Cape Town to Croydon record breaking flight Lady Mary Heath | Season 1 – Episode 57
Wings Sep 15, 2021
For a glorious 5 year period in the 1920s it is no understatement to say that Limerick woman, Lady Mary Heath (17 November 1896 – 9 May 1939) was the most famous woman in the world and her heroism was an inspiration to millions.
Lady Mary Heath was born Sophie Catherine Theresa Mary Peirce-Evans on November 10th, 1896 in Knockaderry, Co Limerick.
Aside from being an accomplished sportswoman and crusader for women’s rights, she is best known for her heroic exploits as an aviator. She was a woman of many accomplishments and achieved many firsts.
She was the first woman to hold a commercial flying licence in Britain, she became the first woman to parachute from an aeroplane, the first woman to attain a mechanic’s qualification in the US, the first person to fly solo from Cape Town to Croydon in her Avro Avian 594 Avian III, her list of firsts goes on.
After studying at the Royal College for Science for Ireland in Dublin, one of the few women to do so, she gained an honours science degree. As a gifted athlete she became a vociferous advocate for women’s rights as in the early 1920’s women were banned from competing in the Olympics.
In 1925 she made her first solo flight to Prague where she addressed the Olympic Congress, advocating for women’s athletics to be accepted at the Olympic Games.
Sophie’s second marriage; she was married three times, to Sir James Heath on 11th October 1927 earned her the title Lady Mary Heath.
She led the way for other aviators to follow and was a great influence on another aviation pioneer, Amelia Earhart who purchased her own first aeroplane, an Avro Avian III from Lady Heath and had it shipped back to America. Earhart then used this Avian to set her own first record in August 1928 becoming the first woman to fly a solo return journey across the north American continent.
Lady Mary Heath’s most famous exploit was flying her open-cockpit Avro Avian biplane from Cape Town to Croydon making her the first person to do so. It was a perilous journey of 10,000 miles (16,000 kms) where she suffered heat stroke and even crashed her plane in Zimbabwe and was declared dead.
What had been planned as a journey taking a few weeks in fact took Lady Mary three-and-a-half months. Landing in Croydon Aerodrome on 17th May 1928 the 32-year-old Lady Mary Heath descended to an adoring crowd wearing her mink fur coat, pearls, high heels and a stylish cloche hat.
She became an inspiration to the world and an instant mega-star. In the 1930s she went on to found the Irish Junior Aero Club at the Kildonan Aerodrome in present day Finglas. The generation of pilots that Lady Mary helped train went on to help establish Aer Lingus the Irish national airline.
Sadly, in 1939 at the age of 42 and just 11 years after her record-breaking Cape Town to Croydon flight she died from a head injury suffered in a fall from a London tram.
Research and information gathered at EPIC. Visit EPIC The Irish Emigration Museum to learn more about Lady Mary Heath and other Irish transport pioneers. EPIC is located in Dublin’s Docklands and covers the history and extensive journeys of the Irish diaspora and how our emigrants shaped the world.
Three time winner of Europe’s Leading Tourist Attraction at the World Travel Awards; EPIC is now open to visitors seven days a week. Start planning your visit today: https://epicchq.com/
Credit: EPIC the Irish Emigration Museum
Credit: Lady Icarus: The Life of the Irish Aviator Lady Mary Heath – Linde Naughton
Photos: Ireland Made®
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