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The Women of the Air Transport Auxiliary - Joined 1939-1941

When the Women's Section of the Air Transport Auxiliary was formed in 1939, they looked around for experienced British Empire women pilots.

Well, there weren't very many. According to one of the best of them, Gabrielle Patterson, this was because up to 1938 "women pilots hitherto have consisted only of those with large enough bank balances".

Gabrielle then helped to set up the Civil Air Guard, which offered subsidized flying lessons for the less-well-heeled, but many of their pupils hadn't even managed to complete their 'A' Licence before all civilian flying was stopped at the outbreak of WWII.

Anyway, after a while, the ATA found that they had run out of women with 250 hours, then 150, 50, and eventually they decided that they would have to train their own pilots from scratch. And even then, they had to import some Americans!

Lettice, Jennie, Audrey, Gaby, Pauline and Annie

The women are shown in the order in which they joined the ATA, and under the name they had at the time. 

My focus is on British Empire pre-WWII women ATA pilots. I have for completeness also included basic details of all the other women ATA pilots (including 48 cadets, some of whom didn't even complete their probationary month) and a representative few of the hundreds of non-flying women who kept the ATA going.

Starting in late 1940, the ATA had a system of giving their women ferry pilots, as soon as they successfully completed the training course, a (sequential) "W." number - they retrospectively allocated numbers 1-25 to the women who were around at the time. The last one, Aimee de Neve, was W.168.

* The eagle-eyed amongst you will notice that I haven't yet definitely discovered who W.42 and W.49 were - and I've had to guess at a few others based on their start dates (W.2, 3, 20, 37, 40, 48,  62, 87, 88, 94 and 103), due to their records being missing or incomplete. 

The photos are almost entirely from the contemporary Royal Aero Club (RAeC) and/or ATA records. [Thanks to Andrew, Peter, Gordon and Belinda.]

I'm still updating this page; you may still find a few errors and omissions (if so, please let me know), but I still reckon it's easily the most complete and reliable source so far about this impressive bunch of women.

The Court of QUEEN PAULINE I

W.25

1 Dec-39 to Oct-45

Senior Commander

 
 

 RAeC 1930

pauline gower 1940 ATA

Pauline Mary de Peauly Gower MBE

flag england

b. 22 Jul 1910, Tunbridge Wells

 

ata pauline gower 1940

 5 feet 5 in height, in case you wondered.

"In England you can count on one hand the women who are making a living directly from flying. Probably foremost among them are the two girl flyers, Pauline Gower and Dorothy Spicer, who work in partnership at joy-riding. Miss Gower is the pilot and Miss Spicer the mechanic."

Amy Mollison, writing in 1934

"Pauline Gower, one of the few women who has already achieved a successful commercial flying career, did joyriding last year in 185 different towns with a travelling air circus."

Mary Bertha de Bunsen

She was fined £222 in 1933, having taxied her Spartan into a stationary Moth at Cardiff while giving joy-rides in an air pageant (although she reckoned it had definitely moved since she checked where it was). Three years later, she was taken to hospital suffering from concussion and 'lacerations of the scalp' after she ... collided with another aeroplane on the ground, this time at Coventry airport.

During her air-taxi career, she was reckoned to have piloted more than 33,000 passengers.

In 1937 she, Amy Johnson and Dorothy Spicer invited "all women pilots interested in the idea of a central meeting-place for women aviators in London" to write to them, but I don't think it ever happened.

Founder and first Commandant of the Women's Section of the Air Transport Auxiliary in 1940; from 1943, a board member of BOAC. She had a narrow escape in August 1943 when 'Fortuna', an old Imperial Airways airliner, with her and 7 other BOAC officers aboard, made a forced landing near Shannon and was written off.

Married Wing Commander William Cusack Fahie in June 1945, but died of a heart attack in March 1947 giving birth to twin boys, one of whom, Michael, later published 'A Harvest of Memories' about her.

She owned:

a 1929 Simmonds Spartan, G-AAGO, (the one which she wrote off in the taxying accident in Cardiff in August 1933), and then

a 1931 Spartan Three Seater, G-ABKK, the one which she wrote off in the taxying accident at Coventry in May 1936.



Pauline Gower and Dorothy Spicer

In Memory

claudia parsons

by Claudia Parsons

 from "The Woman Engineer", Spring 1948

It is grimly ironical that Mrs Fahie, M.B.E., and Mrs Richard Pearse, better known as Pauline Gower and Dorothy Spicer, after the risks of their early youth and of the war, should meet death, the one through the age-old hazard of child-birth, the other as a passenger in an air liner flying to South America. It is also grimly tragic that these partners who risked, endured and enjoyed so much together should die within a year of each other. Though neither got further than the middle thirties they filled the brief interval between attaining majority and leaving life with a record of hard work, pioneering experience and fine achievement that was as gallant as it was short lived.

Yet in using that word 'gallant' one hesitates, not questioning its truth but out of consideration for the two who achieved this record, whose aim was never more than to pursue a private ambition and to do it well. The word 'gallant' would have been held by them in derision.

I feel honoured to write the appreciation of these two fellow members of The Women's Engineering Society, whose careers I always followed with particular interest since first meeting them on a tour of the Ford works at Dagenham, organised by the W.E.S. Mere babes they then seemed, the one very round of face the other with fairest hair, and it was only in the course of this visit that I learnt their names and remembered having read that Sir Robert Gower, M.P., had given his daughter an aeroplane as a twenty-first birthday present and that now, with Dorothy Spicer as her ground engineer, she was using the plane to give people joy-rides and for aerial taxi service.

In the following years as I watched these two soar ever higher, in the metaphorical rather than the literal sense, I used to ponder this parental gesture which, so early as 1931, might have seemed to many to be rash and courting trouble, and reflected how often really enterprising acts were well rewarded and that here was one that had laid the foundation stone of two successful careers. In this I was not altogether accurate; this was the coping rather than the foundation stone. The gesture was indeed the greatest assistance but in no means were Pauline or Dorothy ever financed or given much moral support in their early ambition, which at first was viewed as a joke by their contemporaries. Like Madame Curie, and others of set purpose, before embarking on their careers they had to find the money with which to train, and in this interest Dorothy spent a year in a London store and Pauline gave violin lessons and lectures at schools. This was while still in their teens and before joining forces, in their twenties, at Stag Lane aerodrome where they decided to go into partnership. Already therefore, in 1931, in spite of opposition and setback, Pauline had her A and B Flying Licences and Dorothy had an A Pilot's Licence and Engineer's Licence, and one rather gathers, reading the pages of Women with Wings - the book the two of them later published - that the hand of Sir Robert Gower was forced rather then held out eagerly with the gift of a two-seater Spartan plane. The gift was advanced only in the face of the inevitable, and as a safety measure, Pauline so often coming home late for meals with harrowing tales of forced landings with hired machines. (The forced landings were not always the fault of the machine.)

Indeed, in those early days of gaining experience, Pauline on a cross-country flight often came down to ask the way; there were narrow margins between forced landings and the petrol running dry; there was the occasion of flying the Channel at 250 feet and of making a forced landing at Brussels and finding it was Liege. Yes, there were many harrowing moments whose memory later made thri blood run cold, but there was also the exuberance and confidence of youth and a very decided will to conquer. It was perhaps typical that in her night flying test for the B Pilot's Licence, after two hours in the air, cut off from the earth by a ground fog that had formed, Pauline, determined not to become panic-stricken, suddenly remembered an old friend - her mouth organ - on which she played 'Show me the way to go home'. And she was shown.

If these two started with a light-hearted attitude towards flying, their subsequent experiences in joy-riding, in joining up with Air Pageants and Air Circuses and in working in all weathers and cvonditions, gave them a far higher sense of respinsibility. They formed themselves into a Limited Liability Company - Air Trips, Ltd. - and worked for two seasons from a field near Hunstanton where they themselves camped beside their plane in a caravan. B~y the time she had carried 3,000 passengers Pauline was foremost among women air pilots in skill and reliability and had added to her A and B Licences a Navigator's Licence and a G.P.O. Wireless Operator's Certificate. Meanwhile Dorothy had had wide experience of servicing machines and in the winter, during enforced flying activity, had studied for her Engineer's Licences, the first woman ever to attain the A, B, C and D Engineering Licences. Pauline often stressed how much the safety of herself and her passengers depended on Dorothy's efficient care of the machine; her praise was equally divided between Dorothy's engineering ability and, on those long periods of camping, her excellent cooking.

It is scarcely necessary to to remind fellow members of the later achievements of these two pioneers. With such experience behind them it is not surprising that they gave valuable service to their country both during the war and in the years preceeding it when they played a leading part in making the public air-minded. Members of the WES will remember papers read by each of them at the September Conference in 1937. In 1938 Dorothy joined the staff of the Air Registration Board and added to her qualifications a No 1 Glider's (Engineering) Licence. Later in this year, and with Pauline as her bridesmaid, she was married to Squadron Leader Richard Pearse who, when the war broke out, was in the RAF Coastal Command. Just before the war Patricia Mary was born and later Dorothy took up war work with the Ministry of Aircraft Production on research in connection with engines in flight. With her husband posted to her Flight, she had the unique opprtunity of working in war-time together with her husband. It was after the war, in December, 1946, and retired from their war activities, that Wing Commander and Mrs Pearse lost their lives in the air liner that crashed near Rio de Janeiro. Their daughter Patricia survives them.

In the meantime Pauline, who in 1938, had obtained an Air Ministry's Instructor's Licence, had been appointed to serve on the Committee investigating the position of civil aviation in this country, and later was made District Commissioner for the London area of the Civil Air Guard. Of her activities in building up the Women's branch of the A.T.A., members of the WES heard her oqn account when, in 1946, she gave us an interesting talk on this subject, accompanied now by her husband, Wing Commander Fahie, RAFVR, to whom she was married in 1945.

When invited to be Commandant of the women pilots in the A.T.A., Pauline stipulated that she must have a free hand in order to do this, a condition for which, interestingly, another great woman pioneer stipulated when asked to take over the hospital service in the Crimea. The fine achievement of the women serving in the A.T.A., their record, and the fact that some of them were finally ferrying heavy four-engined bombers, is a proof of how well Pauline used her powers. In 1943 she was appointed a member of the board of the British Overseas Airways Corporation. Pauline died on March 2nd, 1947, her twin sons surviving her.

That is the record of what they did; a bleak summary of achievements is unavailing, however, unless some mention is also made of what they were. Impressive as their qualifications, achievbements and later honours might be, it was the human side that interested most people, it was their pleasant unaffected charm that everyone noticed. One can pay no higher tribute to Dorothy than to recall Pauline's description of her, referring to their partnership, as one whose 'business' reliability proved always as unfailing as her friendship. There is also the tribute paid by Amy Johnson, who was their friend of long standing and who finally worked under Pauline for the A.T.A. In the foreword she wrote for Women with Wings she refers to staying at Pauline's home at Tunbridge Wells and listening to her and Dorothy singing to the banjulele, and winds up: "I played the part of spectator, admiring the utterly unspoiled character of two girls who have done more than their bit in making aviation history."

They owed their leading position in the field of aviation to hard work and often severe discomfort; they never set out on record-breaking or otherwise spectacular flights; they did what they did because they enjoyed it and it was the thing they had chosen and wanted to master. There was no intention of ending life swiftly and heroically; they had every hope of seeing this precarious century to its final chapter and Pauline in her book prophesied a time when she and Dorothy would be old ladies still flying an antiquated machine and the passengers in a rocket would lean out and say, "Look at those old girls in that pre-historic bus!" Alas, this is no longer a possibility but to what extent air transport has been influenced by the two who will never be old ladies, and whose memory will always be associated with youth, is impossible to measure.

 ATA Silver Salver Harvest of Memories

Silver salver presented to Pauline on her wedding day on 2 June 1945, signed by over 90 of the women ATA pilots.  (Lois Butler signed twice, though)  

   Click to enlarge.

The Rise and Fall of The Womens Section, ATA

ATA Women Strength

Women Pilots and Cadets, 1940-45 (click to enlarge)

Dec-39 to Mar-1941

Adjutant

 ATA Henrietta Bretherton Stapleton 

ELC 

ATA Henrietta Bretherton Stapleton 2

Mary 'Henrietta' Stapleton-Bretherton

flag england

b. 12 Jul 1906

Mrs Archer-Shee from 1940-1953

d. 1995

Sep-1940 to Aug-44

Adjutant

kitty farrer 1920s

c. 1930

Hon. Mrs Katherine 'Kitty' Farrer

flag england -> flag scotland

nee Runciman

b. 4 Dec 1909, Doxford Northumberland

Mrs Farrer from 1931

Lady Lyell from 1955

d. 19 July 1998

Eulalia Rodd 1939 

 RAeC 1939

Mrs Eulalia Olga Mary Rodd

nee Bullivant

flag england

b. 31 Oct 1914, Leigh-on-Sea

d. 1982

Flight Captain

Operations Officer

vivien jeffery 1939 

RAeC 1939

Vivien Frances Jeffery

flag england

b. 16 May 1910, Market Harborough

prev: Private Secretary

d. 1993

Oct 1940

Flight Captain

Operations Officer

 ATA Alison King RAFM

Alison Elsie King

flag england b. 20 Aug 1913, London

Her book ('Golden Wings', 1956) tells us that she was "a member of the Civil Air Guard (CAG) who joined ATA in 1940 as a 'sub-sub-adjutant'. 

She became the first woman Operations Officer, dealing with the daily movement of ferried aircraft. In October 1941 she was with those who took over Hamble Ferry Pool - the first time women were allowed to fly everything that was needed of them [sic]

After the war she joined BOAC, then, deciding to 'give it all up', lived in a cottage in a remote Suffolk village. Not long after, however, she was back in London, and in 1953 became Director of the Women's Junior Air Corps. In 1956 she was also appointed Chairman of the recently formed British Women Pilots' Association."

d. 1992

Operations Officer

 ata rachel nickalls 1929

ata rachel nickalls 1929 2

1929

Rachel Nickalls

flag england Violet Rachel Pearce-Sorocold

b. 1904 Amersham

m. 1929 Guy Oliver 'Gully' Nickalls

d. 2001 - Henley on Thames

Operations Officer

ata joan van Blokland HB

Joan van Blokland

Hugh Bergel called her "our glamorous and very efficient Operations Officer"

THE FIRST 8

ata first eight   Lois and Winnie at Hatfield

All 8 Arranged Alphabetically (l) and Lois and Winnie at Hatfield (r)

W.4

1 Jan 1940 to 30 Nov 1945

Flight Captain

4-engine (Class 5) pilot

RAeC 1934

Mrs Winifred Mary 'Winnie' Crossley

flag england née Harrisson, 9 Jan 1906, St Neots.

Her father was a G.P. Dr. Ernest  Henry Harrisson and they lived at 'The Priory' and/or 'The Shrubbery', St Neots. He was famous for bringing the St Neots [Miles] quadruplets into the world in 1935.

She had an older brother [John Ernest McRae], a  twin sister [Daphne Louisa], a younger brother George Granville, and a younger sister Muriel (b. 1912).

 

Educated at Burchett House, Dorking

 

m. Sep 1926 James Francis 'Frank' Crossley. In 1930 they lived in Mallowry, Riseley, N. Beds.

They had 1 child, John James, b. 1929 (he apparently "often flew with her.") **

 

ata winifred and daphne harrisson

The Tatler, 1935

 

prev. exp 1866 hrs on 'most single engine types; slight knowledge of twins'.

Owned a DH Gyspy Moth I in 1935. Learnt to fly at the Norfolk and Norwich Aero Club.

 

prev. performed aerobatics with Alan Cobham's and  CWA Scott's 'Flying for All' Aerial Circuses:

winifred crossley 1936

Mrs. Crossley, the Display's lady aerobatic pilot, with Master Rice (whose father deals with the publicity) and the Hillson-Praga Baby monoplane.  [Flight, Apr 1936)

3 Sep 1936: (Flying for All) "Mrs. Winifred Crossley provides one of the most amazing features of the display. She is the first woman acrobatic pilot, and although she has only been flying for two years she has reached a surprisingly high standard."

... then the only woman pilot for Air Publicity Ltd, Heston from 1936, towing advertising banners; for example, in July 1937 she flew over Whitehall towing a banner reading "Give All Civil Servants Pensions".

 

Lived in Gamlingay, Beds from 1932-39. Represented Bedfordshire at lawn tennis.

 

Address in 1940: Newhaven Court Hotel, Cromer, Norfolk

 ata winifred and joan 1940

with Joan Hughes in 1940

 

Postings: Hatfield, 5FPP, 9FPP, 6FPP, 4FPP

"General Conduct: Average. Qualities of Leadership: Not markedly good. A pleasant and amiable person who is friendly and helpful to her less experienced colleagues."

