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Second-hand News, or Amy & Jason and Geoffrey & Angela… and Osbert.

October 13, 2016

 

Another wonderful guest post from Martyn Barber:

I don’t know about anyone else, but I seem to spend a lot of time tracking down out-of-print books, which often means exploring the vague possibility that a book containing something essential might once have been published somehow by someone somewhere at some time. Did anyone who learned the subtle arts of bomb-dropping at Stonehenge Aerodrome write an account of their time there? Is there a report of any of the séances attended in the early 1870s by Colonel Lane Fox? Who among those who saw out the First World War as a PoW at Holzminden alongside OGS Crawford wrote memoirs covering their time in the camp?

An essential part of the search for out-of-print books is the art of browsing in second-hand bookshops. Obviously, this tends to be a less focused form of searching – the perceived need for a particular book provides the excuse to examine the entire stock (with some exceptions – romantic fiction, for example, or books about the Romans). Typically, the result is the purchase of a tome or two not strictly relevant to current research interests, but you just never know what may be lurking concealed within the covers, or when it may turn out to be useful. That’s how I justify it, anyway.

A constant disappointment for me is that none of the second-hand books that I’ve bought, sometimes spending several pounds on them, has previously been owned by anyone of note. Usually I’m lucky if I can read their signature, let alone track them down. Obviously there may be people reading this who will be excited to hear that my copy of James Neil’s Pictured Palestine (the 3rd edition of 1903, of course) bears the signature of Marcus Adams (which may well explain the £2 asking price), but whenever I’ve mentioned it (which isn’t often), the response has always been the same.

A few years ago, while visiting the annual RAF Air Tattoo at Fairford (the children’s idea, not mine), I found a second-hand book stall. In the bargain box was a copy of PE Butcher’s 1971 memoir Skill and Devotion (Butcher had trained during WW1 at Stonehenge Aerodrome), and a privately-published paperback called A Sound in the Sky: The Reminiscences of Geoffrey Alington. Who? Exactly – the man who flew OGS Crawford around in the late 1930s, mainly in his De Havilland Puss Moth known as Angela. There is a famous photograph of Crawford with Angela, luggage and a few bottles of wine piled up in front of them, Angela’s registration letters G-AAZV clearly visible – the photograph was used as the cover image of Kitty Hauser’s 2008 biography of Crawford, Bloody Old Britain. It contrasts nicely with the often-used image of Crawford with his bicycle, its baskets overflowing with Ordnance Survey maps.

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The cover of Alington’s reminiscences, written c1983 but not published until 1994, seven years after he died. The photographs shows him circa 1939, in front of a Sparrowhawk which he named ‘Angela III’.

Alington and Crawford first met on Cyprus in August 1937. Alington ran a company called ‘Air Touring’, based at Gatwick and offering small light aircraft for private charter, with a friend called Edward ‘Bunny’ Spratt. Spratt asked Alington if he would take Crawford as a passenger on his return flight from Cyprus to England. Alington’s previous passenger had been Unity Mitford – an acquaintance had asked him to spend a couple of weeks flying her around Europe, wherever she wanted to go, in an attempt to curry favour with Adolf Hitler, having previously been frustrated in his business aims by the self-styled King of Lundy (it all seems quite plausible until you try and summarise it). Alington seems never to have known who she was – Unity was introduced to him only as ‘Bobo’.

Unusually for Crawford, he seems to have got on well with Alington, providing us as a result with a rare insight into Crawford’s domestic circumstances – “Ogs…very kindly put me up for the night in his wee cottage, which was littered with pieces of ancient pottery, flint arrow heads, flints, coins, and the whole house was quite obviously stored with his archaeological finds on the deep litter system. How he ever found a wanted piece remains a total mystery. That evening, after dinner, sitting round his fire in his small sitting room, talking with Ogs, the great expert, about ancient Egypt, while the flames of the fire flickered on the grinning skulls on his tables, was quite an eerie experience”.

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The aforementioned cover of Kitty Hauser’s biography of Crawford, available from all good real and virtual bookshops.

Soon after, with business booming, Spratt and Alington decided it was time to expand their (small) fleet of aircraft: “As there were more and more people wanting to hire aircraft to fly themselves in I invested in another aircraft, a Puss Moth, G-AAZV. She had, painted on her nose cowling, the name Angela, and this truly described the aeroplane. She really was an angel, for she had a wonderfully smooth engine, a De Havilland Gipsy III of 120 h.p. and was fitted with a metal propeller. She was quiet and comfortable, cruising at 105 m.p.h. and having a range of over 600 miles”.

