A Fleeting Peace

Golden-Age Aviation in the British Empire

 Moth Lady

Here is some splendid stuff from Mary Bertha de Bunsen in 1934, from an article called 'Practical Flying for Women':

"When present-day landing problems are simplified, the lady owner-pilot upon her daily shopping and visiting rounds is likely to flourish as does her counterpart upon the roads."



Mary Bertha de Bunsen in 1932, aged 22.

An accomplished aviator in her own right, Mary was born 29 May 1910 in Madrid, the daughter of Sir Maurice, the British Ambassador there.

She had been dragged round dances and hunt balls by her parents in the hope of finding her a suitable husband - these were, of course, in short supply after the carnage of WWI. "I was far too innocent to realise... that with a lame leg [after a childhood attack of polio] and horn-rimmed glasses I stood no chance whatever". She never married, and died in 1982 in Dorset.

"An owner-pilot, Mrs Hamilton-Gault, has with her husband travelled England and the Continent for four years in a Moth rejoicing in the registration letters 'G-AAGA'.

She is an example of the practical lady pilot whose aeroplane is used, when weather permits, for all travelling in England and abroad. Once a week or more, in summer, she flies to London and back to her home in Somerset.

She is, however, forced to use the aerodrome at Yeovil - some distance from her home - owing to the lack of landing grounds in the Somerset Hills, which keeps a number of air-minded people in the county from taking up flying."


(actually, Dorothy Hamilton Gault. That was a joke)

see also here for more on her interesting husband, Andrew Hamilton Gault!

"...Another lady aeroplane owner, Miss Giles, who has flown several hundred hours, regarded her flying until the last two years more as a sport than a practical means of transport. Now that the number of aerodromes has increased, she is, however, usually able to insist that she will come to the nearest aerodrome, from whence her friends must fetch her."

Joanna Elder Giles

Elise Battye

"On an income of £1,000 a year, Mrs Elise Battye keeps a small house within thirty miles of London, a Morris Minor as an essential adjunct to the scheme, and a Moth aeroplane. In the latter she flies 180 to 200 hours a year for under £250 all told.

She flies constantly to the Isle of Wight, Gloucestershire and Norfolk - to the last two as many as three times a month - and all these places are unpleasant to get to by any other means." [this is still true, of course]

[The average salary in 1934 was somewhat less than £200 a year]

Adelaide Cleaver

"Mrs Spencer Cleaver makes the usually fatiguing journey to Northern Ireland three or four times a year in her own aeroplane, and, fitted with extra tanks to save refuelling during the day, it has many times enabled her to breakfast in London, shop in Paris from 11 to 1, and return in plenty of time for dinner at her house in London."

[see here for more about Adelaide]

Meanwhile, down-to-earth Pauline Gower, who was traipsing about the country with her engineer friend Dorothy Spicer making a living from joyriding, thought that flying "is the best antidote to the manifold neuroses which beset modern women, usually because they have too little to occupy their minds."


Pioneer British Ladies

Here's an interesting chart (honest) - it shows the number of Aviator's Certificates issued by the Royal Aero Club each year, from 1911 to 1934, to men and women:

The numbers, in case you ever need them, are:

Year Certificates Issued Men Women  
1911 168 166 2 1.2%
1912 214 214    
1913 337 337    
1914 ~787 ~787    
1915 ~787 ~787    
1916 1,913 1,913    
1917 1,491 1,491    
1918 ~1,074 ~1,074    
1919 ~1,074 ~1,073 1 0.1%
1920 66 64 2 3.0%
1921 11 11    
1922 17 16 1 5.9%
1923 10 10    
1924 16 16    
1925 13 12 1 7.7%
1926 83 82 1 1.2%
1927 144 135 9 6.3%
1928 283 274 9 3.2%
1929 457 429 28 6.1%
1930 720 654 66 9.2%
1931 638 588 50 7.8%
1932 608 568 40 6.6%
1933 731 682 49 6.7%
1934 903 838 65 7.2%

  12,545 12,221 324 2.6%


apart from the fact that hardly anybody (apart from those in the armed services, presumably) learnt to fly for about 6 years after WWI, this means:

  • there were only 8 women in Britain who had RAeC certificates before 1927, out of a total of 8,205;
  • only 28 women gained RAeC certificates before 1929 (including Lady Mary Bailey, Connie Leathart, Winifred Sawley Brown, Winifred Spooner (all in 1927), and Susan Slade in 1928);
  • the number of women aviators more than doubled in 1929 (including Lois Butler, Amy Johnson, Diana Guest, and Christina Young) and more than doubled again in 1930;
  • By July 1931, Lady Heath was able to report that "forty British women have their own aeroplanes", (which compared with just over 400 licensed women pilots in the US); even so ...
  • ... more than 97% of British Empire pilots were men. (It was like that). These days, the figure is more like, er, well, 97%, actually...


After the outbreak of WWII, Mary Bertha de Bunsen joined the Air Transport Auxiliary.

The ATA performed an essential role throughout WWII, delivering aircraft from factories and maintenance units to airfields; the women's section was assembled and led by Pauline Gower.

There were 168 women pilots in the ATA (out of a total of 1,318). 16 women ATA pilots were killed; the details are here: ATA Women

Here is a list of the pioneering women (those who took their Royal Aero Club Certificate before 1930) who made this possible. Click on the links to find out more about them:

 follow links to find out more

RAeC Certificate


Mrs Hilda Beatrice Hewlett

122 29-Aug-11

Mrs Cheridah de Beauvoir Stocks

153 07-Nov-11

Winnie Buller 0009 0034 RAeC

Mrs Winnie Buller

Fr848 03-May-12


Miss Hilda Hope McMaugh

7818 15-Nov-19


Mrs Dulcibella Atkey

7846/7901 04-Jan-20

Miss Imelda Mary Trafford

7879 24-Jun-20


The Hon Elsie Mackay

7930 14-Aug-22

Sophie Elliott-Lynn /  Lady Sophie Mary Heath

7975 04-Nov-25

Sicele O'Brien

8045 20-Oct-26



Doreen Vionee Ranald

Wife of Lieut. Ranald, R.N.; in September 1937 the Hampshire Aeroplane Club reported that "We had a visit on Sunday, the 21st, of Lieut. Ranald, R.N., and Mrs. Ranald. Mrs. Ranald holds the Royal Aero Club certificate and has now joined this club for the purpose of obtaining her "B" licence."

"We are always happy to receive visits from the members of any of the clubs."


b. Semastipor, India, 8 Feb 1907

8066/17053 24-Jan-27

Hon Lady Mary Bailey

8067 26-Jan-27

Constance Ruth Leathart 8085 18-Mar-27

Mrs Mary Teston Luis Bell

b. Launceston, Tasmania, 3 Dec 1903

8088 01-Apr-27 

Winifred Sawley Brown 8091 06-Apr-27 

Winifred Evelyn Spooner 8137 11-Aug-27 

Isabella Heslop

b. Newcastle-on-Tyne, 26 Mar 1888

8140 12-Aug-27 

Madeleine Constance Mary Woodhead

b. Leeds, 21 Jul 1905

 8142 11-Aug-27 

Dafny Hansen Berger

b. Asker, Norway, 16 Sep 1903

 8160 27-Sep-27 



Edna Baerlein

b. Manchester, 25 Apr 1898

 8292 05-Jun-28 

Alice Bessie Grace

b. Malta, 27 Oct 1901

 8314 23-Jun-28 
 Olive Muriel Tremague Miles  8384 31-Aug-28 

 Eleanor Isabella 'Susan' Slade  8405 16-Sep-28 

Mary Hicks

b. London, 19 Nov 1906

 8434 09-Oct-28 

Dorothy Brewster Fletcher

b. Workington, 16 Feb 1892; her father James was a joiner.

An Administrative Assistant in the Women's RAF in October 1919.

Dorothy's great-nephew tells me that "Dorothy took part in the Blackpool Air pageant in 1928, as co-pilot to Sicele O'Brien.
Her instructor at Stag Lane was Capt F G M Sparks.
He performed a  "breathtaking display of aerobatic stunts in her honour whilst accompanying her ship on its passage down the St Lawrence river. This display naturally delighted the other passengers aboard."   