"Has now cultivated a sense of responsibility. Very reliable pilot."

In 1944 Norman Whitehurst wrote: "A smooth and polished pilot. She is apprehensive of poor weather to an extraordinary degree for such an experienced and good pilot. Discipline is fair and her influence, which is considerable, is not perhaps always in the best interests of the unit. She has lately shown improvement in this respect. She is at all times an amiable person of great charm and is extrememly kind-hearted."

 

ata winnie and peter fair ELC

 

Separated from her first husband Frank; in 1943 she married Canadian airline captain Peter Cleugh Fair, later General Manager of BOAC-owned Bahamas Airways in Nassau.

Daily Record - Thursday 09 September 1943: "FLYING ROMANCE. Mrs. WINIFRED CROSSLEY, one of Britain’s finest women fliers, is spending a golfing holiday in Ayrshire with her fiance, Captain P. C. Fair, of British Airways. Slim, dark-haired, she is the daughter of the late Dr. E H Harrison, who brought the St. Neots quads into the world. She flew milk for the quads from London daily during the first weeks of their life. Captain Fair, who has been flying for 18 years, says that his bride-to-be is a better pilot than himself. She has done 4,000 flying hours, probably far more than any other woman in the world."

Peter Cleugh Fair (b. 18 May 1906 in Ontario) had travelled to England in 1927 and joined the RAF. He was promoted to Flying Officer in Dec 1928, was stationed at Uxbridge in 1934, and eventually was placed on the retired list at his own request in April 1937.

Andy Pickering tells me that "Peter Fair was an Imperial Airways pilot who lost a Lockheed model 14 Super Electra in the Mediterranean on Dec 21st 1939, G-AFYU. It seems it was the first ever BOAC loss, the company having only being formed a few weeks before. There were 6 survivors from a complement of 11, Fair being injured and rescued by a French ship off Sicily after a RN search."

In  January 1955, when 'fun-loving royal' Princess Margaret flew from London to Trinidad for an official visit, she was piloted by "Captain Peter Cleugh Fair, 48-year old Canadian who has flown the Atlantic nearly 400 times.

peter cleugh fair 1955

Captain Fair is one of BOAC's senior commanders and has logged more than 13,000 flying hours."

 

** Sadly, her son died in 1950: "On November 18, 1950, at Bovey Tracey. John James Crossley, only son of Mr. Frank Crossley and Mrs. Winifred Fair" Western Morning News

Western Times - Friday 24 November 1950: "LOSS TO PARISH.—The death of Mr. John Crossley has cast a gloom over local cricketing circles. Deceased was only about 22, and had been a playing member of the Bovey Tracey Cricket Club for some years. He lived at Harbertonford. His death came with tragic suddennesss. He was at Bovey Tracey on Thursday night last, and, not feeling very well, went to bed. Returning to his home, he became worse, and on Saturday was removed to Bovey hospital, where he died soon after admission. Only a fortnight ago he received the president's bat for being the best all-rounder for last season. Mr. Crossley was a nephew of Dr. John Harrison, the president of Bovey Tracey Cricket Club. There was a large attendance at the funeral service held in Bovey Tracey parish church. The Rev. G. O. C. Duxbury, M.A.. vicar, officiated. Members of the club acted as bearers."

 

ATA women in Nassau 1957

l to r Ann Wood-Kelly, Lettice Curtis, Ruth Ballard and Winnie, Nassau 1957 (ELC)

 

They came back to the UK to visit Alan and Lois Butler in Studham in 1960.

Peter died in 1961, and was buried with his mother [Sophia Meiklejohn Cleugh Fair] and brother [Howard Cleugh Fair] in Pennsylvania. See https://findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi/http%252522//fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=157170329

 

Winnie moved back to the UK and d. 1984 in Aylesbury, Bucks.

 

[Ultimate trivia fact: Winifred's younger sister Muriel married Peter Fair's brother Alfred!]

W.6

1 Jan-40 to Mar-43

Flight Captain

RAeC 1933

Margaret MacDonald Cunnison

flag england b. 29 May 1914 in Bourneville, Birmingham, but educated at Laurel Bank School, Glasgow.

Father: James Cunnison, of 19 Montrose Gardens, Milngavie, Dumbartonshire.

5 foot 2, eyes of, er, hazel.

From May 1937, Chief Flying Instructor with the Strathtay Aero Club, Perth (the one in Scotland). She was only the second woman in Scotland to gain a commercial pilot’s licence, and the first to become a flying instructor. She then became one of the 'First 8' women ATA pilots, joining on the 1st January 1940 as a Second Officer.

She married Major Geoffrey B Ebbage, an ophthalmic surgeon with the RAMC, in 1941.

After couple of years at Hatfield, she was posted to Luton as an instructor; her report at the time said she "is a steady and reliable pilot. She works extremely hard and has proved invaluable as an instructor on light types".

She was promoted to Flight Captain in Feb 1942, but suffered a bout of appendicitis from July to October, and then went off sick again on the 19th December 1942 and never returned to the ATA; her contract was terminated in March 1943.

She did, indeed, only work on 'light types'; her log book shows 'Moth, Magister, Courier, Master, Oxford, Hart, Proctor, Rapide, Anson and Piper Cub'.

d: 4 January, 2004, in Haddington, aged 89

W.7

1 Jan-40 to Aug-44

Flight Captain

4-engine (Class 5) pilot

Margaret King-Farlow 1937 RAeC 1931

Mrs Margaret 'Margie' Fairweather

flag england née Runciman, 23 Sep 1901, Newcastle-on-Tyne

Mrs King-Farlow from 1925 to 1936;

Mrs Fairweather from 1938.

 

 The eldest daughter of Lord Walter and Lady Hilda Runciman.

Her brother Walter (co-Director, with Connie Leathart (q.v.), of Cramlington Aircraft, First Director-General of BOAC, Commodore of the Royal Yacht Squadron, OBE, etc, etc) became the 2nd Viscount Runciman of Doxford, and her sister Katherine ('Kitty') was adjutant for the Women's Section of the ATA from March 1941.

I sometimes feel that Margie gets a bad press; she was, apparently, quiet and rather withdrawn, (nicknamed 'Mrs Cold Front') and, in photos, always seems to have that far-away look in her (green, btw) eyes. But, her ability, and her devotion to duty and to her friends, were never in doubt.

 

She got her RAeC certificate in 1937. In fact, she acquired her first aeroplane from her brother Walter; a 1931-reg D.H. Puss Moth G-ABLG, which he had flown in two King's Cup races.

She had married Roderick Nettleton King-Farlow in July 1925. Their daughter Ann was born in 1931, but they divorced in 1936, and she then married Douglas Keith Fairweather in March 1938. He was a businessman from Glasgow, and her complete opposite - outgoing, irreverent, and very eccentric. 

Margie then sold her aeroplane, and she and Douglas re-registered his Puss Moth G-ABYP in their joint names. Later they also bought a Leopard Moth, G-ACXH.

She had a horrible experience in 1939 when her friend, Dr. Elizabeth Cook, was killed by walking into the propeller of the aeroplane Margaret was about to pilot; they were going to fly to Paris for a holiday, and the plane was standing with the engine ticking over.

Margie Fairweather FAI Cert FAI 1939

So, prior to WWII she was one of the most experienced women pilots in the country, with 1,050 hours of civilian flying, and (from late 1937) was an instructor with the Scottish Flying Club. She had flown Miles Whitney Straights, D.H. Moths, Puss Moths, Tiger Moths, Fox Moths, Leopard Moths, Hornet Moths, Dart Kitten, Taylor Cub, Potez, and Percival Vega Gull, in Belgium, Holland, Germany, Sweden, Denmark, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, France Switzerland and Austria.

mini - margaret fairweather

Not surprisingly then, she was one of the 'First Eight' Women ATA pilots at Hatfield, starting in January 1940. Her training went well: "The handling characteristics of the Service trainer were entirely novel to Mrs. Fairweather, but having once mastered the take-off, she had no further difficulty, and is now able to fly both Master and Oxford satisfactorily. Her cockpit drill is excellent'"

Douglas also joined the ATA as a pilot. He was devoted to Margie; as Lettice Curtis says in Forgotten Pilots: he was once heard to say, "I love Margie, better than any dog I  ever had," and then more thoughtfully, "or even a pig or a cat."

douglas fairweather ata [For more about Douglas, I can recommend 'Brief Glory - the Story of the ATA']

On the 3rd March 1941 she was one of the four women especially praised by Pauline Gower: "The following pilots during the past year have been outstanding from the point of view of hard work and have set an example to others:- Mrs M Wilberforce [exceptional devotion to duty], Miss M Cunnison [great devotion to duty], Hon Mrs M Fairweather [has shown great devotion to duty, and worked hard and conscientiously as a taxi pilot], and Miss J Hughes [has shown devotion to duty]."

[Mona Friedlander, Rosemary Rees, Lois Butler, Gabrielle Patterson and Winifred Crossley also get a mention [they have 'worked hard and conscientiously'], and Pauline added that "had Miss Amy Johnson still been with us [she had been killed on the 5th January], her name would have been particularly mentioned".]

 In May 1941 Margie requested extra leave:

"Dear Commander Whitehurst,

As you know I have a daughter of twelve years of age. She is at boarding school during the term time, but for half of the period of each holidays I am responsible for her care. With the assistance of my family I have managed up to now fairly well without interfering with my work, but I now, owing to reasons of health and occupation I can no longer count on this help and paid help is almost impossible to come by.

In these circumstances I am writing to enquire whether ATA would consider granting me an extra week's leave in the summer, and a fortnight's extra leave at both Xmas and Easter, it being understood that any leave so granted would be without pay."

The request was granted, and Margie and Douglas took Ann for a holiday in a small farmhouse in Western Scotland [where they acquired a baby goat, which Douglas later took with him on at least one ferry flight.]

She and Douglas were both posted to Prestwick (4b Ferry Pool, Northern Area) in November 1941.

On the 14th December, she wrote to Pauline Gower:


"Sunday,

Dear Pauline,

I was hampered in talking to you the other day by the crowd around the telephone, amongst which were persons about whom I wanted to speak.

I am not sure we can make good use of the lady in question at this moment. We need a second ground person in this office but he or she must, as well as doing adjutant duties, be a good shorthand typist. Unless we combine the jobs there isn't sufficient to do. The lady's counterpart is doing 'ops' just now with only moderate success. It would be a pity to get her up here if that falls through. She is too 'choosy' for our mixed bag of aeroplanes to come only as a pilot. I am sorry we raised her hopes so high. Perhaps in a week or two the matter might be reconsidered if you have no other plans in view for her.

I have at last caught a Wellington for myself. I flew it with great pleasure from Prestwick to Sherburne today and am now here on my way back with a Hurricane. I found it very like a big Anson, & I can see no reason why any of the normally hefty of us should find them too heavy. It was tough today & at slow speeds as when coming in to land you have to heave and push but forewarned there is no difficulty. I wonder who of the others have had one and what they think.

We have had a tragedy already in no. 4b FPP. A charming American called Wiley who was posted to us left Speke on Wednesday afternoon & has not been heard of since. It is strange (or perhaps just a matter of psychology) how it always seems to be the nice ones that go and the toughs who remain.

Living in the … hotel as we are doing amongst all the over-night ATA one gets a bit of a … about humanity. I was almost pleased to see Mary H[unter], & Veronica [Volkersz] yesterday by contrast! Douglas is in his element entertaining his visiting pilots; clearly our post war job must be public house proprietors with Douglas as 'mine host'.

Please make Kitty write to me again soon. I loved getting your letters. When are you coming to inspect me? I wish you would.

I would love to have a talk. Are you likely to be at W[hite] W[altham] without warning if I cadge an aeroplane to that point?

with love, Margie."


She was promoted to Flight Captain in February 1942, in charge of the Women's Flight at Prestwick. Her Commanding Officer said that she was a "very reliable and steady ferry pilot ... she has been a very real help to me." Shortly after that, she had her spat with Irene Arckless (q.v.)

 She also had an 'incident' on the 24th March 1943 - flying a Halifax (she was one of only 11 women cleared for 4-engine aircraft), the bolts securing an engine cowling broke away and fouled a propeller. Luckily, she was uninjured.

However, she was in big trouble in May 1943 - some Flight Captain or other (I can't make out the signature) wrote to Pauline:

"It is observed that F/Capt Mrs Fairweather is not complying with Standing Orders re. her hair. Also, this pilot still persists in wearing grey coloured stockings, whereas black is the order. Will you please be good enough to point out to this pilot that the Commanding Officer's Instructions in regard to 'Dress Regulations' must be complied with."

There is a scribbled note "Is anything ever done?", but, indeed, no sign of anything else happening ...

 

 And then, on the 14th September 1943, (so, when Margie was nearly 42), and rather out of the blue , came this:

"Flight Captain Mrs Fairweather is pregnant and I recommend that her contract is terminated with three months' pay in lieu of notice."

[The ATA policy was that women who became pregnant would have their contracts terminated, to give them 3 months salary. However, Pauline soon discovered that Margie was "not interested in the financial aspect, but would rather have her contract suspended" and added,"I think we might well meet her wishes in this case."]

 

So, her contract was suspended, and she duly returned back to work on the 15th June 1944. By then, sadly, Douglas was dead; he and ATA Nurse Kathleen Kershaw had crashed in the Irish Sea, on a mercy flight to Prestwick. Douglas and Margie's daughter Elizabeth was born a few days after his death.

 

And then Margie herself was killed in another crash soon after, on the 4th August 1944. It happened on a communications flight in Percival Proctor III LZ801; the engine 'faded out', she force-landed in a field near Wrexham, but hadn't seen a ditch at the end of it. The aircraft went nose first into the ditch.

percival proctor

She, and her sister Kitty suffering from severe fractures to her right leg, were taken to Chester Royal Infirmary. Margie had serious head injuries; the third person on board, Lewis Kendrick, had minor abrasions. Margie died at 11 p.m., without regaining consciousness.

 

The technical investigation showed that the vent pipe of the port fuel tank was completely blocked by a film of dope, causing the tank to collapse. "In these circumstances the petrol gauge is likely to have indicated that the tank still contained fuel, when in fact it was dry."

Blame was heaped on everyone involved in ensuring the aircraft had been fit to fly: The Chief Engineer, and the Engineers in Charge at White Waltham, for failing to ensure that it had been serviced properly;  the Officer-in-Charge Air Movements Bay; the Engineering Inspector, for failing to ensure that the fitters were competent, and the two fitters who failed to notice the blocked vent.

The report recommended that procedures were changed, and Proctors modified, to prevent it happening again.

The cause of death was 'extensive skull fracture'; I've not come across any reference to Margie's spectacles shattering and contributing to her death, although this has been suggested recently.

She is buried, together with Douglas, in Dunure Cemetery, South Ayrshire. Near Prestwick.

Fairweather Grave Dunure http://scottishwargraves.phpbbweb.com/


28th August 1944

Dear Mr d'Erlanger,

You will I hope forgive me for being slow to thank you for your kind letter & for what you say of Margaret's work, and I would like especially to thank you for all the kindness and consideration shown to my daughter Ruth & for all the arrangements made for the funeral which we could not have wished otherwise. I would be grateful if you could also pass on our thanks to whoever in the RAF was responsible for allowing her to lie in that little war cemetery beside Douglas. We very greatly valued the kindness that prompted that decision.

I am afraid it will be a long time before Kitty is up & about, but we are glad to have no real anxiety about her.

Hilda Runciman


Margie's loss was "a great blow to ATA, for she was not only one of our best women pilots, but in her modest and enthusiastic manner set an almost unequalled example of unselfish devotion to duty."


Oxford DNB : "Fairweather [née Runciman], Margaret (1901–1944), airwoman, was born at West Denton Hall, near Newcastle upon Tyne, on 23 September 1901, the second in a family of two sons and three daughters of Walter Runciman, first Viscount Runciman (1870–1949), and his wife, Hilda Stevenson (1869–1956) [see Runciman, Hilda]. Margie, as she was always known, was educated initially at home together with her younger brother Steven (later Sir Steven Runciman) by a governess who taught them Greek and Latin at an early age. She then attended a number of educational institutions including The Mount, a Quaker school in York, and Notting Hill high school, from where she went to Girton College, Cambridge. After a year she dropped out of Girton to study singing in Paris, though she never performed professionally. She married Roderick Sydney Nettleton King-Farlow (1900–1988), the son of Sir Sydney Charles Nettleton King-Farlow, at St Margaret's, Westminster, on 15 July 1925. A daughter was born in 1931. The marriage ended in divorce in 1936.

