A Fleeting Peace

Golden-Age Aviation in the British Empire

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photo: 1915, aged 22, when a Flt Sub-Lt in the RNAS

Capt Howard John Thomas Saint

b. 23 Jan 1893 in Ruabon, N Wales

RNAS in WWI (June 1916).

Joined the Aircraft Manufacturing Company after WWI, and  was the first pilot then licensed by the Air Ministry.

He conducted the very first flight after the ban on civilian flying was raised on May 1, 1919, taking off from Hounslow before dawn in a D.H.9, with a parcel of Daily Mails, heading for Bournemouth. Unfortunately, "fog was encountered in the neighbourhood of Portsmouth, and a forced landing on the Portsdown Hills resulted in the machine being wrecked and the pilot, Capt. H. J. Saint, D.S.C., and passenger, Capt. D. Greig, being injured."

Rejoined the RAF in March 1922, and (as F/O Saint) competed in a handicap race at the RAF Pageant later that year.

In 1927, he became chief test pilot for Gloster. He had a narrow escape in 1933; "The Breda monoplane on which has been fitted the Ugo Antoni variable-camber wing crashed on Chosen Hill, Churchdown, near Gloucester, on Friday last. Mr. H. J. Saint, Gloster's chief test pilot, had taken the machine up in very bumpy weather, and a couple of minutes afterwards wing flutter developed, a portion of the port aileron came adrift and the machine sideslipped into some trees, Mr. Saint escaping with minor injuries." 

Married twice, September 1918 (divorced August 1934) and in 1936.

Retired to Cheltenham, Gloucestershire and died there in Sept 1976.

Aerial Derby in 1919

Peggy Louise Salaman in 1935


b. 20 September 1910 (or possibly October 1907)

Peggy's brief moment in the spotlight came in November 1931. She and Gordon Store flew her D.H. Puss Moth 'The Good Hope', and two lion cubs, to Cape Town, in 5 and a half days, breaking Glen Kidston's record by 28 hours.

Peggy Salaman and Gordon Store

They gave her a celebration dinner at the Dorchester, at which she modestly pointed out that Gordon did "all the navigation, the chief part of the piloting, the forced landing [they missed an aerodrome and had to spend the night in 'dangerous country'] and for landing and taking off at the majority of the aerodromes", as well as looking after the engine. She did all the organisation and relieved Mr Store "when the flying was easy". Nevertheless, neither of them had more than about 20 hours sleep during the entire flight.

The lion cubs? She picked those up in Juba, [Southern Sudan, as you probably know] took them to Cape Town and then on to England. They appeared in the Christmas circus at Olympia and then went on the road with Bertram Mills's Circus. In October 1932 they were reported as being "sturdy young lions" who were "a picture of health". So that turned out well, then.

See a newsreel of her, and the lion cubs of course, here.

Their Cape Town record only stood for a few months, though; Jim Mollison managed it at the second attempt, in under 5 days, the following March.

She was, however, still (just) famous enough in May 1932 to get to meet Amelia Earhart at the American Embassy - more details here.

photo: 1930, aged 18

Mr Theodore Cecil Sanders

"F/O. William Daniel Dennehy and F/O. Theodore Cecil Sanders, the pilot and passenger of an aircraft of No. 2 Armoured Car Company, Ramleh, Palestine, lost their lives in an accident which occurred at Sarafand on September 26, 1935"

King's Cup in 1933

F/O Phillip Edward Gerald Sayer

the first British pilot to fly a jet fighter, in 1941; killed in 1942 in a flying accident in Northumberland


King's Cup in 1930, 1932, 1933

betty sayer 1937

Betty Eileen Sayer

bettey sayer signature

b. 18 Sep 1917, London


Betty was an 'Assistant Passenger Agent', working for Messrs Butterfield and Swire in Shanghai in 1940, but she had gained her Royal Aero Club 'A' Licence 3 years before. So, when the call came for women pilots for the Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA), she didn't hesitate; clutching this letter of introduction, she made her way back to England:

22 October 1940

The British Consulate-General, Shanghai

Re: Miss Betty Eileen Sayer

The above-mentioned lady is travelling to England at her own expense with the object of offering her services to the RAF as a 'ferry pilot'.

Miss Sayers leaves a good position in Messrs Butterfield and Swire, Shanghai, and I have no hesitation in recommending her application.

We found her intelligent, industrious and willing.


She explained to the ATA that her licence had, in fact, expired in August 1940; she had got half way through the course for a 'B' licence but abandoned this to return to Shanghai to join her father. She had 37 hrs 51 min solo, out of a total of 90 hrs 55min -  "chiefly Tiger Moths and Gypsy I"

"Well, said the ATA, as you've come all this way, you'd better have a flight test. Which she did, and it was satisfactory.

As quite often happened, nothing happened. When they finally did write, it was to say that there were no vacancies, and anyway, "nobody with less than 50 hrs solo can be accepted at the moment."

Betty was understandably, a tiny bit annoyed. She wrote to them, again: "I told you at the time about my solo hours... there would seem to be little point in my carrying out a flight test ... I have travelled here from Shanghai for the express purpose of doing something to help the war effort...  Could you please let me know when I may expect to hear from you, as naturally I do not wish to do nothing whilst awaiting a communication from you... I might join the WAAF, although naturally I would prefer to become a member of the ATA."

They wrote back on the 28 March 1941: "You are on the first reserve", then on 5 April the long-awaited call came through: "Please report on May 1st".

ATA Betty Sayer

Betty was keen, and started instruction; she was 'shaping well', but the next setback came on 9 May:

"We have sufficient pilots to cope with our work at present, and we do not require your services. You had slightly less experience than any of the pilots we have taken on so far."

ATA Senior Commander Pauline Gower was not best pleased, either; she wrote to her boss, "I have had to dispense with the services of Miss Sayer as a pilot ... You instructed me to bring our numbers up to 40, and this is what I have done."

Poor Betty was shunted off to the non-flying staff, as a Secretary on 3 pounds 10 shillings a week. There she languished for a few weeks until, on the 3 July 1941, in another triumph of long-term planning, she was ... put on the flying strength once again. She had another test, on the 17th:

"Miss Sayer is obviously inexperienced and requires more practice with forced landings and compass turns. Try her again after another 20 hours dual and solo"

By the 9th Aug 1941 they reported: "Better: her turns near the ground have improved... enterprising and sensible in her flying."

 The final, bitter blow was only just round the corner, however; on the 15 Mar 1942, she (with Bridget Hills (q.v.)) was killed at 12.20pm on the 15 Mar 1942 when flying as a passenger in Fairchild Argus HM178, which stalled and crashed onto a bungalow when returning to land at White Waltham after bad weather.

fairchild argus

Yorkshire Evening Post, 17 Mar 1942: "AIRWOMEN KILLED Ferry Pilots' 'Plane Hit Bungalow. The Ministry of Aircraft Production announces that Flying Officer Graham Lever, Third Officer Bridget Hill, and Third Officer Bessie Sayers lost their lives in a flying accident on Sunday. The accident occurred in the course of their duties with the Air Transport Auxiliary. The 'plane crashed on to a bungalow. A fourth passenger in the machine, also a woman A.T.A. officer, was injured. Twenty-six people were injured when they rushed to the house to extricate the passengers in the 'plane. It is believed that the petrol tank in the machine exploded.

Among the injured were children who were in the street. The petrol tank exploded some time after the crash, owing, it is believed, to contact with a fire in the kitchen. A man named Croft, living in an adjoining bungalow, was blown through a window into the street and badly hurt but a child in the front room of the bungalow was rescued almost uninjured. "

She was buried at Maidenhead Cemetery. Pauline wrote that "she was a vey keen pilot, who had her heart in her work. She flew well and had the makings of a good ferry pilot."

One of the ATA Women

mini - h m schofield

photo: 1934, aged 35

Flt-Lt Harry Methuen Schofield

Director and General Manager of General Aircraft Limited, who built the  Monospar aircraft. Spent four years after WWI building church organs.

He was a Schneider pilot in 1927 but crashed before the race, because they'd put the aircraft back together wrongly - he was thrown clear in the crash, but his clothes were dragged off, leaving him clad only in a shirt; wrote a couple of books; died 1955.

To see some video footage (and to hear him say “Well, I am very proud to have won this cup…but, um, I think the man who should be speaking is Mr. Steiger who built the machine… I couldn’t have done it without the machine, and I think a lot of people could have won it in the machine, and that’s all there is to be said about it, really”),

click here:


King's Cup in 1933, 1934

photo: 1926

Flt-Lt Edward Rodolph Clement Scholefield

known as 'Tiny'; b. 1893 in Calgary, Alberta. RAeC certificate Fr 819 (1912). Joned the RFC as a mechanic in WWI; German PoW 1915-18. chief test pilot for Vickers; killed in 1929 in the original Vickers Vanguard, which crashed at Shepperton

"His was a lovable disposition, and he could be at once amusing, illuminative, and instructive." C G Grey

King's Cup in 1926, 1927

photo: 1929, when an Army officer (11th Hussars), aged 25

Mr Derek Shuldam Schreiber

'From Suffolk. Enjoys polo, hunting, shooting and other sports'. Gulp. Later a Brigadier; died 1972 and is buried in Marlesford, Suffolk.

King's Cup in 1930, 1937

photo: 1934, aged 31

Mr Charles William Anderson Scott

Born 13thFebruary 1903 in London

One of the truly great aviators of the 1930s, establishing many long-distance records and winning some of the most important long-distance races of the period, but rather went to seed after that and shot himself after WWII. Scott wrote a book, and enterprisingly called it 'Scott's Book'.

"Scott is a splendidly-built six-footer, always in excellent condition. His other sporting recreations are golf and sailing."

"Charles Wiliam Anderson Scott, aviation editor of the 'News Chronicle', is the elder son of Mr Charles Kennedy Scott, the musician and conductor.

Educated at Westminster School, the future airman began his career as a sugar planter in Demerara, South America. The experience did not prove at all to his liking and he returned to England in 1922. Sailing was his passionate hobby - it still is - but as a youth trying to find his rightful career, flying did not occur to him until a friend suggested joining the Royal Air Force. Young Charles Scott sent in his application and thought little more about it until he found himself accepted and ordered to report to the Flying School at Duxford.

The Royal Air Force occupied the next four years of his life [he was heavyweight and light-heavyweight boxing champion whilst in the RAF] and in 1926 he was again wondering what was the next move when chance played the deciding game again. A sharp shower of rain sent him scurrying into Australia House for shelter with the result that he was bound for Australia not many weeks later.

There Scott became a pilot with Qantas Ltd., flying the mail routes in Western Queensland and acting as a flying instructor from 1927 to 1930. During that period he met the late Bert Hinkler, Mrs Mollison and the late Sir Charles Kingsford Smith and was inspired to break records.

Scott resigned his flying job in Queensland and came to England in 1931 determined to break the England-Australia record, despite accumulating financial troubles caused by the rising Australian rate of exchange.

He got there, reducing the record to 9 days 3 hours. That year he flew back again and made another record of 10 days 23 hours. Both flights beat Sir Charles Kingsford Smith's times.

In 1932 he attacked the England-Australia record for the second time and regained it with 8 days 20 hours.

The greatest adventure of his career was the magnificent flight in the Mildenhall-Melbourne air race of 1934 when he and the late Tom Campbell Black reached Melbourne in just under 3 days.

