THE FABULOUS FLYING MRS MILLER by Carol Baxter.
Carol Baxter is a fellow of the Society of Genealogists and this is the true story of an Australian female aviator and adventurer by the name of Jessie “Chubbie” Miller.
Chubbie was born into a conservative family in Melbourne and married young in line with her parents’ expectations. At age 19 she had lost her baby, brother, father and suffered several miscarriages. An Aunt in England reached out to her and invited her over for a visit, which presented as a opportunity to leave the confines of both an unhappy marriage and sad times.
Naturally, she loved the freedom of living in England and it wasn’t long before Chubbie regained her independence, sharing a flat and attending parties and social events with young friends. It was at one such an event that she met Bill Lancaster, a WW1 war hero and pilot.
These were the golden years of aviation, the days of Hinkler and Kingsford Smith, when the boundaries of air travel were constantly being tested. Lancaster, with Chubbie as his passenger, set out to make a new flight record from England to Australia. Their flight path is detailed, as are all their planned and unplanned stops along the way. The pair are treated like royalty wherever they stop and they become lovers, albeit secretly, as both are still married. Mechanical issues mean that the flight does no go to schedule and Australian aviator, Bert Hinkler, beats them to the finish line.
This journey has only inflamed Chubbie’s adventuring streak and she is now a more than competent licensed pilot. However, it is now the Depression and these are the days when it is inconceivable that women should pilot planes.
Chubbie enters the first National Air Race solely for women with her friend, Amelia Earhart, in the USA in 1929. Her flight plans and mishaps along the way are clearly detailed by the author ( from diaries kept by Chubbie and media reports) and this is where we really see this brave, young woman shine as she singlehandedly tackles engine issues, forced landings and possible sabotage, during which time several of her competitors become fatalities. She constantly reinforces that women can be as good a pilot as men.
Enter a young gentleman who is employed to write a book about Chubbie’s adventures. Times are tough and Bill travels south in order to take on some questionable work in order to bring in funds. Whilst he is away, Chubbie has a fling with her biographer and agrees to marry him. When Bill returns he is heartbroken but nevertheless behaves “like a Gentleman”, particularly as they are all living in the same house. That night, Bill and the gentleman in question have a chat, a few laughs, and then bed down for the evening. At 3am the biographer is dead from a gunshot wound to the head.
The court case is then detailed and Chubbie’s reputation is in ruins.
For further analysis of the court case I recommend the author’s blog at www.carolbaxter.com.
Not always an easy book to read, nor about a woman who is easy to read about, I most certainly gained respect for this brave, determined aviator during her flight in the Powder Puff Derby.