In the autumn of 1936 Margie learned to fly at Newcastle Aero Club and was issued with her aviator's certificate (licence no. 14687) by the Royal Aero Club on 13 January 1937. She was planning to fly solo to Australia but changed her mind when she met a fellow pilot, Douglas Keith Fairweather (1891–1944), son of Sir Walter Fairweather. They were married on 28 March 1938. In that year Lord Runciman was sent on the ill-fated mission to Prague to mediate between the German and Czech governments. Fairweather flew out herself to visit him. During a European tour that same year she and Douglas, under the guise of tourists, photographed unrecorded German airfields. She also sent back letters to her brother Steven which seemingly contained only trivial domestic details. On her return, however, she decoded these to recover intelligence data.

With the threat of war looming, in October 1938 the Civil Air Guard scheme was inaugurated to provide subsidized training of pilots through the civil flying clubs. As experienced pilots, Margie and her husband became instructors at Renfrew. Douglas Fairweather was one of the first to sign contracts with the British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC) for service with the AirTransportAuxiliary (ATA) in September 1939.

Many women, qualified flying instructors with considerable flying experience, volunteered to serve with the ATA. However, the pilots enrolled by BOAC under the ATA scheme were employed in RAF ferry pilots' pools and the RAF would not agree to the employment of women in their ferry pools. This problem was solved in December 1939 when Pauline Gower (who became commandant of the women's ATA) was informed that a small pool of eight women based at Hatfield could be formed to ferry Tiger Moths to stored reserves.

With over 1000 flying hours, Margaret Fairweather was one of that select band who signed contracts with the ATA on 1 January 1940. This departure from tradition caused a furore in a world in which professional women were still a novelty. Press and newsreel gave full publicity to the event and the so-called ‘ATA girls’ were under constant scrutiny. However, ferrying Tiger Moths from Hatfield to storage reserves, some as far away as Kinloss, Perth, and Lossiemouth, and returning by overnight train, often with no sleeper in midwinter, was not the glamorous occupation some imagined. In July 1941 ATA women pilots were cleared to fly operational aircraft and Margaret Fairweather was one of the first four chosen to do practice landings in a Hurricane. These four carried a burden of responsibility as the future of all women pilots in the ATA depended on them.

Meanwhile Douglas Fairweather was joint commanding officer at Prestwick. In 1942 he was posted to no. 1 ferry pool, White Waltham, to take charge of the air movements flight. Margie was then posted to join him. For the rest of her time there she was engaged in communication duties and it was on one such assignment that she met her death—the only one not to survive among the original eight who served from the very beginning.

Gradually more operational types of plane were being flown by women and the progression was made from single engine to twin aircraft to advanced twin, and eventually eleven women pilots were qualified to fly four-engined aircraft. Fairweather was one of the eleven. She was considered by her fellow pilots to be one of the most intelligent and able, though rather quiet and self-effacing. In fact, according to her daughter, her nickname was Mrs Cold Front.

On 3 April 1944 Douglas Fairweather volunteered to go to Prestwick to collect an ambulance case requiring special treatment. In appalling weather, somewhere over the Irish Sea, the Anson came down and both he and the nurse travelling with him were lost. Margie gave birth to their daughter Elizabeth a few days later. Margie returned to flying only to be killed herself four months later. She was piloting a Proctor to Scotland on 4 August 1944 with two passengers on board when the engine failed near Malpas, Cheshire. All three were taken to Chester Royal Infirmary where Fairweather died soon afterwards. Her passengers were her sister, the Hon. Kitty Farrer, adjutant of the ATA, and Louis Kendrick of the Ministry of Aircraft Production. They recovered, escaping with injuries. Douglas Fairweather's body was washed up on the Ayrshire coast. Margaret Fairweather and he were both buried in the small churchyard of Dunure, Ayrshire."

W.8

1 Jan-40 to Feb-43

First Officer

Mona Friedlander 1936

RAeC 1936

Mona Renee Vera Ernesta Friedlander

flag england b. 2 June 1914, London

 

Mrs Forward from 1941

[Resigned Feb 43]

 ATA

Educated 'abroad', then at the Royal School of Arts in London (Commerce Examinations).

5 foot 5 inches tall; hair and eyes: dark brown. Religion: Hebrew (sic). Father: Ernest Friedlander (German, naturalised 1909). Mother: Russian.

Her uncle, V. Mansfield, was a Colonel in the British Army in WWI.

Mona was in the squad for the British Women's Ice Hockey teams who faced France in 1934 and 1935, but Britain lost the first and only drew the second. She was a defender, playing for her club the London Lambs; against France "probably the fastest skater on either side, and certainly the strongest".

From 1st March 1939 to the end of November, she worked as an Army Cooperation pilot, flying in front of anti-aircraft batteries to help them with the aiming and ranging of guns and searchlights.

ata mona friedlander 1940 1940

She was then one of the 'First 8' women pilots of the ATA, joining on 1st January 1940 as a Second Officer. At the time, she had 600 hours experience, on 'most light types'.

She married Major Alan Forward, M.C. in June 1941; by then, she had had 3 accidents: in October 1940, she failed to get the undercarriage of an Oxford down and locked before landing; she had a forced landing in a Lysander when the engine failed, and another forced landing in March 1941 in a Hawker Hind. She ws exonerated in all 3 accidents.

Her report says "First Officer Forward is a good pilot and a hard worker. She has been unfortunate in the matter of accidents but cannot be held responsible for those she has had. On one isolated occasion she showed bad airmanship - this has not been repeated" but added (rather strangely in view of her ice hockey-playing career before the war), "Physical endurance rather below average."

She was promoted to First Officer in May 1942, but in September hit a parked Anson when taxying a Hudson, then in October suffered from 'Carbon poisoning', remained off sick until February 1942 and then resigned.

During her ATA career, Mona flew 32 types of aircraft up to 'Class 4' (Advanced Twin Engined), including 20hrs on Wellingtons and 10 hrs on Mosquitos.

W.11

1 Jan-40 to Dec-45

Flight Captain

4-engine (Class 5) pilot

 

RAeC 1935

Joan Lily Amelia Hughes

flag england b. 28 April 1918, Woodford, Essex

educated 'privately'. 5 foot 2, build: slight, eyes: hazel.

Joan Hughes celebrated her 17th birthday by qualifying for her RAeC Certificate, making her, at the time, the youngest female flyer in Great Britain.

She became an instructor with Chigwell Flying Club, then joined the Civil Air Guard at Romford in 1938.

 ATA

The youngest of the 'First Eight' women ATA members who joined on the 1st January 1940, she mostly continued as an instructor, eventually at the Advanced Flying Training School at White Waltham. She did, however, ferry many types of aircraft, including Hurricane, Spitfire, Lysander, Typhoon, Mosquito, York, Fortress, Lancaster, Halifax, Liberator and Stirling.

She had a few mishaps (only one deemed to be her fault);  in August 1941, a forced landing in a Hurricane when the undercarriage jammed; a landing accident in June 1942 when she was instructing Jocelyn Hotham in a Hart, which swung and tipped onto a wing, and another forced landing in a Stirling in December 1943. This last one was due to a 'No 12 cylinder induction elbow blowing off' (so you now know as much as I do.)

Joan Hughes and Stirling 

One of the iconic images of the ATA - Joan, dwarfed by a Stirling (Brief Glory)

Her flying was always highly praised: "First Officer Hughes is an exceptionally good and level-headed pilot. She has worked extremely hard and conscientiously ... a capable pilot on the Stirling; of above average ability, who, in spite of her small stature, handled the aircraft in a most satisfactory manner. She is to be complimented on such an excellent performance."

One small criticism, however: "her technical knowledge is a long way behind her flying ability & she should spend more time in study of this branch."

 

After WWII Joan moved to the British Airways Flying Club at Booker, and in 1961 she was awarded the Jean Lennox Bird Trophy; she had trained more than 50 pilots during the year.

 MUWW

In 1965 she flew a replica of a 1909 Santos-Dumont Demoiselle in the film "Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines", and then a replica in simulated dog-fights for the film "The Blue Max". She later visited the US where she appeared on a television quiz show as a mystery guest.

Miss Hughes was one of the display pilots at the Shuttleworth Trust during the 1960s: "These aircraft are wonderfully removed from scientific aircraft. Everything depends on the pilot's skill, so you feel more personally involved. Apart from that you are open to the weather".

 

Bob Brion tells me that "Joan was my instructor at White Waltham in 1955 flying Tiger Moths... [She] treated me as an equal in what was a different world in the 50s. I have always had the greatest respect for her and her accomplishments.

A great lady."

 

She retired in 1985 with 11,800 hours in her logbook, 10,000 of which were as instructor, and "devoted herself to tennis, music and country walks". She died age 74, on the 16 August 1993 in Somerset.

 

Oxford DNB: "Hughes, Joan Lily Amelia (1918–1993), airwoman, was born on 28 April 1918 at Eversley, Glengall Road, Woodford, Essex, the only daughter of Arthur Edward Hughes, a braid manufacturer, and his wife, Lily Amelia Lekeup. She had one older brother. Growing up in the golden era of aviation in the 1920s and early 1930s, Joan Hughes was bitten by the flying bug at an early age. So determined was she to become a pilot that at fifteen her parents allowed her, together with her brother, to have flying lessons once a week at the East Anglian Aero Club, at a cost of £2 10s. per hour. She was soon flying solo, but an accident in which a sixteen-year-old boy was killed resulted in a legal limit of seventeen years for solo flying being imposed. This temporarily halted Joan's ambitions but in 1935 she obtained her pilot's licence.

Joan Hughes obtained her first job as a flying instructor at Chigwell Flying Club and, but for the war, a club flying instructor is probably what she would have remained. The formation of the Civil Air Guard (CAG) in October 1938, providing cheap subsidized flying for anyone of either sex between the ages of eighteen and fifty, resulted in hundreds of applications from many who could not otherwise obtain a pilot's licence. This provided more work for flying clubs and their instructors. At the outbreak of war Hughes was instructing in the women's corps of the CAG at Romford, Essex, and had accrued over 500 flying hours. She was one of a small band of women instructors who then applied to join the AirTransportAuxiliary (ATA). Composed of older men and those not considered fit for combat activities with the RAF, it was not deemed a suitable organization for those fit and active young women with hundreds of hours of flying experience. However, as a result of the persistence of Pauline Gower and lobbying from these women, it was eventually agreed that a small pool of women based at Hatfield could be formed to ferry De Havilland Tiger Moths from factories to storage units dispersed around the UK.

In January 1940 Joan Hughes became the youngest of the first eight selected by Pauline Gower for what was at the time considered merely an experiment. For much of her time in the ATA she worked as an instructor, initially on Tiger Moths and Miles Magisters. By the end of hostilities she and ten of her contemporaries were flying four-engined aircraft and Joan herself was instructing both sexes at the Advanced Flying Training School (AFTS) at White Waltham. She was the only woman instructor on all types of aircraft (including Oxfords, Harvards, Hudsons, and Wellingtons), with the exception of seaplanes and four-engined types.

Hughes served in the ATA for six years, until December 1945, never losing an aircraft, though she did have one or two hair-raising experiences. The first occurred when she was ferrying a Hurricane from Silloth to Hatfield in August 1941. After take-off she was unable to move the selector lever in order to raise the undercarriage. Aware that these first Hurricane flights by women were attracting undue attention and fearing that if she returned to complain it might be thought that she lacked the stature and strength to cope, she used her foot to move the lever. The undercarriage retracted but the lever would not return to neutral. Arriving at Finningley to refuel, she could lower neither the undercarriage nor the flaps since both worked off the same lever. After orbiting for some time she had no alternative but to make a flapless belly-landing. Oblivious of her personal safety, she was mainly worried about what the accident committee would say and the effect it would have on women's capabilities to fly Hurricanes. In the event the aircraft slid smoothly over the grass, the only damage a bent propeller. Happily, Hughes was exonerated by the accident committee. Much later, in March 1943, she was on a conversion course on the Stirling four-engined bomber at Stradishall when, on her second take-off, a tyre went flat and the aircraft ran off the runway—confirming the expectations of onlookers who were sure that a slip of a girl would never be able to keep a large aircraft like the Stirling straight. However, she progressed with the course and ferried her first Stirling four days later on 4 April. With the end of hostilities Joan returned to civilian flying as a flying instructor at the West London Flying Club at White Waltham, where her wartime colleague Margot Gore was chief flying instructor. Here she taught many Air Training Corps cadets who became RAF pilots. After Margot left, Joan succeeded her for a brief period as chief instructor but administration was not her style and she moved on to the British Airways Flying Club at Booker in 1961.

It was during her Booker years that Hughes's reputation and ability to fly almost anything made her a natural film stunt pilot. She coached Kenneth More for his role as Douglas Bader in the filmReach for the Sky (1956). When a lightweight was needed to fly the tiny replica 1909 Santos-Dumont Demoiselle, Hughes undertook the flying sequences for Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines in 1965. She also flew replicas of First World War German aircraft in simulated dog-fights for The Blue Max (1966). Her most notable flying episode in films was as a stand-in pilot for Lady Penelope in the 1968 film version of the television series Thunderbirds. The storyline led her to obtain permission to land a Tiger Moth biplane on a motorway near High Wycombe, taxi under the bridge, and take off again. In the event, she flew under the bridge and found herself on seven charges of dangerous flying at Buckinghamshire quarter sessions. In court she pleaded that in her judgement turbulent weather made it safer to fly straight through. After a three-day hearing she was acquitted on all charges.

Joan Hughes retired after fifty years of flying with 11,800 hours in her log book, 10,000 of which were spent instructing. On retirement she moved from Wargrave to Somerset. She returned to White Waltham in 1991 for the unveiling by Prince Michael of Kent of Roderick Lovesay's painting Tribute to Women Aviators, in which she was one of the twelve women pilots depicted. She was appointed MBE in 1945 for her wartime service in the ATA. In 1954 she finally gained her wings from the RAF. She was awarded the British Women Pilots Association's most prestigious trophy, the Jean Lennox Bird jade vase, in 1962. The Royal Aero Club of Great Britain awarded her the bronze medal in 1967 for outstanding service to aviation in every sphere. She died of cancer on 16 August 1993 at Musgrave Park Hospital, Taunton, and was cremated."

W.14

1 Jan-40 to Jun-43

First Officer

  

1934

gabrielle patterson 1938

1938

Mrs Gabrielle Ruth Millicent Patterson

flag england née Burr, 6 July 1905, London

RAeC Cert 1931

mini - g patterson(2)   gabrielle patterson signature

A lady with her own opinions, particularly about race handicapping, which you can readhere.

b. 6th July 1905 in Paddington, London, the eldest of four daughters; grew up in Dover, Kent, but her father was a rather peripatetic amateur entomologist and she was educated all over Europe.

Was very busy in 1931; described as a 'secretary' [actually, she was the Company Secretary of her mother's family firm of upmarket china and glassware merchants, Thos Goode & Sons], and living in Maida Vale, London, acquired both her aviator's 'A' Certificate (No 9752), and her husband, Mr Arthur L 'Pat' Patterson. At the same time, she also competed in the Ladies event at Reading (May, 1931) - the other competitors were Amy Johnson, Grace Aitken, Pauline Gower, Dorothy Spicer, Susan Slade, Winifred Spooner, Christina Young, and Fidelia Crossley - a historic gathering indeed.

Reading Ladies Race 1931

Her son, Ian, was born in 1932 in Eton, Oxfordshire, but Gabrielle and Pat divorced in 1939.

In 1938, she wrote an article on the subject 'Would women make good instructors in the event of war'. She, of course, was already a successful instructor, although admittedly her experience was limited, because "a man who is paying for his flying, and whose average age is probably a little greater on that account, is more amenable to reason than the youngster of eighteen to twenty, with his wild oats still unsown."

She thought that women instructors would probably cope, though; "The instructor always starts with the advantage of his pupil's spontaneous respect for a (relative) master of his subject, coupled with a very natural wish to shine. The woman instructor has the added advantage that this respect is enhanced by her supposed greater difficulties in acquiring that (relative) mastery and with the instinctive desire of the male to impress the female. By tactfully and subtly indicating the conduct in the air and on the ground which does win her confidence and does impress her, she can obtain it in nine cases out of ten, and in the face of such a proportion she could certainly count on disciplinary measures for the tenth."