On September 17, Scott was married to Miss Greta Bremner, younger daughter of Mr and Mrs E L Bremner, of Melbourne, Victoria, Australia, only 12 days before the start of the Johannesburg air race."

- from the Celebration Dinner programme after the race (October 14th 1936 at Claridge's Hotel).

In 1936, his "Flying for All" Display embraced over 150 centres in the United Kingdom and Irish Free State, and was aimed particularly at "familiarising people with some of the cheap, easy-to-fly light aeroplanes available to-day".

Died 15th April 1946, in Germany, aged 43

p.s. The £10,000 MacRobertson first prize would, using average earnings, be worth about £2 million today.

Read More ...

MacRobertson Race in 1934

King's Cup in 1936

Schlesinger Race in 1936

Eileen May Scott in 1929

b. 21 May 1903, from Barnsley, who owned:

  • a 1928 Avro 594 Avian III, G-EBYO, which she later sold to Vera Brailey, then a
  • 1929 Blackburn L.1C Bluebird IV, previously G-AAOC, registered EC-UUU in Madrid in December 1933

photo: 1930, aged 24

Mr Michael David Llewellyn Scott

b. 12 Sep 1906 in Eton, Bucks.

B.A. Cantab. and an 'Old Uppinghamian'. In 1930, a solicitor from Stoke Poges, if you hadn't already guessed :-), and, for a while, v. famous in the Skegness area...

In 1930, after competing in the King's Cup, he crashed near Skegness when the wheels of his D.H.60X Moth G-EBXG caught a wire fence. He jumped clear, but his mechanic (Howard), who was still strapped in, was 'injured about the head'.

May 1932, he had a terrifying ordeal (a bit like General and Mrs Lewin in the Sudan swamps, but even worse) in the remote reaches of The Wash; "CRIPPLED 'PLANE ON SANDBANK SET ON FIRE TO ATTRACT ATTENTION  - HULL TRADER TO RESCUE"

"Captain (sic) M. D. L. Scott, secretary of the Skegness Aero Club, was flying with a passenger named Tingall, from Skegness to Hunstanton, when his 'plane developed engine trouble. They were about halfway across the Wash, and he was compelled to a make forced landing on a sandbank which was uncovered, as it was low tide... they made an effort to swim the five miles to shore, but the current proved too strong. They then tried to attract attention by setting fire to the 'plane. Later the flames were noticed by a small cargo boat named Lizzie and Annie, which came alongside and took Captain Scott and his passenger on board. "

Only just in time, too - the tide was rising fast... only the engine of the aeroplane remained unburnt ... Gosh!

By 1933, he was offering to take sun-starved midlanders to be braced up a bit in Skegness; 25 bob return from Nottingham or Leicester, 35 shillings from Birmingham: "Nottingham people will be able to fly to Skegness again this summer at fares which will actually be cheaper than the first-class railway rates. This enterprising venture, which was inaugurated last year, is to be resumed again at Easter on a very much bigger scale... The service is to be conducted Mr. M. D. L. Scott, of Eastern Air Services, Skegness".

The Eastern Air Transport Company carried 30,000 passengers in the 4 years to 1933 without serious incident.

In November 1934, the Western Daily Press reported thus: "FOUND: AN AEROPLANE. A police constable, while on duty in Pinner, Middlesex, yesterday, found a monoplane in a field. No one seemed to know how the monoplane got there, and the constable began to make inquiries. The machine appeared to be a privately owned one, and was in good condition save for some slight damage to the undercarriage. The monoplane bore the marks G-AAPY and inscribed inside the fuselage was the name "M. D. L. Scott, Skegness." Further inquiries by the officer among the farm hands and the owner of the farm, Mr Hall, showed that someone saw an aeroplane land in a field on Wednesday afternoon. From that time until the constable discovered it yesterday it has been completely unattended, and, far as the police know, unclaimed. A Mr L. Scott, an airman, operates a private aerodrome and club at Winthorpe, a mile or so from Skegness. Pinner police were last night in communication with the police at Skegness."

[G-AAPY was a Desoutter I, belonging to Michael. It was, indeed, written off in November 1934.)

He then turned to golf in the late 30s - winner of the 'Witt Cup' in 1938.

Married firstly to Marguerite; their son, Roderick, was born in December 1943. By then, he was a Flt-Lt (RAF Volunteer Reserve) in Oxford.

However, by 1948, when he married Miss Patricia Collette Thomas (from Bude, Cornwall) in Zurich, they lived at 400 East 57th St, New York.

Describing himself as a 'Sales Manager', he travelled (first class) from Durban to Southampton in February 1959, intending to stay a couple of months with the Duke of Somerset, Maiden Bradley, Wiltshire. Like you do.

King's Cup in 1930, 1933

Also entered his Puss Moth for the Oases Race in 1933, but didn't start.

Harry Gordon Selfridge, Jr

b. 2 Apr 1900 in Chicago, known generally as 'Gordon'.

Son of Harry Gordon Selfridge Snr, the founder of Selfridge's department store in London; his mother, Amelia 'Rose' Buckingham, died of pneumonia in 1918. Gordon had 2 older sisters - Rosalie and Violette, and a younger sister Beatrice. Harry always regarded Gordon as his natural successor.

The children had a privileged upbringing during the years that Selfridge's was doing well - travelling frequently back to Chicago, or to St Moritz for skiing; cycling around London, playing tennis or learning judo. Gordon was a pupil at Winchester, then got a degree in economics at Trinity College Cambridge.

His father was apparently unimpressed with Gordon's liaison with a pretty girl called Charlotte Elsie Dennis, from the Toy Department in his store; Charlotte and Gordon eventually had four children (three of whom got PhD's), but Harry Sr simply refused to acknowledge the relationship.

Anyway, at 26, Gordon became MD of Provincial Stores Group (part of the Selfridge's Empire) and bought a new DH Moth to get around. This he crashed into a tree, whereupon his father insisted that he sell it (to Oscar Garden as it happens, who used it to fly solo to Australia). And he bought a speedboat. And then another plane. "He was constantly photographed beside a combination of a plane, a boat, or a beautiful woman"; he comes across as, let's be frank, a rich, spoilt, playboy.

Gordon continunued to be well-known in all the best aviating (and lunching) circles throughout the 1930s - e.g. in June 1932, "Miss Amelia Earhart was entertained to luncheon at Heston by Mr. Gordon Selfridge, Jnr. Among Mr. Selfridge's party at lunch were Sqd. Ldr. and Mrs. Orlebar, the Hon. Leo Russell, Mr. and Mrs. Nigel Norman and Mr. and Mrs. R. Denman. After lunch Mr. Selfridge flew Miss Earhart to Brooklands' display in a 'Puss  Moth', several private owners accompanying them in their machines as escort. Later in the day Miss Earhart returned to Heston, again being piloted by Mr. Selfridge."

Easter Flying Tour 1931 Gordon Selfridge Flt Lt MacIntosh H Jackaman R Denman JC Parkes Leslie Runciman Whitney Straight HH Leech

A typical jaunt - the Easter Flying Tour, in 1931: Harry (3rd from right) with others including Flt Lt MacIntosh, H Jackaman, R Denman, JC Parkes, Leslie Runciman, Whitney Straight, and HH Leech.

However, after his father lost control of the Selfridge's Empire in 1939 and it became clear that there was no place for him in the new setup, Gordon returned to the U.S., finally married Charlotte (yes, her from the Toy Department) in Illinois and thereafter continued to work as a "retail executive" for Sears Roebuck.

mini - hg selfridge

d. 30 November 1976 at Red Bank, New Jersey, aged 76.

Aerial Tour in 1930

photo: 1930

Colonel the Master of Sempill AFC

Ah... yes... the aviation pioneer, chairman of the Royal Aeronautical Society, right-wing sympathiser and occasional spy, who was motivated by his 'impetuous character, obstinacy, and flawed judgement', rather than money.

Read More ...

King's Cup in 1924, 1925, 1926, 1927, 1928, 1929

in 1930

Irene Agnes Brooke Sewell, b 5 May 1900 in Dorking, owned a 1928 DH.60M Moth, G-AACD.

She used this in February 1932 when she flew, "unaccompanied, on a 3,500-mile flight to Transjordania. The flight is a pleasure one entirely, mainly to visit friends at Amman. She reached Le Bourget in the afternoon, but was held up there by bad weather until February 25, when she proceeded to Marseilles. Rome was reached on February 27, and after a stop of 20 min. she flew on to Naples. Here she was again held up by bad weather."  

(Irene, love, are you absolutely sure it was a good idea to go in February?)

She was then "weatherbound at Naples for nearly a fortnight. She was able to resume her flight last week-end when she accomplished a splendid trip to Campania in 3 hr. 50 min. in such bad weather conditions that a German pilot, who left Naples shortly after for the same destination, had to return to Naples."

Anyway, she finally got there on March 19th. I hope it was worth it.

In August 1932, the "GOSSIP FROM GATWICK" was that "The feminine element was well to the fore during the last week. Miss Aitken [i.e. Grace Aitken, q.v.] did her first taxi trip, when she conveyed Miss Sewell to Heston to collect her machine, in which she put up such a very good show when she flew it out solo to Transjordania."

The aeroplane ended up at Cambridge Aero Club, and they duly wrote it off in a crash on the 24th June 1937.

Irene died in 1970.

John Lister Shand

The son of His Honour Sir Charles Lister Shand and Lady Shand; he married Ruperta Sibyl Bromley, daughter of Sir Robert Bromley, 6th Bt. and later the Hon. Lilian Pauncefote, on 3 June 1924, but they divorced in 1933. He later married Enid Chauvin.

Joined the RAFVR in WWII, was promoted to Acting Flt-Lt in February 1941 but was killed 16 June 1941 on active service in the Middle East, and is commemorated in Cairo's War Memorial.

His mother was killed in an air raid on Bath in April 1942.

in 1934, before the MacRobertson Race

Geoffrey Shaw in 1947

In 1947

Wing-Cmdr (AAF) Geoffery Shaw DFC

 [with family insights kindly provided by Louise Wilkinson, author of 'The Kipper Patrol', who interviewed Geoffrey's wife in October 2009]

Geoffrey was born in Saltburn by the Sea, Yorkshire, in 1902, the second of 5 boys whose mother died at the age of 32 when he was 7. His father, who owned the Wellington Cast Steel Foundry  in nearby Middlesborough, was unable to cope with the five boys, so Geoffrey was sent to public school in Scotland.

He then studied engineering at Cambridge; whilst there, he met a friend who wanted to learn to fly, so the two of them went and found someone who could teach them both. After Cambridge, he went back to work in the family business, Wm Shaw & Co Ltd.

"He was a very good engineer. He never reckoned he was very smart at anything learning wise, I don’t think any one else did either, but he was very good at all kinds of sport. 

"He found a small aerodrome where he could continue flying to build up his hours."




 for week ending June 5, 1927. —-Total flying time : 33 hrs. 10 mins.

Dual with Mr. Parkinson :—Mrs. Heslop, Miss Leathart, Dr. Watt, Messrs.Elmes, Thirlwell, Heaton, Jewett, Wilson, G. Shaw, Gibson, George, Macalpine Downie, Pargeter, Bainbridge, and Capt. Milburn.

Solo :—Capt. Milburn. Miss Leathart, Drs. Dixon and Watt, Messrs. Leech, R. N. Thompson, C. Thompson, Mathews, H. Ellis, Turnbull and W. B. Ellis.



Report for week ending June 12.

