17 October 2019
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Their legacy lives on

Postbox, postmark and online gallery mark the centenary of the first transatlantic airmail flight

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Royal Mail is launching a commemorative postbox, special postmark and online gallery to mark the centenary of the first transatlantic airmail flight.

The commemorative postbox is being unveiled on Harlington High Street, close to Heathrow Airport, the home of our Heathrow Worldwide Distribution Centre. The postmark appeared on all stamped mail on Friday 14 and Saturday 15 June.

We have also published an online gallery marking the event, which can be found by clicking here.

On 14 June 1919, pioneering aviators Captain John Alcock and Lieutenant Arthur Whitten-Brown completed the first non-stop flight across the Atlantic, carrying with them hundreds of letters in a mail bag, the first transatlantic mail.

The aviators took off from Newfoundland, the nearest point — in transatlantic terms — to the British Isles, at around 1.45pm. But the flight to Ireland was beset with challenges including mechanical failures, heavy snow and blinding fog.

The flyers wore electrically heated clothing, overalls, fur gloves and fur-lined helmets, but the battery failed soon into the journey. The team crash landed near Clifden in County Galway at 8:40am on 15 June 1919, after 16 hours' flying time.

When incredulous locals were unable to believe that the pair had flown across the Atlantic in less than a day, Alcock handed them the sealed bag of mail as proof, all of it stamped in St John’s, Newfoundland the day before. News of their success quickly spread.

Back in 1913, Lord Northcliffe, the aviation-loving owner of the Daily Mail, offered a prize of £10,000 - £1 million in today’s money - to ‘the aviator who shall first cross the Atlantic in an aeroplane in flight from any point in the United States of America, Canada or Newfoundland to any point in Great Britain or Ireland in 72 continuous hours’.

Alcock and Brown were feted as heroes on completion of their flight and were presented with the £10,000 reward by the then Secretary of State for Air, Winston Churchill, who in his speech, hailed their ‘audacity, courage, and physical qualities of the old heroic bygone times.’ The two aviators were also awarded the honour of Knight Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (KBE) by King George V at Windsor Castle.

In 1969 Royal Mail produced stamps to immortalise Alcock and Brown.

David Gold, director of public affairs & policy, said; ‘Royal Mail is proud to pay tribute to the first transatlantic airmail flight. The bravery of Alcock and Brown in pushing these boundaries will never be forgotten, and their legacy lives on in today’s postal service.’