West Over the Waves tells the fascinating story of Elsie Mackay´s courageous Atlantic adventure bringing to life this thrilling tale from the history of aviation.
A publicity shot of Poppy Wyndham,
the name Elsie Mackay used during her acting career
Featured on BBC Radio 4's Making History 27th May 2008
In March 1928 a beautiful, brave, young heiress took off in her monoplane in an attempt to fulfil her burning ambition – to become the first woman to fly the Atlantic. Accompanied by her pilot, war Ace Captain W G R Hinchliffe who had lost the sight of one eye whilst serving in the RAF, she had kept her plan a secret knowing her influential father, millionaire shipping magnate Lord Inchcape of Glenapp, had the power to prevent her flight.
In the early hours of a cold March morning in 1928 a beautiful young woman peered through the curtains of her hotel window into the darkness. She had made a decision that would have repercussions for many years and touch many people from waitresses to princesses. In the next few hours she would face an adventure that would lead to death or glory - the race to be the first to fly the Atlantic. The challenge had already cost many lives and the Honourable Elsie Mackay was well aware that two women were amongst those who had disappeared without trace.
As one of the richest women in Britain, it had caused something of a stir for her to stay at such a small hotel in the Lincolnshire town of Grantham. Unusually wintry weather conditions had left a blanket of snow over the town and the nearby airfield where she would shortly join her enigmatic pilot Captain W G R Hinchliffe. She waited for her chauffeur driven silver Rolls Royce to be brought round to the entrance of the hotel and watched for the news hounds who had been dogging her tracks on the scent of a story. Despite trying to keep her plan secret the reporters had learned of Captain Hinchliffe's long distance flight ambitions and now there was frenzied speculation as to who would join him in the cockpit. There were rumours of romance between the heiress and the dashing aviator who wore an eye patch to hide the injuries he sustained as an RAF ace during the Great War. Swathed in her flying suit she was almost unrecognisable from the glamorous young heiress who had featured in the society columns. Miss Mackay had tried to sleep after her late night meeting with Captain Hinchliffe and his friend Captain Gordon Sinclair but she felt she had only laid her head on the pillow for a moment.
Finally she saw her car pull round to the hotel’s entrance. Further disguising her appearance by throwing a scarf around her head she left the room and the hotel; only the night porter seeing this petite young woman leave. Conscious of the enormous trial of courage and endurance that lay ahead she called at the Catholic Church to take Holy Communion. The priest saw the tears in her eyes and tried to counsel her but she smiled and left with a wave of her hand to travel the few miles to the RAF airfield where the small monoplane waited to carry her westwards into the teeth of ferocious winds and across the Atlantic.
Only a handful of people saw Miss Mackay smile and wave from the cockpit as the plane, filled with fuel for the flight, rumbled down the snow covered runway before lifting and soaring into the air to disappear forever into the clouds.