Topsham women recalls adventurous exploits of grandfather

PUBLISHED: 13:55 03 June 2010 | UPDATED: 13:28 10 June 2010

THE PROUD granddaughter of a man who attempted to become the first pilot to successfully fly around the world has been reminiscing about her relative s adventurous exploits. Vanessa Ascough, of Higher Shapter Street, Topsham, has been recalling the achiev

THE PROUD granddaughter of a man who attempted to become the first pilot to successfully fly around the world has been reminiscing about her relative's adventurous exploits.

Vanessa Ascough, of Higher Shapter Street, Topsham, has been recalling the achievements of her grandfather, Archibald Stuart-MacLaren.

Mr Stuart-MacLaren, who was made an OBE in 1915 for services to his country, took part in the worldwide flying attempt in 1924.

Proud of his exploits, Mrs Ascough recently delivered a talk about him in Southampton at an event to mark the centenary year of the city's airport.

It was at Calshot Airdrome, near Southampton, where Mr Stuart-MacLaren, set off on the flight along with two other crew members, 86 years ago.

She said: "My family were all adventurous kind of people. My grandfather's mother, for instance, was the first woman to go down the Cresta run on a bobsleigh."

Recalling her grandfather's adventure, she said he decided to have a go at the round-the-world trip after another Englishman failed a similar attempt earlier.

The highly decorated former World War I pilot died in 1943, aged 51.

"At the time, the RAF and the government did not want to sponsor or offer any resources or financial assistance for him to do this flight.

"They decided perhaps it was not the right time and that they didn't want England to fail again in making this attempt.

"He decided, though, to do things himself. At that point in his career, he had a lot of doors open for him because he was decorated so highly."

Mrs Ascough added: "He managed to get sponsorship for the flight from Vickers Airplanes and they made him two planes - both with an open cockpit.

"It had a mahogany hull and metal wings - there were only two of this kind ever made and specially built for this flight. The hull had to be varnished constantly because it just got saturated with water.

"They had a boat shape at the base so they could land in water and wheels that had to be cranked up by hand for land use. The plane was fitted with a 450 horse power engine."

Mrs Ascough joked: "When you think about it that seems like nothing to travel around the world with."

Through the help of Vickers, two planes were made for the trip.

Mr Stuart-MacLaren and his two crew members managed to travel 13,100 miles, reaching as far as the Bering Sea.

But, their brave attempt eventually failed as their second plane encountered mechanical problems.

Mrs Ascough, speaking about why the challenge failed, said: "They encountered terrible weather.

"In 1924, it was one of those appalling years where the (weather) conditions were so poor everywhere the world.

"The whole world flight thing at the time was quite a big competition. There were four other countries also trying it including Portugal, Italy, France and America, in that same year.

"The Americans were doing a flight at exactly the same time but going the other way round the world.

"My grandfather went from west to east and they were travelling from east to west so at one point, they actually passed one another."

Mr Stuart-MacLaren was also awarded a Military Cross in 1916 for conspicous gallantry. Mrs Ascough plans on giving a talk about her grandfather at Matthews Hall later this year, on behalf of the Rotary club she belongs to.

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