In the small harbour town of Burry Port, 84 years and 6 days ago, Amelia Earhart touched down in a small seaplane called Friendship, and became the first woman to fly across the Atlantic. She was a few days shy of her 31st birthday.
Amelia’s achievement is part of the landscape of my childhood. I remember my mother taking me down Stepney Street, between the harbour and the house where she grew up, to show me the monument that commemorates this flight – an obelisk topped with a small brass plane and inscribed with the words:
in commemoration of Miss Amelia Earhart of Boston, USA, the first woman to fly across the Atlantic Ocean, who, with her companions Wilmur Stultz and Louis Gordon, flew from Trespassey, Newfoundland, to Burry Port in 20hrs 49 minutes in the Seaplane named Friendship on June 18th 1928
At the time, I wondered how something so exciting could possibly have happened in such a small, run-down town (the answer is, of course: by accident). If the flight had made it to Southampton, as planned, I might never have heard of Amelia Earhart except in passing. Local pride plays its part in passing on the tale – but hers is a tale worth telling.
She had only co-piloted the plane that landed in Burry Port; she would not complete her solo transatlantic flight until nearly four years later. But on that day in 1928, Amelia Earhart had succeeded where three other women had died in the attempt. In her words: “women must try to do things as men have tried. When they fail, their failure must be but a challenge to others.”
The young Amelia kept a scrap-book of women who were successful in supposedly ‘male’ pursuits. She referred to her marriage as a partnership “with dual control.” She wrote about the beauty of flying among the stars at night and watching the moon set from the air. She sipped hot chocolate, alone, 8000 feet above the Pacific, to shake off the chill of the altitude. She lived, and blazed a trail for the rest of us to follow.
“The more one does and sees and feels, the more one is able to do, and the more genuine may be one’s appreciation of fundamental things like home, and love, and understanding companionship.”