August 31, 2015

Cio Cio San

Peonies. William Merrit Chase. 1897
Forget Dumas’ Dame Aux Camelias.
I am Puccini’s geisha condemned to the chrysanthemum and the sword.

The first tragedy of Nagasaki, waiting for a tiny thread of smoke to appear
Yet the horizon reveals nothing but a butterfly-blue sky.

No little maid from school am I.
I am old, yet a child.
Godspeed Pinkerton, your memory fades


written for Magpie Tales 283

August 8, 2015

Mildred Bruce - part 2 - The Mystery Flight





Flight

The skies were Mildred's next conquest. A display in a London shop window in led to Mildred's adventures in aviation.

Mildred had never cared about flying but in June 1930 she purchased a British built, single engine, open-cockpit, foldable bi-wing Bluebird airplane. It had been advertised "Ready to go anywhere, fly it round-the-world."


I had an urgent appointment in London at one o'clock on a typically wintry summer day: I found myself walking down Burlington Gardens, with an hour to spare and nothing to do. Such things nearly always lead to my spending money — if I have any. On this occasion it led too much more, for what did I see in a shop window but a full-sized airplane for sale? I had never seen one in a shop window before (and never have since, for that matter). I thought, `What are we coming to now, when we can buy airplanes out of shop windows? Soon I shall be so old-fashioned nobody will want to talk to me unless I learn to fly...' I came to another shop with a very pretty dress in the window: it was easily the best I had seen for years, and soon I was inside trying it on. The dress sealed my fate, for it didn't suit me, and I wandered back towards the shop with the airplane, still with half an hour to spare before my appointment. "

"Perhaps a salesman had seen me looking in the window, for now there was a ticket on the airplane with the words `Bluebird: Honeymoon model: ready to go anywhere'. I noticed the seats were side by side, not one behind the other, as was usual in light airplanes of that date. I was soon inside asking the price. I was greeted by a very smart salesman, who said, `Five hundred and fifty pounds, Madam.'

On asking: "Can one fly around the world in it?" the dealer replied, "Of course, Madam, the wings can be folded… "


For fun, Mildred opened an atlas and drew a line through Europe and Asia, all the way to Japan. Looking at the immensity of the Pacific Ocean, she remembered the salesman said the wings could be folded and decided that she and the airplane could be shipped across the ocean. Mildred purchased the airplane for five hundred pounds and bought a set of maps and charts.

When revealing her intentions to fly around the world to the Minister of Aviation, Mildred was asked how long she had had her pilot's license. "I haven't got one yet but I intend to get one before going." she replied and she obtained her pilots license at the end of her second week of lessons.

During the month spent planning the around-the-world trip, she installed extra fuel tank on the side-seat, accumulated maps and packed a meagre shoulder bag for herself containing her husband's treasured pocket compass, her passport, logbook, a bottle of water, sun helmet, light cotton dresses plus an evening dress. The Bluebird had a rudimentary radio capable of automatically sending a distress message and a spare propeller fitted beneath the fuselage. She chose taking a dictaphone to record her thoughts rather than taking a parachute.

When her round-the-world plans became known, reporters asked her for her itinerary. She politely refused their queries. She reckoned if she got lost no one would ever know it. They dubbed her journey "the mystery flight."

She planned to fly to Japan, take a steamer across the Pacific, fly across America, sail on to France, and from there she would return to London by plane. Her American mother gave her a flag to drop on the house where she was born in New Albany in Indiana.

Skeptics believed Mildred would not even make it across the English Channel but Mildred picked up navigation very quickly. She refused to learn Morse Code. She relied on Foreign Office dispatches to London to keep those back home apprised of her progress. By prearrangement British and French officials in Syria, Thailand, French Indo-China, India and Shanghai, supplied fuel, lodging and when needed, an occasional rescue. Her skill at locating airports posed a difficulty, but golf courses or stadiums were always to be found and she had smoke bombs to drop to warn people away.

