Flying solo

Being a Croydon boy, it’s sometimes difficult to be proud of the place I was born and brought up, faced with the obvious jokes and the ugly post war buildings. For its faults, of which there are many, Croydon does have things to be proud of. For one, it isn’t Carlisle. For another, in 1930 Croydon Airport was where Amy Johnson began her solo flight to Australia, the first woman to do so. She used a second hand de Havilland Gypsy Moth that she called Jason. After 19 days and a distance of 11,000 miles she landed in Darwin, Northern Territory, successful. She picked up a CBE for her trouble.

Jason had a happy retirement in London’s Science Museum. In contrast, Amy went on to be the first pilot (with Jack Humpreys) to fly to Moscow in less than 24 hours; ending the flight in Japan and breaking another record in the process.

In 1932 she set a new record for the fastest London to Cape Town flight. In doing so she broke the existing record, belonging to the man who had proposed to her after knowing her for less than eight hours. From then on, up to the outbreak of World War Two in 1939 she set numerous flying records, often with her husband, all across the globe.

Johnson’s contribution to the war effort saw her flying aircraft about the country so they were in the right place at the right time. By the beginning of 1941 she was dead, having run out of fuel in bad weather and ditching in the Thames estuary. She was seen alive in the water by HMS Haslemere but in the intense cold of British winter a rescuer from Haslemere died trying to reach Johnson, and her body was never recovered.

For all that, Croydon celebrated the heroine by naming ugly post war building close to East Croydon station after her, before recently demolishing it.
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