6. A Man’s World

26-year-old Amy writes her friend Gwyneth from Maida Vale

10th July 1929

Dear Gwyneth,

Sorry I haven’t written in so long – you won’t believe everything that’s been happening here! It has happened at last – I have passed my pilot’s A certificate! That means I am qualified to fly all types of flying machine. I can’t believe it. It has been so long coming, what with all the delays to my training (money has been a bit tight) and the weather has not been on my side – fog in April and May for heaven’s sake, and now we’re in the middle of a heatwave! (The city is so exhausting in the heat, I really can’t describe it.) Finally, finally – I flew solo for the first time last month. It was like nothing I’ve ever known. It’s nothing like those dreadful five bob flips people rave about it. It’s real – just you and the controls and endless skies beckoning you to play. I can’t get enough. I took two weeks’ holiday from work so I could dedicate some real time in the air and it paid off! I’ll go for my B certificate next – that lets you take passengers up with you. You’ll have to come for a ride! I’m determined to get mother to come up with me – that’ll show her flying’s not such a dead end drive!

I’ve started working in the hangars now, as a sort of engineer apprentice. The idea came into my head when I was doing up the engine of my new Morris Oxford (yes – I bought a car! Naughty really when I must save as much as I can for flying, but I have to get around somehow and I’m quite fed up of buses). Of course it’s quite out of the ordinary for a woman to get their hands dirty but lucky for me, Major Travers (who’s in charge here) said he didn’t have a problem with it if the chief engineer didn’t. Well the chief engineer is Jack Humphreys and we’ve been on good terms since I snuck into the aerodrome weeks ago to look closer at the engines and he was ever such a darling about answering all my questions. So obviously, he didn’t mind a bit. His chief assistant on the other hand – he made a right to do about a woman “on the floor”. I determined then and there I would show him and I believe I have. It’s been hard work – the hardest of my life. I am black and blue from head to toe, never mind the cuts and blisters and oil stains. But I am happy. The other lads have accepted me now – even Eric saw I’m a hard worker and that shut him up. They call me “Johnnie” like I really am one of them! You know I’ve always thought Amy a dull sort of name – the nasty girls in romance novels and films are always called Amy – so now I can be rid of it. (They call me the Platinum Blonde too, as I’ve dyed my hair – but I prefer John!)

All this has made me think about the difference between men and women much more than I ever used to. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong in admitting men and women are different. After all, two men (if they’re decent sorts) admit they have differing skills. If one engineer isn’t strong enough to do something on his own, he simply fetches a bigger man to do it for him, quite unashamedly. Men and women should be like that, shouldn’t they? After all, we’re all doing the same thing, just trying to be the best we can be. I don’t have time for all this competitiveness or making girls feel lesser than they are. Do you remember that time at school when the headmaster wouldn’t let the girls have a swimming club and I made daddy hire Bev Road Baths so we might form our own? I feel like that now. Quite determined that no one should stop me from doing what I want to do, especially not because I am woman.

People are always surprised when I tell them women have been making their way in flying already. I’ve been working as an assistant to the secretary of the Flying League whilst learning – just a voluntary post so I might learn as much about flying as possible. I read all about Lady Bailey and Lady Heath and their solo flights around the world. Lady Heath was a ground engineer and I have decided I am going to qualify. I don’t want to work in a dull office anymore. I want to be here, covered in oil and grease, all day long! I will be the second lady ground engineer in the world, after Lady Heath. I should like to be the first ordinary girl – not a lady at all – to make my mark on the world. On aviation.

Captain Baker told me I’d have to earn my spurs if I want to fly. When I asked him what he meant, he grinned and said I’d have to fly solo to Australia or something. Australia! I told him straight that’s already been done (as if he didn’t know). Bert Hinkler set the record last year – just fifteen days and a half days. Baker pointed out, a woman hasn’t done it. But is that enough? There’s no point doing something just for the sake of it, just because you’re a woman. No, if I wanted to do it, I’d have to beat Hinkler’s record. Can you imagine?! A record-breaking aviatrix! I like the sound of that. What do you think? I bet you never expected this of your odd little tomboy friend from Boulevard School!

Yours,

“Johnnie”

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