She took off in Bluebird from what is now Heathrow Airport in the morning of September 25 1930. Four hours later, Mildred landed in Munich. By Day Four she was over the Persian Gulf. She already had a few close encounters with disaster. Near Belgrade, Mildred was following a train until it disappeared into a tunnel, giving her little time to avoid crashing into the hillside. Above Turkey, she accidentally kicked one of the rudder pedals, went into a spin, recovering less than 500 feet from the ground.

Crossing the Persian Gulf the engine lost oil pressure. Mildred managed to land nose-first onto a sea of mud and broke the Bluebird's propeller. Mildred escaped with only minor scratches, and later, dehydrated and exhausted, she was rescued by locals. Help came three days later when the British Officers of running Iranian radio depot, arrived by boat.

Mildred continued her flight to Calcutta, Rangoon, across the Gulf of Bengal, and onto Bangkok, the capital of what was then known as Siam.

In Indo-China, the French officials organized a tiger hunt for her, and when Mildred arrived in Hanoi, she received the "Medal of the Order of the Thousand Elephants and the White Umbrella" from their Governor for being the first person to have flown solo from London to Hanoi.

The Governor of Hong Kong welcomed Mildred. From Shanghai she had planned to land in Tokyo but was forced to divert to Korea for two days due to a Japanese law preventing any one looking down on their Emperor. Two days later, with the Emperor back in his palace, Mildred was able to resume her flight across Japan, and experienced wonderful views of Mount Fujiyama. Mrs. Mikimoto , wife of famous pearl seller, gave her a pearl necklace.

On December 4, Bluebird, with her wings folded, was loaded onto the liner, Empress of Japan and sailed to Vancouver.

Twelve days later, airborne once again, Mildred was flew to Seattle in the USA, and onto San Francisco.

Flying via America's southwest to Indiana, Mildred dropped the flag on her mother's house. Taking off from a too-short airfield in Baltimore, she stalled and spun into the ground. The plane flipped over and landed on its back. Fortunately for Mildred, across the road was an aircraft factory where she was able to have the damage repaired. Ten men were put on the job, and in five days all the damages were repaired. The owner did even more: he lengthened the field.

Mildred continued on to New York, flying along Broadway, over the Statue of Liberty and on to the Empire State Building that she circled several times. The police were awaiting her when she landed at the airfield, but she managed to talk her way out of it.

Once again folded, Bluebird was loaded on the French ocean liner Ile de France. Mildred landed in France and flew across the English Channel in Bluebird.

Mildred's round-the-world flight was classified as a series of long distance trips. She was credited with the first solo flight from England to Japan, the longest solo flight and the record solo flight from India to French Indo-China. Bluebird, with its wings and body covered with signatures and messages from people around the world, was displayed for a time in a London subway station. Although The Daily Telegraph had prepared Mildred's obituary in 1930, she went on to live a long life. She went on to set up a successful airline business, Air Dispatch Limited, employing the world's first air stewardess.

Aircraft were Mildred's focus from then on. Pioneering air-to-air refuelling, she captured the British air refuelling endurance record after a non-stop flight of 55 hours around the Isle of Wight, Mildred continued to fly, taking part in many flying competitions, and for some time she was part of the British Hospital's Air Pageant Flying Circus.

In 1939 won the show jumping event at the Royal Windsor Horse Show.
At the age of 83, she flew aerobatics in a DeHavilland Chipmunk.

Mildred Bruce died in 1990, aged 94. She said that going slowly always made her tired.

Some files were borrowed from "The Sky was Her Limit"
(Filed: 15/11/2003) David Baines the Daily Telegraph

Mildred Bruce - Record Breaker



"I was going pretty fast when I reached the first corner and I clung closely to the edge, but as I neared the end of the corner, the car tried to take charge. I quickly changed down at about 70 into third gear and managed to right the car and avoid the rough where so many drivers end up. Then one more corner and the finishing straight. I had no wish to break the Capri but did want to get the maximum speed out of her. So I asked Stuart to call out my speed after I reached 90, as I wished to concentrate totally on driving the car.