Dual with Mr. Parkinson :—Sir J. Reed, Craig, Elmes, Jewett, Thirlwell,Gibson. Heaton, Turnbull, Wilson, Phillips, H. Ellis, Davey, Miss Leathart, and Mrs. Heslop.

Solo :—Miss Leathart, Messrs. Turnbull. H. Ellis, R. X. Thomspson, C. Thompson, Leech, W. B. Ellis, Phillips, Dixon, Todd and Mathews.



Report for week ending June 19.—Total flying time : 23 hrs. 20 mins.

Dual with Mr. Parkinson :—Mrs. Heslop, Messrs. Rasmussen, Elmes, Jewett, Heaton, Turnbull, Wilson, Irving, W. Todd, Davey, Maxwell, Pargeter,and Flying-Officer Dawson.

Solo :—Flying-Officer Dawson. Dr. Dixon, H. Ellis, Turnbull, C. Thomson, R. N. Thompson, Mathews, W. B. Ellis.

On Tuesday, Mr. Parkinson flew to Edinburgh, returning with Sir Sefton Brancker. After tea. Sir Sefton Brancker continued his journey to Sherburn in a Yorkshire Club Moth piloted by Mr. Fielden. Friday saw LX off service, and gales prevented any flying on Saturday and Sunday.

The Secretary is still confined to his bed, but it is a pleasure to report that he is making slow but steady progress."



[Interesting to see that his contemporaries in Newcastle included Connie Leathart;

    for more on her, see here and here


Geoffrey finally got his aviator's certificate, No 9,240, on the 21 June 1930, at the Newcastle Aero Club.


"When the Auxiliary Air Force was created, he was very keen to join so he went straight to 608 Squadron at Thornaby Aerodrome."

[No. 608 Squadron was formed at Thornaby-on-Tees, North Yorkshire as No. 608 County of York (North Riding) Squadron, on 17 March 1930.]


Geoffrey then transferred to the Yorkshire Aero Club, at Yeadon:



July 8, 1932

"Six members joined the Yorkshire Aeroplane Club during June, amongst them being Mr. Geoffrey Shaw and Mr. A. C. Thornton. The latter is the designer of the 'Arrow Active', and his latest production, the 'Active II', has been much in evidence, being tested by F/O.H. H. Leech."



[For more on Haliburton Hume ('Julie') Leech,

   see here ]


"He bought a small aeroplane for £60, it was absolutely gorgeous ... I learned to fly in it too. It had an open cockpit, which is the nicest place to learn to fly. Just 4 cylinders, it was as light as a feather ... he always let me fly it. If we got somewhere where we didn’t know he would say to me, wake me up before we land, I think he always thought he should be awake in case I mucked it."


 Avro Avian

The first aircraft registered to Geoffrey was a 1927-model Avro 594 Avian III, G-EBVA (he is listed as the 6th owner), followed by Avro 616 Avian IVM, G-ABMO, first registered in May 1931 to Francis Montague (although he doesn't look very happy about it):


And then, completely out of the blue in 1934 (he admitted he had never flown further than 'near Paris' before), Geoffrey decided to enter the "World's Greatest Air Race" - the MacRobertson Race from England to Australia.

He bought a brand-new B.A. Eagle I, G-ACVU, in July 1934, and had a special inscription painted on it - "The Spirit of Wm Shaw and Co Ltd, Wellington Cast Steel Foundry, Middlesborough, ENGLAND"

 Geoffrey with the Eagle, via Louise Wilkinson

He was allocated Race No 47. He bought his maps in late August, but wasn't sure they were accurate enough - and, he asked the organising committee, "What height should I fly at?" They replied, "We have no idea - you'll have to ask the people who sold you the aeroplane".


 ABC's Guide to the Macrobertson Race described him thus:

"G Shaw, a member of a wealthy Yorkshire family, recently resigned from the Royal Air Force. The fact that he was personal pilot to the late Sir Sefton Brancker, British Controller of Civil Aviation, is an indication of his flying calibre."

[The 'personal pilot to Sefton Brancker' stuff is probably nonsense - Brancker, together with Lord Thomson, the Air Minister, was killed in the disastrous wreck of the R101 airship near Beauvais, France early on 5 October 1930, during its maiden voyage to India. Geoffrey only got his aviator's certificate a few months before that.]

He got as far as Baghdad, though, before retiring with 'gear trouble', so got his £10 entrance fee back.  


Geoffrey married Elizabeth in July 1935; here they are with the Eagle during a Hungarian Holiday in August.

He then sold the aeroplane, and it later crashed into the sea off Corsica, on 13 Apr 1936.


Geoffrey continued with 608 Sqn, eventually taking over from Geoffrey Ambler:

The Times Nov 11 1938: "Royal Air Force Squadron Leader G. H. Ambler has relinquished the command of No. 608 (North Riding) (Fighter) Squadron of the Auxiliary Air Force, which he had held since December, 1934. He had served with the squadron since February 1931, a few months after it was established.

His successor is Flight Lieutenant Geoffrey Shaw, who is granted the acting rank of squadron leader from October 30. He has been with the squadron since August, 1930, and has held the rank of flight lieutenant since 1933. No. 608 was originally a bomber squadron, and was converted for fighter duties in January 1937, when it exchanged its Wapiti bombers for Demon fighters."

[For more on the interesting career of Geoffrey Hill Ambler,

 seehere ]


Geoffrey bought himself another aeroplane; G-ADVH, a GAL Monospar Jubliee, from Albert Batchelor of Ramsgate. This aeroplane was impressed in March 1940 as X9365, but crashed at Saighton Camp 3 weeks later.


When WWII broke out, Geoffrey continued with 608 Sqn and was promoted to Wing Commander:

"By September 19th 1939, the squadron was available for anti-submarine patrol from 0600 hours to 1600 hours with four Ansons on standby, but the first operational flight of 608 Squadron was not made until the 21st. of September 1939, when an Anson serial number N5207, was flown by Squadron Leader G. Shaw, Flying Officer Woolcock and crewed by L.A.C. Kelly and Corporal Knott, who took off on an anti-submarine patrol in response to a false alarm.
Over Christmas and the New Year of 1940, everyone suffered freezing conditions and constant outbreaks of influenza"




 Remembered by some veterans as “the kipper patrol”, their job, as part of Coastal  Command, involved protecting shipping convoys, looking for submarines and defending the northern supply routes. Although their role was never seen as glamorous and never received national glory, nonetheless, they played a significant part in the defence of the United Kingdom. This book tells the story of young pilots such as Geoffrey Ambler, Geoffrey Shaw, William Appleby-Brown and Peter Vaux, and airmen such as Albert Guy, Harold Coppick and Syd Buckle, and considers how their lives were dramatically changed with the onset of the Second World War, which saw them cease to be part-timers and become full time members of the Royal Air Force.




He was Mentioned in Despatches in July 1940, and awarded the DFC on 6 March, 1941.

"I still don’t know what he got his DFC for in 1941. He never told me anything about his work."

He continued flying after WWII; here is his post-war aviator's certificate:


Geoffrey Shaw in 1947

Geoffrey died, after a long illness, in 1977 in Malta, aged 75. He is buried there.

"There are no photos of him left as he burnt them all one afternoon after the war ended."


MacRobertson Race in 1934

Capt Horace Scott Shield, M.C.

b. 14 Feb 1895 in Newcastle

possibly Donald Mitchell Shields

b Delaware, Ontario

photo: 1916, when a Flight Sub-Lt in the Royal Navy, aged 24

"Mr D Shields"

King's Cup in 1934


Miss M Shillington of Woodley owned 1929 DH.60G Gipsy Moth, G-AASG

photo: 1928, aged 28

Mr Thomas William Shipside

a Motor Agent from Nottingham - [actually, the Morris car distibutor for Nottinghamshire and part of Leicestershire] who used his aicraft in his business, and apparently flew all over the country with his wife.


King's Cup in 1931

photo: 1932, aged 23

Mr Richard Ormonde Shuttleworth

The wonderful Shuttleworth Collection was set up in his memory by his mother, starting with his cars and aircraft. It has several aeroplanes of the period: see here for details. 

Killed in WWII: 2nd August 1940 in a flying accident in a Fairey Battle; buried Old Warden, Beds

King's Cup in 1935


Mrs W C Slack owned 1930 Blackburn L.1C Bluebird IV, G-AAOJ.

She may be the wife of William Slack, b 1886.

Eleanor Isabella Slade in 1928

'Susan' Slade

b. 10 January 1904 in Hong Kong

"Efficiently managing the day-to-day business [of the King's Cup] was dynamic little Susan Slade... herself a pilot of considerable ability who has her own Moth".

C G Grey

Dutch Rally (L Everard, Susan Slade etc)

In Holland, with Lyndsey Everard et al

On one flight with her elder sister Betsy in 1938 over Germany, having missed their destination, they came down at the Berchtesgaden; Herr Hitler was away at the time, but the servants gave them a conducted tour.

Rallye Aerien Chateau d'Ardenne 17-19 May 1930 Susan Slade

Rallye Aerien, Chateau d'Ardenne 17-19 May 1930 with Adelaide Cleaver

She won the first All-Ladies Race at Sywell, Northants in September 1931 (the Hon. Mrs Victor Bruce was second).

On the 21st May 1940, Susan wrote to Cmdr Gerard d'Erlanger, the head of the ATA, whom she knew quite well from before the war. She said:

"Dear Pops,
I'm writing to ask if you will have any vacancies for ATA girls - I did apply originally but I had to give up the idea as Airwork refused to release me under about three months & I could not even attend the flying test as I couldn't be spared on the day it took place.
The situation is slightly different now. It seems fairly certain that we shall be turned out of Heston at any moment & apart from running the show here the rest of my work should only take about one week per month, which I feel someone else could be found to do. I should have a certain amount of clearing up to do naturally & so, as the date of the evacuation is unknown, I cannot say when I would be free.
I also feel that having spent 11 years in learning something about flying, I would be more useful at the present moment making use of this knowledge. I have already filled in the forms & if you think you could make use of me I could probably come for a test any time.
I shall be very grateful for any advice you can give me."

Susan was, indeed, one of the most experienced women aviators in the country - on her original application form, dated the previous December (1939), she quoted a total of 579 hours (1 of them night-flying) on "DH60, DH80, DH85, Avro Avian, Cadet, Klemm, Bluebird, and Puss Moth, in the British Isles, France, Germany, Italy, Holland, Belgium, Hungary, Poland and Switzerland."

HH Leech Clarkson Susan Slade Lady Runciman

In support of her new application, Airwork's Managing Director M D N Wyatt wrote this, in September 1940:
"Miss E. I. Slade was employed by this Company from February 1929 to June 1940. Her duties entailed the management of the Airport Hotel and Restaurant and she also had considerable responsibilities in connection with the Airport Club. During the time she was employed by Airwork Limited she carried out her duties satisfactorily, and we can confidently recommend her for any position of trust."

She eventually signed up on November 1st, and reported for her Flight Test on the 24th, with this outcome:
"Miss Slade is assessed a pilot of average ability. Her chief fault is inaccurate turns; difficulty is also experienced in settling down on a Northerly course."
Not brilliant, then, but at least Mr McMillan then went on to say "It is recommended that her appointment be confirmed".

