Life and adventures of ‘Paddy’ Naismith, actress, race and rally driver, pilot, air hostess…
In the second half of Paddy Naismith’s life story, we find out how she became a pioneering aviator and the champion of servicemen disfigured during WW2.
We pick up the story of Paddy Naismith in 1933 as she pushes her car through the paddock at Brooklands during the Whitsun meeting on 5 June. She had no luck on track that day but later the same month was reported as planning a ‘daring journey’ – a solo drive from Paris to Rome, attempting to beat the Rome Express train. She’d have needed to average more than 42mph and, sadly, there’s no record of whether she succeeded.
However, such was Paddy’s fame that an inventor, Mr LAC Davoran, asked her to model his ‘rain goggles’. Each lens was equipped with a small windscreen wiper powered by a fan mounted on the goggles: at speeds over 15mph, the wipers would start working.
In July, she took part in the King’s Cup air race as a passenger in a Leopard Moth that came third and in September 1933, Paddy gained her pilot’s licence in a Gypsy Moth, before appearing in an advert for ‘Phosferine’, saying, “I have just become the first film actress pilot in England and as one must be 100% fit to pass all the tests successfully, I am grateful for the way Phosferine has kept me continuously up to the mark.”
Paddy then became Britain’s, and probably Europe’s, first air hostess – working for a small airline operating out of Heston. She said, “I was fortunate enough to be the only girl with the necessary qualifications. They wanted someone who was a pilot and navigator, and had a good knowledge of the country the flights would be made over.”
On track and in the air
In July 1934, Paddy again raced at Brooklands in the ‘Long Handicap’ and came third. In September, at the Brooklands Autumn meeting, she again came third in the first ‘Kingston Junior Long Handicap’ race, driving a supercharged Salmson belonging to Sir Derwent Hall Caine. Unfortunately, during the race she and Fay Taylor disgraced themselves by driving over the safety lines at the Fork. The Brooklands Club took a dim view of this and fined Paddy £2, equivalent to £136 today. She was excluded from the rest of the meeting and never raced at Brooklands again.
However, Paddy’s life was about to take a turn for the better. In October that year, she flew in the London (Hatfield) to Cardiff air race with Lord Patrick Crichton Stuart as her navigator in a Blackburn B2 trainer. While there, she met a young RAF pilot called John Towers Mynors, who would play a significant part in her future. As for the race, there were 15 competitors but three never made it to Cardiff. Paddy and his lordship did.
The following year was traumatic for Paddy, when her sister was badly burnt while smoking on the set of the film Things to Come. Her dress caught fire and she was rushed to hospital with severe burns all over her body. Although she survived, she never fully recovered.
Paddy was back in action as transport manager to the National Party for the November General Election, in charge of 15,000 cars. That didn’t prevent her from opening the London Brook Street salon of fashionable hairdresser, Mr Bernard.
More promotion work came Paddy’s way when the Ford Motor Company asked her to help publicise its new V8 model at the 1936 Olympia Motor Show. As part of this, she took part in ‘The Car Vanishing Demonstration’, in which she stood on a raised platform alongside what appeared to be a Ford V8. As the customer asked Paddy about its chassis, the bodywork of the car disappeared into a mist leaving only the chassis on the stage. How this was done was never disclosed.
In the 1938 King’s Cup air race, Paddy was passenger and navigator to a Captain Morton in Sir Derwent Hall Caine’s Double Eagle. He was seen flying very low, causing wags to suggest that Paddy was navigating using the local signposts, though they still finished fifth.
When war broke out, Paddy tried to join the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force but was told she was too short. Instead, capitalising on her fame and success as a demonstrator, she was recruited by the Ministry of Food and sent to the USA on a 10-month lecture tour of the National Air Guard. Returning in November 1940, she gathered around her a collection of notables and started organising the ‘Red Head Spitfire Fund’. One of these notables was Squadron Leader John Towers Mynors.
On 20 December 1940, Paddy became the first woman seen on colour television. This was in John Logie Baird’s laboratory, which sounds very grand but was in fact a converted stable. It’s said she got the job because her distinctive red hair would show up well on the screen.
Back in her Ministry of Food role in April 1941, she visited Broadstairs to open the Pierremont Restaurant, a community meals centre working out of a school canteen. A standard meal was served to the dignitaries and during it Paddy entertained them with a talk on how the people of the USA were helping Britain. She finished by telling them about her return journey home by the Pan Am Clipper airline service to Europe that included a five-day stopover in Lisbon. While there, she stayed in the same hotel as a number of Germans with Swiss passports. They asked if she was not afraid to be returning to England before the invasion, but Paddy said, “I told them that to invade in barges would shock the old school tie.” We’re not sure what that meant, but it must have raised a laugh and probably confused the Germans as well.
In November 1941, Paddy secretly married Wing Commander John Towers Mynors at Caxton Hall Registry Office. Soon afterwards, he was posted to America on a ‘special mission’ in Washington. Paddy had recently passed a test to become a ferry pilot and, in April 1942, she left for California to undergo further training. Two years later, on 14 February 1944 the couple returned to the UK aboard RMS Rangitiki. Upon her return, Paddy became involved in the rehabilitation of wounded and disfigured servicemen. She was connected with the founding of the Guinea Pig Club (for ex-servicemen who underwent pioneering plastic surgery) and volunteered at the Park Prewett Hospital, which carried out pioneering facial reconstructive surgery.
In March 1945, she and a naval surgeon were seen lobbying in the House of Commons, drawing attention to the plight of these disfigured heroes. Paddy was particularly annoyed with the War Office, as the Air Ministry and Admiralty kept casualties on full pay while undergoing treatment, whereas the War Office discharged its soldiers after eight months. To add further insult, these soldiers were charged nine shillings from their pensions for their stay in hospital.
On a happier note, Paddy gave birth to her daughter Mary in November 1945. However, Paddy died on 28 November 1963 aged just 51.
Edited from an article by Roger Radnedge, in the Brooklands Bulletin
Photos: Brooklands Museum Collection