"I heard him say, `Ninety... ninety-five... a hundred... hundred and five... hundred and ten... Better brake now...' I did, but the grandstand was coming at me a little too quickly. I saw the escape road ahead and thought how humiliating it would be to go down that. In my day we despised racing drivers who had to use an escape road. It meant they were bad drivers. I changed quickly down into third gear, which helped, but not enough; so down into second. All was well: though I took the last bend with squealing tyres, I pulled up in one piece in front of the clubhouse.

"I had set a new personal speed record of 110mph, not difficult in a racing car but very tricky in a standard road car."

Mildred Bruce was 78 years old and had not been on a racetrack for 40 years.

Born Mildred Mary Petre in 1895 in Bradford-on-Avon, Mildred Bruce lived life in the fast lane. From being the first girl in Britain to ride a motorcycle, Mildred set 17 records in cars, speedboats and airplanes. She drove a Bentley for 24 hours straight, at an average speed of 90 MPH. In 1930 after having purchased an airplane from a London shop window, she flew solo around the world. She celebrated her 81st birthday doing a loop the loop.

Automobiles

Mildred's taste for speed was evident when she borrowed her brother's motorcycle to secretly practice riding on her family's tennis court. At 15, she became the first girl in Britain to ride a motorcycle on the open road. She was also the first girl to appear in court to face a speeding charge. Speeds in excess of sixty miles-an-hour in 1911 were very fast. Three days in a row in front of London and her life of speed and adventure was cast.

She married another speed fanatic, racing car driver Victor Bruce. Toward the end of the 20's, they participated together in many races and rallies, including the Monte Carlo Rally that they won in 1926.

In 1927 Mildred Bruce persuaded the managing director of AC Cars, to lend her a car to enter Monte Carlo Rally. With her husband navigating, she started at the northernmost tip of Scotland and battled heavy fog, icy mountain roads, and a blizzard along the 1700-mile route. Driving for 70 hours and 20 minutes without sleep, she leaned against the steering wheel and slept and as soon as she crossed the finish line at Casino Square. They finished sixth overall and Mildred won the Coupe des Dames.

Another early record of Mildred's was to drive an AC to the Arctic Circle, the farthest north anyone had driven.

She raced at Brooklands, a huge, concrete amphitheatre built on the estate of a rich racing-fanatic. Its circular three-mile track had curving banks 30 feet high. Early female drivers wore long skirts, and because of the openness of the cars, some resorted to tieing their hems to their ankles. Mildred once raced the circuit for 24 hours, driving over the same bump every 57 seconds. She was in pain for 2 weeks after the race.

Other forms of high-speed transport attracted Mildred including boats. She broke the record for a return trip across the English Channel in her speedboat, dubbed "The Mosquito".

Visiting Silverstone, another world-famous British racetrack, in 1974, Mildred retold what happened as she talked to a young racer.

"as we talked my eyes kept straying to his Formula Atlantic car. It looked such a thoroughbred. Peter noticed my interest and, to my surprise and delight, he asked me whether I would like to try it for size, which really was a compliment, because no driver likes strangers climbing in and out of his machine just before a race. In I climbed and took hold of the little steering wheel — so different from the large ones I had known long ago. As I climbed out of the car, I said to Peter, `I really must have another go on a track some day.' One of the Ford executives overheard me and asked if I would like to test their new Capri Ghia at the Thruxton circuit. The thought of driving on a track again was pure joy for me, and of course I agreed."

"On the day of the test, I drove the Rolls to Thruxton. There I got my first surprise of the day.

I had expected a few Ford and track officials waiting for me. Instead, as I drew to a stop outside the clubhouse, I was surrounded by a swarm of motoring correspondents, cameramen and television crews."

After a lap driving with another younger rally driver, it was Mildred's turn at the wheel.
"Stuart explained that, under the rules of the track, I must wear a crash helmet and he produced one. I told him I never used such contraptions in my day and I put it on back to front. I never wore any special kit. I was never keen on overalls or slacks, but always drove in a blouse, tailored skirt and a string of pearls. "


She had set a new personal speed record of 110mph. To celebrate she took three journalists and two track officials around the track at 90mph.