May Meeting – Malcolm Darroch ‘Dolly Shepherd and when the ‘chute went up’

A young Edwardian woman who made her name as a parachutist was the subject of a talk given to members of Bingham Business Club at their latest meeting.

Speaker Malcolm Darroch told how Dolly Shepherd’s career began when she was 16 and working as a waitress at Alexandra Palace in London – a job she applied for so that she could hear the famous musician John Philip Sousa, who was performing there. She waited on Sousa’s table, and met his friends, including one Samuel Franklin Cody, who ran a wild west show. When Cody’s wife was shot and injured taking part in the show, Dolly offered
to take her place – having a plaster egg shot off the top of her head by a blindfolded Cody.

Another friend on the table ran a touring show featuring hot air balloons. Dolly was asked if she wanted to be part of the show, and learned how to parachute from the balloon. Her performing outfit consisted of knickerbockers, a gold sash, cap and long boots. She would jump from the side of a hot air or gas balloon basket.

Once she jumped alongside another female performer, whose parachute failed to open. Dolly carried out a daring mid-air rescue that saved her friend, but left Dolly paralysed for weeks. During that time Dolly’s mother stood in for her daughter. “You can tell where Dolly got her guts from,” Mr Darroch said.

After having ground-breaking ECT treatment she was able to perform again and continued until 1912, when she heard a voice telling her not to jump again or she would be killed. She never jumped again.

She worked as a driver and mechanic on the Western Front in the First World War and was a shelter supervisor in the Second World War. In her 90s she flew with the RAF parachute display team. She lived to the age
of 96, dying in 1983.

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