But she worried whether there would actually be enough women to become instructors; her experience was that women didn't make such good puplis as men. "It is arguable that since of good men pilots only a few make good instructors, amongst women (where the number of good pilots is a lower percentage of pupils) the quantity of good instructors would be so small that there could be no justification for spending public funds in discovering them."

The reason for this, she thought, was that "women pilots hitherto have consisted only of those with large enough bank balances".

Flight reported her activities at the time: 

19 May 1938: "ROMFORD. Miss Amy Johnson visited the Romford Flying Club last Sunday to present a flag and charter to the National Women's Air Reserve which operates there. There are 125 members of the Reserve, taking flying instruction with Mrs. G. M. Patterson."


15 June, 1939: "Mrs. G. Patterson's G.A.P.A.N. Appointment. All who have come into contact with her will wish to congratulate Mrs. Gabrielle Patterson on her appointment to the Panel of the Guild of Air Pilots and Navigators. This is the first time that a woman has received the appointment.

Mrs. Patterson has been a flying instructor for some years and is now leader of the National Women's Air Reserve, the organisation which has been putting in a good deal of flying —and securing no little amount of newspaper publicity—at Maylands Aerodrome, Romford. Mrs. Patterson herself, it may be added, has always shunned any sort of personal publicity.

She is, we believe, a first-rate pilot and an extremely capable instructor."


She was living in Bristol, aged 34, with about 1,530 hours experience when WWII broke out in September 1939; her son was at Prep. School.

She filled in the application form for the ATA that December; her 'types flown' at the time consisted of "Moth Major, Tigers, Avro Cadet, Avian, Cygnet, Hornet Moths, Cirrus I, II and III Moths, Gypsy Moths, Spartans, Puss and Leopard Moths, Klemm, Swallow, Civilian Coupe, Miles Hawk and Hawk Major, and Miles Whitney Straight" and she had owned "a Miles Whitney Straight, a Puss Moth, 2 Gypsy Moths, and 2 Swallows (Only 1 any good)". As well as in the UK, she had flown in Germany, Belgium, Holland and France.

She gave her next of kin as Arthur Patterson RNVR.

She started as one of the 'First Eight' highly-experienced women pilots at Hatfield the following month. After a while ferrying trainers at No 5 Ferry Pool, she had to learn to fly new types. Her instructors duly reported that she was "a good and very experienced pilot", and she was "keenly aware of her own limits , which I feel is an excellent feature of her character. Has the makings of a first-class ferry pilot."... "A polished pilot whose capabilities are limited by her physique. In view of her undoubted ability and experience I regard her as somewhat under-confident."

She had 2 accidents; in December 1940, flying a Rapide X7322, (she was deemed to be 'at fault') and in May 1942, when the undercarriage of Spitfre Vc BP863 jammed in the 'up' position (she was 'not to blame').

During her time with the ATA, she flew these types:

Moth (155 hrs); Miles Master (35 hrs); Oxford (105 hrs); Proctor (8 hrs); Hart (1 hr); Dominie (25 hrs); Magister (6 hrs); Harvard (8 hrs); Q.6 (1 hr); Lysander (6 hrs); DH86 (1 hr); Anson (42 hrs); Hurricane (26 hrs); Rapide (2 hrs); Spitfire (33 hrs); Blenheim (21 hrs); Douglas variants (1 hr); Defiant (1 hr); Fairchild (26 hrs); Hampden (3 hrs); Wellington (26 hrs); Hudson (6 hrs); Tutor (1 hr); Botha (3 hrs); Stinson (2 hrs); Whitley (1 hr); Beaufighter (2 hrs); Mosquito (2 hrs); Swordfish (4 hrs) and Typhoon (1 hr).

 

However, her slight physique also let her down in other ways; she was off sick with measles for a month in Apr-May 1941, then 2 weeks in March 1942 with an infected elbow, then a month (Oct-Nov 1942), and finally (in Feb-Mar 1943) another month with 'bronchial cattarh'. Her contract was terminated in June and she left the ATA as a First Officer [which I always find surprising; she was never promoted to 'Flight Captain'].

 

She died relatively young, sadly; having completed a degree at Manchester University in the 50s, she moved to France but fell ill with cancer, moved back to Little Missenden, Bucks, to live with her sister, but died there on 31st October 1968, aged 63.

 

Oxford DNB: "Patterson [née Burr], Gabrielle Ruth Millicent (1905–1968), aviator, was born on 6 July 1905 at 23 Blomfield Court, Maida Vale, London, the eldest of four daughters of Malcolm Burr and his wife, Clara Millicent Goode. A mining engineer by profession but an entomologist by inclination, her father followed an explorer's life of prospecting and researching. His wife travelled with him, and Gabrielle and her sisters were educated in various European cities, including Paris, Berlin, Budapest, and Vienna. Having completed her education she was employed by her mother's family firm, Thos Goode & Sons, of South Audley Street, London, purveyors of china and glass to five generations of the royal family, and eventually became its company secretary. But a Mayfair showroom, however grand, was not exciting enough for her, and she took up the new sport of flying. At this time—the 1920s—flying clubs were being established and staffed in the main by ex-RAF pilots flying First World War aircraft.

Having gained a pilot's licence Gabrielle went on to become, in 1931, the first woman to hold an instructor's certificate. About this time she met her future husband, Arthur (Pat) Patterson (d. 1986), and was instrumental in teaching him to fly. They married on 26 June 1931 and their only child, Ian, was born in 1932. Pat qualified as an aviation engineer, and the couple moved around airfields as work opportunities arose. By 1933 they owned a Miles Hawk aircraft and Gabrielle Patterson had gained a B licence at the Cinque Ports Flying Club. This allowed her to fly as a commercial pilot for Silvertown Lubricants Ltd while continuing to instruct for the club. For a short time she was sales manager for the Miles Aircraft Company. The most prestigious aerial sporting event at this time was the king's cup air race, and competition between the early aircraft builders to design an aeroplane capable of winning the cup became intense. Gabrielle entered in 1934, flying a Miles Hawk G-ACTZ designed by ‘Blossom’ Miles, wife of Fred Miles.

In the late 1930s Gabrielle Patterson was a leading figure in women's aviation and gained a lot of publicity. She started her own small flying school at Romford, Kent, in a barn with one Puss Moth. With the formation of the Civil Air Guard in 1938 she became chief instructor (and head of the women's corps of the Civil Air Guard) at Romford. She was joined there by other qualified women instructors who built up their flying hours in the months before the Second World War by training the influx of volunteers keen to take advantage of the cheap subsidized flying in the Civil Air Guard.

In 1939 the Pattersons' marriage failed, and they subsequently divorced. Pat was called up into the Fleet Air Arm and Gabrielle eventually joined the AirTransportAuxiliary (ATA). Created only in 1939, the ATA was composed mainly of pilots too old or unfit for the RAF. Referred to as the ‘ancient and tattered airmen’ they released RAF pilots from ferrying duties into active service. Initially there was official disapproval of women pilots, but after ceaseless lobbying Pauline Gower was allowed to form a women's section of the ATA. With 1530 flying hours Gabrielle Patterson was one of the first eight chosen to report for duty at Hatfield on 1 January 1940. At first the women were allowed to fly only training aircraft from the factories to the maintenance units but by the summer they were cleared to fly light operational aircraft. Patterson served as a first officer until the spring of 1943, when after contracting bronchitis she was grounded and subsequently left the ATA.

Gabrielle Patterson was a gifted teacher, always ready to encourage young flyers. Involved from the outset with the Women's Junior Air Corps, from 1946 to 1950 she served as commandant, and as chairman of its aviation committee she wrote the syllabus for the course work. Her outstanding ability was recognized when she became the first woman to be appointed to the Guild of Air Pilots and Air Navigators' panel of examiners. With the resumption of civilian flying after the war she moved to Barton in 1950 to become chief flying instructor of the Lancashire Aero Club, and shortly afterwards went to Ringway airport, Manchester, as chief flying instructor of the British European Airways staff flying club. After several years in this role she was forced to give up aviation for medical reasons, and subsequently read for a degree at Manchester University from 1954 to 1956.

Having won a scholarship in 1956 to the Sorbonne (University of Paris), Patterson, who was a lifelong Francophile, thereafter made her home in France. She taught English for the Otis Elevator Company. In later years she became concerned with the difficulty faced by pilots of non-British nationality in expressing themselves intelligibly in English over the radio-telephone, and gave time and effort to teaching them. After falling ill in 1968 she went to live with her sister Elizabeth at Little Missenden, in Buckinghamshire. She died, of cancer, in Wycombe General Hospital, High Wycombe, on 31 October 1968, and was cremated at Amersham. Her ashes were scattered from the air over White Waltham airfield in March 1969."

W.15

1 Jan-40 to Dec-45

Flight Captain

4-engine (Class 5) pilot

RAeC 1934

ata rosemary rees GW

Rosemary Theresa Rees MBE

flag england b. 23 Sep 1901, London

[RAeC has 1906]

 

She volunteered to fly Christmas presents to Prague in December 1938, for refugees.

From her obituary: "ROSEMARY, Lady Du Cros, who has died aged 92, was a pre-war dancer turned aviatrix and became one of the first of the wartime Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA) women ferry pilots. She continued her flying career long after the war.

Born Rosemary Rees, daughter of Sir John Rees, she went to ballet school in Chelsea, and joined a dancing troupe performing in revue. Returning to the UK in the early thirties from touring in Ceylon, China and America, her attention was diverted to flying after a friend had persuaded her to take a lesson and she enthusiastically embraced what was to be the enduring passion of her life.

Going solo in 1933 after seven hours' instruction, and complete with a private pilot's licence, she bought her own aeroplane and toured air-rallies, with excursions to practically every European country, enjoying the life of the halcyon years of pre-war private flying.

At the outbreak of war in 1939 she had acquired an instructor's licence, flown more than 90 aircraft types and had 600 hours in her logbook."

 

Oxford DNB: "Du Cros [née Rees], Rosemary Theresa, Lady Du Cros (1901–1994), aviator, was born at 2 Walton Street, Brompton, London, on 23 September 1901, the daughter of Sir John David Rees, first baronet (1854–1922), and his wife, Mary Catherine Dormer. She had an older brother, Richard. Having already retired from the Indian Civil Service her father became Conservative MP for East Nottingham, and remained in the House of Commons until his death. Rosemary always maintained that she had no formal education other than that gained from listening to her parents' conversation and from avid reading. However, while living for a short time at Harrow on the Hill she joined the daughters of housemasters at Harrow School for tuition in French, German, and English by visiting governesses. She also attended ballet classes in Chelsea, and later pursued a career as a dancer in revue. For most of the 1920s she travelled the country with concert parties and musical comedies.

In 1932 Rees travelled round the world with her brother, Richard. On their return they renewed acquaintance with Gordon Selfridge junior, a former fellow undergraduate of Richard's at Cambridge. A keen aviator, Selfridge owned an aeroplane and persuaded Rees to have a trial flight. So began her second obsession. Though still dancing she had to decide between the two careers: she chose aviation, and obtained a pilot's licence in 1933. The 1930s were the palmy days of aviation, when the air over Europe was free; aircraft owners could fly to parties given by European aero clubs where they were wined and dined by the local mayors. Having bought a Miles Hawk Major aircraft (to be replaced later by a Miles Whitney Straight) Rees could spend the summers touring and the winters skiing in Europe. In this way she accrued over 600 hours' flying time.

With war on the horizon this hedonistic existence ended in 1938. The Civil Air Guard was formed to train more pilots through subsidies to aero clubs. The need for more instructors gave experienced women pilots, who had previously had little chance of a career in aviation, the opportunity of obtaining an instructor's licence. Having done this Rees was employed by army co-operation; this entailed flying her aircraft to and fro while anti-aircraft gunners practised aiming their guns. For this she was paid £10 per hour.

On the outbreak of war in 1939 Gerard d'Erlanger, a director of British Overseas Airways Corporation, persuaded the government to make use of experienced civilian pilots not eligible for the armed forces. Forty male pilots were recruited initially to ferry aircraft from the factories to the squadrons in what became the AirTransportAuxiliary (ATA). Meanwhile an equally persuasive woman pilot, Pauline Gower, had lobbied on behalf of women. When she was allowed to choose eight pilots to form a small women's section Rees became one of these first eight so-called ATA girls, caught up in an unwelcome storm of publicity and even antagonism from some quarters.

At first cleared only to fly open-cockpit Tiger Moths (the RAF's elementary trainer) in the freezing winter of 1939–40 Rees was far from happy. Yet her situation improved when she was sent to the RAF Central Flying School at Upavon for training on more advanced twin-engine trainers. In July 1941 women were cleared to fly operational aircraft in consequence of the pressing need for more experienced ferry pilots. Rees was one of four women chosen to convert to flying Hurricanes.

In September 1941 no. 15 Ferry Pool, Hamble, became an all-woman pool under the command of Captain Margot Gore, with Flight Captain Rees as her deputy. Rees remained there for the duration of the war, qualifying to fly all five classes of operational aircraft from light singles through to heavy, four-engine bombers. Towards the end of the war she was lucky enough to ferry a Vampire and a Meteor jet aircraft. She was appointed MBE in 1945 for her wartime services and later joined the volunteer reserve of the RAF, gaining her commission.

On leaving the ATA after six and a half years Rees bought a war-surplus Percival Proctor and obtained a commercial flying licence in order to fly for hire and reward. She operated her air-taxi charter firm, Ski Taxi, for five years until increasing post-war bureaucracy and deteriorating eyesight eventually terminated her flying career.

Rees married, as his second wife, Sir Philip Harvey Du Cros, second baronet (1898–1975), at Westminster register office on 3 November 1950 and went to live with him in Parkham, north Devon, where he was an active member of the Torrington parliamentary constituency. She involved herself in politics and became chairman of the Bideford area Conservative Association. Her husband died in 1975, but she remained mentally and physically active well into old age. She died at Little Bocombe, Parkham, on 8 March 1994, aged ninety-two."

W.17

1 Jan-40 to Aug-45

Commander

4-engine (Class 5) pilot

 

RAeC 1930

Mrs Marion Katherine Ogilvie Wilberforce

flag scotland née Olgilvie-Forbes, 22 Jul 1902, Aberdeen

 "Marion Wilberforce was the quintessential 'Atagirl': resourceful, daring and skilled, with more than a touch of eccentricity in her make-up."

She was one of seven children of John Ogilvie-Forbes, the 9th Laird of Boyndlie, Aberdeenshire. After being educated by French governesses and at the Convent of Jesus and Mary, Stony Stratford, she got a degree in agriculture at Somerville College, Oxford in 1922.

From her obituary: "At Oxford she took a keen interest in sports: she was an accomplished exponent of ju-jitsu and was a member of the women's mountaineering team. She also acted in the productions of the university's French Club.

In 1932 she married Robert Wilberforce, although this union was not always a foregone conclusion. Her husband-to-be was for some time undecided between the state of matrimony and a vocation to the priesthood, eventually deciding to test the strength of the latter by spending six months in a monastery. When this period was over Marion was at the monastery gates to collect him. She, meanwhile, had begun a career in London, on a field sports magazine, and began flying, encouraged by her two brothers. Her own first aircraft was a de Havilland Cirrus Moth from which she graduated to the Hornet Moth. In these aircraft, which she used to ferry livestock to and from her Essex farm, Nevendon Manor, sometimes from as far afield as Hungary, she had notched up 900 hours by 1940.

From 1929 she had also taken a keen interest in the work of the Fairbridge charity whose aim was to take orphaned children from overcrowded British cities and find them homes in agricultural communities in the Dominions. In the late 1920s and early 1930s she visited Canada and Australia to look over farm schools there. She continued her involvement in the Fairbridge Farm Schools until late in her life. Having no children herself, she often had Fairbridge children to stay with her for extended periods."

d. December 17 1996, aged 93.

Marion Wilberforce owned a 1927 DH.60 Moth, G-EBQV.

Later in 1940

15 to 29 Feb-40 

mini - lady bailey(2)

Hon. Lady Mary Bailey CBE

flag UK - flag eire née Westenra, 1 December 1890, London

 photo: 1927, aged 37

Born in London but brought up mainly in County Monaghan, Ireland.

Her family's home was Rossmore Castle, which was a grand affair built in the 1820s, with turrets, a vast drawing room and servants' quarters, not to mention about 20 cottages on the estate:

rossmore castle www.monaghan.ie/museum

Here she is, with her brother Willie, and parents (Mittie and Derry) on a set of steps by the house, in 1913:

mary bailey rossmore steps Throttle Full Open

I visited County Monaghan in 2014 and asked in the local museum if they knew where the house was. 'Oh yes' they said, 'but it was demolished forty years ago'. It seems that it became severely infested with dry rot in the 1940s, was abandoned and, indeed, demolished in 1975.

