Mary Bailey (aviator)

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Mary Bailey

Mary (née Westenra), Lady Bailey (Bassano, 1).jpg
Mary, Lady Bailey, 1911
The Hon Mary Westenra

(1890-12-01)1 December 1890
Died(1960-08-29)29 August 1960 (aged 69)
Kenilworth, Cape Town, South Africa
NationalityUnited Kingdom
(m. 1911; died 1940)
Children5, including Derrick and James

Dame Mary Bailey, Lady Bailey, DBE (née Westenra; 1 December 1890 – 29 July 1960) was an Irish woman, known as one of the finest aviatrices of her time, who "personally guided a plane from England to the nether tip of South Africa and back" (Time, 28 January 1930).

Early life[edit]

The daughter of Derrick Warner William Westenra, 5th Baron Rossmore, of Rossmore Castle, County Monaghan and his wife, Mittie (née Naylor),[1]

Lady Bailey spent most of her childhood in Ireland where she was home schooled until she ran away in 1906.[2] Adventurous from a young age, she apparently bought a motorbike in her youth and was gaining a reputation for speeding in cars by 1914.[3]


During the First World War, Mary volunteered as an aviation mechanic and served in Britain and France, associated with the Royal Flying Corps.[4]

She was awarded a pilot's licence in early 1927[5] and quickly started a sporting career. She became the first woman to fly across the Irish Sea.[6] On 5 July 1927 she set a world's height record of 17,283 ft (5,268 m) in a light aircraft category, flying a de Havilland DH.60 Cirrus II Moth.[7]

Between 9 March and 30 April 1928, Bailey made an 8,000 mi (7,000 nmi; 13,000 km) solo flight from Croydon to Cape Town, flying a de Havilland DH.60 Cirrus Moth with an extra fuel tank. She then made the 8,000 mi (7,000 nmi; 13,000 km) journey back between September 1928 and 16 January 1929.[6] The return journey involved flying across the Congo, then along the southern edge of the Sahara and up the west coast of Africa, then across Spain and France back home again.[8] It was the longest solo flight and longest flight accomplished by a woman that far.[9][10] This feat won her the 1929 Britannia Trophy.[11]

In 1927 and 1928 she twice won the Harmon Trophy as the world's outstanding aviatrix. She also participated in the Challenge International de Tourisme 1929, which she completed off the contest, and Challenge International de Tourisme 1930, in which she took 31st place for 60 participants, being one of only two women.[12]

In 1930 she held a seat on the Women's Engineering Society Council.[13] In 1931, she became a member of a group of female pioneers for science, the members of which shared her adventurous and determined spirit.[14] That same year Bailey became the first woman in the United Kingdom to obtain a Certificate for Blind Flying.[15]

Bailey also attained the rank of Section Officer in the Women's Auxiliary Air Force, during World War II.[1]

Contributions to Archaeology[edit]

Lady Bailey was also able to use her talents for aviation to take aerial photographs of important archaeological sites. She was very likely the first woman to accomplish this during her work in February 1931 on the Kharga Oasis project in Egypt.[16] Working closely with Gertrude Caton-Thompson and Elinor Wight Gardner, Bailey was able to take aerial photographs which presented an expansive overview of the archaeological site within just two weeks.[16] These photographs accomplished what would have taken far longer to do on foot. In addition, there also revealed future excavation sites. Indeed, Lady Bailey's valuable contribution to the Kharga Oasis expedition was both innovative and impressive.[16]


In January 1930 she was appointed Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE).[1]


She married Sir Abraham Bailey ("Abe") on 5 September 1911, being his second wife, and they had five children:

  1. Mittie Mary Starr Bailey (born 1 August 1913 – died 10 April 1961)[1]
  2. Sir Derrick Thomas Louis Bailey, 3rd Bt (born 15 August 1918 – died 19 June 2009)[1]
  3. Ann Hester Zia Bailey (born 15 August 1918 – died 3 October 1979)
  4. James Richard Abe Bailey (born 23 October 1919 – died 29 February 2000)[1]
  5. Noreen Helen Rosemary Bailey (born 27 July 1921)[1]


  • "Royal Honors". Time Magazine. 13 January 1930. Archived from the original on 23 May 2011. Retrieved 10 August 2008.
  • Lady Mary Bailey profile


  1. ^ a b c d e f g
  2. ^ "Lady Mary Bailey". Retrieved 15 October 2015.
  3. ^ "Lady Mary Bailey". Retrieved 15 October 2015.
  4. ^ "Lady Mary Bailey". Trowelblazers. Retrieved 15 October 2015.
  5. ^ The Royal Aero Club of the United Kingdom - official notices to members in Flight, 17 February 1927, pg. 84
  6. ^ a b Lady Mary Bailey (1890-1960)
  7. ^ British Light 'Plane Record Confirmed, Flight, 15 September 1927, pg. 654
  8. ^ "Lady Mary Bailey (1890-1960), Pioneer Aviatrix". Retrieved 27 October 2015.
  9. ^ Editorial Comment , Flight, 10 January 1929
  10. ^ Wilkins, Harold T. (September 1928). "Champion Air Woman Wins 8000 Mile Race". Popular Mechanics. 50 (3): 457–459.
  11. ^ "Members Activities". The Woman Engineer. 3: 20.
  12. ^ (in Polish) Krzyżan, Marian. Międzynarodowe turnieje lotnicze 1929-1934, Warsaw 1988, ISBN 83-206-0637-3
  13. ^ "Presidential Address". The Woman Engineer. 3: 52. September–October 1930.
  14. ^ "Lady Mary Bailey | TrowelBlazers". Retrieved 1 November 2015.
  15. ^ "News of Members". The Woman Engineer. 3: 145. March 1932.
  16. ^ a b c "Lady Mary Bailey | TrowelBlazers". Retrieved 2 November 2015.