The high fly­ing hero of Bucks

His­to­rian DON­ALD STAN­LEY looks at the life of avi­a­tion pioneer, and Bucks res­i­dent, Amy John­son

Buckinghamshire Advertiser - - NOSTALGIA -

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

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