Have you heard of Essex's Edwardian daredevil Mildred Bruce?

Mildred Bruce in racing attire

Mildred Bruce helped to spearhead women in motorsports - Credit: Wikimedia

By Mica Bale

Did you know Essex had its own female daredevil, Mildred Bruce 

Think of a female aviator and almost immediately the names Amelia Earhart or Amy Johnson come to mind. However, do you know the name of Mildred Bruce, a lady who not only wowed her generation with her skills in the skies but could also boast a rich Essex heritage? 

Born in Chelmsford as Mildred Mary Petre, Mrs Bruce, also known by various other names such as Mildred Bruce or Mary Victor Bruce, was born into the great Petre dynasty, her father Lawrence being a descendant of Sir William Petre. 

Although it is in the world of aviation that Mildred accomplished many of her impressive feats, her talents extended beyond piloting and aircraft and into other often male-dominated spheres, including motorcars and speedboats.  

Memorial to Mildred Bruce

Memorial to Mildred Bruce - Credit: Stephen C. Dickson

It was at the young age of 15 that Mildred first developed her interest in machines, often taking her brother’s motorcycle for a joy ride with her Border Collie! These joy rides were rather wild by all accounts and saw her slapped with a driving ban until she reached the age of 16 after being caught speeding! Mrs Bruce’s need for speed was something that would govern the rest of her life. At the grand old age of 78 she beat her own personal best by reaching 110mph in a Ford Capri. 

It was not just Mrs Bruce’s talent for driving that set her aside from her young Edwardian contemporaries, but rather her ability to tinker with the engines she was so fond of. In fact, it is believed that she was only able to coax her brother’s motorcycle to the heady speeds of 67mph because she had removed certain parts of the mechanics in order to lighten the load!  

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It would be difficult to choose just one daring feat to define a young woman whose passion for engines and speed combined into a series of amazing accomplishments. However, it is perhaps her flying career that has cemented her story as one of the 20th century's most interesting characters.  

Mildred Bruce in a motorcar

Mildred's need for speed never diminished - Credit: Wikimedia

Rather romantically, it is thought that Mildred purchased her best-known aircraft whilst shopping in London with her mother. Whilst browsing the capital’s luxurious window displays, Mildred came face to face with the single-engine biplane that would accompany her for many of her upcoming accomplishments; it was later known as Bluebird. Already having taken an interest in flying, it was natural progression for Mildred who, on May 25 1930, took her first lesson. By July 26 that same year, she had already soloed her first flight before gaining her license.   

The coming years saw many achievements, from being the first person to fly from Britain to Japan to being the first to cross the Yellow Sea. Mildred would even undertake an around-the-world tour, in which she combined crossing the seas by ship and flying over land alone. 

Of course, in both her flying and driving career, Mildred, who would become known as Mrs Victor Bruce following her marriage, was always on the cusp of a new adventure. Certainly, this accomplished young Essex woman did not slow down from her early days racing around Chelmsford to her later years when reportedly, until her death at the age of 94, she was still very much the Queen of Speed!