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Friday 14 February 2014

Fact 6. Amy Johnson, aviation pioneer was from Hull.

Amy Johnson was born in Hull on 1st July 1903. Her maternal Great Grandfather, Jack Hodge, had been Sherif and Mayor of Hull in the 1860. Her paternal Grandfather had arrived from Denmark and set up a fish merchants business in 1861 with a Norwegian Knudtzon. The company is still in exsistance as Andrew Johnson Knudtzon which is part of A.M.I Cold Stores Ltd and a wholly owned part of Andrew Marr International Group. Her Father, John, was born in Denmark but took British Citizenship. She was, it seems, a strong willed person right from the beginning and after going to Sheffield University and starting work in her Father's business she soon wanted adventure. Her first instructor told her she would never fly solo and she took twice as many hours as was normal to gain her 'A' licence, No 1979 on 6-Jul-29. However she also gained her Ground Engineer's licence 'C' and was the first and only woman to hold one for a time.

Amy Johnson.

She was determined to make her mark on aviation and stated that she wanted to break the record set by Bert Hinkler of 15.5 days to Australia. She set about with determination to buy the right aircraft. Her Father put up half the money and the rest was advanced by Lord Wakefield who was the Castrol Oil magnate. It seems that she had influence in high places as Lord Wakefield was influnetial in stock piling fuel and supplies along her route! They bought a De Havilland DH60G Gypsy Moth biplane for £600. It was a two seater with long range tanks. It had a 100HP engine that gave a top speed of only 85mph! This was not a speedy plane but for the long distances and rugged landings it was strong and robust.

She set off from Croydon on 5th May 1930 and her route took her;
Baghdad  She had to land in the desert for a few hours to avoid wind storms.
Bandar Abbas
Karachi  Her she was two days ahead of the record despite having to repair a wind tip.
Rangoon  Her she landed at the wrong place and again damaged a wing tip and the propeller
                It took her three days to make good the repairs.
Tjomel    She got a bit lost here
Surabaya Where she had been aiming!
Haliliuk   again poor navigation so landed here instead of Atambua
Darwin  Arriving on 24th May- 1930.

Here she was awarded the Harmon Trophy for Aviation feats and a CBE. She was also given the Civil Aviation Licence No.1 by the Australians. She became the heroine everywhere

She then made further record breaking flights with Jack Humpreys as they were the first to fly London - Moscow in a day and record times to Japan.

She married another pilot, Scot. Jim Mollison in 1932. After only knowing her for eight hours he proposed in a cockpit!

Amy set a solo record for London to Cape Town and later with Mollison for times Uk to USA and  Uk to India.

They were divorced in 1938.

Amy Johnson flying over the partly constructed Sydney Harbour Bridge in the 1930's.

During WWII she joined the Air Transport Auxiliary Service who were used to transport planes from airfield to airfield. on 5th January 1941 she was delivering a plane from Blackpool to Kidlington, near Oxford. In very bad weather she got blown off course and ran out of fuel over the Thames Estuary. She bailed out. Her parachute was spotted by HMS Haslemere but they found it very hard to close her iin the high winds and strong currents. Lt. Cmdr Walter Fletcher dived in to try and bring her to the ships side. However the cold and currents meant that they both lost their lives. Amy's body was never recovered. Lt Cmdr Fletcher received the posthumous Albert medal for his attempt.
There is some mystery over the loss as it was said by the crew of HMS Haslemere that they saw a third person in the water. Was the mystery third person a spook or somebody just hitching a lift? In 1999 further mystery was added to the story when a Tom Mitchell told that he had shot the aviator down as she had returned the wrong code signal twice when challenged by radio. They had fired 16 round from their AA gun and seen it crash in to the Thames.

She was obviously a girl who would have gone places if she had survived the law, and certainly would have been in the papers. She was a darling of the public and could do no wrong. She opened the first Butlins Holiday Camp at Skegness in 1936. There are streets, schools and aeroplanes named after her, and films and songs have been dedicated to her. Her family gave her collection of aviation items to Sewerby Hall near Bridlington where they can be seen in a room dedicated to her.

Amy Johnson statue
Statue of Amy Johnson outside the Prospect Centre in Hull. The statue was paid for by public subscription. It was created by local sculptor Harry Ibbetson in Portland stone and unveiled in 1974. photo by richclat.

When we had a tour of the Mersey Tunnel last year we were told that the sculpture below as Amy Johnson. The building was built between 1931 and 34 so Amy would have been at the height of her fame. She did seem to mix in high circles but was married at this stage. Was the architect Herbert Jack Rowse just an admirer or was there more to it? Tutankhamen's tomb had also just been opened too so there are shades of Egyptian and Art Deco here too.

Sculpture by Thompson and Capstick on the Mersey Tunnel ventilator shaft, desigened by Herbert Jack Rowse. The helmeted figure does look like the photograph of Amy Johnson at the top of the item but the rest seem to indicate a motorbike!
Photograph taken by us on our visit to Liverpool on NB Holderness.

What ever the answers to the mystery's Amy Johnson has always been a heroine in Hull and will be for a long time, inspiring girls and boys to do more with their lives.

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