Susan duly started, and by January 1942 was being recommended for promotion to Flight Captain by Marion  Wilberforce (Officer Commanding No 5 Ferry Pool, q.v.): "I have every confidence in recommending First Officer Slade to be considered for promotion on February 15th. She has shown great devotion to duty, accepted responsibility, and taken over command of the Pool when necessary."

susan slade ATA from 'Brief Glory' - with Capt Graham Head

This despite the first of her little mishaps - on 6 Aug 1941, she made a heavy landing in a Miles Master at Brize Norton, and was deemed to be 'at fault'.

The powers that be more-or-less concurred: 'First Officer Slade works hard, and in the absence of O.C. No 5 FPP (i.e. Marion Wilberforce) in fact takes over Command of the Pool. She is conscientious and hard working [I think you already mentioned that, actually], but hardly to be classed as a full time pilot".

["hardly to be classed as a full time pilot" is rather an odd thing to say, don't you think... what can they possibly mean?]

Her flying instruction report, unfortunately, makes less than inspiring reading; she "had considerable difficulty at first and her progress has been slow throughout. She has a temperamental nature and it was necessary to change her instructor."

I'm inclined to think that this was a clash of personalities between her and the original instructor. I haven't come across anyone else who thought that Susan was 'temperamental'; quite the opposite, in fact - for example, in December 1942, the replacement instructor reports that she is a 'keen pilot with a most likeable personality".

Anyway, the following January (1943), here we go again; she over-corrected landing a Mosquito, and the undercarriage collapsed. Again, she was deemed to be 'at fault'.

People were starting to get the (mixed) message; her confidential report from her Commanding Officer in February 1943 says she "has carried out her duties as Flight Captain in a very satisfactory manner. Her sense of discipline is good, and she is a capable organiser and can always be trusted to do her job efficiently and well. She should make a good Second in Command."

... followed by the usual sting in the tail: "An average pilot".

In March 1944, she was driving back in the dark to her billet after duty, turned a corner and ran into a lorry. She said it wasn't showing any lights (the driver said, oh yes it was) but in any case she hit some scaffolding which was sticking out of the back of the lorry and had some considerable injuries to her head and face, needing dental and other repairs. She was off work for a month, returning to duty on the 13th April.

Three months later, she was dead; on the 13th July, piloting Wellington Z1690, she crashed after take-off at Little Rissington. The aircraft "turned through 50 deg to starboard, lost height, crashed in a field and was totally destroyed."

vickers wellington

The Gloucester Echo reported it thus; "DIED IN SWERVE TO AVOID VILLAGE. RISSINGTON INQUEST A 40-years-old woman's dive to death in a service 'plane she was flying over the Cotswolds, and her swerve to avoid crashing on a village, were described at an inquest held at Little Rissington on Thursday.

The inquest was on Eleanor Isabella Slade, a single woman, who held the rank of Flight Captain in the Air Transport Auxiliary and the Coroner (Mr. J. D. Lane) recorded a verdict of "Death by Misadventure." Capt John Denys Mead, Air Transport Auxiliary, said that Miss Slade was the daughter of the late Marcus Warre Slade, a barrister, and of Mrs. Slade, of Minerva House Farm, Stanwell Moor, Colnebrook, Bucks. She was detailed on July 13 to take a 'plane to a certain R.A.F. station.

Dr. John Terence Gardiner, serving as a Flying Officer and medical officer at an R.A.F. station, stated that he was informed of a crash and, on arriving on the scene at 6.40 p.m. he found the aircraft on fire. He examined the body of the pilot and in his opinion death was due to multiple injuries and burns. After a number of technical witnesses had been heard, Police Special-Sgt. Sidney Taylor, stationed at Great Rissington, stated that at 6.15 p.m. on July 13 he saw a number of 'planes in flight, one of them flying low and heading for the village. It swerved, and Sgt. Taylor heard it crash about half a mile away in a field known as Whaddon, on Glebe Farm, Great Rissington.

CAUSE UNKNOWN A maintenance engineer was unable to account for the crash.

Recording his verdict of 'Death by Misadventure,' the Coroner expressed sympathy with Miss Slade's mother and her colleagues, and spoke of her courageous act in swerving to avoid what would almost certainly have been a crash on the village, involving perhaps the lives of several people. "

I have found references to this accident claiming that 'elevator trim' was suggested as a cause, but I have found no evidence for this; on the contrary, both the official investigation and the subsequent inquest found 'insufficient cause to account for the accident.' The starboard engine was being examined at one stage, but nothing seems to have come of that.

The wreaths at her funeral were from just about everyone she worked with:

"With love from Peter and Winnie Fair;
With deepest sympathy from Ken Howitt;
With love from Lois Butler;
With deepest sympathy from Engineering and Instruction Officers and Staff, ATA Thame;
With deepest sympathy from Station Officers and Personnel ATA Thame;
C.O. ATA & DWF on behalf of ATA;
Mrs Gerard d'Erlanger;
O.C. and Staff Officers No 5 TFP;
Pilots and Clerical Staff No 5 TFP;
Instructors, Staff and Pupils IFTS, and
O.C. No 12 and Pilots"

Brief Glory - The Story of the ATA - says "her death in the air was an irreparable loss to the Thame Ferry Pool and to civil aviation".

All of which goes to show that, even with her perceived limitations as a pilot, Susan Slade was a hard-working and trusted administrator, and an extraordinary, talented and much-loved lady.

Connie Leathart Lady Runciman HH Leech Clarkson Susan Slade 

r., with ??, Connie Leathart, Lady Runciman, HH Leech, Flt Lt Clarkson

Susan lived at Mallard's Court, Stokenchurch and is buried in Stokenchurch..

She owned:

a 1927  DH.60X Moth (G-EBSA), then

a 1929 DH.60G Gipsy Moth (G-AAIW), and

a 1931 DH.80A Puss Moth (G-ABLX).

One of the ATA Women

photo: 1916, when a Sub-Lieut in the RNVR

Sqn-Ldr Leonard Horatio Slatter KBE CB DSC DFC

born in Durban, S Africa; in charge of the High Speed Flight in 1927; later Air Marshall Sir Leonard, C-in-C Coastal Command 1945; died 1961

King's Cup in 1930

Photo: 1914, aged 17

Mr Charles Henry Chichester Smith

b. 22 Feb 1897 in Boston, USA

Aerial Derby in 1919

k m smith

Lt Keith Macpherson Smith



England- Australia in 1919

 r smith

Capt Ross Macpherson Smith



England- Australia in 1919

photo: 1928, aged 39

Wing-Cmdr Sydney William Smith

born Burton-on-Trent; later an Air Commodore


King's Cup in 1928


photo: 1936, aged 23

Victor in 2000, aged 86

Victor C Smith

Made several flights through Africa in record-breaking attempts, but his "pluck ... exceeded his luck".

For example; in 1932, aged 19, he took off from Cape Town in a DH Moth, to try to break the record to London. He missed breaking the record by a few days, having been delayed by a 'run-in' with some fierce members of the Toureg tribe in the Sahara. He got out a cup of water and a packet of liver salts and drank the foaming liquid; such a man, they thought, must have supernatural powers, so they let him go.

Reaching London eventually, he then swapped the Moth for a Comper Swift and tried to fly back, but suffered engine failure; this time he had to walk 80 km through the Sahara. You'd think that would be it, but no: he found another aeroplane and continued south, only to run out of fuel just short of Cape Town.

In all, he made 21 forced landings during his flying career, all without serious injury. He wrote a book of his experiences, called 'Open Cockpit over Africa'.

In 1936, "Victor Smith was the most enthusiastic person at Portsmouth, and was obviously deeply in love with his Sparrowhawk". Aaaah.

Became a flying instructor after the race, then in WWII flew Beaufighters in Yugoslavia.


Schlesinger Race in 1936

Wesley Leland Smith

flag usa b. 9 January 1894

photo: 1916, when a Lieutenant in the 8th South Staffordshire Regiment, aged 21

Flt-Lt Frank Ormond Soden DFC

'Mongoose' Soden; born in Canada, WWI ace (27 victories). later Wing Commander, Station Commander at Biggin Hill in WWII; emigrated to Kenya, died 1961


King's Cup in 1928

Lady (Daisy Finola) Somers

Lady (Daisy Finola) Somers of Eastnor Castle, Ledbury, Herefordshire.

Daisy Finola Meeking as was; b. Dublin, 9 Sep 1896, married Lt-Col Arthur Herbert, 6th Baron Somers in April 1921 (the King and Queen sent a pair of diamond sleeve links, which was nice).

He became Governor of the State of Victoria in 1926 - here they are at the railway station on their way to Melbourne:

(isn't that the same hat?)

On the journey, however, he slipped on the steamer's deck and had to have an operation for a "misplaced cartilage of the knee". Which sounds v. painful...

They were there on 13 June 1928 when Kingsford-Smith and Ulm arrived in the 'Southern Cross', having crossed the Pacific.

She got her Royal Aero Club Certificate (No 8778) on the 17th July, 1929.

Lord Somers came back to England in May 1929 "to join Lady Somers"; they were up in Scotland for the grouse-shooting in August, so Finola must have been having flying lessons up to then. They then went back to Australia in October; he to sort out a new government, she to do a 4,700 mile flight in her D.H. 60M Moth VH-UND, to Alice Springs and Darwin and then back down the east coast to Melbourne. She flew with a Flt-Lt. F. M. Denny, who was on her husband's staff, "piloting the aircraft herself for several long stages".

She sold the aeroplane in February 1931.

After a short period as Acting Governor-General of Australia, Lord Somers finished his highly-successful stint as Governor of Victoria in October 1931, and returned to Eastnor. He later became President of the M.C.C, then Chief Scout after the death of Baden-Powell, but died in June 1944 from throat cancer. Sadly for Lady Somers, two-thirds of the money he left was swallowed up by death duties.

She was Chief Commissioner of the Girl Guides until 1949 when she resigned due to ill-health; she was awarded the CBE in 1950. She moved back into Eastnor Castle (actually, into the servants' quarters), lived there "in much reduced circumstances" until 1949, when she moved into the former head gardener’s cottage to make way for her only daughter, Elizabeth, and her son-in-law, Ben Hervey-Bathurst.

She attended Lady Mary Bailey's funeral in 1960, and died 6 Oct 1981 in Hereford, aged 85.

Eastnor Castle survives and is now thriving under the stewardship of her grandsons - one of whom tells me that she took him to see Capt Denny once, "who was retired in Burford."


photo: 1936

Mr Sydney W Sparkes

"Began his aviation career at Hendon before the War [he was an instructor at the Grahame-White School there] and served with the RNAS throughout it. Remained with the RAF 1918-31 and was instructor for the last seven years of his service. Later he flew for various companies"


King's Cup in 1934, 1935, 1936

Capt Francis George Monkhouse Sparks

"'Sparks', (or 'Sparkie'), the chief flying instructor of the London Aero Club from 1925. "One of the best-known flying instructors in England".

In 1927, "The leading spirit in the daily routine of flying is the Chief Instructor, Captain Sparks. He has an incurable and infectious optimism which immediately calms and assures the most diffident of pupils. He is possessed with an almost whirlwind energy, and this, together with his fluent and arresting conversation, makes all who come in contact with him unusually alert and active. It is impossible to have the slightest lack of confidence in him as an instructor or imagine him in any difficulty in the air. He is, perhaps, an unconventional pilot instructor, for so many of them are very taciturn and almost dour, due, no doubt, to the long strain of
instructional flying.

He is a pilot of long experience, having been flying since December, 1915, when he joined the RFC. After the war he took up joy-ride flying, and he continued with that to the time he joined the London Club in 1925; flying for the Welsh Aviation Co., the Berkshire Aviation Co and also forming a company himself. He has taken up 57,000 people in his varied career."

