Chapter XXI: Guest of Honour
Chapter XXI: Guest of Honour
For many weeks after I landed the most wonderful hospitality was showered on me: banquets, luncheons, and receptions were arranged, and I was entertained by many clubs and societies.
One evening a banquet was given in my honour by the Royal Aero Club. When I rose to make my speech I felt that it was indeed a difficult task—not merely because I was the only woman present, but the distinguished gathering included many of the pioneers of flying and some of the most brilliant men in aviation. Among the guests was the Marquess of Londonderry, at whose lovely home I had been entertained several times and experienced the lavish hospitality for which the Marchioness of Londonderry is famous. After my flight back from Australia in 1935 I had been invited to the Air Ministry and congratulated by Lord Londonderry, who was then Minister for Air. He had demonstrated his faith in aviation in a most practical manner by becoming a pilot and flying his own aeroplane extensively.
At the Aero Club banquet speeches were made bypage 291the Marquess of Londonderry; Lord Gorell, a former Secretary of State for Air; Mr Lindsay Everard, Chairman of the Aero Club; Mr Handley Page; Commander Perrin; and Captain Percival. On the table in front of me I was delighted to see the lovely silver Britannia Trophy, which had been awarded to me by the Royal Aero Club for two years in succession for my South American and New Zealand flights. It was announced by Mr Lindsay Everard that the coveted gold medal of the Royal Aero Club was to be presented to me for my flights. The evening was a most memorable one, and I felt deeply honoured.
Another function which I greatly enjoyed was a dinner given for me by the Forum, one of the most exclusive women's clubs in London. Once before I had attended a dinner at the Forum Club to commemorate the proposed Atlantic air service, and several famous Atlantic flyers had been present. On this occasion my toast was very ably proposed by Miss Amy Johnson, the famous airwoman. Not long afterwards I was made an honorary member of the Forum Club, a gesture which I greatly appreciated.
One of the most interesting of the dinners at which I was guest of honour was that of the Women's Automobile and Sports Association. Some years previously honorary membership of this club had been extended to me, and I had often experienced the charming hospitality of the President, Viscountess Elibank. At this dinner I had the unique experience of having my toast proposed by Lord Sempill, and supported by Sir Malcolm Campbell. I had already met Lord Sempill orpage 292several occasions. He had once gallantly descended from the sky in Australia when I had made a forced landing and was struggling to mend a leaking petrol-union. This incident occurred when I was on my way to attend the inaugural ceremony of the Australia-England air mail at Brisbane. After helping considerably Lord Sempill resumed his journey, and when the trouble was rectified I flew on to Brisbane.
I had looked forward to meeting Sir Malcolm Campbell at the Royal Yacht Club dinner, where I had been asked to present the trophies, but he was unable to attend on that occasion. There were many distinguished people present, including Colonel Moore-Brabazon, the first Englishman to gain a pilot's licence. When he and Claude Grahame-White, whom I met at another dinner, used to fly 'way back in 1908 or thereabouts aviation was a real adventure. In those days it was often necessary to lie on the aerodrome to see if the aeroplane actually left the ground even for a few inches, in which case it was called a flight.
It was expected that Captain Eyston, who had just lowered the land-speed record by attaining 312 m.p.h., would be present. He had not returned from America in time, however, but I had the pleasure of meeting him at a private luncheon shortly afterwards at the Countess of Gainsborough's home. At the same time I met Admiral Evans, "Evans of the Broke," who among his many achievements accompanied Captain Scott to the South Pole on his epic journey.
At the various functions I met many people famous in different walks of life. At the Savoy one night at apage break page break
charity dinner I had the pleasure of proposing the toast of Miss Gracie Fields, whose personality seemed just as strong and her humour equally infectious off the stage as on.
Shortly after my arrival at Croydon I had given two broadcasts, one to the Empire and the other on the famous "In Town To-night" programme, on which I had also broadcast after my flight back from Australia in 1935. A new experience for me was to be invited by the B.B.C. to take part in the television programme. Years before I had sat enthralled in a London theatre watching the Grand National being televised for the first time. Great strides have been made since those days, and when I visited the television studios at Alexandra Palace I was able to watch the film of my landing at Croydon being re-transmitted. Hearing that pastel shades are most suitable for television, I decided to wear my flying-coat, and before I went into the studio my face was made up with special preparation to eliminate all shadows. During the time I was being televised it was necessary for me to stand in front of a blinding light, which was so bright that it was not possible even to see the many technicians standing near the set. Every one at the studio was most helpful, and I thoroughly enjoyed the experience. Some time later I had the pleasure of being televised a second time.
