26-year-old Amy writes to her mother on the eve of her solo flight to Australia
4th May 1930
I fly to Australia tomorrow. I can’t quite believe those words even as I write them. So many months of planning, so many years of waiting and then suddenly I am to be the first woman to fly solo to Australia! There is no question of whether I shall achieve or not. You do know that, don’t you? I’ll get there, no matter what and I’ll give it my best shot at beating Hinkler’s record. I’ve even been secretly thinking of flying home again after getting Australia. Jack’s been encouraging me. That would be a record indeed – England – Australia – England!
Of course people don’t think I’ll do it. At first everyone was very interested – you should have seen it, the reporters turning up every day at the aerodrome, baying for interviews and photos! Jack said I should make the most of it – that’s the kind of publicity money can’t buy, he said. So I did their interviews and smiled for their photos. But all they wanted to know was the colour of my flying suit! As if that was important! (Though green is my lucky colour.) When I approached them for sponsorship, they all scurried away. It reminded me of when I took a cricket ball full in the face at school, do you remember? I was one of the boys until that moment. Then they laughed. They laughed at my bleeding mouth and my broken teeth and jeered and teased. I put on a brave face but I never forgot it. Celebrity is like that – it hangs on a thread, liable to snap at any moment. Fame is just as fickle as friendship. They will try to make me yesterday’s news but I won’t let them. I shall be today’s news – and tomorrow’s and tomorrow’s and tomorrow’s!
When I think about it, all this started for very strange reasons, really. Now I feel quite passionate about the equality of the sexes – or at least proving a woman can be as courageous and adventurous as a man. But the truth is it started quite selfishly. I needed a distraction from work, from Hans. If I tell you something, you must promise not to get upset. Do you promise? It’s like this. When Hans told me he was married, I felt desperate, and I think that was the thing that made me decide I must learn to fly. Not simply to get away but so I might crash the plane and end everything, without hurting you and daddy too badly. You mustn’t be upset at me telling you this. I feel entirely differently now – I am quite determined to survive. But there is something about the excitement, the anticipation, the nerves the night before a big adventure that makes you want to be honest. I know I haven’t been the best daughter but I love you. I am grateful for everything you and daddy have done to help me, very grateful.
I don’t want you to worry. I have taken every precaution. Lots of folk at the flying club have mocked me for it – “you’re taking a PARACHUTE?!” They see it as chicken but it’s quite different. I’m not scared, but “Be careful” shall always be my motto. I’ve even had the boys at Stag Lane teach me ju-jitsu, just in case I get into trouble abroad and need to defend myself. I shall be taking risks, but they will be calculated risks with precautions in place if it goes wrong. What people don’t seem to understand is I don’t want to die. I want to do this but I want to come home afterwards. I want to see the look on their faces when they see a woman can do anything she sets her mind on. Even my little plane’s registration plate reads “G-AAAH” as though it were gritting its teeth in determination with me.
I have wondered if I’ll really be able to make my mark on aviation. Sometimes I am certain that it is possible and other times it feels so unreal, so impossible that I’m certain it must be a daydream and I shouldn’t be so foolish to try. The truth is it scares me, a little. Not the doing of it but the thought of failure. Not of dying, but of crashing and being only remembered as the girl who flew too close to the sun. The girl who never was very good at landings. But I realise that whenever I have been scared of something before – really scared – I’ve always run away. Work, Hans, Hull – whenever things get difficult I bolt. Not anymore. Not with this. I won’t let this go wrong. I won’t let myself run away from flying. It means too much.
For a while now I have gone by the name Johnnie. It seemed to fit better than any other name ever had, my new identity, a woman in man’s disguise. But now I see things clearly. I am Amy Johnson. I must always be Amy Johnson, the girl from Hull who borrowed and begged and clawed to be here. I shall fly in my name, proudly – in my family name, for my family who have been there every step of the way.
I want to show the world that no matter where you’re from, no matter who you are, you can do something wonderful. You can go beyond what life gives you and seek more. That is what I have done, all these years, and I shan’t stop now. I have a notion, crazy as it might sound, that my little Moth Jason and I might one day conquer the world. I will always be Yorkshire, and I will always be yours. And I will always be up there, floating in the air, soaring up, up and up, to dive above the clouds into that bright, sunshiny heaven where no one can find me and I am simply myself. A pilot, forever, and free.
With all my love,