His pupils included Lady Bailey, Winifred Spooner, Lady Heath, Dorothy Brewster Fletcher and Sicele O'Brien.

He emigrated to Canada and "held Canadian Commercial Pilot's Certificate #269. He flew for McCall Aero Corp, Calgary AB and London Flying Club, London Ontario.
His fatal accident on 16th March 1934 was as a result of taking-off in Curtiss-Reid Rambler I CF-AUO with the starboard upper wing not locked, it folded after take-off. The Rambler wings could be folded for storage."

Source: Canadian Aviation Historical Society publications THE FIRST 500 CANADIAN CIVIL PILOTS (Molson) and CANADIAN CIVIL AIRCRAFT REGISTER (Ellis).

His younger son, Wing Commander Bryan Sparks DSO, was killed in WWII, on August 11 1945.

King's Cup in 1926, 1927

Dorothy Spicer

The 'tall and charming blonde friend' of Pauline Gower.

b. 31 July 1908 in Hadley Wood, Middlesex.

"Miss Spicer, however, holds a very high engineering diploma - the difficult 'B' licence for engines. A man holding this licence would have many excellent jobs at his command, but I doubt very much whether Miss Spicer will find her licence of any practical use."

Amy Mollison, writing in 1934

Amy was being a little too pessimistic; in 1936, Dorothy was appointed Chief Engineer to the 'British Empire Air Displays', which toured the country with 12 light aeroplanes.

Dorothy Spicer

She married Richard Courtney Pearse in April 1938 and they had a daughter, Patricia, in November 1939. Served at RAE Farnborough during WWII, eventually being promoted to Wing Commander.

d. 23 December 1946 in the crash of a London-Buenos Aires flight near Rio de Janeiro. Her husband was also killed.

Pauline Gower (only three months before her own death) wrote that "Dorothy is a great loss to civil aviation but even more so to her many friends".

margery spiller 1935 1936

(Phyllis) Margery Spiller

23 Nov 1905, in Streatham London

Margery was that rare phenomenon - a female commercial pilot before WWII. Flight followed her progress thus:

10 October 1935: "South Coast Flying Club. Miss Spiller, in fact, was the first person to get her 'A' Licence with the Club, having completed her test on Saturday half-an-hour before Mr Myers."

23 October 1937: "London Flying Club. Miss Spiller completed the 'B' tests and made a night flight from Croydon to Lympne."

9 December 1937: "South Coast Flying Club. A very successful dance was held on November 27, when over a hundred members and guests attended. Miss Spiller, a member of the Club and a 'B' Licence holder, turned up in the Puss Moth which was at one time the property of the Duke of Windsor, then Prince of Wales."

1 December, 1938: "Miss Margery Spiller has joined the instructional staff of the Sheffield Aero Club as chief instructor and manager at the club's new aerodrome at Firbeck, near Worksop."

16 February 1939: "Eastbourne. Miss Margery Spiller has taken over from Mr W.S. Coates as instructor in conjunction with Mr. T.G Stubley."


If you can bear to read them (I warn you, it doesn't end happily - she died in May 1942), here is the correspondence which passed between Margery and the Air Transport Auxiliary:

margery spiller ata2

3 Dec 1939.  To: Air Transport Auxiliary, Womens Section, Air Ministry. Dear Sir,

I hear you are opening up a womens section of Air Transport Auxiliary. May I apply for a job?

I have a 'B' Licence and have flown over 2,000 hrs solo - 250 hrs on a D.H. Dragon. I have been Chief Instructor at the Eastbourne Flying Club. Last spring and summer up to when war broke out I was flying the D.H. Dragon for Air Dispatch - Croydon - an army co-operator.

I wonder if you will kindly forward this letter to Mrs Pauline Gower - who I believe is representing women in this Section.

I desperately need a job - as flying is my living.

(Miss) Margery Spiller 

 5 December 1939. To: Miss Pauline Gower

Sandown Court, Tunbridge Wells, Kent.

Dear Miss Gower,

I attach a letter from Miss Margery Spiller in the hope that you can deal with it. I am afraid I know nothing about the Women's Air Transport Section which this lady mentions.

Yours truly, C. Fraser 

 7 Dec 1939. Dear Miss Gower,

Although I have never had the pleasure of meeting you - will you please accept my hearty congratulations in having been made head of the Womens Section of the A.T.A.

I wish you all the luck in the world in your new venture.

Yours Sincerely, Margery Spiller. 'B' Licence [subtle stuff, Margery]

 9 Dec 1939. Dear Sirs,

Thank you for your letter of the 8th inst. calling me up for a flying test, which I will be very grateful to attend at 9:30 a.m. on Dec 15th.

It will mean a very long journey for me - but I will arrive in Bristol the day before. I wonder if you would be able to give me some idea as to what one has to do for the flying test. I have not flown since the 2nd week of August and I expect I shall feel somewhat strange and all last spring and summer I was flying a DH Dragon and as it will be impossible to hire and practice on a similar machine betwen now and my exam, I may not do my best and may get turned down. Will the examiners take into consideration that I have not flown a small aeroplane for over 12 months and I have not been up for over four months!!!

Thanking you. Yours Truly Margery Spiller.

 20 Dec 1939. Dear Miss Gower,

I feel I must write and thank you for having been so perfectly sweet and kind to me last Friday. It is a great consolation to know that there is at least one woman pilot devoid of swank. If I was in your shoes I am afraid I would be just a little conceited!

It was a terrible disappointment not getting through the test as I am desperately in need of a job, and flying is my job. I can't imagine why I fell to bits. I somehow got the idea in my head as I hadn't seen an aeroplane for five months that I would not be able to fly it. I can honestly say that I did not understand what the examiner was saying in the front seat - he told me to fly back to the aerodrome before I really realised what course to steer. As you note by my logbook, for the last 100 hours all my courses were northerly, so I can fly on a northerly compass course!!!

Last night I played in a darts match at the local ARP Ambulance Depot. Well the darts went in every direction except on the board, and I am considered the local 'champ! Went to bits because I knew I was playing against crack players. I compare this with the flying test - got all fussed - and self-conscious when I know there is a better pilot in the front seat.

It was kind of you to offer me another test last Friday - but very unfortunate I could not make it owing to the bad weather conditions. I do hope I shall have the luck to do another test soon and have another chance. I do need a job as I am very hard up Heaven knows what will happen if I don't get a job soon.

Should you ever give me a job, you would find me perfectly sound and reliable. Can handle machines well in rough weather. I am tough and very fit I am not likely to break anything - at least I have been fortunate up to now. I am very careful as one must never get over-confident. Experience in hours makes you realize that aeroplanes if treated badly sometimes will turn round and bite!

Wishing you a very Happy Xmas and lots of luck in the New Year.

Please forgive this long letter. Yours Sincerely, Margery Spiller.

p.s. It does hurt when aeroplanes will fly over my house. It is worse than getting over any love affair!

 11 Mar 1940. Dear Miss Gower,

Just a few lines to ask if you will kindly bear me in mind should you require any more pilots. It is not necessary to say how very keen I am to get a job as you know all about that, but I would like to say that should you ever give me a job, I am prepared to work very hard, do as I am told etc.! So as to be a real help to the ATA. If I don't do 50 hrs before the end of May I shall loose my 'B' Licence!!!

Kindest Regards, Margery Spiller.

p.s. I am still running around in a tin hat driving an ambulance, but often make epic armchair flights. Perhaps the four months rest has done me good as I am terribly fit. 

 28 April 1940. Dear Sirs,

I hear you may employ C.A.G. members to ferry machines etc. I have a 'B' Licence - instructors endorsement, and have done over 2,000 hrs - 250 hours on twins - Dragon and Rapide - can fly anything and have never had an accident. I was chief instructor at the Eastbourne Flying Club - and last summer I was employed by Air Dispatch, Croydon flying twins on Army Co-operation. I have been out of work since the war started. The Womens Auxiliary did not give me a job. It seemed unfair - as I have done more hours than any of them - and have a clean record. I suppose it is because I have no influence.

Last October I received a letter from the C.A.G. Ariel House London saying they may use me as a 'ferry pilot' or on general communications.

I an desperately in need of a job, as I have been out of work sometime. Flying is my job.

I would be so grateful if you can help me. Although I am a woman surely there is something in the flying world I can do.

 [Her letter was referred to Cmdr d'Erlanger on 3 May 1940] 

 8 May 1940, from Henrietta Stapleton-Bretherton. Dear Miss Spiller,

Miss Gower has asked me to reply to your letter of the 28th ultimo, to the Civil Air Guard at Bristol, which has been forwarded to her.

Miss Gower put your name forward again when more candidates were required to take a flying test but in view of the fact that you failed on your test it was decided that others should have the same chance as you did, before you were called up for a second test. Candidates are judged solely on their merits and no amount of influence would obtain you a job in the ATA if you were not up to the standard of flying proficiency required. Likewise if you are up to that standard you are given the same opportunities as everyone else. You were given your chance and unfortunately you did not at that time prove that you had the necessary flying proficiency.

Miss Gower hopes that you will be given the opportunity of taking the test again at a later date should you still wish to do so.

 14 May 1940. Dear Madam,

Will you kindly thank Miss Gower for the kind consideration, and let her know that I will be very glad to do another flying test. After my remarks in my letter to the CAG I think it very sweet of her to still bear me in mind. When I heard that others had been called up, I could not help feeling very hurt and disappointed, as I was under the impression that I would be called up for a test in the second 'batch'.

Yours Truly, Margery Spiller.

 26 June, 1940. Dear Miss Spiller,

If you are still anxious to join the Women's Section of the ATA, will you please let the writer know immediately stating how soon you can report for another flying test at Hatfield Aerodrome, Herts.

 Dear Miss Gower,

I feel I must write and ask you if you will be kind enough to help me. Please don't think I want to be unpleasant but I am sure you will agree that I have been treated in the most unsporting and cruel manner. Why the A.T.A. will not employ me I can't think. It is all so mysterious. After having done a flying test with you (and a very fair test I think it was), I understood I was taken on - and then filled in the necessary forms, and then the following day the non committal phone call from you postponing everything. One thing is certain - and that is that I have a very bad enemy somewhere - who has given you the wrong impression of me, and has succeeded in keeping me out of work in aviation for over twelve months. It is a very poor excuse to say that I "suffer with nerves" which is a lie - and perfectly ridiculous. I don't drink, and I have not had a single accident during the 2,000 hours that I have flown and out of those 2,000 hours I did a season's joy-riding at Blackpool with Mrs Joy Davidson. The only fault they can find is that three times while flying with Air Dispatch I 'turned back' - on account of 'no see - no fly'. I should always turn back when I could not see the ground any more - and when my altimeter showed only 500ft! providing of course I had no wireless operator.

I am so deadfully unhappy, and don't know what to do about it all. I do so want to join up with you. I know I  am a bit rusty, but I feel that after a few landings and take-offs I should be perfectly O.K. You know that don't you?

I am not a difficult person to work with and I have never had a row with anyone. Should I ever have the luck to be taken on in the A.T.A. I should be perfectly humble and start all over again - I would not talk - except to tell my troubles to you - if I had any. I know I should work well and try to please the A.T.A. in every way. Won't you let me have a crack at it? I would love to go to the C.F.S. and travelling in trains at night would not bother me in the least.

