Friday 25 July 2014

Louis Blériot

25th July 1909 was a big day for my Grandmother.  The town of Dover, where she lived from the age of 2 to 108, was hopping from one foot to the other all through that Summer. The previous October, the Daily Mail had offered a prize of £1000 for the first person to fly across the English Channel in a heavier-than-air aeroplane. Several daring young men in their flying machines lined up (or lounged about throwing shapes and smokin' cigars) between Calais and Sangatte getting ready to have a try.  To put the £1000 prize in perspective, the previous year, old age pensions had been introduced in the United Kingdom at 5/- a week or £13 a year.

On 19th July 1909 Hubert Latham took off from his base at Sangatte but had to ditch in the sea when his engine failed 10km from the English coast. He was picked up by a French destroyer. Amazingly, the plane was salvaged from this first sea-landing. The weather closed in after that, but at 0300hrs on 25th July, Louis Blériot was woken up by his colleague and told that the day was auspicious. As soon as the sun rose (it was already light but the Daily Mail rules stated between sunrise and sunset) at 0441 hrs he took off and landed, hard, 36 minutes later on a bit of meadow near Dover Castle. There was nobody there except Charles Fontaine, the correspondent with Le Matin, who batted him with an enormous tricoleur. It was the first time a plane had flown across La Manche. Vive La France! Vive les aéronaute français!  Later that day, along with the whole town, my Granny scooted up to the cliff-top to rubber-neck at the latest arrival, she would have been 16.  From that small adventure, she lived long enough to see Neil Armstrong make his one small step onto the surface of the Moon.  That's a lot of change in a life time. They later put a heavier than granite memorial down at the spot - it's hideous.

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