She sailed back from Montreal to Southampton in September 1930.

A scientist with a particular interest in electronics; in 1924, she collaborated with Sydney Brydon and they patented "Improvements in and relating to the employment of thermionic valve circuits"; later, in 1945, she and Edward Victor Golder took out a patent for "Improvements in or relating to piezo-electric crystals having wire connections".

After WWII she was "cited for her wartime work with Gilbert S. Bryden involving detection of magnetic mines at sea".

d. 1970 in Greenwich, London


 8438 12-Oct-28 

Quenelda Anne Naylor

b. Liverpool, 3 Apr 1903

 8454 25-Oct-28 

Mary Madge Home

b. Jodhpore, India, 13 Aug 1891

d. 3 May 1957, London

 8465 04-Nov-28 

Janet Hendry

b. Adrossan, Scotland, 23 Oct 1906

8473 03-Dec-28 

 Edna Mary Yendall

b. Newcastle-on-Tyne, 25 May 1904

 8544 31-Mar-29 
 Elileen Mary Scott  8554 16-Apr-29 
   Florence Margaret Wood  8572 07-May-29 
 Mary Stewart Dashwood Wilson  8583 13-May-29 

Miss Leonore Mary de Chancal Pellier

b Abbotskerswell, 25 Jun 1905

a 'spinster of independent means'

 8590 17-May-29 

Miss Ethel Margaret Ellison

b. Cleckheaton, 21 Jan 1904

 8612 21-May-29 

Miss Margaret Hughes

b. Childer Thornton nr Birkenhead, 18 Jul 1895

 8615 31-May-29 

Mrs Lois Butler  8634 14-Jun-29 

Miss Joyce Maude Pike

b. Reading, 20 Mar 1903

 8661 23-Jun-29 

Miss Amy Johnson  8662 28-Jun-29 

Miss Gladys Mary Grace

b. Cifton, Glos, 29 Jan 1904

 8669 07-Jul-29 

Mrs Andree Peyre Turner

b. Calviac, France, 17 Nov 1900

 8701 25-Jul-29 

Audrey Florid Durell Drummond Sale-Barker

The eldest daughter of Maurice Drummond-Sale-Barker.

Known as 'Wendy'; she married George Nigel Douglas-Hamilton (the Earl of Selkirk) in 1949. They were two of the best British skiers; she was even a women's ski champion for a while.

George died in 1994. They had no children.

 8731 13-Aug-29 

Miss Elizabeth Ann Roche Anderson

b. Dullatur Scotland, 18 Aug 1908

A Masseuse (it says here)

 8735 26-Jun-29 

Mrs Margaret Helen Saunders

b. Montrose, Scotland, 30 Jun 1901

 8737 20-Aug-29 

The Hon. Mrs Mildred Katherine Leith

b. St Andrews, Scotland, 22 Mar 1894

A Company Director

 8744 21-Aug-29 

Dulcis Marie Miriam Margaret Mendoza Eills

b. Waterloo, nr Liverpool, 7 Aug 1897

A Housewife

 8753 24-Aug-29 
Diana Guest  8756 27-Aug-29 

Lady Daisy Finola Somers

 8778 17-Jul-29 
 Christina Mitchell Young  8779 08-Sep-29 
   Rosamond Vereker  8803 12-Sep-29 

Miss Isabel Surtees

b. Healey Riding Mill on Tyne, 25 Jul 1906

 8816 27-Sep-29 

 Miss Mary Agnes Geraldine Stanford

b. Rottingdean, 8 Aug 1895

 8858 22-Oct-29 

Mrs Mary Margaret Carter

b. Anerley, 19 Jan 1900

 8871 27-Oct-29 

Mrs Elsa Elvine Lindbergh Lovell

b. Gothenburg, Sweden, 2 Apr 1901

 8899 22-Nov-29 
Nora Thornton Trevelyan  8901 17-Aug-29 

Miss Margory Penrose-Thackwell

b. Cheltenham, 15 Oct 1902


 8926 19-Dec-29 
   Violet Baring  8932 17-Dec-29 



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