Exhibition honours Swansea man who was first to fly the Atlantic – 100 years

Members of the University of Wales Air Squadron at the Alcock and Brown exhibition at Swansea Museum

A Swansea man who flew the first non-stop crossing of the Atlantic a hundred years ago this week is being remembered at an exhibition in the city.

Alcock and Brown before the Atlantic Flight.
Alcock and Brown (right) take refreshment just before take-off. Their Vickers Vimy aircraft is in the background.

Arthur Whitten-Brown and John Alcock, both RAF flyers, took off to fly the 1880 miles across the Atlantic Ocean on 14 June 1919.

Alcock and Brown depart from Newfoundland at the start of their epic flight.
Alcock and Brown depart from Newfoundland at the start of their epic flight.

Their journey also marked the start of the RAF’s role in putting the UK at the forefront of long-distance flying which continues today with its long-range aircraft supporting operations and humanitarian relief across the globe.

The free exhibition at Swansea Museum in Victoria Road, open throughout the summer, will tell the story of that daredevil flight and how it paved the way for the transatlantic air travel we take for granted today.

Today’s official opening of the exhibition took place on the exact centenary of Alcock and Brown’s epic flight and was attended by local dignitaries, senior RAF officers and students from local schools and colleges.

Flying in a converted First World War Vickers Vimy bomber made of wood and fabric, they took off from Newfoundland off the Canadian coast.

Their perilous flight saw them fly as low as 500 feet over the Atlantic and battle sleet and hailstorms in their open cockpit. All they had to navigate their way was a sextant, a map and the stars.

The noise from the engines and wind in the open cockpit was so loud that Alcock and Brown could only communicate by passing written notes.

Brown had to crawl out of their open cockpit and clear a fuel pump which had become blocked.

After 16 hours they finally reached the West coast of Ireland where their aircraft landed in a bog.

Alcock and Brown arriving at Windsor for their Investiture.
Alcock (right) and Brown (centre) arrive in London after their flight.

Welcomed back as heroes, they were both knighted within days of their return.

Portrait of Brown taken in 1919.
Portrait of Brown taken in 1919.

Although not a native of Swansea, Brown went to live in the city after leaving the RAF.

In the 1930s, Brown became a prominent local figure, receiving invitations to speak, and frequently writing columns for The Western Mail.

Sir Arthur re-joined the RAF in July 1941, serving in the training branch and instructed pilots in navigation.

In that year he also became the first Commanding Officer of Number 215 (City of Swansea) Squadron, Air Training Corps which remains a thriving and successful squadron today.

His son followed his father’s footsteps and joined the RAF and flew Mosquito fighter-bombers. He was sadly lost on a mission on D-Day 75 years ago.

Personnel from No 614 (County of Glamorgan) Squadron at the Alcock and Brown exhibition at Swansea Museum
Personnel from No 614 (County of Glamorgan) Squadron at the Alcock and Brown exhibition at Swansea Museum

As well as the exhibition, a commemoration of Alcock and Brown’s flight will take place on Sunday 7 July as part of the Swansea Airshow which will see present-day members of the squadron taking part.

Pictured left to right: Howard Mason of BAE Systems, Air Commodore Adrian Williams Air Officer Wales, Lord Lieutenant D. Byron Lewis looking at the model Vickers Vimy at the Alcock and Brown Centenary Exhibition in Swansea Museum
Pictured left to right: Howard Mason of BAE Systems, Air Commodore Adrian Williams Air Officer Wales, Lord Lieutenant D. Byron Lewis looking at the model Vickers Vimy at the Alcock and Brown Centenary Exhibition in Swansea Museum

The RAF’s senior airman in Wales, Air Commodore Dai Williams, said at today’s opening:

“The RAF are honoured to establish this special historical exhibition at the Swansea Museum to celebrate the remarkable achievements of RAF Officers Sir John Alcock and Sir Arthur Whitten Brown one hundred years ago.

“Although now routine, not only did Alcock and Brown complete the first non-stop transatlantic flight, they did so using a very basic aircraft and navigational techniques – one of the greatest ever feats of airmanship.”

