Memories of the Flying Duchess

Memories of the Flying Duchess

On Sunday a special visitor to the Tiger Moth weekend event was Mrs Irene Stone, the daughter of John William Todd.  Todd was ground engineer to Mary, wife of the 11th Duke, who had taken up flying in 1926 and became known as ‘The Flying Duchess’.  Before that John was a motor mechanic and chauffeur and, during the First World War, had been in the Royal Naval Air Service.  He met and married Evelyn Payne, for a time Head Cook at the Abbey until she left to start a family in 1922. 

As ground engineer, John serviced the aircraft that Mary kept on the Estate, where she had her own hanger.  She was generous in praise for him and for her resident pilot, Bernard Allen, and when prizes were won she gave them to Allen but had mementos made up for Todd as well.  Allen died in 1933 after crashing into pylons near Lidlington one winter’s evening, despite Todd lighting a petrol flare to guide him home.

Todd was present on the morning in March, 1937, when Mary set off on the fateful flight from which she never returned, and was one of the last people to see the Duchess alive. Mary was 71 years old and  the struts of her aircraft washed up on the beaches on the East coast of England a short while later.

Image for Memories of the Flying Duchess

 At the Tigermoth Rally, Mrs Stone met with Woburn Abbey curator, Chris Gravett, and shared memories from her childhood of seeing the so-called Flying Duchess. The photographs show Mrs Stone, now well into her 80s, standing beside a Cirrus Moth, together with a picture of her father.  She has generously donated to the Bedford Estates Archives several postcards sent to Todd by Allen and his successor, Raphael Preston, during trips abroad with Mary.

The photograph of Todd is displayed in The Flying Duchess Room, a room dedicated to the many diverse interests of Duchess Mary.