Valley Friends February Report

From Joan Steel

At our February meeting we enjoyed a talk from Tony Eaton entitled “Failed to Return – Amy Johnson and Leslie Howard.”

Amy Johnson was born in Hull in 1903, and in 1930, became a world famous female pilot for being the first to fly solo from Britain to Australia, as well as completing the journey in the record time of six days. Amy proved that women pilots are as equally competent as men. During the 1920’s Amy had flown her Gypsy Moth plane across all the countries of the British Empire, quite undeterred. Among the items Amy took on board was an atlas, a primus stove, and some pickled herrings. When flying to Karachi, Amy beat the record time by 48 hours. In1931 Amy and her co-pilot became the first to fly from London to Moscow in one day. The flight took 21 hours and was a distance of 1,760 miles. In 1932 Amy married Jim Mollison who she had known for only 8 hours. They flew east to west across the Atlantic and crash-landed in a field. They both needed a stay in hospital. In 1927 Amy was given an American tickertape reception as an international celebrity. Amy joined the ATA at the beginning of the war and was based at Hatfield. On her final flight she took off from Blackpool in very bad weather that became increasingly worse, but she pressed on trying to find Hatfield but went too far south and strayed over the mouth of the Thames where she bailed out. A parachute was seen to appear beneath the clouds, and landed in the freezing water. Safety was just minutes away but she drowned. Questions were asked and rumours abounded even as to whether she had been shot down, but no explanation has been found.

Leslie was one of the biggest box office draws and movie idols of the 1930s. He was seen as the archetypal English man with perfect English speech and behaviour, but he was not actually British. Lesley Howard Steiner was born on 3rd April 1893 at Forest Hill in London. He became an actor, producer, director and writer of many articles and stories for the New York Times. He won many awards as a Hollywood actor, playing roles in many films among his most famous were “Gone with the Wind” and “The Scarlet Pimpernel” with Merle Oberon. Leslie was a backer and mentor of Dirk Bogard, and worked with Norma Shearer, Vivienne Lee and Ingrid Bergman. He was Britain’s most romantic star. Leslie returned from a glittering Hollywood career at the start of the war. His activities then included propaganda films which infuriated the Nazi leadership. It was rumoured he was involved with British or Allied Intelligence. Leslie’s final film was “Story of a Spitfire” with David Niven.  In May 1943, Leslie boarded BOAC flight 707 to Portugal from Bristol. Strangely, a priest was told not to take that flight. All was normal at first, then it was reported that it was being followed. Suddenly it was attacked and the fuel tanks exploded over the Bay of Biscay. It was an unarmed civilian flight that caused worldwide condemnation. German agents said it had been shot down in error. There was speculation that VIP passengers were being targeted and that Winston Churchill was on board, also that Leslie was a propagandist. He died on June 1st 1943, aged 50 years. An embargo on releasing the file lasts until 2028.

Tony was thanked for his most interesting stories.

On March 3rd John Pearson’s talk is “Cheese is Milk’s Leap Toward Immortality”. Includes tasting. All welcome.