Peter Black, Lord Mayor of Swansea, said:

“We are immensely proud of the Swansea connections of Sir Arthur Whitten Brown, the navigator for the historic first non-stop crossing of the Atlantic by air. Apart from being the centenary of that incredible achievement, we are also this year celebrating our 50th anniversary as a city.

“For many years Sir Arthur Whitten Brown was the Swansea representative of Metropolitan-Vickers, an aircraft company that helped build the plane which made that historic crossing. As the first Officer Commanding of 215 (City of Swansea) Squadron Air Training Corps, he helped seal the growing bond between the RAF and Swansea that continues to this day. The squadron motto ‘The Way Ahead’ was coined by him.

“I’m delighted this year’s Wales Airshow will be commemorating Sir Arthur’s unique achievement alongside John Alcock which will help maintain the strong ties between the RAF and our city.”

The nephew of John Alcock, former RAF officer Group Captain Tony Alcock, said:

“Their flight marked one of the most significant turning points in aviation history, yet they have never received the recognition they deserved. I hope that from these centenary celebrations the general public will better understand what they achieved and the extraordinary conditions they overcame, and they finally get the recognition they deserve.”

Squadron Leader Phil Flower, the current Commanding Officer of Number 215 (City of Swansea) Squadron Air Training Corps, said:

“The Squadron is very proud to have had Sir Arthur Whitten Brown as its First Commanding Officer and the Cadets and Staff have certainly maintained his success by achieving the Best Squadron in Great Britain on four separate occasions, having the Best Four Cadets in the UK, lighting the Diamond Jubilee Beacon for the whole of Wales for Her Majesty The Queen and in 2016, the ultimate honour of being afforded the Freedom of the City and County of Swansea. I am sure he would have been as proud of the Cadets and Staff today as they are of his historical achievement.”

Air cadet Caitlin Ann Rees of No 215 (City of Swansea) RAFAC Sqn with fellow pupils of Gowerton Comprehensive School looking at the model Vickers Vimy at the Alcock and Brown Centenary Exhibition in Swansea Museum.

Caitlin Ann Rees, 16 from Swansea has been a cadet with Number 215 (City of Swansea) Squadron RAF Air Cadets for over three years. The Gowerton Comprehensive School pupils said:

“I want to pay respect to people like Whitten Brown because what they did was an amazing part of history. Our squadron is having a big meal tomorrow celebrating Whitten Brown and the Air Commodore of the Air Cadets is coming so this is a big event for us.”

Air Commodore Dai Williams added,

“In crossing the Atlantic, Alcock and Brown at a stroke also made the world a smaller place. The RAF’s Historical Exhibition in the Swansea Museum re tells the remarkable story of Alcock and Brown. It’s a story that remains an inspiration to the RAF today and our current generation of aircrew in the missions RAF aircraft carry out each day across the world.”

In an echo of that first transatlantic flight, a few weeks after performing at the Swansea Airshow, the RAF Aerobatic Team the Red Arrows will cross the Atlantic to perform at airshows in the USA and Canada.

Mae dyn o Abertawe, a oedd wedi hedfan y daith gyntaf ar draws yr Iwerydd heb lanio unwaith gan mlynedd yn ôl i’r wythnos hon, yn cael ei gofio mewn arddangosfa yn y ddinas.

Dechreuodd Arthur Whitten-Brown a John Alcock, awyrenwyr yr Awyrlu Brenhinol, ar eu taith i hedfan y 1880 o filltiroedd ar draws Môr Iwerydd ar 14 Mehefin 1919.

Nododd eu taith hefyd ddechrau rôl yr Awyrlu Brenhinol i sicrhau bod y DU ar y blaen o ran hedfan pellter hir ac mae hyn yn parhau heddiw gyda’i hawyrennau pell-ehedol yn cefnogi ymgyrchoedd a chymorth dyngarol ar draws y byd.

Bydd yr arddangosfa am ddim yn Amgueddfa Abertawe ar Heol Victoria, sydd ar agor trwy’r haf, yn adrodd hanes y daith feiddgar a sut roedd wedi arwain y ffordd ar gyfer y teithiau awyr ar draws yr Iwerydd rydym yn eu cymryd yn ganiataol heddiw.

Roedd gwŷr pwysig lleol, uwch-swyddogion yr Awyrlu Brenhinol a myfyrwyr o ysgolion a cholegau lleol yn bresennol yn agoriad swyddogol yr arddangosfa heddiw.