Just before war broke out I had great trouble at home. I had to give up my instructors job at Sheffield, and return home. My dear mother died very suddenly - in fact she committed suicide. She had had several operations and I suppose could not face another. Afterwards while flying with Air Dispatch I was rather run down and 'spat' at one or two people over the maintenance of a particular machine - I suppose the shock of mother's death upset me - and also being left with very little money. I have never told any of my flying friends about mother's tragic death - but I feel that you are such a nice person that you may be sorry for me and understand.

When I heard that I was supposed to 'suffer with nerves' I thought perhaps someone in the flying world had heard about mother, and tried to make out she was mad - and being jealous spread it around that I was nervy. It is not true - my health is perfectly sound and my medicals at the Air Ministry have always been good.

Forgive me writing this awful long letter, but I have tried to explain things. Can anything be done about me?

I enclose a letter I received from one of the Miles Bros of Philips & Powys - reading it appears that a man called 'Delanger' is up against me. I have never met him. How I wish I could call in at Hatfield and have a talk - but as I am an A.R.P. ambulance driver I am not allowed to leave the town - besides I have given up the car. It is so difficult to explain by letter.

Could you spare the time to ring me up one morning - phone Preston 2431. I will be in any morning all this week. 

Yours Very sincerely, Margery Spiller.

p.s. Capt. Harry Love at R.A.F. Aerodrome Sywell writes that he will be very glad to give me a reference, should you require one. He employed me at Eastbourne Club as an instructor.



Dear Miss Spiller,

I received your letter yesterday. I had intended to write to you concerning the possibility of you joining the Air Transport Auxiliary, but I did not know your new address.

I would point out that you are labouring under a delusion in thinking that you have an enemy in Mr. d'Erlanger or anywhere in the Air Transport Auxiliary. Personal prejudice, even if it existed, which I am sure it does not, would never be allowed to interfere with the engagement of a pilot, and I must say that although I quite understand your feelings, I do not think you do yourself or your chances any good by writing such letters.

I pointed this out to you some time ago, if you remember. However, I am now able to offer you a position as a pilot in No.5 Ferry Pool on a month's probation, providing the Air Ministry sanction the granting of a contract. Will you please send me three copies of a photograph of yourself. It should be head and shoulders, without a hat, and on receipt of these photographs, we will send them to our Administration Officer, and he will communicate with you here in the near future.



21 Nov 1940. From: Henrietta Stapleton-Bretherton, Adjutant.

To: Mr Purnell, Establishment Officer, White Waltham.

Miss P.M. Spiller passed her test here on 29.6.40. I shall be glad if you can get her pass through as soon as possible. Will you please communicate with her at 60, Wiltdean Court, Preston, Brighton, where she has gone to live, as 'Dene Place' is now shut up.



26 Nov 1940. Dear Miss Gower,

I was so pleased to receive your letter and to hear that you will give me a job. I do hope I shall make a success of it. I promise you I will try to do my best in every way. I enclose the photographs you asked for.

I wonder if the A.T.A. will kindly write to Capt. Jennings-Bramley A.R.P.O., Brighton, saying that you have called me up and ask for a transfer to the A.T.A. I would be very much obliged if you would. I propose leaving the A.R.P. say two weeks from next Wednesday. I would like a weeks rest before I start work with you. I imagine it will take about three weeks before my papers go through.

Could you suggest somewhere for me to live in Hatfield, and would it be possible to bring my old wire terrier dog as I don't know what to do with the poor little chap. It would break his heart to leave me. I thought perhaps someone may know of a kindly landlady who would not object to looking after him when I am away. He is a very old dog and gives no trouble, and I just couldn't bear to leave him.

Does one get paid during the four weeks on probation? Monthly or weekly? Would I be allowed to have a uniform providing I wear no stripes, only wings. It would save the bother of bringing lots of clothes, and would be inspiring. If allowed where do I get the uniform? Would it be cheaper to get flying kit at Hatfield - or shall I rush up to town and get a rigout, and what do you wish me to get? At the moment I have nothing as I gave it all away thinking I would never fly again.

Should I be allowed to start off with a blue uniform I could send the measurements and could have any necessary alterations made down here by my tailor. My wardrobe is so low at the moment, as I have been wearing uniform in the A.R.P.. If I could start with your uniform it would save buying a lot of things. Should I be unfortunate and not be taken on after the months probation, I would be quite prepared to take the loss.#Please excuse all these questions but they do seem rather necessary as I cannot call to see you.

Thanking you for your kind consideration. Margery



28 Nov 1940. Dear Miss Spiller,

Miss Gower has asked me to reply to your letter and to acknowledge receipt of the photographs.

Miss Gower will write to Capt. Jennings-Bramley, and will ask for you to be transferred to the Women's Section, Air Transport Auxiliary.

When your contract has been signed, Mr. Purnell, Administration Officer of the Air Transport Auxiliary, at White Waltham, will tell you when to report for duty. This will probably not be for some weeks.

Before joining us, most pilots come here and arrange about their own billet, but if you are unable to do this, I will book you a room at the Stone House Hotel for a few days, and this will enable you to look round yourself afterwards. The Stone House has no accommodation for dogs.

You will be issued, on loan, with flying kit and your pay will start from the date upon which you join. No uniform of any kind is issued to pilots until they complete their probationary month. Yours Sincerely, (Adjutant)



8 Feb 1941. Dear Miss Gower,

I do hope nothing has gone wrong with my contract to join the A.T.A. It is nearly three months since I last heard from you. I have moments of 'panic' when I think about it.

It is rather awkward not knowing when I have to report to you for duty - as I can't make any definite arrangements about 'rooms'. I have written to various addresses at Hatfield, but there doesn't seem anywhere to live there. How I wish you operated from Gatwick Aerodrome as I live so near and it would save me from keeping two places going. I suppose it would be ridiculous of me to ask if I could be fitted in at Gatwick. I heard that you did send a machine round London for that purpose. Should I have to live a little way out of Hatfield could you arrange for me to have an extra supply of petrol coupons? I have a 12 h.p. car and I only have 6 galls per month. It would take all that to get from here to Hatfield. I wish I could run up and have a talk with you. It is so difficult to explain all this by letter.

I do hope I shall make a success of the job. Believe me I do want to do my very best both in the air as a pilot and on the ground. When I start work I wonder as a special favour if you would personally give me a few 'circuits'. It would give me confidence. I have the greatest faith in you as after all you are one of the pioneers of flying & you are the right person in the right job. Please accept Best Wishes for a Happy New Year. Yours Sincerely, Margery.

 10 Feb 1941, Dear Miss Spiller,

In reply to your letter of the 8th inst., addressed to Miss Gower, we have not yet received your pass from the Air Ministry, and until this comes through you will not receive your contract. There is always unlimited delay in this connection, and you will have to wait patiently until it is received.

I am afraid you have been misinformed about a taxi machine picking up pilots who live in or around London. There has never been any such means of conveyance. If you live within a radius of ten miles of Hatfield, it will be possible for you to have a little extra petrol to get to and from work.

As I said in my letter of the 28th November last, it would be better if you stayed the first few days at the Stone House and looked round for living accommodation from there.

You will be notified by Captain Kiek at White Waltham when to report here for duty. Yours Sincerely, (Adjutant)

 19th February. Dear Miss Spiller,

Will you please report here for duty on March 1st.

During your probationary period you will be paid at the rate of £230 per anum, plus £7.10.0 subsistence allowance. Subject to your probationary period and final test proving satisfactory, you will then be rated as Second Officer and be entitled to a basic salary of £230 per annum plus £8 per month flying pay, plus £15 per month subsistence allowance.

If you require any further information, I shall be pleased to let you have it.

Yours Faithfully, (Adjutant)

29th February 1941. Chief Instructor To: O.C. No 5 F.P.

Re: 2nd Officer Spiller and Clayton.

The above have this day successfully passed a confirmation of appointment flight test.

Both these officers are considered good pilots for the experience they have had and are likely to become useful ferry pilots.

margery spiller ata  At Last.

 29 May 1941: Instructor's Report:

Flies well and carefully. Little lacking in confidence and although quite good shows experience of only about 300-400 hours rather than the 2,000 claimed.

29 May 1941: This one is self-explanatory:

BAT Letter Spillerjpg

 1 Jun 1941. To: The Accountant, B.A.T. From: Henrietta

Dear Sir,

Thank you for your letter of 25th May.

Miss Spiller is employed at this Ferry Pool, and the above address will find her. Her Commanding Officer has spoken to her about this matter, and Miss Spiller has said that she will look into it.



White Waltham. Sunday. Dear Miss Gower,

I hear we are retuning to Hatfield soon, as we have finished school. I wonder if you could do me a secial favour? and give me permission to stay here, and go over every morning in the Anson? I am so terribly happy and settled in my billets, and was so uncomfortable at Hatfield.... I am staying with some friends of my family and living a normal comfortable home life, which makes such a difference to my work.

Am working very hard and do hope you will receive a not-too-bad report. In haste. Please accept my love. Margery.



White Waltham. Monday. Dear Miss Gower,

Thank you so very very much for giving your permission for me to stay on here until we move to Luton. It really is most kind of you and it helps no end. How relieved I am to know that 'we girls' are sticking together under your control, although it is rather fun landing out at various aerodromes. It is more interesting and broadens our 'flying views' and I think shows the men that we can fly as well if not much better than they can.

Please may I learn to fly the Anson, so that when Margie [Fairweather] is off I could take it to Hatfield and back. It would be empty, and I know I could do the job, as I feel happy on twins (or used to). It would be a lovely way to start on a machine like that in case later on I may be needed on something big.

Please do let me? I would feel more useful. I am getting on very well and doing everything very quietly. Am so terribly happy, and love my job. I hope to have dual on the Harvard tomorrow. Do hope I put up a good show and that you will be pleased and never regret having taken me on in the A.T.A.

Am so grateful to you. Love, Margery.



6 Nov 1941. From: A.B. Macmillan, Chief Instructor.

This is to certify that First Officer M. Spiller (Miss) has this day completed a course of training qualifying her to fly Class 2 aircraft.

Confidential School Report

This Officer is a good pilot and her progress during the course has not been unduly slow. She is inclined to underconfidence however and when nearing the end of the course she became over anxious about the result and was obviously trying too hard. She was granted 7 days leave, returned and passed out with assessment average.



8 Nov 1941. To: Chief Accountant.

Please note that F/O Miss Spiller is entitled to receive "First Officer C" pay as from and including 7.11.41



4 Dec 1941. To: Miss P Gower, C.O. 5FPP, Hatfield. From: O.C. RAF Sealand, Flintshire, Wales

RE: 1st Officer Spiller

This pilot has twice recently landed at Sealand and telephoned us up asking for us to take on her machine. Each time she has given personal reasons for wanting to get back, and also complained that she is very frightened of the types of machines she has been flying, namely: Hurricanes and Masters.

This morning when she telephoned us she claims to have been at Sealand for a week, and to be short of money and laundry. We have been flying between here and Prestwick on at least three days during the last six, and at any rate there has been good enough weather for her to fly her machine into Hawarden. She seemed extremely reluctant to do this, but I think it is wrong that we should be asked to take machines from other aerodromes than Hawarden.

On both these occasions I felt more or less obliged to take over the machine, as this officer sounded very nervous and worried about her job, so I decided that it would be unwise to leave her there with it.

...Perhaps some steps can be taken to prevent this pilot continuing this practice.



