The Borstal Boy, The Can-Can Dancer and The Stolen Auster Aircraft

You couldn’t possibly make it up.  A borstal boy, Windmill can-can dancer and stolen Auster aircraft make headlines for Bembridge on the Isle of Wight around the world.

On the 30th May 1949, an 18-year-old serial absconder from borstal institutions all across England broke into a hanger at Bembridge Airfield and although never having piloted a plane before took off and attempted to fly to Southern Ireland. This story made newspaper headlines around the world and put Bembridge on front pages from Hobart to Honolulu.

Brynley Fussell was a young miscreant who had spent many years in various borstals and had previously escaped from one such Island institution, Camp Hill at Yarmouth, and attempted to sail a small boat to the Mainland. On that occasion, he was caught and sent to Rochester, Kent before escaping yet again. He made his way back to the Island,  stole some cash from houses in Ryde and paid for two short duration flights as a passenger at Somerton Airfield, Cowes, quizzing the pilots on their instruments as they flew along.

He then made his way to Bembridge and having broken into the Sailing Club and stolen money and a pair of binoculars he arranged another half hour joy ride as a passenger in an Auster carefully watching every action the pilot made. Having then stayed around until nightfall he broke into the hanger moved two other aircraft and a crash tender out of the way before pushing an Auster Autocrat registration G-AGVL out onto the airfield. Climbing in, he started the engine and roared off into the early evening.

The flight lasted an hour but running low on fuel he was forced to land just outside Cheltenham close to the Severn Estuary. After again going on the run he was finally arrested at Whitchurch Airfield, Bristol whilst attempting to find another aircraft to continue his flight.

Meanwhile, the stolen Auster was hurriedly flown back to Bembridge and as had been the original intention was prepared for an upcoming Island air race. The pilot was to be Anita D’Ray (born Dorothy Poore) who was a featured dancer at the world-renowned Windmill Theatre, London. At just nineteen she was an accomplished pilot with over one hundred solo flights and had entered the Air Race piloting this privately owned aircraft. Over the Whitsun weekend not only does she enter the international race as one of the very few female entrants but pitted against many well-known international pilots goes on to win it.

Brynley Fussell went on to commit many further crimes including stealing another aircraft and flying to France before eventually settling down and becoming a world-renowned microlight aviation expert gaining his full pilots licence in 1988 some forty years after that first maiden solo fight out of Bembridge airport. Anita D’Ray become an accomplished actress and dance advisor to the film and television industries.

© Peter Chick 2017 (Facebook)