Gan hedfan mewn awyren fomio addasedig sef Vickers Vimy o’r Rhyfel Byd Cyntaf, a wnaed o bren a deunydd, dechreuon nhw ar eu taith yn Newfoundland oddi ar arfordir Canada.

Yn ystod eu taith beryglus hedfanon nhw mor isel â 500 troedfedd dros yr Iwerydd gan frwydro yn erbyn eirlaw a stormydd cenllysg yn eu sedd peilot agored. Roedd rhaid iddynt lywio eu ffordd drwy ddefnyddio secstant, map a’r sêr yn unig.

Roedd sŵn y peiriannau a’r gwynt yn y sedd peilot agored mor uchel yr unig ffordd y gallai Alcock a Brown gyfathrebu â’i gilydd oedd trwy drosglwyddo nodiadau ysgrifenedig.

Roedd yn rhaid i Brown gropian allan o’u sedd peilot agored a chlirio pwmp tanwydd tagedig.

Ar ôl 16 awr cyrhaeddon nhw arfordir gorllewinol Iwerddon o’r diwedd lle glaniodd eu hawyren mewn cors.

Cawsant eu croesawu yn ôl fel arwyr, a’u hurddo’n farchogion o fewn diwrnodau wedi iddynt ddychwelyd.

Er nad oedd yn frodor o Abertawe, aeth Brown i fyw yn y ddinas ar ôl gadael yr Awyrlu Brenhinol.

Yn y 1930au, daeth Brown yn ffigwr lleol amlwg, gan dderbyn gwahoddiadau i siarad ac ysgrifennai golofnau ar gyfer The Western Mail yn aml.

Ailymunodd Syr Arthur â’r Awyrlu Brenhinol ym mis Gorffennaf 1941, gan wasanaethu yn y gangen hyfforddi lle bu’n hyfforddi peilotiaid i lywio awyrennau.

Yn y flwyddyn honno, daeth yn Brif Swyddog cyntaf Sgwadron Rhif 215 (Dinas Abertawe) y Corfflu Hyfforddiant Awyr sy’n parhau i fod yn sgwadron llwyddiannus a ffyniannus heddiw.

Dilynodd ei fab yn ôl troed ei dad ac ymunodd â’r Awyrlu Brenhinol gan hedfan awyrennau ymladd a bomio Mosquito. Bu farw mewn cyrch yn ystod D-Day 75 o flynyddoedd yn ôl.

Yn ogystal â’r arddangosfa, bydd taith Alcock a Brown yn cael ei chofio ddydd Sul 7 Gorffennaf fel rhan o Sioe Awyr Abertawe a bydd aelodau presennol y sgwadron yn cymryd rhan.

Meddai uwch awyrennwr yr Awyrlu Brenhinol yng Nghymru, Comodor yr Awyrlu Dai Williams, yn yr agoriad heddiw,

“Mae’n anrhydedd i’r Awyrlu Brenhinol sefydlu’r arddangosfa hanesyddol arbennig hon yn Amgueddfa Abertawe i ddathlu campau nodedig Syr John Alcock a Syr Arthur Whitten Brown, Swyddogion yr Awyrlu Brenhinol, gan mlynedd yn ôl.

“Er bod hedfan yn ddi-stop ar draws môr Iwerydd yn fater o arfer erbyn hyn, gwnaeth Alcock a Brown hynny gan ddefnyddio awyren a thechnegau llywio sylfaenol iawn – un o gampau mwyaf awyrenwriaeth.”

Meddai Peter Black, Arglwydd Faer Abertawe,

“Rydym yn falch iawn o gysylltiadau Abertawe â Syr Arthur Whitten Brown, llywiwr y daith gyntaf hanesyddol ddi-stop ar draws yr Iwerydd drwy’r awyr. Yn ogystal â dathlu canmlwyddiant y llwyddiant arbennig hwn, rydym hefyd yn dathlu ein hanner canmlwyddiant fel dinas.

