ALCOCK, John & BROWN, Arthur Whitten, letters, autographs, documents, manuscripts

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ALCOCK, John & BROWN, Arthur Whitten (1892-1919 & 1886-1948). Airmen. First to fly the Atlantic non-stop in 1919.
Menu for a Banquet held at the Savoy Hotel, signed in pencil by Alcock and in faint blue ink by Brown. 23 June 1919. An attractive menu card for a Royal Aero Club Banquet celebrating the first non-stop trans-Atlantic flight completed by the aviators on 15 June 1919.

In 1913 the proprietor of the Daily Mail, Lord Northcliffe, in an effort to promote aviation, had offered a prize of £10,000 to the first person to cross the Atlantic within 72 continuous hours. The competition was suspended during the First World War, but the offer was renewed in July 1918 and once hostilities ended in November, several manufacturers made plans to enter their aircraft. Alcock had first become interested in flying at the age of 17 and was a regular competitor in aircraft competitions before the outbreak of war. As a military pilot he earned the Distinguished Service Cross for a brave and skilful attack on three German seaplanes, and was later taken prisoner in Turkey after his Handley Page bomber failed over the Gulf of Xeros. While he was imprisoned, he resolved to make an attempt to fly the Atlantic, and after demobilisation approached the Vickers firm at Weybridge to volunteer to fly their Vimy bomber. Shortly afterwards, Arthur Whitten Brown was taken on for his experience as a long-distance navigator, having approached Vickers seeking a post during a period of unemployment.

Publicity and competition intensified in the race to get ready first; in May 1919 a United States flying-boat made the first crossing of the Atlantic in 11 days, but with an interval between each leg. An attempt at the non-stop crossing by Harry Hawker and Kenneth Mackenzie-Grieve ended when their Sopwith Atlantic ditched into the sea 500 miles off the Irish coast after their plane's engine overheated. Several teams had assembled at Newfoundland in June 1919, and the Vimy pairing of Alcock and Brown took off on the 14th, completing the flight in 16 hours 27 minutes when they landed in a bog at Clifden, Galway at 08.40 GMT the following day. Navigation was particularly challenging during the flight with infrequent radio contact, heavy cloud coverage and the instrument gauges almost continually frozen.

The aviators were treated as heroes on the completion of their flight, and at the Savoy hotel on 20 June, Winston Churchill presented them with their prize. Northcliffe, unable through illness to attend the presentation, sent a message to Alcock:
'Your journey with your companion Whitten Brown is a typical example of British courage and organizing efficiency.'
On 21 June Alcock and Brown were received by George V at Windsor Castle and knighted for their feat. This menu card is for a second celebration dinner held at the Savoy Hotel on 23 June, hosted by the Royal Aero Club. It is a rare signed item and the seven-course menu contains references to the team of men and machines who had accomplished this record.

Sir John William Alcock (1892-1919) was to be killed in a crash-landing whilst flying solo on 18 December 1919. Sir Arthur Whitten Brown (1886-1948) never flew again after Alcocks's death, and Oxford DBN records that 'in the post-war years few noted the lonely figure who returned annually to view the Vimy, which was preserved in the Science Museum, Kensington, to muse under its wings on the anniversary of the epic flight.'
[No: 26419]


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