Miss Winifred Evelyn Spooner

Royal Aero Club Certificate No. 8137 (11 Aug 1927) 
   1927, aged 27 Winifred_Spooner.jpg 
  

'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.

Mary_Amelia_Amy_Winifred

She regularly competed in the King's Cup - coming 3rd in 1928 - and was a guest at Amelia Earhart's reception at the Royal Aero Club in May 1932.

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

spoonermonumentwalter    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".
 

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.

 

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