Books & Gear

Pilot - - CONTENTS - JA

Speed-ad­dicted Mil­dred, RAF tech­nol­ogy, and a prop cleaner

A Pas­sion for Speed by Paul Smiddy www.the­his­to­ry­press.co.uk £14.99. Pa­per­back, 207 pages, black and white il­lus­tra­tions

This re­viewer had not heard of Mil­dred, the Hon­ourable Mrs Vic­tor Bruce, a fas­ci­nat­ing and un­con­ven­tional char­ac­ter who raced cars for many years and then, hav­ing learnt to fly, un­der­took a round-the-world flight in a Blackburn Blue­bird!

A con­tem­po­rary of bet­ter-known avi­atri­ces such as Amelia Ear­heart, Amy John­son, and Pauline Gower (of sub­se­quent ATA fame), Mil­dred’s dis­tant fam­ily his­tory was some­what che­quered, the con­stant be­ing a staunch Catholic faith. Her im­me­di­ate fam­ily was no less ex­otic; her English aris­to­crat fa­ther went against his fam­ily’s wishes to marry her Amer­i­can ac­tress mother. They sub­se­quently parted and her mother later took to drink.

Mil­dred’s ‘pas­sion for speed’ was ig­nited at age six by a Shet­land pony that was wont to bolt, much to her de­light, and later she bor­rowed her brother’s mo­tor­cy­cle. At 24 she gave birth to a son, fol­low­ing an af­fair with the wealthy older land­lord of the fam­ily’s rented ac­com­mo­da­tion, but ma­ter­nal obli­ga­tions did not stop her buy­ing her first car and speed­ing along lo­cal roads. In 1925 she met her hus­band, Vic­tor, at the 19th An­nual Mo­tor Ex­hi­bi­tion Mo­tor Show at Olympia, Lon­don. With me­chan­i­cal and engi­neer­ing ex­per­tise from his mil­i­tary ser­vice in WWI, Vic­tor was al­ready a keen mo­tor racer. Af­ter a low-key wed­ding, Mil­dred joined him at the wheel as they took part in en­durance races across the UK and abroad, often with a jour­nal­ist pas­sen­ger to en­sure pub­lic­ity, some­thing Mil­dred craved.

Mil­dred’s story of be­com­ing a pi­lot is de­tailed in her own books but she claimed to have walked past a shop win­dow dis­play­ing a Blue­bird air­craft and asked the as­sis­tant if it could be flown around the world. On be­ing as­sured it could, she went home and stud­ied an at­las, start­ing to plot a route to in­clude her mother’s Amer­i­can home­town, and then re­solved to take fly­ing lessons. It is ap­par­ent from this story and the fol­low­ing pages de­tail­ing her trip around the world (ex­cept for the At­lantic and Pa­cific, when she crated the air­craft and went by boat) that Mil­dred was not one to let the truth get in the way of a good story! In fact it is some­times hard to sep­a­rate fact from fan­tasy or ex­ag­ger­a­tion at the least. But de­spite only hav­ing forty hours in her log­book (her claim) prior to set­ting off, she did make it around the world – with a lot of help from ground par­ties and or­gan­i­sa­tions along the way. In fact, with a lit­tle more ex­pe­ri­ence, she might have known enough not to try, but – in this case – for­tune favoured the brave, or per­haps the fool­hardy, given some of the ex­ploits she man­aged to get away with.

Tast­ing fame if not for­tune, Mil­dred did not lack ad­mir­ers along the way. She even­tu­ally left hus­band Vic­tor and went into the avi­a­tion char­ter and re­pair busi­ness with her son and a new lover (who sadly died shortly be­fore she was free to marry) and con­tin­ued her love of fast cars.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.