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Jean Batten: The Greta Garbo of the Skies


Today’s Google doodle features Jean Batten. Well, who was she? Jean Batten  (1909-1982) was a pioneering female New Zealand aviator and one of the most famous Kiwis of the 20th century. She made the first-ever solo flight from England to New Zealand in 1936 and was glamorous enough to be the subject of a musical called Garbo of the Skies.

Jean Batten

Her major achievements include:

1934 – England to Australia (women’s record) 16,900 kilometres in 14 days 22 hours 30 minutes, breaking Amy Johnson’s record by four days.

1935 – Australia to England in 17 days 15 hours. First woman to make a return flight

1935 – England to Brazil: 8,000 km in 61 hours 15 minutes, setting world record for any type of plane.

1936 – England to New Zealand. World record for any type. 22,891 km in 11 days 45 minutes total elapsed time, including 2 12 days in Sydney.

Batten had striking beauty and dressed with some style. During World War II, she gave lectures in England to raise money for weapons and planes.

She wrote three books – Solo Flight (1934), My Life (1938) and Alone in the Sky (1979).

Ian Mackersey’s biography, Jean Batten: The Garbo of the Skies comes highly recommended and it covers her rather sad death.

Batten became a recluse and lived in Spain.  In 1982, she was bitten by a dog on the island of Majorca. The wound became infected and she died alone in a hotel from complications. She was buried on 22 January 1983 under her middle name, Gardner, in a pauper’s grave in Majorca. No one in the town knew who she was and her relatives and the rest of the world did not realize she had died until 1987. A sad end to a remarkable life.

Alone in the Sky by Jean Batten

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