Extracts from "Lady Icarus" - a tale of murder, adventure and high romance.
From Chapter 11 .The Flight from the Cape.Copyright © LindieNaughton [?] 2006
She was exhilarated to be in the air after all the .vicissitudes. she had experienced and reckoned the first day out of Pretoria ranked second only to her first solo flight as the best adventure of her life. Once on her own, she was entranced by a wonderful vista of craggy hills, collections of tiny houses and fleecy clouds. It was warm and bright and she was wearing just her flying helmet, with her head and neck unprotected from the blazing equatorial sun. Six hours into her flight, she had passed the meandering Limpopo and was soon flying over the great quartz hills of Matobo in Zimbabwe, then called Southern Rhodesia, where Sir Cecil Rhodes, the British explorer who had done so much to open up Africa, lay buried.
Thinking idly of how unpleasant it would be to crash land, she suddenly became aware of a pain in her head, neck and shoulders. She had suffered from sunstroke twice before and knew the signs. Even more ominously, in her most recent experience, she had passed out, not an experience she wished to repeat especially when flying several hundred metres above hard, unforgiving ground. Desperately, she twisted and turned in her tiny seat, trying unsuccessfully to retrieve the special topee, or pith helmet, packed in the back locker of her machine. When the pain in her head and neck got worse and she started to see black blobs dancing in front of her eyes, she pulled off part of her underclothing and wrapped it around her head and shoulders.
With the black blobs turning into waving black feathers, she saw Fort Usher straight ahead. The last thing she remembered was aiming the plane north-east to some clear ground. When she recovered consciousness, she found herself under some thorn bushes, with three native girls looking after her. They had removed her fur coat and placed it under her, then steeped two of her handkerchiefs in milk and put them on her head. Leaning up woozily on one elbow, she saw her plane a little way off, with one wing drooping but otherwise intact. Her hair was clotted with milk and there was a gourd of milk beside her. With the help of the girls, who seemed to understand Swahili, although this was not their language, she staggered to the plane to discover the time. She had been unconscious for about four hours.
So little damaged was the machine that had she been at all well, she could have flown it away. But she could hardly see straight and the effort of making it to the plane made her sick again:
So I sat on the ground and told the girls to collect stones and earth for my sandbags to secure the machine for the night.They thought it a tremendous joke and in spite of feeling as ill as I did, I could not help seeing the amusing side of it too. A great silver bird comes out of the sky and lands beside their huts and a strange white woman is found in it unconscious, and flops to the ground even after she has come to!
Lady Mary had landed or as she put it, the plane landed itself, since she remembered nothing of it just ten miles from her target of Bulawayo and her expertise as a pilot had undoubtedly saved her life. After helping her to their hut about a quarter of a mile away, one of her new friends, Makula, who spoke a little English, told Lady Mary that in her delirium she had written a note to be delivered to white people and had asked for milk. Of this she had absolutely no recollection and when she saw the note a few days later, she realised why no help had come: .It was a confused scrawl of what looked like Egyptian hieroglyphics and I was unable to read it myself!.
Lying on her fur coat with a .tiny silver fitted dressing case which the Johannesburg Light Aeroplane had given me. as a pillow, Lady Mary realised she was in a harem hut and that the owner of the kraal had five wives. They looked after her in an entirely matter-of-fact way, feeding her gourds of milk and a whole boiled chicken, complete with innards: .At dusk, they lit the fire close to my head and, with their youngest children, undressed entirely and covered themselves with blankets.. The hut was swarming with mosquitoes and flies and, although still in a state of coma, Lady Mary stirred occasionally because she had been badly bitten.
The next morning, after Makula had woken and washed her, a white woman, Mrs Pat Fletcher, was motoring past the encampment with her husband in search of grass for their cattle. To her astonishment, she found an emotional Lady Mary. She immediately bundled her into the car and drove back to their farm, where the patient was put to bed. In the evening, Captain Douglas Mail of the Rhodesian Aviation Syndicate agreed to rescue Lady Mary.s machine. Reporting back, he told her that there was not too much damage, although the machine was bone dry of oil and .owing to a bend in the undercarriage fitting, the port forward flying wire was loose..
Her disappearance had made front-page headlines in the South African press. .The absence of any news in any of the newspapers published on Saturday night and Sunday morning of the arrival in Bulawayo of Lady Heath, who set out in her Avro Avian from Pretoria on Saturday morning, caused intense excitement throughout the union,. said the Rand Daily Mail. The newspaper had received hundreds of calls from concerned members of the public. Prominent members of the South African air force had been planning to start a search.
They speculated that she might have been blown off course. Air force members had escorted her as far as Warmbaths, along a route that followed the railway line. From this point, she had left the railway and would have been relying entirely on compass bearings. There was a strong wind blowing from the northwest, which meant that she could have drifted several degrees to the east and been forced to land in an unknown part of the veldt. As it happens, she was not far off her course when forced to land.
When it left Pretoria a day earlier, the Avro Avian was carrying enough petrol for over ten hours. flying, the consumption of the engine being 20.4 litres per hour and the average cruising speed 128 kph. Lady Mary had passed Warmbaths at 8.45 am and so should have appeared in Bulawayo at 2pm or soon after. News that she was safe came though at 7.30pm the following day from the newspaper.s Bulawayo correspondent. After she had spent the night in a native hut, a party of motorists had discovered an exhausted Lady Heath earlier that day, he reported, adding that oil trouble appeared to have been the cause of the forced landing.
The Avian was now in Bulawayo and, when she awoke from a long sleep, Lady Mary was flown there by Captain Mail in his own DH Moth and taken to Sister Rigby.s Maternity Home because all the nursing homes were full. Placed in a room with a tiny white cot at its foot, she slept for a further eighteen hours. A few days later, her temperature was back to normal. She could continue with her adventure.
For the titillation of chooms the whole blogspot = Ladyicarus
When I was small I went regularly with Peter to Bradford on dipping days. We went in the old 1936 Dodge vanette. It was a tiring day for a kid, and we often returned to Zimbile at dusk. On every trip coming home, as we crossed a particular grid on White's Run road, Peter would say: "This is where I/we found Lady Heath." He would proceed to voice his disbelief of her story of force landing because of engine problems. There was some oil or fuel on the ground, he said, but it looked as though it had been drained from the engine. He thought she had lost her way, and was not unhappy about the publicity she received. see Diary 28 February 1928