class, Rich-vs-poor; wilful daughters disobeying their parents; Royal Flying Corps in WWI; Imperial Airways; the National Debt; spiritualism; tragic flight

c elsie mackayc wgr hinchliffe

·         Elsie was the very rich daughter of Lord Inchcape, the chairman of P&O; Raymond Hinchliffe the one-eyed ex-RFC flyer who was one of the first pilots for Imperial Airways.

·         Together, they tried to fly across the Atlantic the ‘wrong’ way to America, but disappeared and were never seen again.

·         After their death, a London spiritualist claimed to have heard from Hinch. Elsie’s money (£521,000) was given to the nation to ‘reduce the National Debt’. Hinch’s money (£32) went to his widow.



What it's about: Sophies’ incredible life story; Sicele’s accidents and determination; record-breaking women; alcoholism

c sophie elliott-lynnc sicele obrien

·         Sophie, Lady Heath, was a well-known, courageous, determined and forceful sportswoman, an athletic 6-foot tall Irishwoman ‘never averse to publicity’. Her crazed father beat her mother to death (with a stick) and she was brought up by her aunts in Limerick. Sicele was a tiny, accident-prone Irishwoman, one of the very first women to get a commercial flying license.

·         Together, they set a British altitude record in 1928.

·         Sophie went through three husbands and died when she fell (drunk) down the stair of a tram; Sicele (having lost a leg in a previous accident) killed herself and her passenger in another aeroplane crash at Hatfield.



What it's about: duty; shyness; the aristocracy; the ATA in WWII; Scotland; Northumberland; Douglas’ amusing eccentricity; their tragic deaths and their daughter born between the two accidents

c Margaret King-Farlow 1937c douglas fairweather ata

·         Margie was the reserved, well-to-do daughter of Lord and Lady Runciman, from Nothumberland; Douglas, her husband, an outgoing, eccentric and lovable Scot.

·         They both flew for the Air Transport Auxiliary in WWII.

·         They were killed within a few weeks of one another, in air accidents. Their daughter was born after Douglas died.



What it's about: Class; snobbery; post-WWI Fleet Air Arm; the Bentley Boys; serial adultery; Africa; California

c cathcart jonesc glen kidston


·         Glen was everything that Owen wanted to be – rich and well-connected, one of the famous ‘Bentley Boys’. Owen was a Royal Navy pilot who was married six times, and had a string of other affairs.

·         Together, they broke the London to Cape Town record in 1931.

·         Glen was killed a few weeks later when his plane broke up in the Drakensburg Mountains, Natal. Owen moved to California and ended up owning a ranch raising polo ponies.



What it's about: Women entrepreneurship; successful and determined women; joy-riding; death in childbirth; the ATA; role of women in WWII

c pauline gowerc dorothy spicer

·         Pauline was the daughter of a Tory MP, Dorothy her ‘tall and charming blonde friend’ who held a string of engineering qualifications

·         They toured all round the country giving joy-rides in hundreds of places – taking up more than 33,000 passengers

·         Pauline became head of the Women’s branch of the Air Transport Auxiliary, then a Director of British Airways during WWII. She died giving birth to twin sons. Dorothy and her husband had been killed in an air crash in Buenos Aires, three months before.


Chapter11 - Ray Parer and Goff Hemsworth


What it's about: Papua New Guinea, its exploration and its Gold Rush; determination in the face of adversity; the Pacific war; Japanese atrocities in WWII

c ray parerc godfrey hemsworth

·         ‘Battling’ Ray Parer was from Melbourne, Australia, flew in the RFC in WWI and then in Papua New Guinea during the Bulolo gold rush years when the country led the world in commercial aviation. Goff was from Sydney, the son of a famous explorer.

·         Together, they flew from England to Australia in 1934, although they had so many mishaps, and it took them so long, they missed getting any prizes

·         Ray tried to join the RAF in WWII was told he was ‘too old’; he ended up as a farmer in Brisbane. Goff (who they said had ‘all the guts in the world’) was was killed flying a Catalina in the Pacific in WWII. One rumour is that he was killed by the Japanese after being picked up out of the water.



What it's about: Barn-storming and air racing; the Great Depression; movies; successful flight from England to Australia

c roscoe turner and gilmore

·         Roscoe was from Mississippi, a showman, dare-devil barnstormer, wing-walker and parachutist through the 20s; permanently penniless, he was sentenced to a year in jail in 1922 when he unknowingly bought a stolen plane. He moved to Los Angeles and flew for the movies, including Howard Hughes' 'Hells Angels'. Gilmore was an actual lion, who flew with him (to begin with, on his lap) and had his own parachute.

·         Gilmore is preserved, stuffed, and is in the Smithsonian Museum. Roscoe died in 1970.


Chapter13 - Winifred Brown and Ron Adams


What it's about:  independent women; expulsion from school; women as winners; marrying a woman with another man’s child; sailing; role of women in WWII; hockey; Lancashire; ‘Crossroads’

c win brown and ron

·         Winifred was a fun-loving hockey player, sailor and aviator from Cheshire who was the first woman to win the King’s Cup round-Britain race. Ron was her long-time confidant and friend.

·         They married, but not before Win had had a child by another man.

·         Win lived on a house-boat until her death in 1984. Her son became an actor - the ‘slippery Adam Chance’ in ‘Crossroads’.



What it's about: Successful women; mistrust of authority; Oxford University in the 30s; rowing; sudden death; the King’s Cup; WWII war in the air.


c winifred spoonerc ect edwards

·         Winifred Spooner was generally regarded as the best woman aviator of her era. She didn’t like policemen. ECT ‘Sphinx’ Edwards (M.A. Oxon) was a rowing blue in 1925 and 1926, and won the King’s Cup round-Britain Air Race in 1931.

·         Together, they tried to fly from England to Cape Town, but had to ditch in the water and swim to shore.

·         Winifred died suddenly, from pneumonia, in 1933. Sphinx was killed in WWII and is buried in Holland.


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c elsie mackayc wgr hinchliffe

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Cobham's Flying Circus

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