Amy Johnson (1903-1941) was one of Hull’s more famous daughters. The first woman to fly solo from Britain to Australia, she has inspired female aviators the world over, demonstrating the potential for women to succeed in traditionally male-dominated spheres. During Women’s History Month the Remember Me project has decided to take a look at how Amy Johnson has been remembered in Hull, and the wider world.
Unfortunately Amy Johnson’s body could not be recovered after her tragic death in 1941. Thus, she has no formal grave. Her fatal accident occurred while she was flying in the service of the Air Transport Auxiliary during World War II. She is formally commemorated at the Air Forces Memorial at Runnymede. She is just one of more than 1.7million service personnel commemorated by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, and Remember Me is engaged with the CWGC as part of our Diaspora Study.
Amy Johnson’s achievements and influence in aviation and engineering have led to the production of numerous civilian memorialisations. Many of these memorials have been community led, expressing an ongoing desire to remember the woman and her triumphs, and to serve as an ongoing reminder of what women can achieve.
Memorials to Amy Johnson take many forms. A stone statue of Amy Johnson was erected in Hull in 1974, one of very few statues of women in Britain. The statue was funded by private donations, and it remains standing in the Hull city centre, where people pass by daily. A second statue of Amy Johnson is proposed to be erected at Herne Bay, Kent (where it is believed her body may have been washed by tidal waters). This statue has also been funded by donations, and further aid is being sought for its unveiling.
Also in Hull, the History Centre holds a significant archive including Amy Johnson’s private letters, newsreels and other items associated with her aviation activities.
The life of Amy Johnson has been commemorated in a number of events including the 2015 Amy Johnson Commemorative Air Show, which included aerial displays by contemporary female aviators.
This year, 2016, marks the 75th anniversary of the death of Amy Johnson and a series of events are planned to commemorate her life. The Amy Johnson Herne Bay project hosted a memorial service on the 5th of January, casting a wreath into the sea.
Here in Hull, the 75th anniversary is being commemorated with the Amy Johnson Festival, which will run over five days from the 1-5 September 2016. The programme not only commemorates the life of Amy Johnson, but will create new memories through cultural exchanges, theatrical performances and artistic displays. A call for artists to contribute ‘A Moth for Amy’ commemorating her solo flight to Australia in a De Havilland Gipsy Moth attracted almost 200 entries including local and international submissions. A trail of decorated moth sculptures will be unveiled on 1 July, Amy Johnson’s birthday. ‘Jason’, Amy Johnson’s Gipsy Moth is permanently on display at the Science Museum in London.
The life of Amy Johnson is remembered not only in Hull but in the wider world where she has an enduring legacy in aviation and in popular culture. In October 2015 aviator Tracey Curtis-Taylor paid homage to Amy Johnson by repeating her solo flight from Britain to Australia, successfully touching down in Darwin, Northern Territory on 1 January 2016.
Amy Johnson has become an icon of popular culture, inspiring films, songs, theatrical performances, and even entering the world of Doctor Who, celebrated in an official comic strip entitled ‘A Wing and a Prayer’. Remembrance of Amy Johnson has thus gone beyond a simple commemoration of one person’s life achievements. She has been transformed into a symbol of women’s potential and entered into the fabric of 21st century cultural identity.