Alington and Crawford’s principal adventures with Angela were a lengthy flight around southern and central Europe in the late summer of 1938, mainly to record sites for Crawford’s planned map of the Roman Empire, and another around Scotland the following summer, an account of which was published in Antiquity (vol 13, no 51, Sept 1939, 280-292). Both Crawford and Alington wrote lengthy accounts of these flights for their autobiographies, offering an excellent opportunity to compare their differing recollections of events as written in 1955 and 1983 respectively[i]. But not right now.

After the tour of Scotland was over, Angela was due for renewal of her Certificate of Airworthiness. Rather than spend a month or so short of an aircraft, Alington sold her to a friend, John Coxon, who was also based at Gatwick. Like most private aircraft, Angela subsequently found herself requisitioned for war service – she joined the WAAF in April 1940. She is reported to have been scrapped at Kemble, Gloucestershire in April 1944.

Until reading Alington’s reminiscences, it hadn’t occurred to me that planes, like books, might be pre-owned, and that those previous owners might themselves be interesting characters. Alington recalled that “It was not until a long time after I had sold [Angela] that I found she had been given to Amy Johnson as a present after her England to Australia solo flight, and that she had flown to Japan in her”. It’s entirely possible that Crawford never knew, which would be a shame – for a start, he’d probably have been amused to know that Angela had been to Moscow in 1932 just a couple of months after his own journey there.

Amy Johnson’s most famous flight, from London to Port Darwin, Australia, had occurred in 1931, leaving Croydon in her De Havilland Gipsy Moth Jason[ii] on 5th May and arriving in Australia 19 days later. On her return she was gifted a brand new Puss Moth by De Havilland – there’s nothing like launching a new product by making a high-profile gift of one to someone currently all over the newspapers[iii]. The Puss Moth was designed specifically for the growing interest in private flying, offering an enclosed cabin with seating for 3, including the pilot, as well as a single wing placed above rather than below the fuselage, providing better visibility all round and, of course, of the ground below. Amy duly christened her new Puss Moth Jason II, their best known flight together occurring the following July when they set out with co-pilot Jack Humphreys en route to Tokyo via Moscow, completing the journey in about 9 days, or 79 hours of actual flying time. This record-breaking flight received very little coverage at the time, but a clip of their arrival in Japan can be seen here, with Jason II appearing around the 5.56 mark, followed by Amy’s greeting from the remarkably whiskered General Nagaoka, President of Japan’s Imperial Aviation Society[iv].

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Amy Johnson and Jack Humphreys relaxing after their arrival in Tokyo (source: Wikimedia Commons).

How Jason II became Angela isn’t entirely clear. According to the Golden Years of Aviation website, he was bought by Leicestershire Aero Club (the sale is also briefly noted in Flight magazine’s 20th May 1934 issue) before being sold to a WT Young, based at Brooklands in Surrey. Alington appears to have acquired her from Young. So – either the Leicestershire Aero Club or WT Young were responsible for the change of name and gender. It seems odd that either of them would want to play down the connection with Amy Johnson, but then we don’t know who Angela was.

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Angela Jason II, as available from all good online retailers.

Because of the Amy Johnson connection, Puss Moth G-AAZV hasn’t entirely disappeared from view. Unusually for a historical piece of archaeological equipment, it is possible to buy a collector’s edition 1:72 scale model, although obviously it is being sold solely on the basis of that Amy Johnson connection – there is no mention of OGS Crawford or Roman Scotland anywhere within the manufacturer’s publicity material (or indeed the Leicestershire Aero Club). And you’ll need a very steady hand to paint out the name Jason II and replace it with Angela.

[i] Curiously, neither Crawford nor Alington mentioned the presence in Angela’s cabin of the young J K St Joseph for two days of the Scottish trip.

[ii] I used to assume there was some connection between the name of Amy’s plane and the adventurous character from Greek mythology. I know better now. The name is a reference to the family fish business in Hull. In her very-much-of-its-time biography Amy Johnson, Constance Babington Smith quoted Johnson as saying “Jason isn’t half getting talked of already, but I don’t think anyone connects it with kippers”. And yes, that is the same Constance Babington Smith who served as an air-photo interpreter in World War II along with Glyn Daniel and others, and who wrote Evidence in Camera.

[iii] The Prince of Wales was another fairly high profile individual whose early acquisition of a Puss Moth made the news. De Haviland were also far from being the only organisation to try and capitalise on Amy Johnson’s celebrity status. For instance, in the July 14th 1931 issue of The Times, in what would these days be called an ‘advertorial’ (or worse) produced by Selfridges and entitled “Only achievement can create reputation”, it was claimed that “Miss Amy Johnson’s flight to Australia did more than a million pamphlets to widen women’s sphere”. With hindsight, another example – “The Italian emigrant is more highly esteemed because of the achievements of Mussolini” – might seem ill-advised.

[iv] According to Constance Babington Smith, the General’s whiskers “were claimed to be the longest and whitest in the world”.

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