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The High-Flying Duchess
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High-Flying Duchess

Extracts / Flying

Mary and her pilot Captain Barnard shared a love of excitement.

“On the way back again, delighting as ever in the scenery beneath, and once spotting a whale, Mary was persuaded by the reckless Barnard to photograph the Rock. He encouraged her to open the side door. With her attaché case, where she kept her camera, open on her knee and the camera in her hand, she had managed a few shots when, as they turned behind Gibraltar, the plane was sucked into a tornado. As they were tossed about ‘like a cork in the sea’, Mary somehow succeeded in shutting the door before stowing away her camera and attaché case. Meanwhile Captain Barnard had managed to turn the Moth away and bring it back under control. They later learned that the down draught on that corner was notorious and had led to the destruction of other planes.”


Record breaking flights were demanding and often dangerous, but Mary loved them.

“They took off at 5.10 a.m. on the morning of April 10th. Despite appalling weather, Barnard found a way through the Pyrenees and by evening they were in Oran. Mary piloted unattended for quite long periods: her success solo must have boosted her confidence, and possibly that of the two professionals as well. Day followed day, staying at Tunis, Benghazi, over the Pyramids, flying too high to see them clearly and Assiut on the 13th (landing by special permission), where they dined in elaborate style with the Egyptian Pasha, who depended on his son and daughter to translate into French or English.

"The next day, Mary revelled in the beauty of the desert, but her Captain was sunk in gloom, having been warned that he must fly by compass rather than following the Nile, as a previous pilot had been lost when making a forced landing and it cost £6,000 to find him. They reached Khartoum safely, then on to Juba next day, where Mary was pictured looking elegantly dressed beside the Spider. This was Mary’s first impression of the reality of Africa, with lion and elephant close to the station, though she saw neither and secretly half hoped for an enforced delay. This did not happen, but flying on to Dodoma next day she did see her first giraffes and elephants. Cloud compelled them to fly low: as ever, the chance to watch wildlife and birds on the ground more than compensated to Mary for the danger inherent in their situation.”


Although her record breaking flights were made in a Fokker, most of the planes owned and flown by Mary were de Havilland Moths. www.dhmothclub.co.uk


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