Evidence of the life of Barbara Mary Gubbins
PR 249/1/13, PR 100/1/9, E/100/LB/3
Barbara Mary Gubbins was born on April 9 1931 in High Wycombe and was killed in a flying accident in Derbyshire on March 5 1952 aged just twenty. Her death was reported both in the local and national press including the Times newspaper.
In her short life she accomplished many things. She was a pupil at the Wycombe High School and in August 1950 passed the London Higher School Certificate in Physics, Chemistry (distinction), Pure Mathematics and Applied Mathematics. After leaving school she went on to Nottingham University where she started a degree in Chemistry. Barbara was a keen horsewoman and enjoyed sports of all kinds. She gained her pilots licence at the age of seventeen reportedly flying solo after just five and half hours tuition at Denham Aero Club. The story of her first solo flight appeared in national newspapers and on her school report card. When her death was announced in the Bucks Free Press she was described as being “at one time Britain’s youngest girl pilot”. She was a cadet in the Women’s Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve and it was hoped that she would become the first female pilot in the RAF – a place in aviation history that went to Jean Lennox Bird some six months after Barbara died.
I first read about Barbara Gubbins quite by chance in an article in the Buckinghamshire Advertiser in 2016 and her story really touched me. From what I had read she was a clever young woman with a real sense of adventure and I wanted to know if we held any documents in the Centre for Buckinghamshire Studies that might tell me more.
The most obvious place to look was the church registers. Had Barbara been baptised, if so in which church? Newspaper reports of her funeral state that she was cremated in Nottingham and then her ashes were bought to Hedsor and buried, the service would be within a burial register, did we have it at the Centre for Buckinghamshire Studies?
PR 249/1/13 – High Wycombe Baptisms
Barbara Mary was baptised in the parish of High Wycombe St John’s on 28 June 1931, her parents were Valentine Owen and Edith Annie Mabel Gubbins. The family lived in Great Missenden and Valentine’s occupation is stated as that of police officer. The vicar noted in the register that Barbara had been born on 9 April 1931.
PR 100/1/9 – Hedsor Burials
A service for the burial of Barbara’s ashes was held on the 12 March 1952. Abode is given as School House, Hedsor and it is noted that she was killed in a flying accident aged twenty years.
The Parish Registers record the start of Barbara’s life and the end. They give biographical information to help take the search further. Newspaper reports of her death in the Bucks Free Press provide additional personal information including her mother’s occupation as Head Teacher at Hedsor School. We hold school logs books within our collections here at the Centre for Buckinghamshire Studies and those for Hedsor School cover 1952. Might Barbara’s death be mentioned as representatives, including children from the school attended her funeral?
E/100/LB/3 – Hedsor School Log Book
“6th March 1952
The Head teacher was absent all day. Her daughter had been involved in an aircraft accident and received fatal injuries.”
School log books contain interesting information and are not always immediately thought of when undertaking research. They were recorded by the Head Teacher and are a diary of the daily life of the school. Significant events throughout the school year including absences, visits and new appointments were all written down; as were changes in the curriculum. For example, if there were a number of children off due to illness this would be noted. Consequently by examining the log books we can see what was happening in the local community at a particular time.
Barbara’s death is recorded in the Hedsor log book because it affected the school; it also suggests that her death affected the local area too.
In memory of Barbara, Wycombe High School has awarded the Barbara Gubbins Senior Chemistry Prize to A level students each year since 1954. It is given to the student who has consistently produced a high standard of class work.
It will be the 66th anniversary of Barbara’s death on the March 5 2018. Had she lived she would be eighty-seven years old. Her remarkable achievements in just twenty years are a testament to her character and spirit. She was a pioneering woman and one that should not be forgotten.
Wycombe High School where Barbara attended, has its own of archive of original materials related to the school. This includes school magazines, photographs and report cards. Details of its collection can be found at the following link: