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LORRES BONNEY( MRS. H.B. BONNEY), FIRST AUSTRALIAN WOMAN PILOT

Lorres Bonney (1897-1994), a.k.a. Mrs. H.B. Bonney, wife of a wealthy Brisbane leather manufacturer, was the first Australian woman to gain a pilot's licence in Australia and was issued with No.17. She took up flying in 1930 because, "I was a golf widow every weekend, and the aerodrome was right next to the golf course. After initial flying training at Eagle Farm, Queensland with Charles Matherson, she went on to obtain her Commercial Pilot's Licence. Advanced flying was done at Archerfield under Cyril Broom of the Royal Aero Club of Queensland. A photo of Mrs. Bonney in flight gear is seen in Figure 1.
 

 

In March 1933, Mrs Bonney made plans to fly solo from Australia to England. It was announced that she had been awarded the Q.A.N.T.A.S Trophy for the most meritorious performance by a Queensland pilot in 1932. The flight to England commenced on April 12, 1933. After leaving Cloncurry, Queensland, she flew to Daly Waters. The second leg of the journey was to Darwin. A picture of Mrs. Bonney beside her plane a DH60 Gipsy Moth VH-UPV is shown in Figure 2.

 

On April 15, she became the first woman to leave Australia by aeroplane for England. The first stop outside Australia was Koepand, thence to Batavia on April 17 and Singapore on the 18th. Drama followed on the 20th after leaving Malaya. Caught in a severe storm she was forced to land the Moth at Muntok Island. Unhurt, she lived for two days at Baing Baing, Southern Burma, and boarded the SS Juna en route from Penang to Rangoon, taking the Moth as Deck cargo.

Arriving at Rangoon on April 26, the Moth required repairs to the rudder and fuel tank, but as facilities were inadequate, and she and her aircraft departed by boat on the 27th for Calcutta, arriving there on May 5 where the aircraft underwent extensive repairs. Delayed by these repairs, it was not until May 26 that she left Allahabad for Jodhpur. A defective fuel tank forced her to land at Jhansi before she could make the two hour flight to Jodhpur. The next day, on the leg to Karachi, the verge ring of the compass became unfastened so she had to have an overhaul stop. Departure from there was on June 2, for Jask. On June 4 she arrived at Baghdad via Basra. The next day the run was to Aleppo. While flying across the desert in tropical kit, she suffered severely because of the bitter cold weather. All went well from India until approaching Sofia, after having left Constantinople. Nearing Sofia, she struck bad weather and was forced to land and she waited until some petrol was sent from Sofia.
 

Leaving Budapest on June 12, she intended to make a non-stop flight to Croydon but encountered appalling bad weather. The field in which she chose to make a forced landing was at Gmund, just over the border of Czechoslovakia, a country for which she had no permit. The Czechs detained her for a whole day. She was given permission to leave and flew to Linz in Austria. Taking off from Linz five days later, she flew on to Frankfurt, but then bad weather forced another stop at Cologne. On June 21, she landed at Croydon, as the first woman to fly from Australia to England. Later, in recognition of the flight she was awarded the MBE.
Returning to Australia, she continued to fly and her moth 'My Little Ship' was used for several interstate flights - one in October 1934 to Melbourne for the Centenary celebrations. December 1935 she purchased a Klemm L.32-V, VH-UVE, and christened her new machine 'My Little Ship II'. After twelve months of planning she proposed to make a solo 14,000 mile journey to South Africa, in 'My Little Ship II'. The trip would have a double interest for her because she had been born in Pretoria, South Africa, and it would be the first flight between the two countries. In April 1937 she did fly solo from Brisbane to Capetown via points in Asia in her monoplane "My Little Ship II", as shown by the 8 APR 1937 BRISBANE cacheted and signed cover with 2 Thailand stamps, postmarked Bangkok on 24. 4. 37 (Figure 3).

 

The covers were returned to Brisbane on 17 JY 37 with the same cachet ‘SOLO FIRST FLIGHT BRISBANE TO CAPETOWN’ as on the front (Figure 4).

 

Nelson Eustis in The Australian Air Mile Catalogue lists the flight as follows: 1937 (9 April) - Brisbane-Capetown flight by Mrs. H. Bonney in a Klemm monoplane, "My Little Ship II", VH-UVE, during a four-month flight. Covers were posted at various stops en route. They were originally posted at Brisbane on 8, April, and again overseas. All covers are signed and have a cachet. A few rare ‘emergency’, ‘crash’ and Coronation Day’ covers exist. These items provide valuable records of the first direct flight from Australia through Asia and Africa. A complete set is 32 different. The covers are listed as numbers 713-718.

 

Terry Gwynn-Jones has written a book Pineer Airwoman. The Story of Mrs. Bonney, as shown by the book’s cover in Figure 5.

 

Addendum (March, 2009):

Lores Bonney, born Maude Rose Rubens on 20 November, 1897 in Pretoria, South Africa, met and married Harry Bonney, a Brisbane leather goods manufacturer in 1917.

In August 1930, Bonney began flying lessons with Charles Matheson as her instructor. Initially she did not inform Harry of her new interest and often hitched a ride from the milkman at first light to get to the aerodrome five kilometres away. Amazingly she never learned to drive until much later in life, believing it to be against her husband's wishes! In August of the following year she gained her pilot's licence. Soon after, her husband presented her with a de Havilland 60 aircraft, which she christened "My Little Ship" - the licence number - VH-UPV.

Mrs Harry Bonney's first major flight was a visit to her family at Wangaratta on Boxing Day, 1931. In order to complete the flight on the one day, she left at first light and, with several refueling stops, touched down at dusk. By then she had flown 1600kms with over 14 hours actual flying time. She was the first Australian woman to fly such a distance - the previous record was 600kms.
 

Convinced of her ability to fly long distances, Mrs Bonney set out on a round Australia flight on 15th August, 1932. More than once her male colleagues voiced their skepticism as to whether a woman could achieve such a feat. She was particularly annoyed by those who challenged her determination and endurance, including Charles Kingsford Smith who commented, "You might make it if you've got the guts". During her flight she encountered turbulent weather with sudden torrid rain squalls, poor visibility because of bushfire smoke and mechanical problems. She became lost over the northwest of West Australia as the iron ore deposits caused her compass to malfunction. Throughout the flight she claims to have been blessed with good luck and she often refers to her "co-pilot" (God) in whom she sought comfort and inspiration. Religion had always been a part of her life. She completed her flight on 27th September, 1932 - 43 days, 12,800kms and over 95 flying hours to her credit. Again, she was the first woman to have achieved such a feat.

Mrs Harry Bonney's flying career came to an abrupt end in 1939. Firstly, her aeroplane was destroyed by a fire in the Qantas No.2 hangar. Secondly, World War II made it impossible for her to purchase another plane or to fly. Unfortunately, the Air Force did not seek her services, and her skills as a pilot were wasted. During the war she organised the Women's Voluntary National Register which sought to recruit women for the war effort. Once the war ended she felt less confident of her skills as a pilot and never really flew seriously again. She returned to her normal life in suburban Brisbane to take up her interest in gardening and in particular, Bonsai. Still a keen traveller, she went to California in 1955 to attend a ceremony where her name was added to the Famous Flyers Wall at Francis Atrio Mission. She also travelled to Japan to pursue her interest in Bonsai and undertook a challenging trip to South America in 1963 at the age of 65 years.

Mrs Harry Bonney died in 1994, aged 96.

 

 

 

 

 
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