Estimated reading time: 4 minutes
On this day in 1930, Amy Johnson became the first woman to fly solo from England to Australia. She left Croydon Airport in Surrey on 5th May and landed in Darwin on 24th May. To celebrate, she was the subject of a popular song, Amy, Wonderful Amy, recorded by Jack Hylton and his orchestra only 9 days after her arrival. Amy received a CBE and became famous all over the world.
This was not her only record setting flight. She also set a solo record to Cape Town and a record with her co-pilot Jack Humphreys for a flight to Tokyo. In July 1933, Amy embarked on a flight to New York with her husband Jim. However, running low on fuel and flying in the midst of darkness Amy and Jim decided to cut their journey short and crash landed in a drainage ditch in Connecticut. Amy suffered minor cuts and grazes. New York honoured them with a ticker tape parade on 1st August 1933.
During the Second World War, Amy joined the Air Transport Auxiliary, delivering Royal Air Force planes around the country and to the RAF’s French headquarters in Reims in France. The Daily Mail correspondent, Noel Monks, reported that Amy “walked into the bar of the Hotel Lion D’or, crowded with RAF pilots and ordered a lemonade. She had just flown an unarmed transport plane from England through the danger zone to Reims .. And Britain’s first woman air ace was toasted in vintage champagne.”
Amy Johnson’s Mysterious Death
At the age of 37, on 5th January 1941, Amy set out to deliver an Airspeed Oxford from RAF Squire Gates to RAF Kidlington, near Oxford. It was a bitterly cold, foggy day.
Exactly what happened that day remains a mystery. Amy had reported to her sister that the compass in her plane was a little out of adjustment, but that she was anxious to get going and would smell her way to Kidlington. While Amy chatted with the ground staff at the aerodrome, a refueller filled the plane with fuel. Despite the weather turning misty, Amy shrugged away the advice of the Duty Pilot not to take off, because of bad visibility. Amy replied that once she was off the ground, she would get over the top.
Unfortunately, she would never make RAF Kidlington. Did Amy run out of fuel, or did an anti aircraft artillery unit shoot her down? The mystery remains unanswered.
Tom Mitchell, claims that when she failed to give the right security codes twice, his battery firing sixteen shots and watched the plane fall to the Thames.
A convoy of ships was nearby. On board the nearest ship HMS Haslemere, second in command Lieutenant Patrick O’Dea saw a parachutist followed by a plane hit the water. He did not hear any machine gun or other fire. The commanding officer, Lieutenant Commander Walter Fletcher, ordered the ship to alter course, but the ship had gone aground. By the time she was afloat, O’Dea reported that a person had drifted in towards the stern of the ship
On deck, seaman Nicholas Roberts heard a voice, that sounded like a young boy call out, “Hurry, please Hurry” and then he realised it was a woman’s voice. The crew threw heaving lines which landed close by Amy, but she did not grab them. Possibly she was too cold to do so. According to Roberts, “The ship was heaving in the swell and the stern came up and dropped on top of the woman. She did not come into view again.”
Meanwhile, crewmen were reporting two bodies in the water. Fletcher dived into the water to attempt a rescue of the other body, but failed in his attempt. When he was pulled out of the water, Fletcher was unconscious and died in hospital.
Amy’s body has never been found. She was identified by her papers which were found in the Thames.
Amy has long been one of my heroines. I bought the book below after it was printed in 1988, and remember spending a happy lazy Sunday poring through it.
Photos from Wikimedia Commons.
Book: Amy Johnson by Constance Babington Smith
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Julia is a corporate lawyer by day, and a historical detective in her spare time. She researches the 18th century and the women history has overlooked. She competed in the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, for fencing and was granted an OBE in 1999. Today, she lives outside Edinburgh. Follow the instagram link below for daily posts on inspirational and controversial women.