Friday, November 08, 2013

Cape Town to Goodwood Day 6: Lady Heath in Bulawayo

As we know, Tracey and Co have reached Bulawayo in Zimbabwe, with Livingstone, which is just inside the border in Zambia the likely next stop.

For the 640 kilometres trip to Bulawayo, Lady Heath was carrying 191 litres of fuel, enough petrol for over ten hours’ flying, the consumption of the engine being 20.4 litres per hour and the average cruising speed 128 kph.
Sir Pierre van Rynveld, the pioneer of South Africa aviation, who accompanied her for the first hour, had bet her that she wouldn’t get off the ground. She proved him wrong. Her trip at this stage was still linked with the Cape to Cairo motor expedition, which earlier that week had managed to cross the Limpopo river only with the help of fourteen donkeys.
She was exhilarated to be in the air after all the ‘vicissitudes’  and  entranced by a vista of craggy hills, collections of tiny houses and fleecy clouds. It was warm and bright and she was wearing just her flying helmet, with her head and neck unprotected from the blazing equatorial sun. Six hours into her flight, she had passed the Limpopo and was soon flying over the great quartz hills of Matobo in Zimbabwe, where Sir Cecil Rhodes, the British explorer lay buried.
She suddenly became aware of a pain in her head, neck and shoulders - sunstroke.  With Fort Usher straight ahead, the last thing she remembered was aiming the plane north-east to some clear ground. When she recovered consciousness, she found herself lying on her fur coat under some thorn bushes, with three native girls ‘in various stages of scanty undress, sitting back on their haunches and laughing at me’. One, Makula, spoke a little English, and all three appeared to understand Lady Heath's Swahili. Her, plane, a little way off, "was apparently intact" .
The girls helped her up and with them she staggered to their hut - a harem hut with five wives -  where she slept fitfully that night after they had fed her gourds of milk and a whole boiled chicken, complete with innards. "What struck me most was the way they took me as a matter of course, they might have had sunstruck visitors every day of the week!"
The next morning, she was found by Mrs Pat Fletcher who bundled the dizzy and emotional Lady Heath into her car.  With the plane undamaged, she was back in the air after a day's rest.

The Fletcher family played a prominent part in the history of the country known then as  Southern Rhodesia. In 1894 Robert Fletcher moved to Bulawayo and, with his elder brother Patrick, founded the firm of Fletcher and Espin, government surveyors.  His wife Annie remained in Pretoria until 1895, when she made a nightmarish journey to join her husband with two of her sons, one of whom was a mere babe in arms.

The trip was made by mule coach and the passengers had to endure bumpy roads, terrific storms and floods, even travelling on foot at times. Annie had a small stock of condensed milk for the baby which proved invaluable, since no fresh milk was obtainable on the journey.

At one point, the coach was making particularly hazardous river crossing when it got stuck in the swirling waters.  A boat was sent to rescue them and they scrambled through the coach windows and into the little craft. When this stuck in the sand some little way from the river bank, they were lifted out by natives and struggled up  the river bank as best they could.

Miraculously, the trip to Bulawayo was eventually completed and Mrs. Annie Fletcher was deservedly acclaimed later in her life as having been one of the true pioneers of the country.

Bulawayo is proud of its association with Lady Heath and Tracey and crew got an enthusiastic  welcome when they landed.
This truly is an international expedition - an English woman flying an American plane rebuilt in Austria over Africa, filmed by an American, and following in the slipstream of a pioneering Irish aviator.
Lady Heath's route -
Feb 26 - Bulawayo
Feb 28  - Livingstone
Mar 1 - Broken Hill (Kabwe)
Mar 4  - Ndola
Mar 5 -Abercorn (Mbala)
Mar 7 - Tabora
Mar 8 - Mwanza

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