Bearsden air pioneer tribute

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A fascinating exhibition about Bearsden’s forgotten air pioneer is on display at Brookwood Library, Bearsden - until the end of March.

James Allan Mollison was born in Pollockshields in Glasgow on April 19, 1905 and moved to Bearsden when his mother remarried Charles Bullmore, a naval officer.

He was educated at Glasgow Academy and he joined the RAF in 1923.

During the thirties Mollison’s dazzling exploits in the air brought him fame and fortune. He flew from Australia to England in 1931 in an open cockpit DH60 Gypsy Moth 2 in eight days 19 hours - pushing himself and his aircraft to the limits of endurance.

He also completed the first trans-Sahara flight from Britain to Cape Town South Africa in four days 17 hours in a De Havilland Puss Moth - again pushing himself to the limit of exhaustion, he overran the landing strip and landed in an adjacent beach where he overturned his aircraft into the sea.

He made the first east-west crossing of the North Atlantic in August 1932. This was another long and dangerous flight against prevailing adverse winds and it took 31 hours 20 minutes.

The same year he married heroine of the air Amy Johnson - who was famous as the first woman to fly solo from England to Australia - and they became known as “The Flying Sweethearts.”

They made the first UK-USA flight together in July 1933 when they ran short of fuel, landed in a swamp in the dark in Connecticut and were slightly injured. Even though their destination had been New York the city gave them a ticker-tape reception and freedom of the city (the second time for Mollison).

The couple were praised by film stars and world leaders, lauded by the press and mobbed by crowds of fans wherever they went.

They were even invited to dine at the White House by President Franklin Roosevelt and the his wife Eleanor.

The couple divorced in 1938 and three years later Amy was killed when an Airspeed Oxford she was delivering from the RAF crashed into the Thames Estuary.

But while the world never lost its admiration for Amy, it largely forgot Jim who died aged 54 in 1959 of pneumonia after years of fast-living and heavy drinking had taken its toll.

Announcing the former air hero’s death, The Milngavie and Bearsden Herald of November 7, 1959 described his short-lived marriage to Amy Johnson as “an erratic tempestuous affair and said that he’d led a “rollicking, buccaneering life” and “burned the candle at both ends.”

But it also paid tribute to him as “the greatest flying hero of his era.”

Jim was awarded an MBE for his contribution to the war effort and while a couple of London streets bear his name there are sadly none that offer him the same recognition in his home town of Bearsden.

Karen Reid at Brookwood Library carried out the research for this exhibition.