Winnie Drinkwater, Aviator
By Mary Simpson, Professor Emeritus of Classroom Learning at Edinburgh
University in the
In Scotland there has been a sudden outbreak of interest recently in our own
pioneer aviator, Winnie Drinkwater. Born in Cardonald in Glasgow in 1913,
she qualified for a private pilot's licence aged 17. Two years later, she
gained a commercial licence, making her the world's first female commercial
pilot. By the end of 1933 she had also gained an instructor's certificate
and a ground engineer's qualification, winning Scottish Flying Club trophies
for landing and racing on the way.
One of Winnie's earliest jobs was giving joy rides from Prestwick beach.
These rides were immensely popular, despite initial reservations that people
would be wary of a female pilot in charge. Professor Dugald Cameron of the
Department of Aerospace Engineering at the University of Glasgow, reflecting
on her career, noted that at that time 'aviation was far more open and far
more sensible about having females in it' and indeed there was no reason not
to employ them – 'apart from the stupidity of men'.
But Midland Scottish Ferries not only employed her, they agreed and made
redress, after she had complained that it was unfair that her pay per week
was three pounds 10 shillings, while the men were paid four pounds. Winnie
delivered newspapers to the Highlands and islands, was an air ambulance crew
member, flew monster hunters over Loch Ness and took part in a sea search
for kidnappers escaping by boat. Flying a de Havilland Dragon, she became
the first woman pilot to fly the inaugural Glasgow to London service and was
a regular airline pilot on scheduled flights thereafter. There is a memorial
bust and plaque in her memory in Clyde View Park in Renfrew, and in 2023 it
was announced she would have a place in a series of planned interactive
street art murals in Cardonald.
She was so remarkable in her
aviation achievements that Francisco Short, the head of aeroplane
manufacturers Short Brothers, while visiting Renfrew Airport asked to be
introduced to her. And that was how in 1934 her amazing and promising career
and potential further achievements in aviation came to a sudden halt.
She married him – and of course back then, married women stayed in their
proper place, in the home.