[Margery went off sick on the 21st December]



12 Jan 1942. From: Dr J.G. Thwaites, Brighton

This is to certify that Miss M Spiller is suffering from debility after mumps and is not fit to return to duty.



26 Feb 1942. From Establishment Officer. To: Chief Instructor

Re: Acting F/O P.M. Spiller

According to our records the above officer has been absent from duty since 22.1.42 suffering from mumps. Her flying pay and subsistence allowance were accordingly stopped after a fortnights absence, but in view of the exceptionally long time she has been off duty I should be glad to know whether you wish any further action taken.



16 Mar 1942. From Dr. E.F.Bambury M.D, 10 Harley St London W.1

This is to certify that Miss M. Spiller is not yet fit to resume flying duties. She probably will be able to resume her duties within two months.



20 Mar 1942. From : Kitty Farrer (P.A. to Miss Gower) Dear Margery,

Miss Gower has just received your Medical Certificate dated March 16th.

In view of the fact that you have now been away on sick leave for the past three months and that this last certificate states that you "will probably be able to resume duties within two months", Miss Gower considers that it would be much more satisfactory if you were to see the Chief Medical Officer of A.T.A.

She has therefore arranged for him to see you on Tuesday March 20th [sic], and has asked me to write to you to ask you to report to him at White Waltham on that date. I understand that he will probably be able to see you at any time during the day.



11 May 1942. From Mrs Nicholas, 30 Aberdeen Pl, St John's Wood London NW8. Dear Miss Gower,

Just a short note to let you know that my cousin Margery Spiller died this morning from cancer, she unfortunately left it too long before consulting a Dr. as to what really was the trouble. I am glad to say she did not realise how seriously ill she was & it really is a happy release under the circumstances.

I wonder if you could let me have the address of her billets at Hatfield also at White Waltham as I understand she has left belongings at both places, also I believe she had some flying kit at Hatfield but I do not know if it is her property or issue & the same with her uniform, I would be glad if you would let me know.

The funeral as far as I know will be on Thursday next at Croydon Crematorium being the nearest place to Sevenoaks if any of her particular pals would come, to know [sic].



12 May 1942. From: Pauline Gower. Dear Mrs Nicholson,

Thank you very much for your letter of the 11th May. I am more sorry than I can say to hear the sad news about Marjorie [sic, I'm sorry to say] Spiller, and please accept my very deep sympathy.

She will be a great loss to us, not only as a pilot, but as a very charming companion, and I know that I am speaking for all her colleagues, as well as for myself.

Unfortunately, I shall not be able to go to the funeral myself, but I believe that some of her friends are coming.

With again my deepest sympathy. Yours Sincerely, Commandant of Women Pilots.

 12 May 1942, From Flt. Capt. Stocks, Establishment Officer, ATA. Dear Mr Spiller,

It was with deep regret that I learnt from the Commanding Officer of the death of your neice - Miss P.M. Spiller, and I am directed to express the heartfelt sympathy of the Commanding Officer and fellow A.T.A. pilots in your sad bereavement.

No doubt you are aware that your neice had been with this organisation for over twelve months, and it is felt that had she been spared, her adaptability and proficiency would have made her an excellent ferry pilot, and her loss is one that we can ill afford.


15 May 1942. From P.A. Spiller, to Establishment Officer, ATA. Dear Capt Stocks,

I deeply appreciate the kind lines of sympathy in which you have expressed the sympathy of the Commanding Officer and fellow A.T.A. pilots, including yourself, to me in the sad death of my neice Miss P.M. Spiller who has been with you all for a long time now.

Your reference to her adaptability, and proficiency, is also gratefully acknowledged, for I know her whole heart and soul was in the war job which she had undertaken.

I will ask you to kindly convey my thanks, and the contents of this letter, to all who knew my neice and have so kindly thought of me in my bereavement.

I am, Yours Sincerely, P.A. Spiller


Flight recorded her passing, thus:

28 May 1942: "We regret to record the death, at Sevenoaks, after an illness, of Marjory [sic, and I wish somebody would spell her 'f'ing name right for goodness' sake] Spiller , who was Chief Instructor to the Eastbourne Flying Club before the outbreak of war, and afterwards joined the women's section of the A.T.A.

She learnt to fly at Shoreham in 1935 as a member of the South Coast Flying Club and gained an instructor's endorsement to her 'B' licence in 1938."



15 May 1942. From Betty Nicholas. Dear Miss Gower,

Thank you very much for your kind sympathy and the lovely flowers.

I am sure Margery would have been very honoured to know that she was missed as she was so proud of being in A.T.A. & of being of some use to the country during these trying days.


Margery's flying record in the ATA:

Moth: 74hrs 50min;

Magister: 18hrs 35min;

Tutor: 4 hrs 35min;

Hart: 1hr 10min;

Harvard: 3hrs 30min;

Battle: 1hr 05min;

Hurricane: 1hr 30min;

Master: 4hrs 25min.


One of the ATA Women


photo: 1927, aged 27

Miss Winifred Evelyn Spooner

Winifred Spooner 

b. 11 September 1900 in Woolwich, Kent; she had 4 older brothers (Cecil Charles, Frank Vivian, Walter Percy, and Hugh, known as 'Tony'). Her father, Major Walter Boulton Spooner (who was a veterinary surgeon), was 47 when she was born and died when she was just over a year old; her mother, Annie, was originally from Belfast.

'Bad luck Wimpey' was one of the best-known women aviators of the time, and the one generally regarded as the best. She was awarded the International League of Aviation's Trophy for women aviators in 1929, and in 1930 Capt C D Barnard described her as 'the finest woman pilot in the world' (He went on to say that Lady Bailey was regarded as the 'second finest airwoman in the world', and we don't know what she thought about that...)

Learnt to fly in 1926 and took it 'more seriously than most' - in her first race in April 1928, she won the Suffolk Handicap (21 miles at 78mph), ahead of Neville Stack and four other male rivals; she won the 'heavy' category in the Round Europe Contest for Touring Aircraft in 1930 - covering 4,700 miles at 102mph, ("a very fine performance indeed", said The Times) and also competed in the Ladies event at Reading (May, 1931) -  the other competitors were Amy Johnson, Grace Aitken, Pauline Gower, Dorothy Spicer, Susan Slade, Gabrielle Burr, Christina Young, and Fidelia Crossley - a historic gathering indeed.

Photo here

Winifred Spooner2 

Winifred Spooner4

She soon took her 'B' (Commercial) Licence, and at one stage was the only professional woman pilot in the country.

In September 1927 her first flight abroad was to Venice to support the British Team in the Schneider Cup in Venice. Alan Butler (with Peter Hoare as passenger), and Hubert Broad, who took Maia Carberry, also went and, in case you were wondering, "Mrs. Carberry wore a pale blue leather flying helmet to match the colour of her Moth aeroplane."

She soon became regarded as 'one of the few women who matter in the air world'; in March 1928, when King Amanullah of Afghanistan was on a state visit to London, he inspected "the latest types of Imperial Airways passenger machines and a number of small Moth machines in private ownership. He carried on, through an interpreter, an animated conversation with Miss Winifred Brown, of Manchester, and Miss Spooner, of London, both of whom own and fly small two-seater machines."

In the 'Woman's World' section of the Inverness Courier of April 1928, this description of Winifred appeared: "[she] has not flown for very long, for it was only about three years ago that I knew her in Cologne, when she then drove, instead of an aeroplane, a two-seater car, through the crowded streets of Cologne, at a speed which most people would have been terrified to attempt. She was always, however, extremely cool and composed, and though her passengers were sometimes nervous she never seemed so. She was always very sporting, and played an excellent game of tennis. A good-looking, typically English girl, she made many friends among the British army in Cologne when doing voluntary work with the Y.M.C.A. there. [Winifred was with the 'Army of Occupation' in Germany at the time]"

She did have what she later described as her 'greatest air thrill' on Marlborough Common in May 1929; "she had been taking passengers up all day when, after one flight, she said she was not quite satisfied with the controls, and refused to take the next man until she had attended to the aeroplane. After doing so she started the propeller, and as she walked away from it the machine suddenly moved forward. Pluckily, Miss Spooner jumped and caught hold of the wing, her idea being to clamber into the cockpit and stop the engine. The machine quickly gathered speed, and she was dragged 40 or 50 yards [she later reckoned it was about 30 yards], when to the horror of the crowd the plane turned and buried its nose in the ground, hurling Miss Spooner some distance. She was unconscious. Doctors were sent for and she was taken to hospital. 'We thought she must have been killed,' an eye-witness told our representative."

She was taken to Savernake Hospital suffering from a sprained wrist, cuts, and slight concussion.

She does seem to have had quite a few run-ins with the local Constabulary; firstly in January 1929 for failing to keep her Alsatian dog under proper control (it had attacked another dog which "had no chance"), then in August 1929 for failing to produce a car driving licence (she said she had forgotten about it and flew to France the following day); then in 1931, she was fined £35 for leaving her motor car unattended and for failing to have lights on it. When she was told that she would be reported, she said: "I am used to it." A police-superintendent said there were no previous convictions recorded against her, as far as Reading was concerned. The Chairman then asked 'And none in the air? She replied 'There are no policemen in the air. That is why I like it.'"

I'm certainly sorry I missed her talk, given in April 1928 at Harrods in Brompton Road, on "Flying as a New Delight for Womankind".  Later, in the early thirties, she wrote for "Good Housekeeping" on, of course, "Flying for Women", alongside such luminaries as John Galsworthy, Kate O'Brien, and Hugh Walpole.

September 1929 saw her accompanying NFS's chairman Freddie Guest (q.v.) to Nairobi, to inaugurate an air taxi service and give flying lessons. They took 3 aeroplanes with them, and flew them back (via South Africa) in February 1930.

She and E C T 'Cecil' Edwards tried to fly a Desoutter to Cape Town and back in December 1930, but this expedition ended up in a forced landing in the sea off southern Italy; Cecil and Winifred had to swim a couple of miles to shore.


She regularly competed in the King's Cup - coming 3rd in 1928 - and was a guest at Amelia Earhart's reception at the RAeC in May 1932 - more details here.


Winifred Spooner3 

Winifred Spooner Lindsey Everard

She was personal pilot to Leicestershire M.P. Lyndsey Everard from February 1931 - they are seen here with Nigel Norman.

And then, suddenly, on 13 January 1933, she was dead - not in an air crash, but as a result of a cold which rapidly worsened into pneumonia. Only few days before, in conversation with a friend, she had mentioned that her mother had died from influenza in 1918. "The deaths of both mother and daughter occurred with the same suddenness."

They are buried together in Hinton Parva: see http://www.earlyaviators.com/espoone5.htm


Winifred E. Spooner

She left £1,357 0s 8d, and her brother, Capt. Frank Vivian Spooner, Indian Army (retd) was appointed administrator. She hadn't got round to writing a will.

There is a scholarship in her memory at Sherborne School for Girls.

"In the passing of Winifred Spooner the world has lost a great woman... she stood out as a woman of indomitable courage".


King's Cup in 1928, 1929, 1930, 1932

Winifred owned:

a 1926 DH.60 Moth (G-EBOT),

a 1928 DH.60G Gipsy Moth (G-AAAL, which she sold to Elise Battye);

a 1930 Desoutter IID (G-ABCU - this is the aeroplane she and E.C.T. Edwards ditched in the sea off Naples in December 1930), and later

a 1932 Breda 33 (G-ABXK), which was sold in Italy just 3 months before her death.


