Amy Johnson was born in Hull on 1st July 1903,
the daughter of John William Johnson, from the family firm of
Andrew Johnson, Knudtzon and Company, fish merchants. She was also
the grand-daughter of successful mill-owner William Hodge who was
Mayor of Hull in 1860.
When she was eighteen she began a relationship
with a Swiss businessman, Hans Arregger, who was living in Hull.
Amy had hoped they would marry, but the relationship broke down and
Hans married another woman, but he kept Amy’s letters for the rest
of his life (they are now held at the Hull History Centre).
In 1925 after completing a B.A. degree at
Sheffield University Amy returned to Hull to undertake a
secretarial course at Wood's College. In the spring of 1926 she
wrote to Hans: “...Mollie and I went up in the aeroplane. We both
enjoyed it, but I would have liked to have done some stunts.” The
following year she moved to London to pursue a career in
In September 1928, Amy began to take flying
lessons at the London Aeroplane Club. After her first six
lessons, she wrote home saying: "I have an immense belief in the
future of flying", and from then on it became the most important
thing in her life. After gaining her pilot's license, she left her
job to work full-time as a mechanic. In December 1929 she
became the first woman to qualify as a ground-engineer.
In May 1930 she flew solo to Australia in a Gipsy Moth plane
nicknamed ‘Jason’ after her father’s business. Although she did not
break the record she did attract considerable media attention and
was awarded the CBE in the King’s birthday honours list.
On 29th July 1932, Amy married fellow aviator Jim Mollison after
a whirlwind romance. Neither marriage or her celebrity status could
stop her flying and she broke her husband’s record of flying
between the UK and Cape Town. The following year the couple flew
together from the UK to the USA in a plane named Seafearer
which Jim had adapted by installing huge fuel tanks to complete the
journey without stopping. The trip nearly ended in disaster when
just 55 miles short of their destination they ran out of fuel and
crash landed. The couple were injured but they had achieved
their goal and were rewarded with a ticker tape parade along
Broadway in New York.
Amy never forgot her home town and in 1932 “The Amy Johnson Cup for
Courage” was presented to the City of Hull. The cup was paid for
with a purse of sovereigns Amy received from school children in
Sydney and was to be awarded each year to a Hull child (under the
age of 17) for a deed of courage.
Despite of the celebrity and record breaking achievements, Amy
found it difficult to earn a living as a commercial
pilot. Only two jobs had materialised in the 1930s, one for a few
weeks in 1934, as a pilot for the daily London to Paris trips of
Hillman Airways, the other for nine months in 1939 on the Solent
air ferry service. The outreak of war gave Amy
meant she could became a pilot in the women's
section of the Air Transport Auxiliary, flying machines and men to
wherever they were needed.
On 5th January 1941, she drowned when the plane she
was flying crashed into the Thames Estuary during rough weather. A
rescue boat did reach Amy, but it is believed the current from its
propeller sucked her under water and she drowned.
Rumours at the time of Amy's death suggested
that she was involved in some sort of undercover operation
or that she had not been alone in the plane. She was not
officially presumed dead until December 1943, when the Probate
Court heard evidence from eye-witnesses of the crash. In 1961, the
bones of a woman washed up at Herne Bay were thought for a while to
be hers, but this was proved to be untrue, and no trace of her body
has ever been found.
Her connection with Hull has been marked by the city in several
ways including the Amy Johnson Cup and a commemorative
bust at her old school Kingston High School (formerly the Boulevard
Secondary School). Her personal collection of books, which includes
childhood reading, and copies of works presented to her by their
authors, is in the History Centre.
For many visitors to Hull, the
most visible memorial is the statue in Prospect Street. This
was erected after a group of Hull people launched a public
campaign to raise £3000 and a local sculptor, Harry
Ibbetson, was commissioned to design a statue. The money was
quickly rasied with contributions coming from local business and
from individuals across the country. A site was agreed in
front of the new shopping complex then under construction. The
statue, carved from Portland Stone shows Amy Johnson in her flying
gear, was unveiled in June 1974 with Amy's sister Mollie in
attendance. Amy's trophies and souvenirs were given by her
family to the Bridlington Corporation, and are now permanently on
display at Sewerby Hall (the house Amy had opened in 1936).
Details of Amy Johnson related
collections held at the History Centre and a further reading list are also available.