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Alcock and Brown walking tour takes off Friday

Jeb Butt, who majored in history at St. Michaels, wears a hat of the same type that Alcock and Brown wore during their transatlantic flight, when he gave a preview Tuesday of a tour he co-leads with Michael Boyle.
Jeb Butt, who majored in history at St. Michaels, wears a hat of the same type that Alcock and Brown wore during their transatlantic flight, when he gave a preview Tuesday of a tour he co-leads with Michael Boyle. - Jasmine Burt

Will highlight Newfoundland’s contribution to first transatlantic flight

ST. JOHN'S, N.L. —

Charles Lester’s field was the last piece of land the wheels of a Vickers Vimy plane touched before it took off on the first non-stop flight across the Atlantic Ocean.

The flight took off from the field in St. John’s on June 14, 1919 and landed in Clifden, Connemara, County Galway, Ireland, 16 hours and 12 minutes later. Piloting the plane were British aviators Capt. John Alcock and Lt. Arthur Whitten Brown.

This Friday marks the 100th anniversary of the historic flight, and there are two tour guides in St. John’s who say they want you to be a part of the “recreation of one of mankind’s most thrilling adventures.”

Jed Butt and Michael Boyle are the brains of “Walking on Air,” the historical tour of Lester’s Field and surrounding areas that have meaning to the flight that took off from Newfoundland soil.
They thought of the idea over coffee last fall.

A plaque to mark the 50th anniversary of the Alcock and Brown flight was unveiled on June 14, 1969 in St. John’s by then-premier Joey Smallwood.
A plaque to mark the 50th anniversary of the Alcock and Brown flight was unveiled on June 14, 1969 in St. John’s by then-premier Joey Smallwood.

“We said we haven’t heard about Alcock and Brown. Every historian knows it’s the 100-year anniversary,” said Jeb Butt, a history major. “Let’s get together and see what we can do.”

The walking tour will begin and finish at the Royal Canadian Legion Branch 1, which is located at 57 Blackmarsh Rd. in St. John’s.

Walkers can expect to see the approximate location where the plane took off and hear some stories about the people there when it happened.

Some of those names may ring a bell.

“There was a kid here (where the plane took flight) having a picnic named Harry Simmons.

Harry was here in 1919 and 1969 for the 50th anniversary, same as Joey Smallwood,” Butt said. “At the time the flights took off, Joey Smallwood was a cub reporter for The Evening Telegram.”

The little knowledge of what Newfoundlanders did to assist Alcock and Brown doesn’t fly with Butt and Boyle.

“This is what we are trying to do, get the Newfoundland connection. We want to move into personalities and bring a little bit of humour into it.” Butt said. “If there was an unsung hero in all of this it was Charles Lester.”

Lester was the owner of the pasture that the Vickers Vimy plane used as a takeoff zone, and the plane may not have even left that day if it wasn’t for him, Butt said.

“The plane came over unassembled in 22 crates that Mr. Lester hauled from the wharf down to Quidi Vidi. It was assembled down there.”

Butt and Boyle will share stories on the tour about the flight and the different storms and malfunctions they faced.

“Just picture yourself on a winter’s day, in a convertible on the Trans-Canada Highway going 100 km/h and somebody is in the backseat throwing ice at you,” Butt said about how Alcock and Brown would have felt in an open-cockpit plane facing the elements.

While listening to the guides gab about the history of the flight, keep an ear out for a certain number.

“Thirteen is a number that is going to pop up in our walk four or five times,” Butt said. “It’s significant in a number of ways. I’ll give you the hint that they arrived on May 13.”

Boyle and Butt have already run the tour once.

“Just picture yourself on a winter’s day, in a convertible on the Trans-Canada Highway going 100 km/h and somebody is in the backseat throwing ice at you." — Jeb Butt

“We had two pre-tours. One was two Sundays ago and we had 11 people, which was interesting,” Butt said. “There were 11 people in the walk and two of us guides, so the 13 came up again.”

Tickets for the walk are $30. The first 30 people who register for the anniversary tour will get an Alcock and Brown international stamp that is of legal tender.

The stamps were designed by the St. John’s stamp club specifically for the event.

Michael Boyle, owner of Boyle Tour Guides, says celebrating it this way will include everyone, unlike the Aviator’s Ball.

“We want to bring living history to the streets” Boyle said.

Twitter: @jasmineburtNL


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