Mike Guilfoyle, vice-chair of the Friends of Brockley and Ladywell Cemeteries, delves into his Rolodex and tracks down Audrey Florice Durell Drummond Sale-Barker and a Ladywell link to the Winter Olympics
With the Winter Olympics due to start in Beijing in February 2022, I delved into my cemetery research Rolodex to find out if I could locate a Ladywell link?
To my pleasant surprise without too much ado, the perfect historic link came out of the dusty back catalogue.
Audrey Florice Durell Drummond Sale-Barker, nicknamed Wendy, was born in Chelsea in 1903. She was the daughter of Maurice Drummond Sale-Barker and the grand-daughter of children’s author Lucy Sale-Barker. She became a British alpine skiing champion and prominent aviator.
An inaugural member of the Ladies Ski Club organised by Sir Arnold Lunn, a British slalom skier who in 1922 introduced slalom gates – paired poles between which the skier must pass on the downward descent – and thereby created the modern Alpine slalom race.
The American skier Alice Kiare described Sale-Barker as a striking figure.
Audrey Sale-Barker made an extraordinary impression on everybody who saw her ski. Very tall, extremely slim, her height accentuated by trousers so long that they touched the ground around her boots, pale honey-coloured hair, a vague dreamy expression, and when she skied I can only describe her as a sleep-walker. She stood very erect, with both arms slightly lifted in front of her, she had little or no reserve strength in a race, gave everything she had, and often collapsed and fainted when a race was over. She had incredible courage, and I will never forget seeing her take the last steep slope of Dengert at the finish of the 1928 Arlberg-Kandahar ski event (Austria) absolutely straight, with lifted arms like someone in a trance.
In 1929, Sale-Barker earned her ‘ticket’ from the Royal Aero Club and in 1932, she and another female pilot, Joan Page, flew from London to Cape Town in a de Havilland Gipsy Moth.
On their return from Cape Town, they crashed near Nairobi, Page broke her leg, and Sale-Barker suffered a minor head injury.
According to one contemporaneous account, the women were sighted by a scouting plane and then located by a rescue party.
But according to another, more persistent account, the aviators were saved when a Maasai tribesman came upon them, and Sale-Barker sent him for help with a note written in lipstick, reading: “Please come and fetch us. We’ve had an air crash AND ARE HURT.”
In June 1940, Sale-Barker joined the Women’s Section of the Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA), the organisation responsible for ferrying military aircraft from the aircraft-factories to the RAF units. She was a close friend of famed ATA pilot Amy Johnson.
In 1947, she married fellow-aviator George Douglas -Hamilton, one of the legendary Douglas-Hamilton brothers, all four of whom had distinguished wartime careers in the RAF.
The couple had no children. She died in 1994, just one month after her husband.
Now for the Ladywell Link!
Audrey’s father, Horace John Maurice Drummond Sale-Barker, was born in Kensington in 1874. He appears to have embarked on a medical career at Guy’s Hospital (although details of this are somewhat sketchy).
He married a Florence Dyer Ledgard in 1898 (Audrey’s mother). At the time of his death in 1914 his address was in Devonshire Road, Honor Oak. It was noted on probate documents that he was a man of ‘ private means’.
On November 13 1914 he was interred in a single grave in Ladywell cemetery.
Olympic devotees who are troubled by the projected environmental costs of creating the required artificial snow can perhaps ponder for a moment this truly remarkable alpine skiing champion who represented the UK in 1936 but was also a courageous and prominent aviator. Her father now rests in the currently snow free but greener soil of Ladywell cemetery!