Women had attended the RCScI from the college’s beginnings, but one of the most colourful of them must have been Sophie Peirce (1896-1939) from County Limerick, who enrolled in 1914. In 1916 she married an army officer, William Eliott-Lynn, and the following year abandoned her studies to join the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps, serving as a motor-cycle dispatch rider in France. She returned to the RCScI in 1920 and was awarded her diploma in agriculture in July 1921.
An enthusiastic and successful sportswoman, in the 1920s Sophie Eliott-Lynn successfully campaigned for the inclusion of women’s track and field events in the Olympics. Her fascination with flying also led to her qualifying for a pilot’s licence in 1925, successfully campaigning against the ban on women obtaining commercial flying licences. Qualifying as a commercial pilot herself, she later flew as second pilot on KLM’s European routes. In February 1928, Sophie (by now Lady Heath) embarked on the flight that made her internationally famous, the first solo flight by a woman from South Africa to England. She arrived in Croyden on 17 May ‘dressed as for an afternoon call’, having carried with her on her journey a Bible, a few novels, a shotgun, a tennis racquet, some tea dresses and a fur coat. Footage of her arrival in Croydon was taken by British Pathé.
This was the apex of her career. Surviving a bad air crash in 1929 she continued to fly, but her personal life deteriorated and she died in London in relative poverty in 1939.