One day I received an invitation from the Lord Mayor of London and Lady Twyford to tea at the Mansion House. Viscount Wakefield escorted me, and the afternoon proved to be a most enjoyable one. Afterpage 294tea I was shown over the beautiful Mansion House by the Lady Mayoress, who also took me to the giant strong-room to see the wondrous array of gold plate. I had already met the Lord Mayor and Lady Mayoress at the City Livery Club banquet at the Guildhall, where I also had the pleasure of meeting many of the sheriffs and their ladies. It was at this dinner that I first witnessed the ancient ceremony of passing round the loving-cup.
Among the first telegrams of congratulation which I had received on the completion of my flight was one from Viscount Swinton, Minister for Air. Shortly after my arrival I was invited to lunch at his home, where I had on previous occasions enjoyed the charming hospitality of Viscountess Swinton.
A luncheon, which I greatly enjoyed, was given in my honour by the British Sportsman's Club at the Savoy. Lord Decies, whom I had met at several other functions, presided, and many people famous in the sporting world were present.
At a luncheon given by the Holborn Chamber of Commerce I had the pleasure of renewing the acquaintance of Sir Alan Cobham, whom I had met several years previously, and on this occasion he proposed my toast.
In the beautiful and ancient hall of the Merchant Taylors a luncheon was given for me by the City Livery Club. It was a great honour to be entertained by the Livery Club, representative of all the historic companies of London. The President, Sir John Laurie, I had met at the Guildhall banpage 295quet, and sitting at table near me were the High Commissioners of Australia and New Zealand, Mr Stanley Bruce and Mr Jordan. There were 350 people present at the luncheon, and when I responded to my toast I felt inspired by the beauty of the ancient hall with its tall Gothic arches and great stone-flagged floor and high stained-glass windows. It was difficult to believe that we were in the heart of the City of Londor and that just outside in Threadneedle Street the great business wheel of the Metropolis speeded on unceasingly.
One of the most interesting of all the functions was a reception given by the Parliamentary Air Committee in the House of Commons. This was a wonderful gesture, for it can surely fall to the lot of few women to attend a reception held in their honour amid such historic surroundings. At this reception I was received by Admiral Sueter, and the same evening was presented with the Gold Medal of the Royal Aero Club by Mr Lindsay Everard, M.P. After dinner I was shown round the building, and heard the discussion on proposed amendments to the Air Raid Precautions Bill.
I was invited by Air Vice-Marshal Baldwin to visit the Royal Air Force College at Cranwell and address the cadets. I looked forward to this visit and drove my car to Cranwell, where I was deeply impressed by the prevailing air of efficiency. My lecture was received with enthusiasm by the cadets, who crowded the great hall where I spoke. It was another memorable experience, and I regret that time did not permit me topage 296see more of the college, but I enjoyed my brief visit and the hospitality I received as guest of Air Vice-Marshal Baldwin at his home.
My aeroplane, now veteran of three great flights, was exhibited in London and also in Liverpool. Arrangements were made for me to visit many towns in England and give short lectures on my various flights. I visited the majority of the large towns, and the tour proved most enjoyable and a great success. At each place I was greeted with tremendous enthusiasm, and so warm-hearted was each welcome that it was almost like a homecoming.
From my earliest childhood I had heard of Madame Tussaud's famous exhibition of historical wax models. Several times after my first year in England I had visited the exhibition and been intrigued to see the figures. Great was my delight when after my flight back to England in October 1937 I was asked by the directors to sit for a portrait model which they intended to place in the exhibition. Mr Bernard Tussaud himself made the model, and it was a relaxation for me to sit for it. In my home there was great interest when the figure was completed, for I happened to be the first New Zealand-born person to be included in Tussaud's collection. I received quite a shock when the model, dressed in my flying-kit, was placed in position. It looked so lifelike, waving from amid a most distinguished gathering including M. Bleriot, Sir John Alcock and Sir Arthur Whitten Brown, Colonel Lindbergh, Squadron-Leader Hinkler, Sir Charles Kingsford Smith, Mr and Mrspage break
With "Jean Batten" at Madame Tussaud's
Mollison, Miss Amelia Earhart, Sir Henry Segrave, and Sir Malcolm Campbell.
At this time Leopold, King of the Belgians, was paying a state visit to London. The day before he returned I received word that he wished to meet me, and was commanded to Buckingham Palace that afternoon. This was indeed an unexpected honour, and I looked forward to meeting King Leopold with the greatest pleasure.