Anyway, here's all that's left of it now:

rossmore steps    rossmore walls

Mary married South African mining magnate and white suprematist politician Sir Abe Bailey in September 1911 (so, she was 21, he was nearly 47; his first wife had died in 1902 and he already had two children). They then had five more children - 2 boys and 3 girls.

She learnt to fly at the London Aeroplane Club in 1926. She was the first woman to fly across the Irish Sea 'by the long route' from Chester to Dublin, the following August.

The following March (1928) she began a solo tour to Cape Town, via Malta and then Cairo. Here, her plane was locked away by order of the Governor-General of the Sudan to prevent her from continuing alone, so she contacted Dick Bentley (who had flown to the Cape a few weeks before) to escort her in his own aeroplane over the "dangerous area of the southern Sudan". She then crashed in Tanganyika, writing off her aeroplane (she said it was her fault), but Abe made arrangements for a replacement Moth to be delivered from Pretoria and she continued, despite having 'flu. Abe was there to meet her when she arrived at the end of April. 

The return journey was made via the western 'French' route - the Belgian Congo, Angola and the French Congo. She finally arrived back at Croydon on 16 January, 1929, 10 months after she left. It was "undoubtedly one of the finest performances ever put up by a woman pilot." 

Lady Bailey was "so modest, so vague and so charming", and was "surprised that anyone should make a fuss about her journey". 

A Director of National Flying Services in 1929, (with Frederick Guest, Colonel the Master of Sempill, Alan Cobham, etc); she was also awarded the Brittania Trophy by the Royal Aero Club, and then made a Dame of the British Empire in 1930 for "services to aviation".

Mary Bailey in 1930 At the Chateau d'Ardennes in 1930

She was a guest at Amelia Earhart's reception at the RAeC in May 1932 - photo here.

In early 1933 she gave everyone a scare by disappearing for several days on another solo flight to Cape Town; thankfully, she had only got lost, run low on fuel and landed safely in the Sahara. [Bert Hinkler, who disappeared at about the same time, was killed in the Alps]. She then flew back to England and almost immediately went down with a bout of typhoid, but recovered in time to compete in the King's Cup later in the year.

Mary Bailey3

After that, she concentrated on looking after their horses, giving and attending loads more balls and receptions, and marrying off their many children.

 

When Abe died in 1940, she settled near Cape Town (still keeping a house in Rutland) and died there 29th August 1960 aged 69.

 

King's Cup in 1927, 1929, 1930, 1931, 1933

Lady Mary's aeroplanes were:

a 1926 DH.60 Moth (G-EBPU),

a 1927 DH.60X Moth (G-EBSF, the one she crashed in Tanganyika),

the replacement DH.60X Moth (G-EBTG, which Abe bought in Nairobi);

a 1928 DH.60G Gipsy Moth (G-AABN);

a 1929 DH.60G Gipsy Moth (G-AAEE) and

a 1930 DH.80A Puss Moth, G-AAYA.

W.3 *

15 Feb-40 to May-45

First Officer

RAeC 1929

Mrs Lois Butler

flag canada -> flag UK née Reed, 3 Nov 1897, Montreal, Canada

the "beautiful" [so said Harald Penrose] wife of Alan Butler. (Later, the 'Flying Grandmother', oh well...)

Her first husband having died in 1923, she married Alan Butler in 1925; together they had a daughter and a son.

15th in the Women’s Combined Alpine Skiing at the 1936 Winter Olympics, skating for her native Canada (although she was a member of the British Team before that).

 

An ATA pilot in WWII, eventually flying more than 1000 hours in 36 types of aircraft. Post-WWII, the Butlers moved to Rhodesia and bought a tobacco farm, but eventually moved back to Studham Hall, Bedfordshire.

She owned a 1930 DH.80A Puss Moth G-ABGX, which was sold in France in December 1934, re-registered as F-AMRX and whose registration was finally cancelled in 1936.

d. 17 Aug 1970 in Piraeus, Attiki, Greece from a heart attack while on holiday, and is buried in Studham.

 

Oxford DNB "Butler [née Reid], Lois (1897–1970), aviator and skier, was born on 3 November 1897 at 275 Drummond Street, Montreal, Canada, the only daughter and second of the five children of Sir William Duff Reid (1866–1924) and his wife, Minnie Cormack (d. 1949). Taken to Canada in 1873, when his father undertook railway projects, William Duff Reid later joined him on the Canadian Pacific Railway. On the death of Reid senior in 1908 he became president of the Reid Newfoundland Co. Ltd, based at St John's.

Lois Reid was sent to England to be educated at Abbots Langley School, and returned in 1913 to complete her education at Havergal College, Toronto. She met her future husband, Lieutenant-Colonel Hugh William Knox-Niven (d. 1923), when he arrived as aide-de-camp to the governor of Newfoundland. They married in 1918; there was one daughter of this marriage, which ended in 1923 with Knox-Niven's death. In 1925 Lois married Alan Samuel Butler (1898–1987), chairman of the De Havilland Aircraft Company. He ran an air-survey firm in Newfoundland and had been involved in carrying the first airmails there. They had a daughter and a son. Alan Butler owned a succession of De Havilland aircraft in which he toured and raced. In 1928, with Lois as passenger, he set a world speed record for two-seater light aeroplanes, of 119.77 m.p.h. In 1929 Lois gained a private pilot's licence (no. 1963), and in the following year acted as second pilot to her husband, flying a twin-engined Gloster Survey biplane (G–AADO) from London to Cape Town. Designed for aerial survey and photo-mapping by De Havilland for the Aircraft Operating Company, Cape Town, the AS31 was a unique aircraft required for an urgent four months' contract to cover 63,000 square miles in Northern Rhodesia. The Butlers left Heston Aerodrome on 20 March 1930, accompanied by an engineer, the plane laden with spare parts. Lois kept a diary and photographic record of the 8000-mile trip, which involved twenty-three stops for refuelling and repairs and took twenty-seven days. They arrived in Cape Town on 15 April, Lois having undertaken approximately one quarter of the flying each day. On her return she competed in the king's cup air race and the Europa Rundflug, a 7000 mile race around Europe.

The years between the wars were truly golden for those with means, leisure, and a sense of adventure; the Butlers possessed all these. Lois Butler joined the Kandahar Ski Club in 1930 and, already a first-class skier, was awarded her gold K in 1931 and an alpha for downhill racing in 1933. The UK was largely responsible for starting downhill and slalom racing, and Lois was a member of the British ladies' team, taking part in European ski championship meetings that later became world cup events. When Canada sent a team to these international ski meetings she naturally transferred her affections and ski prowess to the Canadian team, representing Canada at the 1936 winter Olympics at Garmische Partenkirchen, and many other important international meetings, until all sports came to a full stop with the advent of the Second World War.

By 1939 Lois Butler had accrued over 300 hours as a pilot and was among the first eight women asked to join the AirTransportAuxiliary (ATA), formed in September to ferry aircraft from the manufacturers' airfields to RAF bases. A reluctant Air Ministry had finally agreed that women pilots could be allowed to fly small trainer aircraft, and by the bitter January of 1940 they were ferrying open Tiger Moths from the factories. The weather and visibility was always bad, but spring found them adept at flights from the south of England to the north of Scotland. The group having proved itself, Lois Butler was among the first to be selected later that year for conversion to light operational aircraft at the Central Flying School of the RAF. As the pressures of war increased so did the intake of women to the ATA, and eventually they were flying all types of operational aircraft. By VE-day (8 May 1945), Lois Butler had flown more than 1000 hours, handling 36 types of Royal Navy and RAF aircraft, including the Mosquito, the fastest of them all. This was a range of experience obtained by very few service pilots.

After the war the Butlers sold their home in London and the family moved to Salisbury, Rhodesia. They also acquired tobacco farms near Bulawayo, but Lois did not settle, and they returned to Studham Hall, in Bedfordshire, leaving their son, David, in Rhodesia. Lois Butler returned to skiing at the Kandahar Club, renewing her friendships in Europe. The summers were spent sharing her husband's passion for boats; they would go down the French canals to the Mediterranean each summer and visit the Greek islands. It was during one of these holidays that Lois Butler died, of a heart attack, in Piraeus, Greece, on 17 August 1970. She was buried in St Mary's Church, Studham."

W.12

25 May-40 to Jan-41

First Officer

 

1934

Amy Johnson CBE

flag england b. 1 July 1903, Hull

RAeC Certificate 1929

Mrs Mollison from 1932 to 1938

 

Amy was 'a slight young woman with heavily lidded eyes, dentured teeth, a shy smile and a soft Yorkshire accent' [she later developed a rather fake upper-class BBC one, possibly under her husband Jim's influence].

 amy johnson 1929 1929

By 1929, a secretary (albeit one with an economics degree, and an engineer's licence to go with her aviator's certificate) turned solo record-breaking pilot and all-round nation's sweetheart. Married for six years to Jim Mollison (which was a Big Mistake).

On May 26th, 1932, after her solo flight from America, Amelia Earhart was the guest of the Royal Aero Club in London, and amongst the ladies in attendance were Lady Bailey, Amy, and Winifred Spooner (less than a year before her untimely death).  

"First combined aviation with work in a law office, but specialized on the former and in 1930 made a solo flight to Australia by way of learning her job. Has established a high reputation as a long-distance navigator-pilot in flights, many of which were records, to various parts of the world. Has not done much racing yet" [1936]


Amy originally applied to join the Air Transport Auxiliary on 29 February 1940. At the time she gave her address as the 'St George and Dragon Hotel, Wargrave', and quoted her previous experience as 'approx 2,000 hrs day, 500 night'. 'Types flown' were 'Most light types, several twins, Ford Tri-motor - about 50 in all'.

The form also had a space for "have you any foreign experience?", in which she wrote 'Nearly all except S. America.' She was, shall we say, not your typical ATA applicant.

After being made redundant, like Joy Davison (q.v.), when National Air Communications closed down, she spent the next few months trying to find something better, but to no avail. On the 20th April, ATA Womens Commandant Pauline Gower wrote to her to ask if she was still interested in joining, and, if so, "I shall be glad if you will forward us by return your log book and licence for inspection". Two days later Amy sent the documents, but asked if they could be returned as soon as possible, as she needed them for her medical examination on the 7th May.

 

A week later, Amy received a circular letter: "Dear Madam, We are holding interviews and flight tests here on Monday next, the 6th May, at 11a.m. Kindly let us know if you intend to be present". She wrote a short note back on the 2nd May:"I note the arrangements for Monday at 11a.m. & will be there".

This was the famous occasion when Amy turned up and saw another applicant "all dolled up in full Sidcot suit, fur-lined helmet and goggles, fluffing up her hair etc - the typical CAG Lyons-waitress type." ... "I suddenly realised I could not go in and sit in line with these girls (who all more or less looked up to me as God!), so I turned tail and ran."

Luckily for her, when she telephoned ATA to make some excuse about having the 'flu, they said the job was being kept open for her anyway, the test was just a formality, and she could start when she liked. Which she duly did, on the 25th May, as a 2nd Officer.

 

Her initial instructor's report was OK: "A good average pilot who had no difficulty in converting to both Master and Oxford aircraft. Should be suitable for modern single engine service types and multi-engine trainer types. With a further period of dual should be quite suitable for Blenheim type."

Despite her extreme reluctance to join the ATA in the first place, clearly thinking it was beneath someone with her great experience (she thought she could have had Pauline Gower's job, "if I had played my cards right and cultivated the right people"), Amy settled well into the job and "worked hard and conscientiously". She was promoted to First Officer on July 1st 1940.

 

She was killed 5th January 1941, aged 37, after baling out into the Thames Estuary from Airspeed Oxford V3540. It seems likely that she was run over by the boat trying to rescue her.

janes airspeed oxford

A flurry of urgent telegrams and letters hurtled around on the 5th and 6th January, as everyone tried to find out what had happened to her:

ADDRESSED TO ALL RAF FLYING UNITS AND WESTON SUPER MARE FROM AIR MINISTRY: OXFORD V3540 MISS AMY JOHNSON LEFT SQUIRES GATE 1045 HOURS 5/1. REQUEST NEWS OF ANY SUBSEQUENT LANDING IMMEDIATELY. ALL UNITS TO ACKNOWLEDGE.

They all replied, along the lines of this one from No 3 Ferry Pool, Hawarden: REGRET HAVE NO INFORMATION REGARDING F/O AMY MOLLISON OXFORD V3540   (They obviously forgot she was divorced).

 

By the evening of the 6th, the concern was for the second of the two people thought to have been on board: IDENTITY OF PASSENGER OF OXFORD V3540 PILOTED BY MISS A JOHNSON WHICH LEFT SQUIRES GATE 1045 5/1. TWO PEOPLE BALED OUT IN THE ENGLISH CHANNEL IDENTITY OF SECOND UNKNOWN

It was headline news in all the papers, of course:

Gloucester Citizen, 7 Jan 1941: "AMY JOHNSON DROWNED. BALED OUT OVER THAMES ESTUARY. Amy Johnson, the airwoman, is feared to have drowned after baling out of her plane over the Thames Estuary on Sunday. A woman passenger with her in the plane also baled out, and they came down some distance from a boat. An Officer who jumped into the sea in an effort to save them is also believed to have drowned. Just before Miss Johnson baled out her plane was seen to dive towards the sea. A speedboat put out immediately, but the men aboard failed to find her or her passenger. The flight authorisation papers from her machine were, however, picked up from the sea.

A Good Swimmer. Her father. Mr. W. Johnson, a Bridlington fish merchant, was telephoned by Miss Pauline Gower, head of the Air Transport Auxiliary, saying that the wreckage of his daughter's aeroplane had been found in the sea. Mr. Johnson told our reporter:— " Everyone knows Amy's skill as a pilot. If there had been any chance of getting the machine down safely she would have done it. She must have been injured, too, before she landed in the water, for she was a good swimmer. 'We were looking forward to having her home at Christmas, but she had to cancel her visit because of flying duties.  I spoke to her last Saturday night. She was very cheerful. She joined the Air Transport Auxiliary six months ago. She knew it was a risky job, but she felt she had do something for Britain, and flying was the job she knew best. Our one comfort is that she gave her life for her country.'"

The mystery of the 'passenger' was addressed by Pauline a few months later:

Hull Daily Mail, 27 Aug 1941: "AMY'S LAST FLIGHT Miss Pauline Gower, Commanding the Women's Section Air Transport Auxiliary, stated yesterday at a London luncheon that she had checked Johnson's last flight and had "absolutely no doubt how she died" in the Thames Estuary last January. The famous airwoman, Miss Gower said, ran short of petrol in bad weather, and when she baled out "it was just bad luck that she happened to be over water. In baling out the type of 'plane she was flying it is often necessary to jettison a door, and this door coming down may have given rise to the rumour that there was another passenger aboard."

Pauline wrote to Amy's parents on the 10th January: "Apart from the loss to the Nation of one who, by her achievements, had endeared herself to all, we are suffering our own particular loss. Since she had been with me, she not only proved herself to be a pilot of the calibre one might expect, but we had come to rely on her and she had made friends with all and sundry."

Amy's aircraft included:

a 1928 DH.60G Gipsy Moth (G-AAAH) which she named 'Jason', and is now in the Science Museum;

a 1930 DH.80A Puss Moth, G-AAZV, 'Jason II';

a 1930 DH.60G Gipsy Moth, G-ABDV, er, 'Jason III'.

After 1930 she owned:

a 1932 DH.60G III Moth Major, G-ABVW, ... ummm, let me guess... yes... 'Jason 4', and

a 1932 DH.80A Puss Moth, G-ACAB, 'The Desert Cloud'.

W.2 *

27 May-40 to Dec-40

grace brown 1934 

RAeC 1934

Mrs Grace Brown

 za-1928flag b. 2 Feb 1897, Pieter Martizburg, SA

[Contract Terminated by ATA]

 

 "Mrs. Grace Brown flew for Air Dispatch (Mrs Victor Bruce's airline)".

Grace Brown was an early recruit for the Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA) in May 1940 but soon had to discontinue ferrying due to "getting into a poor state of health" - a confidential note some two years later says that 'between ourselves, a little elbow-lifting was attached to it'. [I have no real idea what this means, unless it implies a drink problem].

She asked for 3 months unpaid leave, on the understanding that ATA could offer to continue with her services at the end of it. In the event, when she started back in December, she wrecked the port undercarriage leg of an Airspeed Oxford by selecting 'Undercarriage Up' instead of 'Flaps Up' after landing, and was promptly dismissed.

