Amy Johnson CBE (1903-1941) was one of the most influential and inspirational women of the twentieth century; the first woman to fly solo from England to Australia in 1930.
Amy was the eldest of four sisters and grew up in Hull, where her father ran a fish export and import business. She studied at Sheffield University, worked as a typist for a firm of solicitors in London and became captivated by the primitive biplanes she watched taking off and landing on Stag Lane Aerodrome in North London. Soon she started to spend all her spare time at the aerodrome. Amy gained a ground engineer’s “C” licence and, with the financial help of her father, took flying lessons. In 1929 she was awarded her pilot’s licence; in the 1920s and 1930s most female pilots were titled women such as Lady Heath, the Duchess of Bedford and Lady Bailey.
Her Australia flight was the longest solo she had undertaken, previously it was London to Hull. Amy left Croydon Airport on 5 May, 1930 in a second-hand Gipsy Moth called Jason with no radio link and no reliable weather forecasting. Using basic maps and flying over some uncharted land. The Daily Mail was interested in her gender and their headline mistakenly announced, that she had set off with a “Cupboard Full of Frocks”.
Following the most direct route she had to fly with an open-cockpit for eight hours at a time. Fueling was scheduled for her at each stop. She reached India in a record six days and the world’s press suddenly started to pay attention. She became the “British Girl Lindbergh”, “Wonderful Miss Johnson” and “The Lone Girl Flyer”.
A monsoon in Burma (Myanmar) resulted in a ripped hole in the wing and damage to the propeller. A local technical institute repaired the wing by unpicking shirts made from aeroplane fabric salvaged from the First World War.
Amy landed in Australia on Saturday, 24 May to tumultuous crowds; the monsoon meant she did not beat Hinkler’s record, but she was treated like a superstar. On arrival in Darwin she said: “We have made it! We have flown from England to Australia. Jason and I have triumphed! And on Empire Day, of all days. We landed at 3.30pm, after 20 days of hard work and endeavour. “
Women asked their hairdressers for an “Amy Johnson wave”. She affectionately described Jason: – “But the engine was wonderful” – which became a catchphrase.
Read her daily diary here about the 20 days she spent in the air between London and Darwin.
At least ten songs were written about her, the most famous, “Amy, Wonderful Amy” performed by Jack Hylton. Fan mail poured in and such was her fame that an envelope addressed to “Amy wat flies in England” reached its destination.
Max Bygraves singing “Amy, Wonderful Amy”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IWhems3UkBE
After a short courtship, Amy married Scottish pilot Jim Mollison in 1932, and they became known as the “flying sweethearts”. Later that year Amy set a solo record from London to Cape Town and in 1933 she and her husband crossed the Atlantic where they received a ticker tape parade in New York and were entertained by President Roosevelt. She continued to break flying records but as this became harder she turned to journalism, fashion and business ventures; modelling clothes for Elsa Schiaparelli and creating her own travelling bag, until the outbreak of the war in 1939
In 1940 Amy joined the Air Transport Auxiliary to ferry planes around the country for the Royal Air Force. On Sunday 5 January 1941 she left Blackpool in an Airspeed Oxford, which she was to deliver to RAF Kidlington, near Oxford. At about 3.30pm a convoy of ships was approaching Knock John Buoy on Tizard Bank, off Herne Bay when a seaman spotted an aeroplane and then a parachute floating down through the snow. Amy’s body was not recovered, but parts of her plane and some of her possessions, including a travelling bag, a cheque book and her logbook, later washed up nearby.
The mystery surrounding Amy’s final hours has only added to the mystique attached to her life. However, while the exact details of her death may never be known Amy’s bravery and pluck continue to inspire.
Midge Gillies is the author of the 2003 biography, ‘Amy Johnson, Queen of the Air’.
A tribute to Amy Johnson is displayed on the Platform 1 wall at Cricklewood Station. This is the legacy typographic mural by artist Lakwena who used Amy’s ‘Queen of the Air’ nickname, given to her by the British press, recreating it in bright colours. Lakwena’s aim was to capture the mythical nature of the aviator’s life and entice Londoners to explore Amy’s story further.
Govia Thameslink Railway provided the site on Platform 1 at the station and the Cricklewood Town Team were pleased to work in partnership with GTR on this project.
Have a look:
20 murals were created by the GLA across London, curated by Tate Collective, to celebrate 100 years from the time some women were able to vote; The trail celebrates women who have achieved great things across London.
Gypsy Moth ‘Jason I’ was a de Havilland DH. 60 Moth; which was used by Amy Johnson on her historic flight of Miss Amy Johnson to Australia, May 1930, DH.60G, G-AAAH. It was developed as a 1920s British two-seat touring and training aircraft and was the foundation of a series of aircraft by the de Havilland Aircraft Company, Brent, in 1928.
The Science Museum has the cockpit of the De Havilland Gipsy moth aeroplane ‘Jason 1’ as used by Amy Johnson for her flight from London to Darwin is on show at the Science Museum Group Collect © The Board of Trustees of the Science Museum.
Her blue plaque, awarded by English Heritage in 1987, can be seen at Vernon Court, Hendon Way where she lived for 14 years, prior to living in Roe Green, Kingsbury. Brent residents are rightly proud of her.