Joan Hughes MBE Soared To Great Heights At Auction

Thursday 21st January 2021 - Belle Gait


Joan Hughes MBE Soared To Great Heights At Auction

Click to read more about the trend-setting pilot's lot which sold last year with Chilcotts Auctioneers.

Chilcotts Auctioneers, located in Honiton, saw great success when an MBE sold for more than 20 times its estimate! The Two-Day Sale, which took place on 12th December 2020, saw the hammer fall for the MBE at £5,800.


The lucky lot consisted of the Civil M.B.E. medal, awarded in 1946, along with a scrapbook consisting of mostly photocopied cuttings from the newspaper, a letter of congratulations on royal headed paper and The Pike Trophy (1980) along with other items belonged to Flight Captain Joan Lily Amelia Hughes. Born in West Ham in 1918, Joan was one of the first ever female test pilots in Britain’s World War II.

 After her brother Douglas started flying, Joan too became fascinated with the activity and she asked if she could join him in the sky. The siblings went on to learn at Abridge with the East Anglian Flying Club. At only 15 years old she embarked on her first solo flight in a Gypsy One Moth bi-plane. Joan went on to gain her flying licence at 17 becoming the youngest flyer in England. After this she became a flying teacher, training with Rosamund King Everard.


Joan was part of the first group of female pilots taken on by Air Transport Auxiliary. This group of ladies didn't engage in combat; instead, they distributed planes around the country to RAF airbases. This allowed the fighter pilots to focus their time on training, especially for the Battle of Britain. Joan was considered a trail-blazer and received the medal recognising her exemplary contribution to the war effort.  


After the war Joan continued on at White Waltham airfield flying and training new young people in the skill. Joan also began a new dazzling career as a film stunt pilot. Due to her slight frame and extensive experience, she was given the chance to test a near-replica of the 1909 Santos-Dumon Demoiselle monoplane. This opportunity meant she would later fly the plane in “those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines”. She also had roles in The Blue Max and Thunderbird 6. In fact, in this film, she was accused of flying dangerously under a motorway bridge and landed herself in court. Fortunately, she was able to show that she made the choice to fly under the bridge as this was the safer option at the time. The case was subsequently thrown out of court. She retired in 1985 having amassed over 11,800 flight hours and later died of cancer in 1993.


Perhaps due to this extraordinary and inspirational life story, the MBE captured people imaginations and attention. This apparent interest in the item caused quite a stir. The usual price for civilian MBE would be close to the £100 mark so certainly the hammer soaring to the great heights of over £5500 was truly befitting the infamous pilot.


Whether you are seeking your very own pilots license or prefer to keep your feet on terra firma – you can set auction alerts here to make sure you don’t miss out on your very own piece of history!