Born 1/7/1903 – Died 5/1/1941
Just about the most famous name ever in record speed and endurance flights around the globe was Amy Johnson. Born in Hull in 1903, of Danish family roots. Her Grandfather had changed his name from Jorgensen in the late 19th century, and had established a thriving business in the fishing industry.
In 1927 Amy moved to London and settled into a job in the legal profession. Although she had experienced a five minute joy ride in an aeroplane while still in Hull, it wasn’t until the spring of 1928, that she started to take a real interest. She joined the London Aeroplane Club at Stag Lane Aerodrome on the outskirts of north London. After sixteen hours of tuition, she went solo and gained her pilot’s licence in July 1929. By December of the same year her ground engineer’s licence was earned too, as she had learned all about aircraft maintenance, to her personal satisfaction.
Now determined to make a career in aviation, she gained publicity for her ambition of a record breaking flight to Australia and was helped financially by her father, and after much letter writing to public figures, Lord Wakefield, an oil magnate, agreed to share the cost of an aeroplane. So on May 5th 1930, Amy’s first record attempt was made from Croydon Aerodrome. Although the record was not beaten, Amy was catapulted into the national press in the UK and Australia.
Amy Johnson’s first flight from Lympne was made in her De Havilland Gipsy Moth Jason on new year’s day 1931, setting out for China. It was however abandoned at Warsaw in Poland. On 28th July she was back to fly to Tokyo with Jack Humphreys in a De Havilland Puss Moth Jason 11.
Before her next record attempt from Lympne, Amy had married fellow record breaking aviator Jim Mollison on 29th July 1932. On 14th November of the same year, Amy took off from Lympne on a record breaking flight to Cape Town in DH Puss Moth Jason 11, beating her husbands record by ten hours on the outward flight.
Back at Lympne on 9th February 1933, but this time to wave off husband Jim on his own solo flight to Natal, Brazil. Later flights followed with Jim Mollison as joint pilots.
Jim Mollison and Amy Johnson
(See Jim Mollison section).
By the start of the war, Amy was flying ferry flights with the Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA). What came next is one of the biggest mysteries and controversies still talked about to this day. It was on a bitterly cold January day in freezing fog, that her flight from Squires Gate, Blackpool to Kidlington, Oxfordshire, in an Airspeed Oxford was overdue and well off course. Over the Thames estuary in the same conditions, very low on fuel, Amy took to her parachute and bailed out. Another account claims she was requested to identify herself by showing the colours of the day, and in the confusion failed to do so correctly, and was brought down by ‘friendly fire’. In 1999, Tom Mitchell from Crowborough claimed to be the man who shot her down. This account has been dismissed as utter rubbish however. Another report states that a naval vessel, HMS Haslemere, went to her aid, after seeing a parachute descending, to bring her out of the icy water. She pleaded to get her out of the water quickly as she was freezing, but that the attempt went horribly wrong and she met her death by being sucked into the boat’s propeller. At the time it had to be hushed up for reasons of national morale.
Amy Johnson died on 5th Janaury 1941, had divorced from Jim Mollison in 1938, and is as well known today as in her 1930’s heyday, partly because of her sad controversial death. We can be proud that she was no stranger to Lympne.