The Amy Johnson commemoration at Croydon

The commemoration at the normally ­now-defunct Croydon Airport on the May Bank Holiday, of Amy Johnson’s flight to Australia in her DH Gipsy-Moth of 50 years before to the day, seems to have gone off very well, judging from reports that have only just reached us, and to have been a credit to the officials of Sutton Council who staged it. Apparently well over 50,000 people were at the one-time leading British airport to see the re-enactment of Amy Johnson’s take-off, although, in fact, that had taken place in the early morning of May 5th, not in the afternoon.

The aeroplane she used, the DH Moth “Jason” – G-AAAH – is at the Science Museum, but is not in airworthy condition. So a similar machine, rebuilt by Mr Ron Souch – G-ABEV – was used, flown by Tiger Moth pilot Sue Thompson. She arrived at Croydon in a vintage Bentley, the open Vanden Plas-bodied 4½-litre once owned by Betty Carstairs – I had suggested to the organisers that an appropriate car should be used to take the pilot to her Moth, and am delighted the idea was adopted. She wore a flying suit very like Amy’s, and looked the part. After the Moth’s owner had swung the propellor for her, Sue Thompson flew to Gatwick with the new book (Vol. II) about Croydon from 1928 onwards and with other mementos of Amy’s great flight, first doing a fly-past of the Roundshaw Estate that now occupies much of the former landing-ground and past the onlookers in the public enclosures. The wind was gusty but her Moth, which was without radio, got to Gatwick safely and landed on the grass beside one of the runways, after waiting to allow Jumbo-jets to land, the books and papers were then taken by a helicopter to Heathrow and from there flown to Darwin by a Jumbo-jet.

The crowds at Croydon were also given a period-type flying display on May 5th by members of the Tiger Club in at least five Tigers, and three Turbulents supporting aeroplanes had flown in, and radio-controlled models were demonstrated. The latter including a scale-model of “Jason” made by Dr Sun and a big model of a Handley-Page 42 airliner, of the type seen so frequently at Croydon before the war – this one had to wait for the wind to drop before making a two-minute flight at the end of the Show.

A plaque to commemorate Amy Johnson’s historic 10,000-rnile flight to Australia was unveiled in the foyer of the Aerodrome Hotel at Croydon where Amy had spent the night before her departure. The ceremony was performed by her sister, Mrs Molly Jones. Distinguished guests present included Australia’s London-based High Commissioner Sir James Plimsoll who recalled listening in 1930 to reports of Amy’s progress on his crystal wireless-set, Sir Peter Masefield who was Chairman after the war to the British Airports Authority, and the Mayors of Sutton and Croydon with their ladies. It is also very nice to know that Grp-Capt Jimmy Jeffs, who as Croydon’s Senior Aerodrome Officer was there for Amy’s take-off and eventual return fifty years ago – I remember a big cartoon of Jimmy Jeffs on his Control Tower in Brooklands – Track & Air some years later – was present for the commemoration, as was Charles Lane, who was a Radio Officer at Croydon from 1920 onwards. Also present were an ATA colleague of Amy’s, Grp-Capt Tweedi who flew HP-42s, J Crowson who was a Croydon Flight and Ground Engineer, and notably Harry Horn. Harry had reconditioned “Jason’s” engine in 1930 and still lives “just round the corner from Stag Lane”. He was one of the two DH fitters employed on this work – he did engines with odd numbers, hence Amy’s, his mate those with even numbers. The authors of the two-volume “Croydon History” were also there.

Croydon holds many memories for me. I went there as a boy, in the very early days when you could take a tram to Croydon and walk up to Waddon, to watch air-liners such as DH34s, Air France’s Farman Goliaths, and Handley-Page W8s. Later the great and inimitable CG Grey, Editor of The Aeroplane, kindly gave me a Tarmac Pass, so that I no longer had to spectate in a crocodile behind the official guides. Then, when Motor Sport began to hire aeroplanes to get to Grand Prix and other races it was mostly from Croydon that we flew, in Airspeed Consul, Avro Anson I, Percival Proctor I and DH Dragon Rapide, on two such occasions all the way to Barcelona; one of the pilots had raced an Alta at Brooklands and there were some mild adventures, I remember …

So I am delighted that Croydon Airport came alive again just once more in honour of a very courageous girl-pilot. In fact, I hear that it still isn’t quite dead – those model aeroplanes regularly use what is left of it. – WB.