Winifred's brother Tony was chief flying instructor at the Montreal Flying Club in 1931. He was killed in March 1935 in Egypt when piloting a D.H. 84 Dragon, SU-ABI belonging to Misr Airwork, when it was caught up in a sandstorm and both engines failed.

photo: 1934, aged 38

Capt Thomas Neville Stack

b. 1 April 1896; universally known as 'Stacko'

RFC in WWI, then became a familiar figure in aviation circles during the 1920s - in 1926 he and Bernard Leete made the first flight from England to India in two DH. Moths, one of several record-breaking flights.

He and J R Chaplin tried to fly to Australia and back in 1931, but had to turn back at Constantinople, Turkey, with carburettor trouble; later in the year the same pair attempted a flight to India and back, but again turned back with mechanical problems.

He was appointed 'Air Superintendent' of Iraq Airwork Ltd in 1933, and flew their first machine (a Spartan Cruiser) there via Cairo in 1933. Shortly afterwards, he flew 2 doctors and a nurse out to India, to perform an urgent operation on a Nepalese princess.

Late 1933 found him testing the Airspeed Courier - which is probably where he met Sydney - and was widely expected to fly it in the Race. A month before the race, he broke (his own) London-Copenhagen record in a Miles Hawk, which is perhaps why he was too busy to inspect the Viceroy properly....

He turned up for the MacRobertson Race looking very tired and drawn - Alan Goodfellow described him as looking 'over-trained, physically', and Neville Shute Norway said he was "an exhausted and a worried man".

Shortly after the race, he was appointed Air Superintendent and Manager of Hillman's Airways; after that became part of British Airways he spent time in Turkey, advising them on civil aviation.

He was killed when run over by a lorry in Karachi, India on  22nd February 1949, aged 52. At first, the Karachi Police said he had committed suicide but, while agreeing that he was 'on the verge of a nervous breakdown', the inquiry decided that the cause of death was actually an aneurism of the aorta, and he would have died anyway.

Neville was "always very good company. He was never happier than when singing a song and strumming on his banjo."

King's Cup in 1928, 1928, 1929, 1930, 1933, 1937

MacRobertson Race in 1934

photo: 1929, aged 30

Flt-Lt George Hedley Stainforth DFC

from Worthing, Sussex. A man "so quiet and withdrawn that some thought he was dim". He was certainly a big, humorous man who was "mentally slow to grasp a technical point" but he had immense tenacity and would keep working away at it until he understood it. He was  hopeless with money, and relied on his wife to look after it for him.

Schneider Pilot in 1929 and 1931; first man in the world to exceed 400mph, in 1931.

He was a test pilot at Farnborough in 1933, and flew the Airspeed Courier on its first test flights - Airspeed's Neville Shute Norway said that "in the air he was masterly, of course". He certainly gave George the credit for saving the aeroplane on one occasion when the engine cut out.

Killed in WWII: 27th September 1942 when a Wing Commander (pilot), 89 Sqn RAF; buried Ismailia, Egypt


King's Cup in 1933


Mr E E Stammers

Reading Aero Club Member

King's Cup in 1928

photo: 1938

Flt-Lt Christopher Stainbank Staniland

Another Schneider pilot, in 1928. Fairey's chief test pilot from 1936; 'His real love is motor racing' (well, thanks very much). bailed out from the same aircraft twice in one day

Killed in WWII:  26 June 1942 in a Fairey Firefly; buried Keddington, Lincs.


King's Cup in 1929


photo: 1915, when a 2nd Lieutenant, RAC, aged 25

photo: September 1937, aged 47

Wing-Cmdr Frederick William Stent

A retired RAF officer'. killed 28 Jun 1938 in the Miles M.11C (G-AEYI) which crashed at Harefield, Berkshire.


King's Cup in 1937

photo: 1916, when a 2nd Lieutenant in the RFC, aged 23

Flt-Lt Reginald Herbert Stocken

RAF Serial No 18077. promoted to squadron leader in 1941; later a Wing Commander


King's Cup in 1923

photo: 1911, aged 24

Mrs Cheridah Anne de Beauvoir Stocks


RAeC Certificate No 153 - 7 Nov 1911

Cheridah Stocks


b. Somerset; youngest daughter of Major Ernst, D.L., J.P. of Westombe, Evercreech.

In September 1913, she and Sydney Pickles ( ) crashed at Hendon; they were both taken from the wreckage unconscious and sent off to the nearby Central London Sick Asylum. Sydney had a crushed foot, fractured thigh and abdominal wounds; Cheridah was in a 'semi-conscious state' for weeks, [I know the feeling], but eventually recovered. Her struggle to recover and walk again was "closely followed by the newspapers".


Cheridah Stocks2

It looks like she was amongst the dozens of women who signed a 'Plea for a Constitutional Decision' in 1917 against immediately giving women the vote - suggesting that a decision should be postponed until after the war. "A considerable number of women do not desire the vote", they reckoned. It might have been another Mrs Stocks, of course...

After WWII, Cheridah studied for a BSc at Oxford and travelled the world.

Her husband, Commander David de Beavoir Stocks D.S.O. Legion of Honour, died 31st January 1918 in a submarine.

d. 1st May 1971 in Northampton aged 84 after a long illness; the Times said that she was "a most beautiful woman and her vivacious character and her exploits won her much popularity".

2nd British woman to get an RAeC Certificate: Read More ...

David Edmund Stodart


Born 31st July 1882, in Gobur, Victoria, Australia, eldest of seven children.

Went to Edinburgh to study medicine; a very early aviator (RAeC Certificate No 321, in 1912); pre-WWI racer in England as 'Dr Edmund'. Mentioned in dispatches three times during WWI, promoted eventually to Major, he was awarded the DFC and later the DSO.

Post-WWI RAF Squadron Leader in the Middle East, then back to Middlesex Hospital as a physician in the dermatology department.

Oldest and 'most casual' competitor in the Race, but the first Australian to reach Melbourne. He and Kenneth should have won one of the handicap prizes - possibly even the First Prize - but mistakes in the handicapping system robbed them of the glory they deserved, not to mention the cash.

After the Race, he stayed on in Australia for a while, mostly working as a flying instructor, then finally came back to England, where he died 26th February 1938 in Brighton, aged 55.

p.s. the £2,000 for the Handicap Race prize would be worth about £400,000 today...might have been useful, considering that David's estate when he died was £157.


MacRobertson Race in 1934

Kenneth Gerald Stodart


Born in 1910

David said that 'Our grandfathers were first cousins, work it out for yourself, it’s too much for me”.

A Sergeant Pilot in the RAF, later to test-fly the 'Luton Buzzard' light aircraft.

Died 15th September, 1938 in Princess Mary’s Royal Air Force Hospital, Halton, Buckinghamshire, after a flying accident, aged 28


MacRobertson Race in 1934

photo: 1913, when a farmer from Dorset, aged 22

photo: '30, aged 39

Lieut-Col Louis Arbon Strange DSO MC DFC

'Flying Rebel'; WWI pilot and inventor; later Director of Spartan, Simmonds and Whitney Straight companies.

He was "none other than the famed R.F.C. pilot who, fighting a German at 8,000ft over Ypres in 1915, suddenly found his Martinsyde out of control, was flung out of his seat, and spun down 5,000 feet hanging from the Lewis gun mounting. He eventually got the machine under control with his feet."

Bar to his DFC in June 1940, while in the RAF Volunteer Reserve: "P/O. Strange was detailed to proceed from Hendon to Merville to act as ground control officer during the arrival and departure of various aircraft carrying food supplies. He displayed great skill and determination whilst under heavy bombing attacks and machine gun fire at Merville, where he was responsible for the repair and successful despatch of two aircraft to England. In the last, remaining aircraft which was repaired under his supervision, he returned to Hendon in spite of being repeatedly attacked by Messerschmitts until well out to sea. He had no guns in action and had never flown this type of aircraft previously, but his brilliant piloting enabled him to return."

Wing Commander in WWII, awarded OBE and US Bronze Star; returned to farming and died in 1966.

 King's Cup in 1930, 1933

Mr A J Styran

known as 'Bill'

b. c1894

2 October 1933: "The recent tragic sequence of British air accidents was continued yesterday by two crashes, costing four lives. The more serious occurred near Hawkhurst, Kent, when disaster overtook a private 'plane returning from the R 101 unveiling ceremony at Allonne. The machine crashed at a terrific speed out of dense mist into a field.

The three occupants, who were killed instantly, were:— CAPTAIN A. J. STYRAN, the pilot; MR lAN C. MACGILCHRIST, of Montpellier Street, W., chairman of the British Air Navigation Co., owners of the 'plane; and MR BERTRAM WILSON, a press photographer, returning with pictures he had taken of the memorial service. Visibility was very poor, and with no eye-witnesses and no survivors, the cause cf the accident remains a mystery. By coincidence, Mr Frank Crouch, stockman, at Old Place Farm, who was the first to reach the wreckage, witnessed the passing over of the ill-fated R 101 when she left for India."

"Capt Styran was the winner of the London-Cardiff Race this year"

"A FINE FLIER. A friend of Captain "Bill" Styran, who was killed in the air crash his way back from Beauvais at the week-end, tells me that "Bill " was the very best type of pilot for civil flying. He never took unnecessary risks and his services were in great demand among business men who wished to make extensive air tours. He had recently returned from such a trip in Russia. " Bill " was tall and well built, though he carried on his face the scars of a previous crash."

King's Cup in 1932, 1933

photo: 1930, aged 26

F/O Joseph Summers

'Mutt' Summers, chief test pilot for Vickers and Supermarine. Flew the Spitfire prototype on its first flight.

Called 'Mutt' because he liked to pee on or near his aeroplane before taking off; is that too much detail? Still has the most flying hours of any test pilot in the world. Died in 1954.


King's Cup in 1928, 1929, 1930

photo: 1930

Mr W H Sutcliffe

Instructor at Midland Aero Club (as was Tommy Rose), the 'energetic' Mr Sutcliffe


King's Cup in 1930, 1934

photo: 1931, aged 22

Mr Samuel Philip Symington

A Works Manager from Market Harborough. Awarded MC in 1945 (Captain in the Leicestershire Regiment)


King's Cup in 1934

Mr Francis Stanley Symondson MC

b. 27 Mar 1897 in Sutton, Surrey but living in Fowey, Cornwall; WWI ace (12 victories).

Went to Italy in WWI flying Camels with 66 Sqn, and was shot down once in Belgium and twice in Italy.

Despite being over 40 when WWII broke out, Francis joined the RAF as a Flt-Lt and then in June 1943 joined the Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA).

ATA Francis Symondson ATA, 1943

He was certainly experienced (over 1,000 hours, although mostly on light types), and keen - in fact, "his keenness to do a job may lead him to ask for more than he can safely cope with". He went on to complete a very large number of successful aircraft deliveries on 24 different aircraft, mostly Spitfires, in "an eminently satisfactory manner".

Although he did have one senior moment, in January 1944, when he landed a Hurricane with the wheels up. He had "failed to carry out his cockpit drill".

By 1945 though, even the ATA noticed that he was perhaps getting on a bit to be a ferry pilot; "This pilot was very nervous and under-confident at the beginning of the course but eventually settled down and reached an average standard. I would suggest however that owing to his age he has reached the limits of his ability and should not be considered for further progress". He was nevertheless "an extremely enthusiastic and hard working pilot who has been of great value".

d. 1975

King's Cup in 1930, 1931


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