After a reception given in my honour by the New Zealand Society I drove to Buckingham Palace. King Leopold was very much interested in aviation, and I was extremely surprised that he knew so much about my various flights and the countries over which I had flown. This was explained by the fact that he is himself a great traveller and deeply interested in aviation.
While I was at the palace I was overjoyed to receive an invitation to visit her Majesty Queen Elizabeth in her private apartment. The Queen was wonderfully charming, and with her sweet smile and gracious manner immediately put me at my ease when I was presented to her. Her Majesty was wearing a delphinium-blue gown and a magnificent necklace of pearls. I thought she looked very beautiful with her exquisite colouring and flawless complexion.
During the happy time I spent in her presence I met little Princess Elizabeth. She has a charm of her own, and with a delightful gesture brought her pet terrier into the room to show me.
As the door opened the Queen, who was sitting alongpage 298side me on the blue brocade settee, rose, and the next moment I was being presented to his Majesty King George VI. The King said that he had heard I was at the palace and wished to meet me. I was deeply impressed by his extensive knowledge of aviation and the interest he showed in my flights and the equipment used. Both the King and the Queen spoke with pleasure of their visit to New Zealand in 1926, when as the Duke and Duchess of York they endeared themselves to all New Zealanders during their tour of the Dominion.
In January 1938 I learned with great pleasure that the coveted Gold Medal of the Federation Aero-nautique Internationale had been awarded to me. This medal is perhaps the highest international award in the aviation world. I felt deeply honoured, especially so in view of the fact that representatives of twenty-two different nations had participated in the voting. Only eleven other aviators have received this gold medal. They are: General Pinedo, Sir Alan Cobham, Colonel Lindbergh, Squadron-Leader Hinkler, M. Dieudonne Costes, General Balbo, Dr. Eckener, Senor Juan de la Cierva, Mr Wiley Post, Mr C. W. A. Scott, and M. Jean Mermoz. This was the first time, therefore, that it had ever been awarded to an airwoman.
Shortly afterwards I received a letter from the British Council conveying an invitation for me to visit Stockholm and address a combined meeting of the Swedish-British Society and the Royal Aero Club of Sweden. The British Council were to make all arrangements for the visit, which was extended to enable me to visit page 299Gothenburg and Copenhagen as well. I was very pleased to have this opportunity of visiting Scandinavia, for in the summer I intended flying to some of the European countries which I had not before visited, and I looked forward to seeing the Scandinavian countries. I wished also to revisit Paris and see my many friends there. Being intensely patriotic I welcomed the opportunity of associating myself with the British Council, who, under the patronage of his Majesty the King, are doing great work in making the life, thought, and achievements of British people better known abroad, and thus strengthening international friendship and goodwill.
My visit to Sweden and Denmark proved a tremendous success, and I was accorded a wonderful welcome by the warm-hearted Scandinavian people. H.R.H. Prince Gustaf Adolf presided at my lecture in Stockholm, which was held in the large concert hall and received with great enthusiasm. At the conclusion I had the great honour of receiving from Prince Gustaf Adolf the Gold Medal of the Royal Swedish Aero Club.
Many functions were arranged in my honour, and a reception was held by the British Minister, Sir Edmund Monson. At a dance I had the pleasure of dancing with H.R.H. Prince Carl Juan, and greatly enjoyed all the functions which I attended. My visit to Scandinavia was really a revelation to me. I had always imagined that the countryside would be mantled in white and that the people would be reserved and phlegmatic There was very little snow in Sweden, and the brilliantpage 300sunshine which heralded my arrival continued throughout my stay.
The people proved to be wonderfully warm-hearted, and I experienced the most lavish hospitality. It was deeply gratifying to find that my lectures were so keenly appreciated, and that nearly every one I met spoke excellent English. As on my first visit to Paris, an attempt was made to show me the sights of each city within the space of a few days, and which to see thoroughly would take some weeks. A welcome was extended to me in the town hall in Stockholm, which deeply impressed me with its dignity and majestic beauty. At a luncheon at Skansen I was able to taste the famous smorgasbord and to learn to give the customary toast or skoal, which is performed with as much seriousness as the loving-cup ceremony in England.
A new experience for me was ice yachting, and one which I thoroughly enjoyed as the wind filled the sail and the yacht, balanced on skids, speeded across the frozen lake at great pace.
At the three towns which I visited, Stockholm, Gothenburg, and Copenhagen, I found fine aerodromes equipped with every modern facility. In both Gothenburg, where I gave my lecture in the university hall, and in Copenhagen I also experienced wonderful hospitality.
