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The Honourable Mrs Victor Bruce’s quest for more horsepower


From a somewhat privileged background, Mildred  - known in later life as the Hon. Mrs. Victor Bruce, the first woman to fly solo from the UK to Japan - was given her first pony at the age of six.

The beast was a Shetland, appropriately named ‘Dinky’; he was used to pull a ‘governess cart’. Whilst her parents always sought a tranquil beast, Mildred soon thirsted for more lively animals. Whether it was attached to a cart or riding on its back, Mildred soon discovered a thirst for speed. Luckily for her, she had an elder brother, Louis. He further toughened her up by using her for bowling practice (wickets being superfluous). So by her mid-teens, she had developed finely-tuned hand/eye co-ordination and good horsemanship.

Like many affluent dashing young Edwardians, Louis acquired a motorbike. If that were manna from heaven for his sister, his departure for an extended stay in Germany was beyond serendipitous. Tasked with ‘caring’ for it, she chose to interpret this as a free rein to tune it for higher speeds. Unusually for her gender in that era, she showed high mechanical aptitude. Mildred was soon terrifying the wildlife, then her mother, and later magistrates.  Some fine acting skills, no doubt inherited from her slightly exotic  mother, enabled her to escape the worst wrath of the latter. The seed (of the need for speed) had been well and truly sown.

This very carefree late childhood lasted until the outbreak of the First World War, when many of her male relatives unsurprisingly joined the armed forces. She was of that unfortunate generation to reach sexual maturity at that time after the Great War when there was a paucity of young men, eligible or no. This perhaps explains why she stepped out of the template of a well-bred Catholic girl, but that, as they say, is another story. As too, is her quest for ever more horsepower on land and in the skies.

By Paul Smiddy

Listen to a recording from Brooklands race track here.

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