Johnson, Amy, CBE

Pioneer flyer. Born in Hull on 1 July 1903, of strong Methodist ancestry, she was of Danish origin, the daughter of a trawler owner. The family business in the import and export of fish went from her grandfather to his eldest son, Amy's father, John William Johnson. Her maternal grandfather, William Hodge, was a wealthy mill-owner in Hull, sheriff of Hull in 1859 and mayor in 1860, and a staunch supporter of PM chapel-building in Hull.

After taking a BA at Sheffield, she worked as a typist and salesgirl. The family worshipped at St. George's Road WM chapel and, after moving to the Pearson Park district, attended the Prince's Avenue chapel, where Amy became a Sunday School teacher. An affair with a Swiss businessman, Hans Arregar, led to strained relations with her parents.She took flying lessons at Hendon, qualified as a pilot in 1929 and the following year was the first woman to make a solo flight to Australia, for which she was made a CBE. The children of Sydney raised £10,000, which she spent on a gold cup to be awarded annually to the most courageous child in Hull. Other record flights followed: to Japan (1931) and Cape Town (1932) etc. In 1932 she married James A. Mollison and together they made a record flight to America in 39 hours (1933). Her husband proved unfaithful to her and the marriage was dissolved in 1938. She wrote Sky Roads of the World (1939).

In World War II she became a pilot in the Air Transport Auxiliary. Her plane crashed in the Thames Estuary on 5 January 1941 and she was drowned. A school was named after her in Hull and there is an Amy Johnson Memorabilia Room at Sewerby Hall, Bridlington. Never a highly skilled navigator or mechanic, she made up for this by her daring and inbred flair. A 'natural tomboy', friends spoke of her 'moral as well as physical courage, large-heartedness and sense of humour' and commented that there was 'much of the happy, excited and exuberant schoolgirl' about her. Despite her Methodist background, her sister Molly remembered her as 'never an enthusiastic chapel-goer'. One of her biographers, David Luff, recorded that, though she 'was not a particularly religious woman', she admitted that she had been 'conscious of God's providential hand upon her on many occasions'; and in a letter to her parents she wrote: 'However irreligious and careless I may seem nowadays to the outward eye, yet I know perfectly well it was my great trust in God which brought me safely through.'

  • Amy Johnson, in Myself When Young (1938)
  • Times, 8, 14, 15 January 1941
  • Constance Smith, Amy Johnson (1977)
  • David Luff, Amy Johnson, enigma in the sky (2002)
  • Oxford DNB


Entry written by: JAV
Category: Person
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