The high flying hero of Bucks
Historian DONALD STANLEY looks at the life of aviation pioneer, and Bucks resident, Amy Johnson
BUCKINGHAMSHIRE has contributed to the history of flying in both war and peace.
In the Second World, War High Wycombe’s furniture factories made parts for the Mosquito fighter bomber designed by Geoffrey de Havilland who had been born in nearby Terriers.
Amongst the woman pilots of the ATA (Air Transport Auxiliary) who ferried new and repaired aircraft was the pre-war pioneer aviatrix, Amy Johnson, who in 1937 moved into Monks Staithe, Princes Risborough, a house dating back to the 15th century.
Later it was lived in by the author, Denise Robins.
By coincidence, Amy’s first aircraft was a Gipsy Moth which had been designed by Geoffrey de Havilland.
In it, in 1930, she became the first woman to fly solo from England to Australia, a flight that took 19 days; for it she received the CBE. She made other pioneering flights with co-pilots such as Jack Humphreys with whom, in 1931, she set two records by flying from London to Moscow in a day and then on to Tokyo.
Whilst flying with Jim Mollison, whom she had met only eight hours previously, she accepted his proposal of marriage.
Subsequently they divorced, but not before she broke his record for a solo flight from London to Cape Town.
During the war Amy served in the ATA.
Its members were required to fly aircraft of all types but were not always allowed radios which meant they could not receive reports of bad weather which caused the death of several.
Also, their aircraft were unarmed and thus prey to German fighters.
Whilst flying from Preston to RAF Kidlington near Oxford in 1941, bad weather caused Amy to fly off course.
There are different versions as to what happened next.
One is that her aircraft ran out of fuel and she bailed out before it crashed in the Thames Estuary where the crew of a naval trawler spotted her parachute and sailed to her rescue.
The storm caused their ship to strike Amy killing her, whilst the cold led to the death of its commander who dived overboard in an attempt to rescue her.
Another theory is that she had been shot down by ‘friendly’ anti-aircraft fire as, indeed, were several of her fellow ATA pilots.
The purpose of the flight and the identity of a possible passenger whose body was also seen in the water have never been disclosed.
She became the first woman to fly solo from England to Australia
Pioneer: Amy Johnson pictured in the cockpit of her Gipsy Moth plane before taking part in the London to Newcastle Air race in 1931. Left, Monk’s Staithe, Amy’s home in Princes Risborough
1933: The De Havilland D.H.84 G-ACCV Seafarer flown by Jim Mollison and his wife Amy (formerly Amy Johnson), pictured in flight passing a schooner yacht of Cork harbour, Ireland en route for the USA
Hero’s welcome : Amy Johnson arrives at Hedon Airport in 1930