From Canada to Clifden: The aviators who trumped Lindbergh

The feats of John Alcock and Arthur Whitten Brown will be celebrated in June 2019

Alcock and Brown: The aircraft takes off for Clifden from Canada on June 14th, 1919. Photo by SPPL/Getty Images

Alcock and Brown: The aircraft takes off for Clifden from Canada on June 14th, 1919. Photo by SPPL/Getty Images

 

If you ask Google to tell you who first flew non-stop across the Atlantic it will most likely throw up the name Charles A Lindbergh.

But, as the poet and author Tony Curtis pointed out at the launch of a festival to be held in honour of the real transatlantic aviation pioneers in Co Galway next year, that is only because James Stewart played Lindbergh in the movie The Spirit of St Louis. “And because he had a better PR team.”

John Alcock and Arthur Whitten Brown had no PR team either before or after they took off from an airstrip in St John’s on the Canadian island of Newfoundland in their Vickers Vimy biplane on June 14th, 1919.

They set off for Europe in miserable weather, chasing not only a place in history but a £10,000 prize the Daily Mail had put on the table for anyone who could fly non-stop across the Atlantic.

Alcock and Brown: The Vicker Vimy bomber aeroplane landed in Clifden, Co Galway. Photo by Topical Press Agency/Getty Images
Alcock and Brown: The Vicker Vimy bomber aeroplane landed in Clifden, Co Galway. Photo by Topical Press Agency/Getty Images
The first transatlantic flight: Pilots Arthur Whitten Brown and John Alcock
The first transatlantic flight: Pilots Arthur Whitten Brown and John Alcock

They did it. Sixteen hours and 28 minutes later the pair landed in a boggy field just outside Clifden and when Alcock disembarked he casually remarked that “Yesterday we were in America.”

The pair claimed their prize but lost their place in popular history once Lindbergh landed close to Paris eight years later.

The Alcock and Brown 100 Festival, which takes place over five days from June 12th, 2019, will celebrate the centenary of what has to be one of the greatest feats in aviation history.

Alcock’s nephew Tony, himself a retired RAF pilot, hopes it will help his great-unclue reclaim his rightful place in the history books.

The highlight will be a full re-enactment of the 1919 landing and the welcome of Alcock and Brown to Clifden.

The landing site at Derrigimlagh south of the town was also the site of Guglielmo Marconi’s wireless station and is now one of the 15 “signature discovery points” along the Wild Atlantic Way.

“We are looking forward to welcoming people from across the country, and from farther afield, to Clifden, to learn more about the remarkable achievement of Alcock and Brown and the extraordinary journey that ended with them crash-landing in a bog in the west of Ireland, ” said the festival’s chairman, Terence O’Toole.