Herstory: Betty Kirby Green’s Record-breaking Cape Town Flight

by Bianca

Following on from Rockskipper blogger Genna AlTai’s run-down of her top five females in history, here’s another instalment in our series of Herstory stories. This time we’re celebrating the achievements of the aviator, Betty Kirby Green.

screen-shot-2016-12-05-at-16-28-47 Image Source: Burberry.com

Croydon to Cape Town

This pioneering female pilot and her co-pilot, Arthur Clouston, were the first to fly from London to Cape Town in record-breaking time in 1937. It took them just over 45 hours to complete their speedy trip. While Wikipedia has bestowed Arthur with his own Wiki page, Betty only gets a brief mention.

However, Betty’s accomplishments on the Croydon to Cape Town round trip have recently been celebrated in the new Burberry festive film, The Tale of Thomas Burberry. Shot in the style of a cinematic trailer, the fictionalised character of Betty Dawson, played by actress Lily James, is clearly inspired by the real-life achievements of Betty Kirby Green.

screen-shot-2016-12-05-at-16-26-45 Image source: Burberry.com

Burberry Flying Suits

Burberry dressed several explorers throughout history, including aviators, during the pioneering decades of flight in the early 20th century. In fact, the fashion brand sponsored this particular record-breaking flight which took place in a plane called ‘The Burberry’.

If you’re going to be breaking world records, you’re going to want to look good doing it. Betty wore a blue Burberry flying suit, a recreation of which can be seen in the festive film. Arthur also wore a Burberry flying suit which was crafted from gabardine, a fabric invented by Burberry’s founder Thomas Burberry and is still used to craft their signature trench coats today.

screen-shot-2016-12-05-at-16-28-09 Image source: Burberry.com

Fearless High-Flyer

This trip to Cape Town was not for the faint-hearted. Rumour has it that when the pair arrived at Croydon airport there was only one parachute available. So they threw caution to the wind and decided not to take it at all.

Betty Kirby Green’s adventurous spirit shined through from the start of her flying career. According to the Sywell Aerodrome where a replica of ‘The Burberry’ is on display, after receiving her ‘A’ Pilot’s Licence in 1937, someone bet her that she couldn’t fly from London to Paris within a week. She took up the challenge immediately and won the bet.

Recreating Betty’s Journey to Cape Town

Want to follow in Betty’s footsteps but don’t have a pilot’s licence? Well, thanks to the wonders of modern-day travel, a whole selection of commercial airlines make their way over to South Africa each day. Although Betty probably didn’t have much time to explore the city on her tight schedule to break the flight time record, there’s lots to discover in and around Cape Town.

10891696_10100560963762950_6517352225099490414_nImage source: Rockskipper blogger Alice Mariscotti-Wyatt (this image and cover image)

Here are a few travel tips to get you started:

  1. Table Mountain: Swap the airplane for a cable car ride to the top of this magnificent mountain that towers over the city and experience its famous panoramic views.
  2. Safari: Take a day trip to one of the nearby National Park nature reserves to spot the safari big five, including lions and elephants.
  3. Beaches: Explore the selection of sandy stretches along the Cape Peninsula. Try Boulders beach where you’ll be swimming alongside the resident penguins.
  4. Boat Tours: Go in search of huge shoals of sardines that come to town around June during the Sardine Run season, or join a shark spotting boat tour.
  5. Museum Mile: Add a little more history, and Herstory, to your trip by exploring this central strip of museums and art galleries.

6 thoughts on “Herstory: Betty Kirby Green’s Record-breaking Cape Town Flight

    1. Wow that’s amazing!! Thanks for letting us know. What a fantastic role model – you must have heard some great stories about her adventures when you were growing up 🙂


      1. Really delighted she is getting recognised. Have been searching for a print of her (that doesn’t cost £150 from Getty Images!) would love to have something so that my granddaughter can also be inspired. Any help or information gratefully received.


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