Chapter XIV: Invitation to Paris
Chapter XIV: Invitation to Paris
One morning shortly after my return to London I was delighted to receive a letter inviting me to visit Paris as guest of the Aero-Club de France during the month of February 1936. This was indeed a pleasant surprise, and I wrote back immediately accepting the invitation. I had flown to the aerodrome at Le Bourget many times, but had never actually seen Paris from the ground; consequently I greatly looked forward to the visit.
My Gull was being overhauled, so for the first time in my life I travelled as a passenger in an air liner, and flew to Paris by Imperial Airways.
On my arrival I was greeted by the Baronne de Ven-deuvre, who presented me with a beautiful bouquet, and among the people assembled to welcome me were the Marquise de Noailles and Lieutenant-Colonel Wateau, President of the Aero-Club de France. The French Air Ministry was also represented.
For nearly a week I was lavishly entertained in Paris, and made many friends and met a great number of interesting people. I attended a large banquet given bypage 198the Aero-Club de France, and the Marquise de Noailles introduced me to the former Minister of Air, General Denain, at whose home I was also entertained. Receptions were given in my honour by Figaro and he Jour. At a luncheon arranged by the Directeur of Paris Soir I met many famous French aviators: Messieurs Codos and Rossi, famous for their Paris—New York return and other long-distance flights, M. Fonck, the War ace, M. Detroyat, one of the greatest aerobatic pilots, and Andre Japy, well known for his flights to South Africa and Japan. Madame Bastie, who later lowered my time for the Southern Atlantic Ocean section of my South American flight, was there, also Mile Suzanne Lenglen, famous tennis player, who impressed me by her youthful appearance and vivacious manner.
I thoroughly enjoyed all the parties and receptions arranged for me. One evening at the Sorbonne I met the then Minister of Air, General Deat, and was introduced to some of the early pioneers of aviation—M. Blériot, Louis Paulhan, M. Breguet, among others. Naturally I felt tremendously pleased to meet M. Blériot, whom I had admired all my life.
At a private dinner given by M. Blériot I heard from Mme Blériot the story of her husband's epic Channel flight, and how she had anxiously watched from the deck of a battleship the tiny monoplane linking the Continent with England by air for the first time in history.
M. Blériot was most enthusiastic about my career, and we became fast friends. He liked to trace the route of my flights on a large glass globe in his beautiful salon, page 199and showed a great interest in flying in the Antipodes. In a glass case were gold, silver, and bronze medal from almost every country in the world, and many trophies adorned the rooms of the Blériots' lovely home.
I was privileged to be shown M. Blériot's own work room, which was a revelation. Just off the exquisitely carpeted hall a door opened to reveal a small room devoid of furniture with the exception of a few chairs A wooden bench extended the entire length of the room, and on it were various tools and lengths of spruce. On the bare walls were pinned many blue prints and faded photographs of early aeroplanes. Mme Blériot confided to me that sometimes when a brilliant reception was being held she would miss her husband, anc find him working on models or designs in this little workroom.
In the majority of aviators I have noticed a deep artistic sense and love of beauty, and M. Blériot was no exception. The bare walls and ceiling of his bedroom were sky-blue. "You see," he explained, "even in mid-winter, with thick fog outside, when I wake in the morning my first impression is a happy one of clear blue skies." One of my most treasured possessions is a photo given to me by this great pioneer.
Before I left M. Blériot gave me two stamps which had been specially printed to commemorate his historic flight in 1909, and which he autographed for me. I felt deeply grieved when he died a few months later, but his cup of happiness must have been full to see aeroplanes of his design maintaining a regular air service across the South Atlantic Ocean.page 200
During my visit to Paris I was also entertained by the Renault Caudron Company. I inspected the air cadets, and met the gallant nurses of the Aviation Sanitaire—the French Red Cross. The nurses were being trained as pilots, and quite a number already had their licences. The Marquise de Noailles is the head of the movement, and with the Baronne de Vendeuvre is doing a tremendous amount of work in connexion with it.
At a luncheon given by the Aero-Club Roland Garros I met Mile Suzanne Deutsch de la Meurthe, a great French patriot and sportswoman. Her father had given the prize won by Santos-Dumont for the first flight round the Eiffel Tower, which was accomplished in a balloon. She was furthering his work for aviation by sponsoring the Deutsch de la Meurthe Cup, for which all the ace French pilots compete annually, when some amazing speeds have been achieved.
Although I was only in Paris a short time and such an extensive programme had been planned, nevertheless I was able to do some sightseeing. When it became known that I had never had a previous opportunity of seeing the capital my kind French friends attempted to show it to me within the space of a few days. I would, of course, have to see the majestic Arc de Triomphe and visit the tomb of the unknown soldier. "The Eiffel Tower and Cleopatra's Obelisk," another would suggest. And no one ever visited Paris without being deeply impressed by the grandeur of Napoleon's great marble tomb. Then there was the exquisite architecture of Notre Dame and the gemlike stained-glasspage 201windows of little Saint Chapelle, some one would add. Nor could I leave Paris without a quick visit to the Louvre to see the Winged Victory and glimpse the smile of Mona Lisa as we hurried through the long galleries. It would be unthinkable to depart without viewing the wondrous splendour of Versailles and admiring the loveliness of Marie-Antoinette's Petit Trianon. Then of course, the quaint Place Victor Hugo, the site of the Bastille, the Champs Élysees with its lovely trees and fountains, the famous bird-market, Les Invalides, to Malmaison to see the Napoleon relics, the Place du l'Opera, Pere Lachaise to see the tomb of Chopin. All these rich, beautiful scenes unfolded themselves to my eyes in those crowded hours. Sandwich in the banquets and receptions in my honour, a hurried glimpse in the fashionable shops in the Rue de la Paix, visits to Montmartre, Maxim's, Fouquet's, and drives in the Bois, and you have some idea of the kaleidoscopic whirl of my visit to Paris.
I loved Paris, and thought it must be one of the most beautiful cities in the world as I drove along the Champs Élysees and saw the lovely tree-lined avenues, the sparkling fountains and impressive monuments.
At the headquarters of the Ligue Internationale des Aviateurs at Place Normande in the Bois I saw the Harmon International Trophy, which had just been awarded to me, and was made a member of the Vieux Tigres.
While I was in Paris I had the interesting experience of broadcasting over Radio Paris.
On returning to London I felt deeply honoured topage 202learn that the French Government had decided to confer on me the Croix de la Legion d'Honneur. I learned that I should be one of the youngest members of this famous order and the first British airwoman to be honoured by France. It was necessary for his Majesty the King to give his permission, so while this was being granted I planned a flying holiday with my mother.page 203