About Barbara

Barbara-GubbinsFROM the age of ten, Barbara Gubbins was passionate about flying. She saved up for lessons by picking fruit and giving riding lessons and flew solo at the age of 17 after just 5½ hours training.

Although flying was her great love she was also a talented horsewoman and enjoyed rifle shooting and hockey.

Barbara Mary Gubbins was born on April 9, 1931 in West Wycombe Road, High Wycombe.

Her birth certificate lists her mother’s full name as Edith Annie Mabel Gubbins nee Jeffries, who became headmistress of Hedsor village school.

Her father was Valentine Owen Gubbins, a police sergeant with Buckinghamshire Constabulary – now Thames Valley – who was stationed at Great Missenden Police Office. He later worked as an animal inspector.

His Gubbins line can trace the family back to William of Byfield, a farmer in 1600s Northamptonshire. The family lived in nearby Chipping Warden for some 400 years up to the early 1900s.


BARBARA attended Wycombe High School from 1941 to 1950, charting world events and The Second World war in classes and school activities.

Barbara’s mother, Mabs, had been a pupil at the school from 1918 to 1924 before becoming a teacher and going on to be headmistress of Hedsor School.

The school magazine for summer term 1945 includes Barbara’s review of the school’s production of Thackeray’s The Rose And The Ring.

In the fifth form Barbara won a prize for her imaginative design for a bicycle. Barbara captained the school hockey and tennis teams, played hockey for the county and was school games captain from 1949 to 1950.

The school still awards The Barbara Gubbins Senior Chemistry Prize to the student whose class work has consistently been of the highest standard.

Also awarded is The Mabel Gubbins Senior Biology Prize for the student whose class work has consistently been of the highest standard.

After attending High Wycombe High School, Barbara went to Nottingham University where she studied for an honours degree in chemistry, pure maths and physics.

At weekends, in addition to her sporting activities, Barbara, who lived in Harvest Hill, Bourne End, Bucks, spent much time at Denham and High Wycombe airfields.

She was a member of High Wycombe Flying Club and Denham Aero Club and even appeared on the BBC’s In Town Tonight show in 1951.

In 1949 she took her mother Mabs up in a Piper Cub from Denham to cruise over their home at Hedsor.

Barbara also flew with the Women’s Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve for 18 months before her death.

Cadet Pilot 2674733 Barbara Gubbins was believed to be the youngest pilot in the WRAFVR. She was regarded as a capable aviator and logged more than 150 flying hours including solo and at night.

If she had lived, Barbara might well have qualified as the RAF’s first woman pilot.

Barbara was killed on Wednesday, March 5, 1952, with her instructor, Flt Lt Eric Church, 31, a wartime Coastal Command pilot mentioned in despatches for “valuable services in the air”. They were on an RAF training flight.

According to a Derby Telegraph report at the time, Flt Lt Church was living in Byron Street, Derby, and had been born in Luton, Beds, where his father, Mr W Church, was a teacher at Luton Modern School.

After the Second World War, Flt Lt Church had joined brother-in-law, Roy Snelson, running Colwyn Motors, a taxi business in Babington Lane, Derby.

The business was sold two years later and Flt Lt Church joined the RAF Volunteer Reserve and became an instructor.

He had married ten years earlier at Littleover Parish Church, Derby. The couple’s son, Roger, was seven years old at the time of the crash.

Their aircraft was a single-engine, two-seater Percival Prentice Mk1, number VS 645, of 16 Reserve Flying School Derby at RAF Burnaston. The site is now a Toyota car plant.

It was on a spinning training flight, practising to recover control of the aircraft from an emergency when it loses lift and flutters earthward like a leaf.

Cadet Gubbins and Flt Lt Church took off at 11.40am. The aircraft crashed 17 minutes later, spinning down into a field near Foston Hall Woods, off Leathersley Lane, Scropton in Derbyshire, a mile east of Sudbury Station.

The Derby Telegraph reported that the tragedy was first spotted by two boys from Scropton Hall Approved School, now a women’s prison. They noticed the aircraft’s wing dipping and alerted a teacher.

After the aircraft hit they ran to the crash site with a stretcher. Farm workers who were baling hay came running from surrounding fields. They found Flt Lt Church in the cockpit and Barbara on the ground nearby. Both were dead but they moved Flt Lt Church’s body in case the aircraft caught fire. Fortunately, it didn’t.

Fire crews, police and ambulance staff came to the scene from Burton and Derby. The bodies were taken to Hatton mortuary and the crash site was guarded by the Army.

The Nottingham Evening Post reported on March 5 that Barbara had lodged in Pelham Crescent, The Park, Nottingham. Landlady Mrs Mason said: “It is a terrible shock. She was a really loveable girl. It will be a great blow to her parents. She was an only child.”

Chief instructor Squadron Leader John Findlay said: “She was a very good pilot and had flown solo. This was just another training flight.”

The Wycombe High School magazine recorded Barbara’s death in the summer 1952 issue. It said:

“It was with a great feeling of sorrow that we at school learnt of the death of Barbara in a flying accident. At first we were filled with a sense of the untimeliness of her death but we are beginning to realise how much there was of achievement in her short life.

“Even as a little girl in the 1st form she was interested in flying and this was the subject she often chose to write about in her compositions. This interest she pursued with unswerving determination and she made her first solo flight when she was seventeen.

“In other ways Barbara was outstanding. For two years she was an exceptionally able games captain and some of us will remember her zest for the gymnastic competition and how, with her infectious interest, she swept the most unlikely Upper VIth girls into practising for this event.

“We remember her love of horses and how at home she seemed to feel with all animals.

“Barbara early showed interest and real ability in the science classes. She was a keen experimenter. One pictures her arrival at the laboratory one day during her last school year, all set to carry out an experiment of which she had read, her flourish of the test tube and remark of sheer delight, “Look, it really works!”

“The school took pride in Barbara’s achievements in scholarship and games but particularly in the courage which made her able to qualify so early to fly alone. As a daughter of an Old Girl and a pupil here for nine years, Barbara was very much a child of the School and she will be remembered with pride and affection.”

An inquest was held at Hatton Village Hall on March 7 by district coroner Mr Arthur Whiston.

Hundreds of people attended Barbara’s funeral at Hedsor on Wednesday March 12.

Barbara’s ashes were buried in the graveyard of the simple yet beautiful Hedsor Parish Church. Two RAF officers who had escorted the casket saluted her grave.

The church stands high on a hill giving a sweeping pilot’s eye view out towards the River Thames and the Chiltern hills.