Amy Johnson's Visit to Mexborough
In 1920, as Britain was falling behind in the provision of civil air transport, it was decided that the promotion of this mode of communication was necessary. In 1926 Alan Cobham flew around the world in 93 days, this was ultimately to create landing sites and established a route for British Imperial Airways, and for this he was knighted in October of that year.
Then, just a few years later on 12th — 18th May 1932, this by now famous aviator came to Mexborough where he, and his flying circus, gave a six hour air display at a temporary aerodrome at Highwood's Farm.
But if you thought, as I did, that this was the only famous aviator to visit Mexborough, then you would be greatly mistaken as he was not the first to visit our town as on 23rd November 1931 "The Queen of Flight" Miss Amy Johnson paid us a visit following the second of her historic flights, this time to Japan.
Amy was born in Hull in 1903 the daughter of a fish merchant, who wanted his daughter to go into clerical work, and on her graduation from university she became a secretary, and she hated every minute of it. Her burning ambition was to fly and firstly became the first woman to obtain a licence as a ground engineer. Then in 1923 she joined the London Aeroplane Club and in her Gypsy Moth became a qualified pilot in 1928, and it was just two years after this, in 1930, that she took off on the first of her historic flights this one being for Australia. It was this lone flight that she came to Mexborough to tell the people of.
Amy arrived by train on the foggy evening of Monday 23rd November 1931, where on arrival she was instantly escorted to the Olympia Skating Rink, Swinton Road, Mexborough. Here she passed through a guard of honour composed of Scouts and Guides and was presented with a huge bunch of red roses by Mr. A. Thompson of Wath.
She began her illustrated talk, to her 700 strong audiences, by showing photographs of her bright green plane 'Jason'. She then showed a map of her route — London, Vienna, Constantinople, Aleppo, Baghdad, the Persian Gulf, India, Malay Peninsula, Timor Sea, and lastly Port Darwin — a total of 10,000 miles.
Nowadays we easily fly over mountain ranges giving it not so much as a thought, but not so then and while crossing the Taurus Mountains it was necessary to fly through the mountain passes, and she spoke of the fear she felt of the plane's wings touching a cliff. Here it wasn't so much the crash she feared as falling victim to wild animals or bandits.
As Amy flew out of Aleppo she was hit by a terrible sandstorm and had to reduce height to the point where she was only two or three feet from the ground. She discovered, below her, a rough desert track and decided to follow it, the propeller stopped working a couple of times and she almost flew into a desert caravan causing all the horses and camels to bolt, the wheels of her plane kept hitting the ground and at last she could endure it no longer and she force landed. Firstly she removed all her luggage and placed it under the Landing Wheels to help prevent the plane from being blown over; she then covered the engine to prevent sand from getting into it, and finally sat on the tail of the plane to hold it down for the two hours extent of the storm. Again one of her greatest fears was wild animals and had to draw her revolver to protect herself from packs of wild desert dogs. Amy then tore the cover from the engine, praying that it would work, and to her great relief, with a splutter, it started and they soon found themselves in Baghdad.
But the sandstorm had done more damage to the plane that at first realised and on landing one of the wheels sheared off resulting in damage to one of the wings as it dragged along the ground. Amy was unhurt but when she made enquiries as to repairs was told it would take two weeks to get spare parts from England. But Amy was full of Yorkshire Grit and undaunted went on to make further enquiries and discovered that there was a British Air Force Base close at hand where she appealed for their assistance and, to her surprise, on going to see them the following day discovered that the mechanics had stayed up all night to repair her plane. She stated, speaking of the journey overall, that "1 should have never done it but for the wonderful help I received all along the route".
In Persia her progress was again impeded, as again, on landing a bolt on the undercarriage smashed, but she was lucky enough to discover that the consul's mechanic had obtained some plane fitments during the first world war and was able to repair the damage. While there she became ill and it was the consul's wife who came to the rescue as she insisted that Amy took a powder, and after this Amy slept for some time. It was following this incident that, as she came to leave Persia, she was met by roughly twenty white-clad Persians who insisted upon seeing her documents and was asked for her medical, vaccination and inoculation certificates, neither of which she possessed, and it was only though her quite wit and intelligence that she managed to get away.
On she flew through Karachi, where the engine of her plane underwent an overnight thorough overhaul. Over India, where unfortunately all she saw was monotonous black desert, she tried to find the small aerodrome at Allahabad but it was so small she could not find it and had to touch down close to a small town two hundred miles away. Here she found a group of British Officers who invited her to dinner and at the home of a white-haired old colonel took the first bath of her journey, which she described as heavenly. She was then transported, in dressing gown and slippers, five miles to where she was to dine with twenty officers. Here she related to them how of late she had been followed on her journey by vultures, also how, throughout her voyage, she had averaged at only two hours sleep per night and was beginning to become frightened of falling asleep in the air.
From Calcutta she then flew over swamps, a mountain range, and jungle until she reached the River lrrawaddi, which she followed until she reached Rangoon, where twelve miles from the racecourse she crash landed into a ditch and she and her plane had to be rescued by the Insier Engineering Institute. After working for two days and nights to repair the mechanism of the plane their next job was to repair the wings, which were almost in shreds. A suitable material to patch these up was needed and found in some of the clothing worn by the natives. The affixed material then needed to be made taut and waterproof by the use of a substance known as 'dope', but where was she to get such a thing in such an out of the way place? The institute came to her rescue again and took her to a small chemist in Rangoon where in half an hour they had made some for her. Then after transporting the plane to Rangoon Racecourse, for a safe take off, she was on her way again, this time to Bangkok.