“Am nifer o flynyddoedd Syr Arthur Whitten Brown oedd cynrychiolwr Metropolitan-Vickers yn Abertawe, cwmni awyrennau a oedd wedi helpu i adeiladu’r awyren a gyflawnodd y daith hanesyddol honno. Fel Prif Swyddog cyntaf Sgwadron Rhif 215 (Dinas Abertawe) y Corfflu Hyfforddiant Awyr, helpodd i selio’r berthynas gynyddol rhwng yr Awyrlu Brenhinol ac Abertawe sy’n parhau hyd heddiw. Ef fathodd arwyddair y sgwadron, ‘Y Ffordd Ymlaen’.

“Rwyf wrth fy modd y bydd Sioe Awyr Cymru eleni’n cofio camp unigryw Syr Arthur a John Alcock a fydd yn helpu i gynnal y berthynas gref rhwng yr Awyrlu Brenhinol a’n dinas ni.”

Dywedodd nai John Alcock, cyn-Capten y Grŵp y Awyrlu Brenhinol, Tony Alcock:

“Roedd eu taith yn un o’r mannau troi mwyaf arwyddocaol yn hanes hedfan, ond eto nid ydynt erioed wedi derbyn y gydnabyddiaeth yr oeddent yn ei haeddu. Gobeithiaf y bydd y cyhoedd yn gyffredinol yn deall yn well yr hyn a gyflawnwyd ganddynt a’r amodau anhygoel y gwnaethon nhw eu goresgyn o’r dathliadau canmlwyddiant hyn, ac o’r diwedd maen nhw’n cael y gydnabyddiaeth maen nhw’n ei haeddu.”

Dywedodd Arweinydd y Sgwadron Phil Flower, Prif Swyddog Gweithredol Rhif 215 (Dinas Abertawe) Sgwadron Corfflu Hyfforddiant Awyr:

“Mae’r Sgwadron yn falch iawn o gael Syr Arthur Whitten Brown fel ei Brif Swyddog Cyntaf a’r Cadetiaid a’r Staff yn sicr wedi cynnal ei lwyddiant drwy ennill y Sgwadron Gorau ym Mhrydain Fawr ar bedwar achlysur gwahanol, gan gael y Pedwar Cadetiaid Gorau yn y DU, gan oleuo Goleufa’r Jiwbilî Diemwnt i Gymru gyfan ar gyfer Ei Mawrhydi’r Frenhines ac yn 2016, yr anrhydedd yn y pen draw o gael Rhyddid Dinas a Sir Abertawe. Rwy’n siŵr y byddai wedi bod mor falch o’r Cadetiaid a’r Staff heddiw ag y mae o’i gyflawniad hanesyddol.”

Mae Caitlin Ann Rees, 16 o Abertawe wedi bod yn gadetiaid gyda Sgwadron Awyr RAF Rhif 215 (Dinas Abertawe) ers dros dair blynedd. Dywedodd disgyblion Ysgol Gyfun Tre-gŵyr:

“Rydw i eisiau talu parch at bobl fel Whitten Brown oherwydd bod yr hyn a wnaethant yn rhan anhygoel o hanes. Mae ein sgwadron yn cael pryd mawr yfory yn dathlu Whitten Brown a’r Comodwr Awyr o’r Cadetiaid Awyr yn dod felly mae hwn yn ddigwyddiad mawr i ni.”

Ychwanegodd Dai Williams, Comodor yr Awyrlu,

“Wrth groesi’r Iwerydd, llwyddodd Alcock a Brown hefyd i wneud y byd yn lle llai. Mae Arddangosfa Hanesyddol yr Awyrlu Brenhinol yn Amgueddfa Abertawe yn adrodd hanes nodedig Alcock a Brown. Mae’n stori sy’n parhau i fod yn ysbrydoliaeth i’r Awyrlu Brenhinol a’n cenhedlaeth bresennol o griw awyr yn yr ymgyrchoedd y mae’r Awyrlu Brenhinol yn eu cyflawni bob dydd ar draws y byd.”

Fel adlais o’r ehediad trawsatlantig hwnnw, ychydig wythnosau ar ôl perfformio yn Sioe Awyr Abertawe, bydd Tîm Erobatig y Llu Awyr Brenhinol, y Red Arrows, yn croesi’r Iwerydd i berfformio mewn sioeau awyr yn UDA a Chanada.

Top image: Members of the University of Wales Air Squadron at the Alcock and Brown exhibition at Swansea Museum

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