W.22

23 Jun-40 to Oct-43

First Officer

ursula preston 1939

RAeC 1939

Ursula Mary Preston

flag england

b. 23 Feb 1904, London

prev exp: 168 hrs

[Contract Terminated by ATA]

Mrs Metcalfe from Jun-43

d. 1975

W.10

25 Jun-40 to Nov-45

Commander

4-engine (Class 5) pilot

Margaret Wyndham Gore 1938

RAeC 1938

Margaret Wyndham 'Margot' Gore MBE

flag england

b. 24 Jan 1913, Worthing

d. 1993

Read More ...

W.20

25 Jun-40 to Jan-45

First Officer

4-engine (Class 5) pilot

flag england b. Ethel Ruth Nicholson in Shepperton, 5 Jun 1913.

ethel nicholson 1930       Ethel 'Ruth' Lambton (Ballard)

RAeC 1930

 

Her parents were Capt William Henry Nicholson and Sybil Wigham.

Educated at Roedean, got her 'matric', and went into welding research as an engineer, working for Arc Manufacturing Co. in Shepherd's Bush.

She married John Lambton in March 1934, and they had one son, Peter. **

In 1937, she and the Hon. Ruth Cokayne took a 'light-hearted summer tour' to Budapest (via Brussels, Cologne, Munich, and Salzburg) in a Gipsy Moth; a trip which they reckoned cost them about £55 each in total.

ruths cokayne and lambton 1934 Ruth C (l) and Ruth L (r) ('Flight')

They muddled along in a breathless, schoolgirlish sort of way. In Frankfurt, all their possessions were confiscated but then 'we found ourselves in the officers' mess, where the entire squadron shook our hands with the utmost solemnity, clicked heels, Heiled Hitler and gave us lunch! Another round of handshakes, our belongings were duly returned to us, and we Heiled Hitler gratefully ourselves as we took off'.

She was an early recruit to the Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA) in 1940, starting on the 25th June as W.20 - the 20th woman employed by the ATA. (Ruth Cokayne also joined the ATA, as W.40, in April 1941).

They admitted that she 'flew very well indeed and was exceedingly keen', but pretty soon, she had her first accident. In November 1940, she landed a Fairey Battle and ran into an unmarked drainage ditch. The problem was, she wasn't cleared to fly the Battle at all, it being 'out of her class', and she was suspended for 5 days with loss of flying pay.

Her husband John was killed on active service in Gibraltar in 1941, and she then met and married an American, First Officer Edwin Dana Ballard, also of the ATA, in 1942.

Things were going better (for a while); in June 1942 she was considered a 'good steady pilot, handling the larger types of aircraft excellently'. However, she was actually demoted to Second Officer (for three months) in August 1942, for landing a Mustang in dangerously bad weather conditions.

She was suspended (again) for a week in February 1943, for taking off in a Spitfire with the hood open. Her instructor said she was 'a very high spirited officer who finds discipline somewhat irksome, and as a result is subject to occasional outbreaks. However, if handled with a little extra understanding & consideration these outbreaks are at no time serious or to the detriment of her work. As a pilot her keenness and desire to get work done are exceptional'.

The following month, March 1943, she taxied a Tiger Moth into an oil bowser, and was held responsible: 'taxying without due care'.

Nevertheless, in mid-1943 she was put on the conversion course to fly 4-engine (Class 5) aircraft; unfortunately, her training ws suspended after 3 days as 'it was considered that the Stirling was proving too much for her to tackle under emergency or adverse conditions.'

In 1944, another instructor (presumably less understanding & considerate than the previous one) agreed that she was 'an excellent pilot who works hard and efficiently' but 'her sense of discipline is poor and she is uncooperative and frequently obstructive'.

She tried again in May 1944 for Class 5 and this time was successful, eventually flying Halifaxes for a total of 9hrs, Lancasters 31hrs and Stirlings 5hrs. She was one of only 11 ATA women cleared to fly 4-engine aircraft.

She made it right through until 1945, but then pushed her luck too far. In January, she and Edwin were hauled before a disciplinary court for 'drinking during an unauthorised period in spite of a warning by a senior officer' and 'insubordination'.

The Court was inclined Not to overlook the offences. "After considering the evidence, and after hearing verbal evidence given by Commander Whitehurst and Captain Rome the Court reached the conclusion that the charges were fully substantiated, and after reviewing the record of both these officers, who as pilots have undoubtedly done a good job, the Court nevertheless came to the conclusion that their disciplinary record throughout, as disclosed by the History Cards, has left a great deal to be desired, despite repeated warnings, and that this incident is so bad as to warrant their instant dismissal".

She and Edwin were duly dismissed, on the 23rd January 1945. They moved to the USA (to Edwin's home town of Hadley, MA), had 2 more children and then moved to Nassau, Bahamas.

ATA women in Nassau 1957 l to r Ann Wood-Kelly, Lettice Curtis, Ruth and Winnie Fair, Nassau 1957 (ELC)

 

She died in 2011; both hers and Edwin's log books are now in the Maidenhead ATA Heritage Centre.

 

** Her son Peter joined up with ex-ATA pilot Austin Young in 1959, in a CIA plot to overthrow Castro. They went to Cuba, but were captured almost immediately, and Peter was sentenced to 25 years jail.

ata austin young and peter lambton 1959 Austin Young and Peter Lambton, awaiting trial

When released in 1963, he declared flatly that the charges against him were true; "I tried and failed to help destroy Castro and I have no regrets."

25 Jun-40 to 25 Jul-40

2nd Officer

joan parsons 1933 

RAeC 1933

Joan Alys Helen Mary Parsons

flag england

b. 8 Oct 1906, Sandbanks Dorset

prev: 'Domestic At Home'

"Leamington's Airwoman of African Fame"

 

"AIRWOMAN FINED FOR QUITTING JOB

Complaint About Workmate "Exaggerated"

Joan Parsons, who made a name for herself 1938 by flying solo to the Cape [actually, she had to be rescued after a forced landing], was fined £5 to-day at Leamington, Warwickshlre, for falling to comply with a Ministry of National Service direction to work in an aircraft factory. Mr. W. A. Coleman, prosecuting, said that after being at a bench for two days Miss Parsons wrote to the firm complaining that she had been molested by a labourer, who repeatedly jabbed her under the arm. This so played on her nerves that she could not continue, and she left, declining to return for fear of further aggression.

''Of African Fame"

The letter was signed, "Joan Parsons, Leamington's airwoman of African fame." The complaint was grossly exaggerated, said Mr. Coleman. The labourer was a reputable workman, who thought he was encouraging the defendant by a playful act. Gilbert Stackhouse, shop foreman, said the labourer just touched Miss Parsons on the shoulder and said: "It won't be long now." 'I knew what he meant, but she didn't." added witness. "I told her that the man was trying to keep her happy, and instructed him not to go anywhere near her again."

The "Rough Man"

In evidence Miss Parsons said her father was a clergyman. The "rough man" who irritated her wanted to tickle other girl employees. The man leered in her face and was very objectionable. She kept away from the factory because she feared an act of revenge. Mr. Coleman: But surely you have had some experience of the world and meeting people? Miss Parsons: Yes. I have been treated very well abroad, and natives in territories on which I have had forced landings in Africa have looked on me as a goddess”.

 Mr. Overall, defending, said it was not everybody who reacted favourably to being jabbed the ribs every two or three minutes."

[The Yorkshire Post, 8 November 1943]

W.1

26 Jun-40 to Nov-45

Flight Captain

4-engine (Class 5) pilot

 

* Commended

Philippa Bennett 1937 

RAeC 1937

Philippa Mary Bennett

flag england b. 22 Nov 1919, Birmingham

Mrs Booth from 1947

 

 Philippa Bennett 1946 RAeC

26 March 1946:

"26-year-old Miss Philippa Bennett has been flying planes ever since she was 17. For 5 and a half years she flew with the Air Transport Auxiliary service, when she piloted all types of planes from 4-engined bombers to Spitfires. She got her B Licence in 1938. Now she is proposing to make a business out of what was her hobby and her war work; she has bought two high wing monoplanes with which she is starting her own air taxi service at Southampton Airport. She hopes to specialise in aerial photographic work.

Photo Shows: Miss Phillippa Bennett in her taxi monoplane at Southampton Airport"

 

d. 2007

W.16

26 Jun-40 to Nov-45

First Officer

Audrey Drummond-Sale-Barker 1929 

RAeC 1927

Audrey Florice Durrell Drummond-Sale-Barker

flag england

15 Jan 1903, London

(1908 on RAeC Cert, maybe they misheard her)

prev: Ski Instructor

Audrey Douglas-Hamilton, Countess of Selkirk from 1947

d. 1994

W.21

26 Jun-40 to Aug-45

First Officer

 Audrey Macmillan 1934

RAeC 1934

Audrey Evelyn Macmillan

flag scotland

b. 11 May 1915, Helensburgh, Scotland

Mrs Mackenzie from 1944

1 Jul-40 to 8 Jul 1940

2nd Officer

Elsie Joy Davison flag canada née Muntz, b. 14 Mar 1910, Toronto, Canada

 

elsie muntz 1930 RAeC 1930   joy davidson 1933   

Prev. Exp: 1,265 hrs solo

 Elsie Joy Muntz, who was always known as Joy, and signed herself as ‘E. Joy Davison’, originally wrote to Pauline Gower in early December 1939:

My Dear Pauline,
I have just this minute got wind of the W.S.A.T.A [Women’s Section Air Transport Auxiliary], and would very much like some further details about it.
At present I am flying for the N.A.C. with Portsmouth, Southsea and I.O.W. Aviation, based at Cardiff, but I am not particularly impressed, though the pay is reasonably good. Could you let me know how much the ATA are offering as a salary, and whether (if you know yet) there will be any chances of promotion later, or will one stay for ever as a Second Officer?
My experience at the moment is nearly 1,300 hours, of which about 600 is on twins and about 100 night. Normal peace-time occupation is Commercial Pilot; age is 29; not married any more (since 20/11/39!) ‘B’ Licence No 2567. Types flown: Moth, Avian, Puss Moth, Fox Moth, Cadet, Swift, Desoutter, Drone, Proga, Monospar, Tiger Moth, Klemm, Airspeed Courier, Airspeed Ferry, Miles Falcon; Privately owned: Cadet; experience: British Isles only.
My best wishes to Dorothy, if you should see her, and of course to yourself.


By the 9th of December, however, she wrote:
My Dear Pauline,
Many thanks for your letter and dope enclosed, also for the further circular letter from BA detailing salary etc.
Sorry old thing, but I fear the dough isn’t good enough, particularly considering one would be flying open cockpit stuff for a large majority of the time! Afraid I’m getting soft or old or something, but when I’ve got a job which pays about twice as well and where one earns one’s money in more or less comfort, the change offers no worthwhile attractions! Nevertheless I wish you all very well, and if any of you should happen to come to Cardiff for any reason do look me up. Of course I may be away I can give no promises!
Let me know when you have time and things have progressed a bit further, which of our flying females you have roped in!
Best of wishes to you, my dear, and the very best of luck to you. Awfully glad they picked you to be at the head of this thing. May it and you go far together!”

Six months later, and things had moved on somewhat:
“Dear Pauline,
Herewith the dope about me. Since chatting on the phone, I’ve managed to get some extra petrol to cover the trip to Hatfield by car, so think maybe it would save time if I were to come through while the contracts going through official channels – what do you think? If you agree send me a wire, and I’ll pack up and come pronto. Point is, the posts here are awful and I didn’t get your letter till this morning so a whole day was wasted which in these times is the devil!!
What sort of digs accommodation is there around Hatfield? Pretty crowded I reckon.
Am looking forward to coming a lot and so glad I can be of assistance. I’ll tell you more about what’s kept me out of it since N.A.C. cracked up, when I see you!”

joy davidson 1937

Joy started on the 1st of July, 1940.


Exactly one week later, unbelievably, tragically, she died in a crash.

miles master

The accident report said that the aircraft made a ‘spiral dive’ (not a spin) at about 600-700ft. "It continued in this spiral until it hit the ground and eye-witnesses, who are experienced pilots, state that they had no reason to consider that it was out of control but, for some unknown reason, it remained in the spiral until it hit the ground."


The pilot/instructor, Sgt l’Estrange was an exceptionally experienced instructor and was well acquainted with Master aircraft; Joy, as we have seen, was an exceptionally experienced pilot on many different types of aircraft.
No cause was ever found for the crash. One theory was that carbon monoxide leaked into the cockpit (despite Joy’s prediction, and unlike many pre-war Miles designs, the Master had an enclosed cockpit) and rendered the two of them unconscious.

Her many friends were aghast; Jennie Broad, who had also just joined the ATA, wrote to Pauline the very next day (9th July):
“Dear Miss Gower,
I would appreciate any information you are able to give me of Mrs Davison’s accident. We were old friends and if there is anything I can do please do not hesitate to let me know at once.
I have written to Mrs Davison’s mother, but as she will probably be in Hatfield before she receives my letter, will you be so kind as to give her, or anyone else representing her, my address and ask them to get in touch with me?”

Pauline wrote straight away to Joy’s mother:
I should like you to know how we shall miss your daughter. She was a most kind and cheerful member of this Section, and a first class pilot. May I offer you our most sincere sympathy in your bereavement."

Nearly a year later, on the 4th July 1941, Joy’s sister, Hope Muntz, wrote to Pauline Gower, asking her if possible to ‘write a few lines to my mother on the 8th…. If you could give any news of the ATA and of Jenny Broad & Mrs Patterson I know she would be so pleased.”


Pauline, of course, did write, to say; “we shall be thinking of Joy and wishing she could still be with us.”

W.5

6 Jul-40 to Nov-45

First Officer

4-engine (Class 5) pilot

Lettice Curtis 1937

RAeC 1937

Eleanor 'Lettice' Curtis

flag england

b. 1 Feb 1915, Denbury

 

Lettice's start with the ATA was delayed because she had to give notice to her job with C. L. Surveys Ltd.

In 1948 she set a new womens' speed record of 313 mph (flying a Spitfire XI), beating Jacqueline Cochran's 1940 record.

Lettice Curtis in Spit 0456 0003

wrote:

'The Forgotten Pilots' (1985); "Lettice Curtis - her autobiography" (2004)

 

 d. 2014

W.9

8 Jul-40 to Apr-44

First Officer

mabel glass 1934

RAeC 1934

ata mabel glass 2

flag NI

b. 1 Apr 1913, Whitehead, NI

W.18

30 Jul-40 to 11 Jun 43

Second Officer

[Training Pool Adjutant 5 Aug 42 to 27 Nov 42]

jennie broad 1935

RAeC 1935

W018 Broad Jennie 

ATA 

jennie broad 1948

RAeC 1948

Jennie Broad

flag UK

b. 28 Jun 1912, Cape Town, South Africa but grew up in Sussex; attended Bournemouth High School

Flight, April 1937:   "The chief attraction of the weekend was a demonstration of the Hillson Praga monoplane by Miss Jennie Broad. After she had put the machine through its paces, numerous members took the opportunity offered of going up with her in the machine."

According to the Blue Mountains Advertiser (Katoomba, NSW), Fri 18 Nov 1949: “Miss Jennie Broad first graduated as a pilot in 1934, and to add to her experience qualified as a ground engineer. By this she helped to meet her flying instruction expenses in overhauling engines for airline companies and working as a club engineer. She had many jobs in aviation, including flying passengers to air rallies in Holland and Belgium and demonstrating and selling light aircraft. Through the experience she gained in this field, she became England's first woman test pilot.

On the outbreak of war she joined the W.A.A.F. as a transport driver and received a commission as a code and cypher officer. In July, 1940, in answer to the call for civilian pilots to ferry aircraft for the Royal Air Force, she transferred to the Air Transport Auxiliary. From ferrying light training aeroplanes she graduated to fighter aircraft and bombers, flying some 40 different types of aircraft until 1944, when she was medically boarded. She then joined a welfare organisation for the Royal Air Force and after a few weeks' training in Germany went to the Middle East, where she operated clubs on R.A.F. desert stations in Egypt and Iraq.”

 

[Contract terminated by ATA (twice, actually - firstly in March 1942, reinstated Nov-42, then in Jun-43, on 'Medical Grounds', but this followed her 3rd 'at fault' accident)]

 

After WWII, Jennie moved to Australia 'as a refugee from British bureaucracy' (reportedly saying "Australia is the only country in which to live these days"), and in 1951 joined the WRAAF as a 'Flight Officer, Administrative'.