During my stay in Denmark I had the opportunity of attending a performance of the Royal Danish Ballet, about which I had heard so much. My lecture in Copenhagen was attended by H.R.H. Prince Axel, himself a keen airman, whom I had the pleasure of meeting atpage 301several other functions arranged in my honour, and also by Sir Patrick Ramsay, the British Minister. The Royal Danish Aeronautical Society presented me with their gold medal at the conclusion of my lecture.
Sightseeing tours were arranged in each place, and while in Denmark I was taken to Elsinore to see the castle where Hamlet is reputed to have lived, and on another occasion to see the lovely bronze statue of Hans Andersen's little mermaid. A photograph reproduced in the Press at the time bore the title of "The Airmaid and the Mermaid." I was very sorry that time did not permit me to visit Norway, but I decided to fly to Oslo at a later date, when I would also be able to pay a return visit to Sweden and Denmark.
During my various flights I have visited many different countries, and have had a unique opportunity of meeting peoples of a great many nationalities. My flights have taken me from the calm serenity of the English countryside over the pasture-lands of France the mountains of Italy, the great snow-covered ranges of Greece, the length of the Mediterranean, over the mighty Lebanon Mountains and the Holy Land, the burning deserts of Syria and Iraq, the barren, rocky mountains of Persia, the deserts and rice-fields of India, the dense jungles of Bengal, Burma, and Siam, the great rubber plantations of Malaya, and along the island chain of the Dutch East Indies to Australia, and on across the big cattle stations of that vast continent, and still farther south across the icy wastes of the Tasman Sea, 1300 miles, to my own country, New Zealand. They have also taken me over sunny Spain and Morocco, thepage 302deserts of Mauritania and. Senegal, to the scorching heat of West Africa, and across the immensity of the South Atlantic Ocean to the orchid-scented jungles of Brazil, and on again to the vast, rolling plains of Uruguay and Argentina. There have been times when vital decisions have had to be made in the fraction of a second—decisions that meant life or death, and that depended on a clear brain working in perfect co-ordination with a steady hand. There have been other times when the loneliness has been so intense that I have longed for the sound of a human voice or the sight of a ship, or even a tiny native village, to dispel the feeling of complete isolation that one feels when flying alone over the sparsely inhabited tracts that comprise such a great area of the earth's surface.
Every flyer who ventures across oceans to distant lands is a potential explorer; in his or her breast burns the same fire that urged the adventurers of old to set forth in their sailing-ships for foreign lands. Riding through the air on silver wings instead of sailing the seas with white wings, he must steer his own course, for the air is uncharted, and he must therefore explore for himself the strange eddies and currents of the ever-changing sky in its many moods.page 303
|1934.||England-Australia solo flight (women's record): 10,500 miles in 14 days 22 hours 30 minutes.|
|1935.||Australia-England solo flight: 17 days 15 hours.|
|First woman to make return flight.|
|England-Brazil solo flight (world record): 5000 miles in 2 days 13 hours 15 minutes.|
|First woman to fly solo across South Atlantic Ocean and make England-South America flight.|
|1936.||England-New Zealand solo flight (world record): 14,000 miles in 11 days 45 minutes.|
|First direct flight between England and New Zealand.|
|England-Australia solo flight (world record, established on same flight): 5 days 21 hours.|
|1937.||Australia-England solo flight (world record): 5 days 18 hours 15 minutes.|
|First person to hold both England-Australia and Australia-England solo records at the same time.|
|1935.||Brazil: Officer of the Order of the Southern Cross.|
|1936.||France: Chevalier of the Legion of Honour. Great Britain: Commander of the British Empire.|
|1934.||Challenge Trophy, awarded by Women's International Association of Aeronautics, U.S.A.|
|1935.||Britannia Trophy, awarded by the Royal Aero Club for the most meritorious flight of the year by a British subject.page 304|
|1935.||Harmon International Trophy.|
|Johnston Memorial Air Navigation Trophy.|
|Challenge Trophy (U.S.A.).|
|Segrave Trophy, awarded for the most outstanding demonstration of the possibilities of transport on land, sea, or in the air.|
|Harmon International Trophy.|
|Challenge Trophy (U.S.A.).|
|1937.||Harmon International Trophy. Coupe de Sibour.|
|Federation Aeronautique Internationale.|
|Royal Aero Club of Great Britain.|
|Aero-Club de France.|
|Royal Swedish Aero Club.|
|Academie des Sports.|
|Royal Danish Aeronautical Society.|
|Ligue Internationale des Aviateurs.|