By Jesse Robitaille
This is the first story in a two-part series reviewing the 100th-anniversary re-enactment flight of the world’s first transatlantic flight in June 1919.
With this June marking the 100th anniversary of the first transatlantic flight, the Canadian Aerophilatelic Society (CAS) worked alongside other philatelic groups in Newfoundland and Ireland to commemorate the centennial.
With the aviation industry burgeoning, in June 1919, British pilots Captain John Alcock and Lieutenant Arthur Brown successfully completed the world’s first non-stop transatlantic flight. The duo flew a modified First World War-era Vickers Vimy bomber more than 3,000 kilometres from St. John’s, Nfld., to Clifden in County Galway, Ireland.
“It was a very quick trip for me,” said CAS member Dave Bartlet, who along with CAS past president Chris Hargreaves co-ordinated a 100th-anniversary re-enactment flight, complete with airmail souvenirs marking the milestone.
“In four nights, I had a red-eye flight on Wednesday, a night in a hotel in St. John’s on Thursday, another red-eye flight to Dublin, where I spent another night in a hotel on Friday, and then a flight back on Saturday. It was not a pleasure trip.”
Although he managed to make fun out of the philatelic endeavour, Bartlet said the anniversary was “worthy of commemoration, so we did what we needed to do to make sure it was commemorated.”
“I consider myself a dedicated philatelist, so while it was tiring and a lot of work, I had no regrets and I did enjoy myself.”
The recent re-enactment follows in the footsteps of last year’s CAS-initiated celebrations for Canada’s first official airmail flight by Brian Peck in June 1918 and western Canada’s first airmail flight by Katherine Stinson the following month.
“We knew there was another big one coming up this year – the 100th anniversary of the first transatlantic flight – and within the CAS, it was discussed whether we should do anything.”
While a £10,000 prize – equivalent to about $650,000 in today’s money after accounting for inflation and currency devaluation throughout the last 100 years – was offered in 1913 for the first flight across the Atlantic Ocean, there were no attempts before the outbreak of the First World War.
Following the war’s end in 1918, Lord Northcliffe, the owner of the British Daily Mail newspaper, again offered a £10,000 prize. This time, however, the technological advances made during the war allowed several aircraft manufacturers to compete for the prize.
After several failed attempts by other pilots, Alcock and Brown crossed the Irish Coast after flying for 16 hours and landed in Derrygilmlagh Bog, near Clifden, Ireland.
Bartlet and Hargreaves, who’s also editor of the quarterly CAS journal, The Canadian Aerophilatelist, began planning this February to determine a plan and budget its costs.
“Because you’re going overseas, there’s a much bigger cost component than doing a local flight,” said Bartlet, who added the CAS allocates money to “special-event flying.”
With their budget approved by the CAS in late February, Bartlet and Hargreaves began hammering down the details of their plan.
Similar to the Peck flight anniversary, they decided on a postcard. Designed by Hargreaves and based on his previous designs, the card features a cachet on the left side with a blank space for writing or to affix stamps on the opposite side.
“The card has a picture of a plane taking off, so for the stamp, I elected to make it a philatelic picture, of the mailbag being handed off to the plane,” he said, adding he used the $2.65 rate “because that was the actual airmail rate of the current day,” he said, adding “a few” of the customized stamps were also printed in the Permanent rate.
In addition to about 30 booklets of $2.65 stamps and eight booklets of Permanent stamps, Bartlet also designed and ordered about 20 other booklets of $2.65 stamps for a separate souvenir cover, this commemorating WestJet, his employer and the airline handling the flight.
Fellow collector Peter Lepold, publicity chair of the Kelowna and District Stamp Club, also produced about 100 covers, which were also mailed.
“Through the hierarchy, I engaged with the pilots that were going to be flying the flights on that specific day and told them we were coming in and wanted to do a little talk,” said Bartlet.
Beginning in March, Hargreaves contacted other philatelic groups, including in Newfoundland in Ireland, for assistance in co-ordinating the logistics of the four-day trip.
He eventually reached Michael Deal, secretary of the St. John’s Philatelic Society, and Brian Warren, president of the Irish Philatelic Society, who agreed to help.
Both groups produced their own covers, including 200 from the Newfoundland society and 20 from the Irish society, while St. John’s artist Grant Boland produced a print of a boy holding an airplane to help with fundraising.
As for the CAS’ cards, they were numbered from one through 196.
“The airplane actually carried 197 pieces of mail, of which 196 were letters and one was a parcel, so that’s why my cards are numbered one through 196,” said Bartlet, who added any cover carried by him on this June’s flight received a red handstamp.
“If it doesn’t have a red handstamp, it didn’t go to Ireland.”
The final story will highlight the transatlantic re-enactment flights, which brought Canadian Aerophilatelic Society member David Bartlet along the same path as pilots John Alcock and Lieutenant Arthur Brown, from Newfoundland to Ireland.