 

Jennie Broad 1951

By then, she had made her political views perfectly clear; she didn't like that there Socialism:

"In August 1948, I returned to England." she said. "When I had left, the country had had five years of the toughest time. They had had all the horrors of the blitz bombs, the doodlebugs and so on. But I had returned expecting to find my country free of some of the rules and directions of war. When I left the people had a tremendous hope for the future and were proud of the part their country had played. I spent two of the unhappiest months of my life there. Gone was the spring in the step of the people. They were tired and content to accept the rules that had been laid down for them. The queues were longer than ever. The people were living mainly on whale meat and fish. We got one egg every six weeks.

I could not understand it at all. But slowly it came to me. It was in 1945 that the Socialists took over. They came with the old Labour Party understanding on the part of the people. But it was not long before Mr. Attlee had nationalised everything he could lay hands on. Taxes were on such a scale that the worker found it paid him better to stay away from work at regular intervals. A large number of girls in the Post Office admitted that they had deliberately lost a day a fortnight because it paid them better to do so.

In 1947, we introduced the 'Engagement Order.’ In 1735 compulsory labour was abolished in England but it rested with a Labour Party to re-introduce it.

To-day there are at least three men who are serving terms of imprisonment because they refused to accept the work that was offered to them. Refusal to take the job offered means imprisonment. You see the people are gradually again being enslaved. In England, owing to the nearness of war, we had gone further along the road to compulsion in everything and Labour was presented with an already working scheme for the carrying out of their policy. In that regard the Labour Party in Britain was in a better position than was the case in Australia. We have our identity cards. If I move from town in town I have to register and re-register. When I return to England if I go abroad I have to register again. I decided to leave.it. We had won the war but lost our freedom. Nobody is allowed to follow his own will. If he works overtime, he is summoned and fined. In Australia they had been in danger of going along the same path but they had recovered in time and realised what it meant”

The Biz (Fairfield, NSW), Thu 15 Jun 1950:  "MEET JENNIE BROAD Fairfield residents have noticed an attractive young woman chatting with women in the shopping centre. It was Miss Jennie Broad, one of those courageous women who was a test pilot in Britain during the war. Charming and feminine, Jennie Broad has proved herself courageous during the war; and no less now is she displaying courage of a high degree.

Knowing the pitfalls of socialism in Great Britain, and the hardships it has brought upon the people who should now be enjoying a measure of relief from wartime restrictions, Jennie Broad came to Fairfield, when she heard 'a woman was standing for Parliament to oppose Socialism'. Although Miss Broad belongs to no political party, she says that she has seen the ill-effects of Socialism on family life, and she felt it her duty to come to Fairfield, meet the family people, and warn them to shake Socialism from their backs before it is too late.' Miss Broad speaks from personal experience, and she says she will address any gathering of women who, want to know the facts about Socialism and how it affects working people."

 

d. 2005 in Australia

W. 23

31 Jul-40 to Nov-45

First Officer

 dolores surour 1938

RAeC 1938

Dolores Theresa 'Jackie' Sorour

za-1928flag

b. 1 Mar 1920, Pretoria, South Africa

Father originally French, naturalised British

Mrs Moggridge from 1945

prev: WAAF

 

King's Commendation for Valuable Service in the Air

 

d. 2004

W.13

14 Aug-40 to Jun-44

Flight Captain

 connie leathart 1927

RAeC 1927

Constance Ruth 'Connie' Leathart

flag england

b. 7 Dec 1903, Low Fell, Northumberland

"Five foot three and of generous proportions" (Lettice Curtis);

0370 0018a

[Check]

"a very experienced pre-war racing pilot and ... looked like George Robey" (Mary du Bunsen).

[I'm not so sure this is fair ... here's a picture of George Robey for comparison:

robey3

Hmmm...]

 

"One of the first 20 British women pilots to obtain the RAeC certificate"

[Amazing - as Connie got her certificate No. 8,085 in 1927, 14 years after the first woman pilot Hilda Hewlett - but true; she was only the 12th woman to get an RAeC certificate]

0031 0007a

l to r Edith Chalmers, Adelaide Cleaver, Sir Sefton Brancker, Rosalind Norman and Connie before the start of the 1930 Heston Spring Flying Cruise to Germany

In the late 1920s and early 1930s, with Leslie Runciman (q.v.), she ran Cramlington Aircraft, a company which repaired damaged aeroplanes. She also designed and flew her own glider.

0122 0009a

Leslie Runciman and Connie (centre)

She was educated at Cheltenham Ladies College, and then Ethelburgas School back in Newcastle. By 1939, her mother had moved to Ottery St Mary in Devon, but Connie was still in the north-east, at Morpeth in Northumberland.

In December 1939, aged 35, working in the map department at Bristol Airport, she applied to join the Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA). Her experience at the time was over 700 hours, making her one of the most experienced women pilots in the UK, so she started as soon as they could sort themselves out (Pauline Gower was only allowed to take on 8 women to begin with) ... which turned out to be August 1940. 

Mary du Bunsen says that "Connie hated to fly high, because she said it was further to fall ... she was reputed to make most of her approaches from below ground level if possible".

She ended up serving for nearly 4 years, her contract being terminated in June 1944.

Her initial report said that she 'flies well and although rather lacking in polish she is perfectly safe and has useful experience behind her'. In fact, her flying was always described as reliable and steady, and she was cleared for Class 4 (advanced twin-engined) aircraft from May 1942, and promoted to Flight Captain in March 1943. She had three accidents, none of which were her fault: in January 1942, the undercarriage of her Blackburn Skua collapsed; the following June, the tail wheel of her Wellington was bent after taxying over rough ground, and then on the 2nd December 1943 her Spitfire 1a X4244 tipped onto its nose after its port wheel sank into an unmarked hole.

Her health let her down after her third accident, it seems. Having only been off sick for a bout of tonsilitis in early 1941, followed by 'flu that December, she was then off sick continuously from 4th December 1943 until 10 June 1944. She returned and did a perfectly satisfactory Class 1 ("only") check, and was posted to 12 Ferry Pool 'for ferrying and maps and signals work' on the 13th. Her short time at 12 FPP went well, apparently; she was "most helpful" and showed great "knowledge of all departments", so they employed her as an Operations Officer.

It's clear that Connie wanted to stay on. She wrote to the ATA on the 17th June:

"Dear Captain Mead (HQ ATA),

Thank you for your posting notice but I believe you should have put "etc"; I find I am temporary adjutant as well, although we hope to get assistance from Ratcliffe on Monday.

Mrs Wilberforce now suggest I should stay on Operations during Miss Jeffery's leave, i.e. 8 weeks from the 27th June. As you know my contract expires on the 1st July and I wonder if you can possibly extend it, in some form, for another fortnight, after which, if there are any further suggestions for my future, I should come to White Waltham and talk to you about it.

I know this is not exactly the usual way to go about such things but I did Operations fairly often during my two years at Hamble and feel that, if I can be of further use here, the problem of how to pay me ought not to be insuperable. I like the work here and have already got in some flying so I do hope you can resolve whatever difficulties may crop up."

 The ATA refused, and wrote back on the 19th June:

"I am instructed to say that it is not possible to consider any extension of this officer's current flying agreement.

If she wishes to sign a new flying agreement, under which she would revert to the rank of Third Officer on her present flying classification, she may do so. Alternatively, an administrative contract is also available to her as an Assistant Operations and Maps and Signals Officer, with the rank of Second Officer (Admin) at a salary of £300 per annum, plus 15s 6d cost of living bonus. It is however understood that Miss Leathart is not desirous of accepting an operations post."

 

Obviously, Connie didn't fancy starting all over again as a Third Officer, either. So, eventually, she was grounded (they cancelled her insurance on the 30th June) and told to report to White Waltham and return her uniform and equipment on the 7th July.

So ended, on a rather downbeat note, Connie's wartime ATA career. Her log shows that she flew "Moth, Magister, Hart, Proctor, Harvard, Master, Oxford, Lysander, Anson, Battle, Dominie, Albacore, Fulmar, Gladiator, Hurricane, Spitfire, Swordfish, Walrus, Henley, Skua, Courier, Blenheim, Airacobra, Beaufighter, Fairchild, Hampden, Wellington, Whitley, Hudson, Albermarle, Auster, Beaufort, Envoy, Ventura, Barracuda, Boston, Mosquito, Manchester and Mitchell" aircraft - a total of nearly 800 hours.

Lettice Curtis says "Although she never became senior in the ATA she was definitely superior in experience and in later years her common sense, stability and lack of fear of her superiors, many of whom she had watched learn to fly, made her a valuable friend and adviser."

---

The Times wrote "She continued flying until 1958 when, reluctantly, she finally disposed of the last of her aeroplanes.

Connie Leathart remained a reserved, private person who shunned any form of publicity. In a sense this was a pity as many of her feats went unremarked. In retirement she farmed in Northumberland, where she bred Kyloe cattle[actually, it seems that "she did not breed Kyloe cattle; she did once have a couple of them, but both were bullocks"] and raised sheep. An accomplished horsewoman throughout her life, she continued into her fifties to ride regularly to hounds with the Morpeth and Tynedale hunts. She never married."

A friend of hers tells me: "I knew her for the last 20 years of her life, she was my parents' employer and my grandparents' before them. An amazing and eccentric and very kind lady."

Died 4 November 1993 in Northumberland, aged 89

...

and John G D 'Jack' Armour (q.v.), who was her first flying instructor in the ATA, was her cousin(!)

Connie owned

G EAIN 0025 0103 RAeC

  • the 1922 Sopwith Grasshopper (WO 2698, G-EAIN, the only one ever built, which she acquired in 1928),
  • a 1927 DH.60 Moth (G-EBRX, later PH-KLG),
  • a 1929 Westland Widgeon IIIa (WA1776, G-AAJF), and
  • a 1932 Comper Swift, G-ABUU.

W.19

16 Sep-40 to Mar-42

2nd Officer

 diane farnell 1935

RAeC 1935

diane farnell ATA 

ATA

Mrs Diane Elaine Farnell

flag england

née Schlesinger (father German)

b. 27 Mar 1899, London

changed name to (step-father's name) New

[Contract Terminated by ATA]

 d. 1995

W.24

1 Nov-40 to Jul-44

Flight Captain

 

 1928

 c.1935

susan slade ATA ATA, with Graham Head

Eleanor Isabella 'Susan' Slade 

flag UK b. 10 Jan 1904, Hong Kong

 

 

"Efficiently managing the day-to-day business [of the King's Cup] was dynamic little Susan Slade... herself a pilot of considerable ability who has her own Moth". C G Grey

Dutch Rally (L Everard, Susan Slade etc) In Holland, with Lyndsey Everard et al

On one flight with her elder sister Betsy in 1938 over Germany, having missed their destination, they came down at the Berchtesgaden; Herr Hitler was away at the time, but the servants gave them a conducted tour.

Rallye Aerien Chateau d'Ardenne 17-19 May 1930 Susan Slade Rallye Aerien, Chateau d'Ardenne 17-19 May 1930 with Adelaide Cleaver

She won the first All-Ladies Race at Sywell, Northants in September 1931 (the Hon. Mrs Victor Bruce was second).

On the 21st May 1940, Susan wrote to Cmdr Gerard d'Erlanger, the head of the ATA, whom she knew quite well from before the war. She said: 

"Dear Pops,
I'm writing to ask if you will have any vacancies for ATA girls - I did apply originally but I had to give up the idea as Airwork refused to release me under about three months & I could not even attend the flying test as I couldn't be spared on the day it took place.
The situation is slightly different now. It seems fairly certain that we shall be turned out of Heston at any moment & apart from running the show here the rest of my work should only take about one week per month, which I feel someone else could be found to do. I should have a certain amount of clearing up to do naturally & so, as the date of the evacuation is unknown, I cannot say when I would be free.
I also feel that having spent 11 years in learning something about flying, I would be more useful at the present moment making use of this knowledge. I have already filled in the forms & if you think you could make use of me I could probably come for a test any time.
I shall be very grateful for any advice you can give me."

Susan was, indeed, one of the most experienced women aviators in the country - on her original application form, dated the previous December (1939), she quoted a total of 579 hours (1 of them night-flying) on "DH60, DH80, DH85, Avro Avian, Cadet, Klemm, Bluebird, and Puss Moth, in the British Isles, France, Germany, Italy, Holland, Belgium, Hungary, Poland and Switzerland."

HH Leech Clarkson Susan Slade Lady Runciman

In support of her new application, Airwork's Managing Director M D N Wyatt wrote this, in September 1940:
"Miss E. I. Slade was employed by this Company from February 1929 to June 1940. Her duties entailed the management of the Airport Hotel and Restaurant and she also had considerable responsibilities in connection with the Airport Club. During the time she was employed by Airwork Limited she carried out her duties satisfactorily, and we can confidently recommend her for any position of trust."

She eventually signed up on November 1st, and reported for her Flight Test on the 24th, with this outcome:
"Miss Slade is assessed a pilot of average ability. Her chief fault is inaccurate turns; difficulty is also experienced in settling down on a Northerly course."


Not brilliant, then, but at least Mr McMillan then went on to say "It is recommended that her appointment be confirmed".

Susan duly started, and by January 1942 was being recommended for promotion to Flight Captain by Marion  Wilberforce (Officer Commanding No 5 Ferry Pool, q.v.): "I have every confidence in recommending First Officer Slade to be considered for promotion on February 15th. She has shown great devotion to duty, accepted responsibility, and taken over command of the Pool when necessary."

This despite the first of her little mishaps - on 6 Aug 1941, she made a heavy landing in a Miles Master at Brize Norton, and was deemed to be 'at fault'.

The powers that be more-or-less concurred: 'First Officer Slade works hard, and in the absence of O.C. No 5 FPP (i.e. Marion Wilberforce) in fact takes over Command of the Pool. She is conscientious and hard working [I think you already mentioned that, actually], but hardly to be classed as a full time pilot".

["hardly to be classed as a full time pilot" is rather an odd thing to say, don't you think... what can they possibly mean?]

Her flying instruction report, unfortunately, makes less than inspiring reading; she "had considerable difficulty at first and her progress has been slow throughout. She has a temperamental nature and it was necessary to change her instructor."

I'm inclined to think that this was a clash of personalities between her and the original instructor. I haven't come across anyone else who thought that Susan was 'temperamental'; quite the opposite, in fact - for example, in December 1942, the replacement instructor reports that she is a 'keen pilot with a most likeable personality".

Anyway, the following January (1943), here we go again; she over-corrected landing a Mosquito, and the undercarriage collapsed. Again, she was deemed to be 'at fault'.

People were starting to get the (mixed) message; her confidential report from her Commanding Officer in February 1943 says she "has carried out her duties as Flight Captain in a very satisfactory manner. Her sense of discipline is good, and she is a capable organiser and can always be trusted to do her job efficiently and well. She should make a good Second in Command."

... followed by the usual sting in the tail: "An average pilot".

 

In March 1944, she was driving back in the dark to her billet after duty, turned a corner and ran into a lorry. She said it wasn't showing any lights (the driver said, oh yes it was) but in any case she hit some scaffolding which was sticking out of the back of the lorry and had some considerable injuries to her head and face, needing dental and other repairs. She was off work for a month, returning to duty on the 13th April.

Three months later, she was dead; on the 13th July, piloting Wellington Z1690, she crashed after take-off at Little Rissington. The aircraft "turned through 50 deg to starboard, lost height, crashed in a field and was totally destroyed."

 

vickers wellington

The Gloucester Echo reported it thus; "DIED IN SWERVE TO AVOID VILLAGE. RISSINGTON INQUEST A 40-years-old woman's dive to death in a service 'plane she was flying over the Cotswolds, and her swerve to avoid crashing on a village, were described at an inquest held at Little Rissington on Thursday.

The inquest was on Eleanor Isabella Slade, a single woman, who held the rank of Flight Captain in the Air Transport Auxiliary and the Coroner (Mr. J. D. Lane) recorded a verdict of "Death by Misadventure." Capt John Denys Mead, Air Transport Auxiliary, said that Miss Slade was the daughter of the late Marcus Warre Slade, a barrister, and of Mrs. Slade, of Minerva House Farm, Stanwell Moor, Colnebrook, Bucks. She was detailed on July 13 to take a 'plane to a certain R.A.F. station.

Dr. John Terence Gardiner, serving as a Flying Officer and medical officer at an R.A.F. station, stated that he was informed of a crash and, on arriving on the scene at 6.40 p.m. he found the aircraft on fire. He examined the body of the pilot and in his opinion death was due to multiple injuries and burns. After a number of technical witnesses had been heard, Police Special-Sgt. Sidney Taylor, stationed at Great Rissington, stated that at 6.15 p.m. on July 13 he saw a number of 'planes in flight, one of them flying low and heading for the village. It swerved, and Sgt. Taylor heard it crash about half a mile away in a field known as Whaddon, on Glebe Farm, Great Rissington.

