The Hon. Elsie Mackay  (a.k.a. Poppy Wyndham)

Royal Aero Club Certificate No. 7930 (14 Aug 1922)

 1922

 
 

b. Simla, India, in 1893, the third daughter (of four, plus one son) of Lord and Lady Inchcape; the "friendly, sociable and unpretentious" Miss Elsie from Glenapp Castle in south-west Scotland.

One of the richest women in Britain, and therefore a member of the Court and Social whirl: e.g. aged 19 or so, she was at Mrs Tennyson d'Eyencourt's dance in 1912: "The drawing room in which the dancing took place was decorated with tulips in different shades of yellow" and all that.

Became a nurse in her mother's hospital for wounded soldiers (this is all sounding a bit Downton Abbey, sorry) and in 1917 nursed a certain wounded South African soldier Mr Dennis Wyndham, in civilian life An Actor. She told her father she wanted to marry him; Daddy strongly opposed the marriage; they ran away to Glasgow (Glasgow??), took apartments and got her landlady and someone else to act as witnesses; went to the registrar... hang on, this is Downton Abbey!

Unfortunately for them, they hadn't been resident in Scotland for the required 15 days, and the marriage was declared null and void. The judge was very put out... "This sort of thing will not do. People must realise this is a solemn act dealing with the question of marriage and the future of a man and woman... I am going to report the whole of this matter to the Lord Advocate".

Elsie reverted to her maiden name, went back to the family home and to the endless balls, dinner-parties, at-homes, receptions, hospital ward-openings, society weddings and cruises. "Miss Mackay wore a Victorian picture dress of pink and gold brocade over an underskirt of silver lace"... She became quite a well-known interior designer for P&O. Lord Inchcape was chairman of P&O but that was just a coincidence, probably.

Meanwhile ... in April 1920 a certain Miss Poppy Wyndham appeared in a horsey silent picture movie called 'A Dead Certainty' ... June 1920, Poppy Wyndham (again on a horse) in "A Great Coup" ... August 1921, Poppy Wyndham in "A Tidal Wave". As 'Poppy', Elsie appeared in at least 8 movies between 1919 and 1921.

 In June 1924, Elsie sold programmes at a charity matinee at the Aldwych Theatre; the following month, presided at the Catholic Stage Guild, and in June 1926, she sold "sweets and programmes under Lady Alexander's direction" at another charity matinee.

On the 9th March 1928, she denied rumours that she was going to accompany one-eyed Imperial Airways pilot Captain Walter George Raymond Hinchliffe on a transatlantic flight; she knew him, of course, but only had "a very small financial interest in [his flight]".

Sure enough, on March 14th, the black and gold Stinson-Detroiter aeroplane 'The Endeavour', containing Capt Hinchliffe and Elsie Mackay, took off from Cranwell. It was spotted 170 miles off the west coast of Ireland, heading out over the Atlantic. They were never seen again...

...except...

1) a note, found in a bottle at Flint, North Wales, saying "Goodbye all. Elsie Mackay and Captain Hinchcliffe. Down in fog and storm". Pity the handwriting was nothing like Elsie's, and the writer spelt Hinchliffe's name wrong, but anyway...

2) A London spiritualist received a message from the dead Mr Hinchliffe in July: "We landed on the water. We did not crash ... I swam for 20 minutes but the currents were too strong and I became unconscious and drowned. Mackay's end was peaceful". I only report this stuff...

3) Finally, in December an identifiable wheel from the aircraft was found washed up in Ireland (which rather settled it).

Lord and Lady Inchcape generously put Elsie's £521,101 13s 4d in trust for the nation for about 50 years, after which time they hoped it "should be used to reduce the National Debt". They also gave Capt Hinchliffe's widow Emilie (sometimes known as Eileen) £10,000, his estate being a rather more modest £32.

In 1977, when the Elsie Mackay Fund matured, it had grown to over £4.5 million; the National Debt had also grown a bit, however. To £66.8 billion. Or, to put it another way, just another 99.993% to go ...

See also:http://www.elsie-mackay.co.uk/ and 'A Flight Too Far', by Jack Hunter/Stranraer and District Local History Trust, 2008.

There is a memorial window to Elsie in Glenapp Church.

[p.s. this is not the same actress, called Elsie Mackay, who was married to actor Lionel Atwill; she was American]

Elsie owned a 1916 Airco DH.6 (C5220, G-EAGF)

 

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