The Unimaginable Adventures of the Honourable Mrs. Victor Bruce

Today is Super Bowl Sunday, a day known for its innovative advertisements as much as the football game itself. You may recall that just last month Gillette rolled out a controversial new ad challenging men to live up to a different set of standards, which made headlines across the globe. Commentary about this ad was picked up in every publication from Ad Age, Adweek, Forbes, Fortune, NPR, Teen Vogue, Time and Wired to the UK’s Daily Mail, The Times of India and The Moscow Times. Whether or not you agree with the direction taken, at its core, the advertisement ultimately sought to challenge our assumptions about what it means to be masculine in society today. 

But long before ads like these, there were women who were challenging the status quo of what it meant to be feminine. I wanted to take a moment to share more about a woman I only recently learned about whose book I simply could not put down! Her spirit for adventure, propensity for taking on huge risks, and setting ambitious new records should not only give all of us the power to believe more in ourselves, but that anything is possible.  Below follows a book review of Queen of Speed: The Racy Life of Mary Petre Bruce.

A Book Review of Queen of Speed: The Racy Life of Mary Petre Bruce

Imagine the surprise of coming across an airplane for sale while window shopping in downtown London, deciding to buy it on a whim without ever having taken a flying lesson, and then using that plane to become the first woman to complete an around-the-world flight solo. This is precisely what happened in the late 1920s when the Honourable Mrs. Victor Bruce, otherwise known as Mildred Mary Petre Bruce, decided that she was going to buy a Blackburn Bluebird IV and set out to become first woman to fly solo around the world.

Newspaper

I first came across the existence of Mrs. Bruce while conducting research to learn more about all of the women who have set out to complete around the world solo flights. In America, the name that most often comes to mind is Jerrie Mock, who became the first woman to complete an official solo flight around the globe. But how many people have heard of Mrs. Bruce, who for all intents and purposes was the first woman to actually make the attempt (before flying over the oceans had yet been made possible)?

After checking with my local library and various aviation-based organizations, it wasn’t until I found the Earthrounders website and its list of historical solo flights that I first spotted the name “Mrs. Victor Bruce.” From there I discovered the 2012 book written about her life entitled Queen of Speed: The Racy Life of Mary Petre Bruce. The book’s author, Nancy R. Wilson, first learned of Mrs. Bruce upon reading her obituary from half way around the world in 1990. This finding would ultimately launch Ms. Wilson on a 20-year research journey, complete with multiple trips to Europe, to learn all that she could about her.

From the book, Mrs. Bruce is described as “a teenage law-breaker, an unwed mother, a record-setting speedboat and racing car driver; a pioneer round-the-world flier, an author, an innovative airline executive; a fearless adventurer, a free-spending luxury-loving millionaire and an eccentric curmudgeon.” All of this is true. As unbelievable as it was to learn that such a woman lived during this era, what was even more impressive was actually reading her story, and specifically the undertaking of her world fight.

After recognizing the buzz and fanfare surrounding English aviator Amy Johnson’s attempt to set a speed record on a solo flight to Australia, Mrs. Bruce decided that embarking on world flight for herself would be the next most logical thing to do. As of 1930, she had already set multiple records in automobile racing, in addition to a speed record for crossing the English Channel in a motorboat.

Mildred Bruce.jpg

Departing from London in 1930, Mrs. Bruce traveled through eastern Europe, Syria, the Middle East, Thailand, China and Japan before folding up her plane’s wings and shipping her plane on a Japanese liner to cross the Pacific. Arriving in Vancouver, she would next fly down the West Coast of the United States to Los Angeles, across the country through her mother’s hometown in Indiana, then finally to New York before boarding yet another shipping vessel to complete her journey back to London.

Her trip was not without incidents that would provide plenty of storytelling for future generations to come. Key among them: an arrest in New York for flying circles around the Empire State Building, a forced landing in the jungle, an unexpected landing in the Gulf of Oman where she was met by tribesmen, the experience of an earthquake while on the ground in Japan … to name just a few. There were narrowly dodged potential crises, near-death moments, unpleasant accidents, and unexpected expeditions, but most of all one thing was certain: this was the true adventure of a lifetime.

Mary Petre Bruce

Without giving too much more away, I highly recommend the book Queen of Speed: The Racy Life of Mary Petre Bruce. It’s an account you won’t want to put down. There is also a memoir by the title of Nine Lives Plus, originally published by Mrs. Victor Bruce herself back in 1977. While these titles are a bit difficult to locate, they are certainly worth the adventure of finding, and will definitely inspire you to never take no for an answer, to be more—and to do more—in your own life. 

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