Jean Batten left for New Zealand from Lympne Aerodrome, near Folkestone, Kent, at 4.20 a.m. on 5 October 1936. Despite the early hour a large media contingent gathered to capture the event; Batten was already famous for her successful solo flights from England to Australia in May 1934, and to the South Atlantic in November 1935.
Journalists reported on her aircraft, a Percival (Vega) Gull low-winged monoplane, and her eagerness to return to her home country. But they also showed a preoccupation with her clothing that had not been apparent when her male counterparts attempted similar journeys:
[Batten] climbed into the cockpit clad in a heavy brown coat and white flying suit, under which she wore a green jumper, which she describes as her lucky colour. She had earlier packed aboard the machine a full wardrobe of frocks and a number of sets of dainty underwear, carefully stowing them away from contact with grease and oil.
Batten had installed two extra petrol tanks in her aircraft. But to reach Australia she still had to land and refuel at numerous locations across Europe, the Middle East and Asia. En route she slept little, flying day and night, and sometimes in very poor weather conditions. She arrived in Darwin in five days 21 hours – 24 hours 19 minutes faster than the previous record-holder, Jimmy Broadbent.
As news of the record hit front pages around the world, Batten continued on her way, arriving in Sydney on 13 October. While she took a welcome rest and waited for the weather over the Tasman to improve, others tried to dissuade her from continuing on to New Zealand. The Tasman had only been crossed a handful of times in single-engined aircraft, and never by a woman. Despite the fears expressed for her safety, Batten decided to proceed. She not only wanted to be the first to link England and New Zealand, but also hoped that her flight would make people realise that aviation wasn't ‘outstanding’, but ‘commonplace and safe’.
She took off from Richmond Aerodrome, Sydney, on 16 October at approximately 6.30 a.m. (NZ time), bravely declaring that no one should look for her if she went down at sea. She may have appeared fearless, but according to Batten she almost ‘lost her nerve’ during this final leg. She had calculated that it would take her nine hours to reach the New Zealand coast. But when she passed this mark without land in sight she became increasingly convinced that she had flown between the North and South islands, and was now heading out into the Pacific. To her relief she finally recognised a rocky island and a few minutes later was over New Plymouth.
Batten was tempted to land there but continued on to her home town of Auckland. She arrived at Mangere Aerodrome at approximately 5 p.m., 10½ hours after leaving Sydney. She was greeted by approximately 6000 people. Among the officials was Mayor Ernest Davis, one of the many who had tried to dissuade her from coming. His speech managed to be both condescending and congratulatory:
Jean you are a very naughty girl, and really I think you want a good spanking for giving us such a terribly anxious time here. We knew you could do it, but we did not want you to run the risk. We glory in what you have done, and we glory in your wonderful and magnificent pluck, dear. We congratulate you from the bottom of our hearts.
Batten then set off on a tour of the country – travelling by car and train, after admitting that she was weary of air travel for the time being. But her weariness was not limited to air travel. She was physically and mentally exhausted by her odyssey, which had taken a total of 11 days 45 minutes. The tour was eventually called off in Christchurch and Batten spent much of November resting at Franz Josef Glacier at the government’s expense. Several months later she made the return flight to England. This was her last long-distance flight.
Image: Jean Batten (DNZB)