From here she flew, in an open cockpit, through monsoon storms, to Singapore. Then on to Siam, where she pointed out that she found the people to be jolly, cheerful, and very interesting.
From there to the Dutch East Indies where she decided to try something never done before, that was to fly across the sea which separated the mainland from the islands. Amy described how, after taking off, she flew into a terrible storm and, as she had over the English Channel, descended to fly a few feet over the sea, but this time the sea was shark-infested. Having no landmarks or river to guide her she got lost but after much circling land was seen and the tall chimney of a factory came into view and it was close to this that she landed.
When she reached the Timor Jungle she had the most frightening experience of her whole journey as on landing a huge chanting crowd of natives, with knives between their teeth,
rushed the plane and surrounded it. She managed to remove her revolver but was dragged by them from the plane and into the jungle. She became panic-stricken as she believed them to be cannibals. After being dragged for several miles they arrived at a wooden but where she collapsed. On waking she saw the kindly face of a missionary, and it was here that she learned how lucky she had been as the natives, who had found her, were not one of the tribe of cannibals to inhabit these islands. She was also informed that only a few days prior to her arrival the aerodrome, run by the Portuguese had been burned out.
"The last hop" as she called it, from Timor to Australia, was her most trying. The engine of her plane was almost worn out, she only had one gallon of oil left and her supply ship had returned back to Australia. By now, trying to exist on 2hrs sleep per night was beginning to take its toll and she was nearing exhaustion. She stated that she was trying everything she knew to keep herself awake. Again, flying over the sea, she endured the same problems as flying from mainland Asia to the Dutch East Indies in that there were no landmarks etc to guide her, and again she got lost and had to circle. After three hours she saw a wisp of smoke coming from a ship, which she followed for a time. She knew Australia wasn't far away and saw a cloud on the horizon which slowly evolved into the coastline of Australia.
Her greeting at Darwin was overwhelming with crowds of people and six hundred telegrams of congratulation waiting for her. She stated that the newspapers reported her as wearing a golden dress and matching stockings and shoes, but of this she told her audience that "It was nothing but idiotic tripe".
Amy finished her talk by showing slides of the celebrations in Australia and her visit to a gold mine. She finally stated that her plane was to be exhibited, in pride of place, in the South Kensington Museum, London. Also this was not going to be the end of her long distance flying career, quite the contrary, it was only the beginning.
Amy was true to her word and went on to make many other record breaking flights: in 1931, the same year as she gave her talk at the Olympia Skating Rink, Mexborough, she flew to Japan and back; in 1932 she made a record solo flight to Cape Town and back; then, with her new husband, in 1933, she crossed the Atlantic in a record of 39hrs; in 1934 they flew to India in 22hrs; and in 1936 she set a new solo record for flying from London to Cape Town.
She was killed while serving with the Women's Auxiliary Air Force in 1941 when her plane crashed into the Thames Estuary in bad weather.
2nd October 2004
Unveiling of the Plaque in Honour of Mr.Watson
The unveiling ceremony was conducted by Miranda Gratton, niece of Mr. Watson.
Saturday 2nd October 2004 saw the much awaited unveiling of the plaque in honour of Mr. Norman Watson, well known teacher, walker, devout Christian, and a founder member and Honorary President of Mexborough and District Heritage Society. The unveiling ceremony was conducted by Miranda Gratton, niece of Mr. Watson, at the Local History Room, Mexborough Library, in the presence of 35 — 40 of Mr. Watson's friends and relations.
The unveiling was followed by the presentation of a bouquet of flowers to Miranda and bottles of wine to Mr. Watson's nephews, Bernard and Tim Cooke, who were also in attendance. Following the unveiling there was a talk, exhibition and buffet, in the Meeting Room of Mexborough Library, given by Mexborough and District Heritage Society.
The Bottom End Project
At the unveiling of the plaque in honour of Mr. Watson a group of members expressed a wish to see a project done on the Main Street & Wath Road areas of Mexborough. On Saturday 16th Oct. a group of our members met at the Local History Room and arranged plans to undertake an oral and visual project on the history of this area of Mexborough. The first item on the agenda was a name for the project and as this area is affectionately known as the Bottom End of Mexborough it was decided to name it 'The Bottom End Project'. The Monday following their original meeting, saw one of the members of this group, at the Local History Room, copying maps and photographs of this area and the following Thursday taking photographs of the older buildings on Main Street. I have been informed that the group are planning an open day in November, this is to be held in the Meeting Room of Mexborough Library, preliminary arrangements are Saturday 13th November 2004 10.00a.m. — 12.00 noon. For confirmation of this time and date please see local press or contact Marion.
The Glassby Arch
There has been some wonderful news concerning the arch as at the beginning of October we received a letter from English Heritage stating that they had granted the arch Grade II Listing.
The Charge of the Light Brigade
25th October 1854 saw the Battle of Balaklava followed closely by one of the most noteworthy events in the annuals of the British Army's history, The Charge of the Light Brigade. Sunday 24th October 2004 was the 150th Anniversary of this event and it was commemorated by a re-enactment of the charge, along the 'Valley of Death' lead by the descendant of the Earl of Cardigan. Later, on the site where the charging cavalry met the firing cannon of the Russians and also at the stone which was erected to those killed at the battle, a memorial service was held in the presence of the present Earl Cardigan.
Information covering the visit of Amy Johnson to Mexborough was obtained from the following:
South Yorkshire Times 27th November 1931, 4th December 1931, 100 Greatest Women, 1000 Years of Famous People by Kingfisher Publishing.