Venetia Montagu

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Beatrice Venetia Stanley, b. 22 Aug 1887; in 1915, she married the Hon Edwin Samuel Montagu, later Secretary of State for India. He died in 1924, though.

She already had an interesting past. In 1912, when she was 26, the 60-year old, married, Prime Minister Asquith fell in love with her, and over the next three years wrote her 560 letters, sometimes three a day, detailing his most intimate thoughts and documenting the growing crisis which led to WWI.

Asquith wrote to her in 1915; "Darling - shall I tell you what you have been and are to me? First, outwardly and physically unapproachable and unique. Then, in temperament and character, often baffling and elusive, but always more interesting and attractive and compelling than any woman I have seen or known".

Mrs Asquith, inexplicably, wasn't so keen; she said Venetia was 'a woman without refinement or any imagination whatsoever'.

Venetia was descibed then as 'tall, with dark eyes and a strong nose and face... widely read and vaguely eccentric; she kept as pets a bear cub, a penguin and a fox'.

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It was probably G-AFBW, the third of her Moths, which she used to tour Spain in December 1930. ‘Flight’ reported their exploits on December 5th:

“The Hon. Mrs. Edwin Montagu, who has just returned from a tour of Spain in her light aeroplane, tells a story illustrative of the development of flying in that country. When passing over the coast at Valencia, she decided to land, but was unable at once to find a suitable landing ground. What was her surprise, therefore, to sight a "windsock" on the beach. Her pilot brought the machine down on beautifully firm sand, and a courteous Spaniard hurried across the beach to greet them. He was the owner of a cafe on the edge of the sands and had installed the "windsock" on the restaurant roof to attract the increasing number of private flying enthusiasts in his country. He wheeled Mrs. Montagu's machine into the yard behind the cafe, and took charge of it while she and her pilot visited the town. He said that the installation of a wind-indicator had been an inspiration, and that many airmen see it and come down for refreshment, the broad stretch of hard sand making a good landing ground.”

The fact that the report mentions ‘her pilot’, and that there is no record of her ever having gained her Royal Aero Club Certificate, strongly suggests that she did not fly the ‘plane herself.

However, it was certainly G-AFBW which she, and her pilot Rupert Bellville, used the following year (1931) when they decided to tour Persia and Russia.

They left Heston on March 27th and reached Budapest on April 1. On April 5, “when flying to Sofia, they made a forced landing at Nisch, Jugoslavia, but were able to proceed later. The flight was continued on April 7 from Sofia to Constantinople.”

They left Constantinople on the 13th April, but 20 days later on May 2nd, met with a mishap: “when flying from Teheran to Moscow, their machine crashed near Sabzawar, Persia, and, although the machine was burnt, they were both unhurt.”

It only took her a couple of weeks to find another aeroplane, however; she “obtained a new—or rather a second-hand—mount with which to continue her tour. She purchased a ‘Moth‘ in Iraq, and left for Astrabad, on the Russian frontier, on May 16.”

They arrived in Moscow from Tashkent on June 1st, and left for Berlin on June 3rd.

Venetia Montagu owned:

ex-Adelaide Cleaver's 1929 DH.60G Gipsy Moth, G-AAEA;

a 1929 DH.60G Gipsy Moth, G-AAJO;

a 1930 DH.60G Gipsy Moth G-ABFW, the one she crashed in Persia in May 1931, and later

a 1934 DH.85 Leopard Moth G-ACLN, which went to Spain.

She died in 1948, aged 60; only then did her daughter discover the letters that Asquith had written to her.

 

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