Mercedes’ Marvellous Mondays… Dolly Shepherd – The Parachute Queen…
Eastbourne is known for many things such as, the sea, the sunshine and seagulls but as I am looking more into the heart of what Eastbourne is I am finding out things that make Eastbourne so special. I was at the Sunshine Carnival a while back and I took hundreds of photos and whilst I was looking through them something caught my eye. The theme of the carnival had been ‘Eastbourne hero’s and heroines’, and on a banner was a name, Elizabeth (Dolly) Shepherd. The people marching down the streets looked on with pride holding her name up for all of Eastbourne to see, but… I had no idea who she was! So, I done my research.
Elizabeth Shepherd who is otherwise known as Dolly Shepherd was once a famous Edwardian Parachutist and Balloonist. She was actually born in Potters Bar Hertfordshire but came to Eastbourne to live out her retirement as it were. She started off working as a waitress at 16 years old before volunteering to be in an act which was brave all in itself, she had to stand there whilst someone had to shoot an apple off her head. Not being one to back away from the thrill of danger she then progressed onto other tricks, which consisted of being on a Trapeze (Not so thrill seeking I hear you cry, well read on) the Trapeze was hung below a hot air balloon which could rise to a staggering height of four thousand feet! Then she would parachute back down to Earth.
This type of thrill seeking work did not come without its risks though and there were a few occasions where her parachute equipment failed and even the balloon. She once found herself rising so high her nose bled, there was lack of oxygen and it was so cold she nearly let go and could have fallen to her death but being the woman she was, she somehow managed to hold on and survived due to the balloon coming down on its own accord. Another time she was performing a stunt with another girl when the other girls parachute failed, Dolly wasted no time and got the girl to wrap herself around her and they both used her parachute. The weight of them both brought them down the descent too fast and upon landing awkwardly Dolly was paralysed. She remained paralysed for around 8 weeks, but she fought hard and learnt to walk again with Electric shock treatment and was soon back doing her stunts again. Dolly also went on to serve in both the wars, in WW1 she was a Driver-Mechanic and in WW2 she was a Fire service volunteer.
Dolly later went on to marry and became Dolly E. Sedgwick and also had a daughter called Molly Sedgwick. Molly too had the dare-devil streak in her and in memory of her mother performed a parachute jump to raise money for charity. She was 84 at the time and jumped 13,000ft with the ‘Red Devils’ and raised over £6,000.
In Helens Garden which is located in the Meads area of Eastbourne there is now a memorial there, planted and erected by ‘Friends of Meads Parks and Gardens’. In Dolly’s and Molly’s honour they planted two stone pine trees and have installed a board with all the details about Dolly and Molly. The Friends decided to upgrade the memorial as the one there before which was for both the women was in a poor state and overgrown. They had the money around £1,000 to fix up the flower bed and memorial and the money came from the late Molly, who had wanted it used in her mother’s memory, and what a fitting way the money was spent as now anyone passing by or looking for it can read all about these two amazing women. The Pines planted are also called ‘Parasol pines’, but the group of friends hope that within time they will be called ‘Parachute pines’, in memory of Dolly and Molly.
I took myself, my mum and my kids up to Helens gardens to see the memorial. I had been to the park a few times before to watch the Airbourne show (But that’s another story) but I had never noticed the memorial before. The flowers in the beds are now beautiful and well looked after and the pine trees look out over the vast sea, it is I feel a fitting tribute to the women. So, if you are ever passing or near Meads, go and have a walk and visit to the memorial. We need to remember hero’s and heroines like Dolly, we cannot let them be forgotten…
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