CAUSE UNKNOWN A maintenance engineer was unable to account for the crash.

Recording his verdict of 'Death by Misadventure,' the Coroner expressed sympathy with Miss Slade's mother and her colleagues, and spoke of her courageous act in swerving to avoid what would almost certainly have been a crash on the village, involving perhaps the lives of several people. "

I have found references to this accident claiming that 'elevator trim' was suggested as a cause, but I have found no evidence for this; on the contrary, both the official investigation and the subsequent inquest found 'insufficient cause to account for the accident.' The starboard engine was being examined at one stage, but nothing seems to have come of that.

The wreaths at her funeral were from just about everyone she worked with:

"With love from Peter and Winnie Fair;
With deepest sympathy from Ken Howitt;
With love from Lois Butler;
With deepest sympathy from Engineering and Instruction Officers and Staff, ATA Thame;
With deepest sympathy from Station Officers and Personnel ATA Thame;
C.O. ATA & DWF on behalf of ATA;
Mrs Gerard d'Erlanger;
O.C. and Staff Officers No 5 TFP;
Pilots and Clerical Staff No 5 TFP;
Instructors, Staff and Pupils IFTS, and
O.C. No 12 and Pilots"

Brief Glory - The Story of the ATA - says "her death in the air was an irreparable loss to the Thame Ferry Pool and to civil aviation".

All of which goes to show that, even with her perceived limitations as a pilot, Susan Slade was a hard-working and trusted administrator, and an extraordinary, talented and much-loved lady.

Connie Leathart Lady Runciman HH Leech Clarkson Susan Slade r., with ??, Connie Leathart, Lady Runciman, HH Leech, Flt Lt Clarkson

Susan lived at Mallard's Court, Stokenchurch and is buried in Stokenchurch..

She owned:

a 1927  DH.60X Moth (G-EBSA), then

a 1929 DH.60G Gipsy Moth (G-AAIW), and

a 1931 DH.80A Puss Moth (G-ABLX).

1 Nov-40 to Oct-43

First Officer

helen silver 1930

RAeC 1930

Helen Wynne Eyton 1942

Helen Wynne Eyton c1942

c1942, via Peter Elliott

Mrs Helen Wynne-Eyton

 flag england

Helen Blandy-Jenkins

b. 9 Oct 1894 (1892? 1896?),  Kingston Bagpuize

Resident Timau, Kenya

Pilot in Kenya AAF 1939-40

Mrs Silver from 1914

Mrs Christie-Miller from 1947

W.26

1 Dec-40 - Aug-42

First Officer

 ann edmonds 1934

RAeC 1934

Ann Welch 0257 0004

In 1959, at an RAeC 'do'

Ann Courtenay Douglas

 flag england

née Edmonds

b. 20 May 1917, London

Mrs Douglas from 1939

Mrs Welch from 1953

d. 2002

W.27

16 Dec-40 to Jan-42

2nd Officer

 

RAeC 1930

Fidelia Josephine 'Delia' Crossley

flag england b. 1 Jun 1905, Altringcham Cheshire

 

0370-0014a - Delia Crossley

 

0312-0097a - Fidelia in KC

The daughter of Sir Kenneth Irwin, 2nd Baronet Crossley, Chairman of the Crossley Car and Engineering companies in Manchester.

In 1919, the Crossley family moved to Combermere Abbey, Whitchurch, Shropshire and her father held the offices of High Sheriff and Justice of the Peace for Cheshire. These days, although it continues in private ownership, Combermere Abbey ‘welcomes visitors in groups or on specific days by appointment’. It has been described as ‘one of the most romantic places in Europe’ .

Gained her pilot’s licence in 1930. She only competed in the King’s Cup once - in 1931, when she was the only woman competitor to finish, a gallant 20th out of the 21 finishers (another 20 dropped out on the way, don't forget).

August 1931 found her in Dublin; "Among the visitors was one who deserved especial mention, and that was the intrepid Miss Crossley, who put up such a fine show in the recent King's Cup race. She flew the long way round, and is now continuing to tour the country."

In 1932, she visited India, where "we hear she has been doing a considerable amount of flying." In fact, she competed in the Viceroy Cup (India's version of the King's Cup) with 5 other English pilots and 6 from India.

She also competed in several other races and gatherings, e.g.

  • Ladies event at Reading (May, 1931) - the other competitors were Amy Johnson, Pauline Gower, Dorothy Spicer, Gabrielle Burr (Patterson), Susan Slade, and Winifred Spooner - a historic gathering indeed.

  • London-Newcastle, August 1932, in Comper Swift G-ABUA; finished 11th of 18
  • Yorkshire Tophy Race, September 1932 (not placed);
  • Heston-Cardiff, October 1932, also in Comper Swift G-ABUA; finished 3rd of 9
  • the second 'Bienvenue Aerienne' in France (July 1934)

0370-0005a - C Grey Delia Connie  0370-0029a - Delia and friend

Delia with C C Grey (editor of 'The Aeroplane'), Mrs Grey, Connie Leathart and others.

 

She also entered her Comper Swift in the 1932 King's Cup Race, but withdrew before the start, and seems to have retired from air racing in 1935.

 

On the outbreak of WWII, Delia became an ambulance driver for the London County Council, but then applied for a job as a ferry pilot for the ATA. She started as a Second Officer on the 16th December 1940, but suffered a bout of 'corozyia' (presumably coryza, i.e. catarrhal inflammation of the mucous membrane in the nose) which kept her out for 6 weeks in October/November 1941, so that she didn't complete her training and start at a Ferry Pool until December 1941.

A few weeks later, on the 11th Januuary 1942, she had an accident in a Hurricane; when landing in bad weather, she overshot and went through a hedge. She was considered to be at fault, having 'persisted too far in bad weather and had to land in conditions which were too difficult for her', and her contract was terminated a couple of weeks later.

 

She married Geza O Schubert in September 1949.

0022-0001a - G-AAKC

Fidelia’s de Havilland D.H. 60G Gipsy Moth G-AAKC (seen here behind G-AACY) was first registered in July 1929, and she bought it from Malcolm Campbell Ltd, the Moth distributors for the UK. She eventually passed it to her father, and it was then sold in South Africa in 1937.

Her Comper Swift was first registered in February 1932 to  J D M Gray, and she sold it to Arthur H Cook (q.v.). It ended up in Indonesia.

d. c.1980


... and there's a splendid page about 'Combermere's Pioneering Aviatrix Delia Crossley' here, written by the archivist at Combermere Abbey.

1941

W.29

1 Jan-41 to May-45

First Officer

stefania wojtulanis 1941

RAeC 1941

Stefania WOJTULANIS

with thanks to Krzysztof Kubala

Stefania Cecylia Wojtulanis

flag poland

b. 22 Nov 1912, Warsaw Poland

- No RAeC certificate pre-war -

prev: Student of Engineering

F.A.I. 467

prev exp: 245 hrs

Mrs Karpinska

d. 2005, Los Angeles

 ata

The three Polish women pilots, with Pauline, in 1943

W.28

6 Jan-41 to Nov-45

First Officer

anna leska 1941

RAeC 1941

Anna Leska

with thanks to Krzysztof Kubala

Anna Zofia Marta Leska

flag poland

b. 4 Nov 1910, Warsaw, Poland

- No RAeC certificate pre-war -

Mrs Daab

d. 1998, Warsaw

31 Jan-41 to 7 Mar-41

2nd Officer

frances tollemache 1936 

RAeC 1936

Hon. Frances Patricia Tollemache

flag england

b. 24 Nov 1908, Tarporley Cheshire

 Mrs Lloyd-Worth

d. 1992

3 Feb-41 to Sep-45

Secretary to

Chief Training Officer

kathleen ferguson ata 

ATA

Kathleen Ferguson

flag england

b. 14 Jan 1903, Belfast

['Irish' is crossed out on application']

W.30

1 Mar-41 to Feb-42

2nd Officer

 sammy clayton 1936

RAeC 1936

Edna Violet 'Sammy' Clayton

flag england

née Samuel

Mrs Clayton from 1929

b. 26 Jul 1900, London

W.31

1 Mar-41 to Dec-41

First Officer

Not in 'Forgotten Pilots'

margery spiller 1935 RAeC 1935

margery spiller ata  ATA

Phyllis Margery Spiller

flag england b. 23 Nov 1905, Streatham London

 

Margery was that rare phenomenon - a female commercial pilot before WWII. Flight followed her progress thus:

10 October 1935: "South Coast Flying Club. Miss Spiller, in fact, was the first person to get her 'A' Licence with the Club, having completed her test on Saturday half-an-hour before Mr Myers."

23 October 1937: "London Flying Club. Miss Spiller completed the 'B' tests and made a night flight from Croydon to Lympne."

9 December 1937: "South Coast Flying Club. A very successful dance was held on November 27, when over a hundred members and guests attended. Miss Spiller, a member of the Club and a 'B' Licence holder, turned up in the Puss Moth which was at one time the property of the Duke of Windsor, then Prince of Wales."

1 December, 1938: "Miss Margery Spiller has joined the instructional staff of the Sheffield Aero Club as chief instructor and manager at the club's new aerodrome at Firbeck, near Worksop."

16 February 1939: "Eastbourne. Miss Margery Spiller has taken over from Mr W.S. Coates as instructor in conjunction with Mr. T.G Stubley."

If you can bear to read them (I warn you, it doesn't end happily - she died in May 1942), here is the correspondence which passed between Margery and the Air Transport Auxiliary:

margery spiller ata2


3 Dec 1939.  To: Air Transport Auxiliary, Womens Section, Air Ministry. Dear Sir,

I hear you are opening up a womens section of Air Transport Auxiliary. May I apply for a job?

I have a 'B' Licence and have flown over 2,000 hrs solo - 250 hrs on a D.H. Dragon. I have been Chief Instructor at the Eastbourne Flying Club. Last spring and summer up to when war broke out I was flying the D.H. Dragon for Air Dispatch - Croydon - an army co-operator.

I wonder if you will kindly forward this letter to Mrs Pauline Gower - who I believe is representing women in this Section.

I desperately need a job - as flying is my living.

(Miss) Margery Spiller 


 5 December 1939. To: Miss Pauline Gower

Sandown Court, Tunbridge Wells, Kent.

Dear Miss Gower,

I attach a letter from Miss Margery Spiller in the hope that you can deal with it. I am afraid I know nothing about the Women's Air Transport Section which this lady mentions.

Yours truly, C. Fraser 


 7 Dec 1939. Dear Miss Gower,

Although I have never had the pleasure of meeting you - will you please accept my hearty congratulations in having been made head of the Womens Section of the A.T.A.

I wish you all the luck in the world in your new venture.

Yours Sincerely, Margery Spiller. 'B' Licence [subtle stuff, Margery]


 9 Dec 1939. Dear Sirs,

Thank you for your letter of the 8th inst. calling me up for a flying test, which I will be very grateful to attend at 9:30 a.m. on Dec 15th.

It will mean a very long journey for me - but I will arrive in Bristol the day before. I wonder if you would be able to give me some idea as to what one has to do for the flying test. I have not flown since the 2nd week of August and I expect I shall feel somewhat strange and all last spring and summer I was flying a DH Dragon and as it will be impossible to hire and practice on a similar machine betwen now and my exam, I may not do my best and may get turned down. Will the examiners take into consideration that I have not flown a small aeroplane for over 12 months and I have not been up for over four months!!!

Thanking you. Yours Truly Margery Spiller.


 20 Dec 1939. Dear Miss Gower,

I feel I must write and thank you for having been so perfectly sweet and kind to me last Friday. It is a great consolation to know that there is at least one woman pilot devoid of swank. If I was in your shoes I am afraid I would be just a little conceited!

It was a terrible disappointment not getting through the test as I am desperately in need of a job, and flying is my job. I can't imagine why I fell to bits. I somehow got the idea in my head as I hadn't seen an aeroplane for five months that I would not be able to fly it. I can honestly say that I did not understand what the examiner was saying in the front seat - he told me to fly back to the aerodrome before I really realised what course to steer. As you note by my logbook, for the last 100 hours all my courses were northerly, so I can fly on a northerly compass course!!!

Last night I played in a darts match at the local ARP Ambulance Depot. Well the darts went in every direction except on the board, and I am considered the local 'champ! Went to bits because I knew I was playing against crack players. I compare this with the flying test - got all fussed - and self-conscious when I know there is a better pilot in the front seat.

It was kind of you to offer me another test last Friday - but very unfortunate I could not make it owing to the bad weather conditions. I do hope I shall have the luck to do another test soon and have another chance. I do need a job as I am very hard up Heaven knows what will happen if I don't get a job soon.

Should you ever give me a job, you would find me perfectly sound and reliable. Can handle machines well in rough weather. I am tough and very fit I am not likely to break anything - at least I have been fortunate up to now. I am very careful as one must never get over-confident. Experience in hours makes you realize that aeroplanes if treated badly sometimes will turn round and bite!

Wishing you a very Happy Xmas and lots of luck in the New Year.

Please forgive this long letter. Yours Sincerely, Margery Spiller.

p.s. It does hurt when aeroplanes will fly over my house. It is worse than getting over any love affair!


 11 Mar 1940. Dear Miss Gower,

Just a few lines to ask if you will kindly bear me in mind should you require any more pilots. It is not necessary to say how very keen I am to get a job as you know all about that, but I would like to say that should you ever give me a job, I am prepared to work very hard, do as I am told etc.! So as to be a real help to the ATA. If I don't do 50 hrs before the end of May I shall loose my 'B' Licence!!!

Kindest Regards, Margery Spiller.

p.s. I am still running around in a tin hat driving an ambulance, but often make epic armchair flights. Perhaps the four months rest has done me good as I am terribly fit. 


 28 April 1940. Dear Sirs,

I hear you may employ C.A.G. members to ferry machines etc. I have a 'B' Licence - instructors endorsement, and have done over 2,000 hrs - 250 hours on twins - Dragon and Rapide - can fly anything and have never had an accident. I was chief instructor at the Eastbourne Flying Club - and last summer I was employed by Air Dispatch, Croydon flying twins on Army Co-operation. I have been out of work since the war started. The Womens Auxiliary did not give me a job. It seemed unfair - as I have done more hours than any of them - and have a clean record. I suppose it is because I have no influence.

Last October I received a letter from the C.A.G. Ariel House London saying they may use me as a 'ferry pilot' or on general communications.

I an desperately in need of a job, as I have been out of work sometime. Flying is my job.

I would be so grateful if you can help me. Although I am a woman surely there is something in the flying world I can do.


 [Her letter was referred to Cmdr d'Erlanger on 3 May 1940] 


 8 May 1940, from Henrietta Stapleton-Bretherton. Dear Miss Spiller,

Miss Gower has asked me to reply to your letter of the 28th ultimo, to the Civil Air Guard at Bristol, which has been forwarded to her.

Miss Gower put your name forward again when more candidates were required to take a flying test but in view of the fact that you failed on your test it was decided that others should have the same chance as you did, before you were called up for a second test. Candidates are judged solely on their merits and no amount of influence would obtain you a job in the ATA if you were not up to the standard of flying proficiency required. Likewise if you are up to that standard you are given the same opportunities as everyone else. You were given your chance and unfortunately you did not at that time prove that you had the necessary flying proficiency.

Miss Gower hopes that you will be given the opportunity of taking the test again at a later date should you still wish to do so.


 14 May 1940. Dear Madam,

Will you kindly thank Miss Gower for the kind consideration, and let her know that I will be very glad to do another flying test. After my remarks in my letter to the CAG I think it very sweet of her to still bear me in mind. When I heard that others had been called up, I could not help feeling very hurt and disappointed, as I was under the impression that I would be called up for a test in the second 'batch'.

Yours Truly, Margery Spiller.


 26 June, 1940. Dear Miss Spiller,

If you are still anxious to join the Women's Section of the ATA, will you please let the writer know immediately stating how soon you can report for another flying test at Hatfield Aerodrome, Herts.


 Dear Miss Gower,

I feel I must write and ask you if you will be kind enough to help me. Please don't think I want to be unpleasant but I am sure you will agree that I have been treated in the most unsporting and cruel manner. Why the A.T.A. will not employ me I can't think. It is all so mysterious. After having done a flying test with you (and a very fair test I think it was), I understood I was taken on - and then filled in the necessary forms, and then the following day the non committal phone call from you postponing everything. One thing is certain - and that is that I have a very bad enemy somewhere - who has given you the wrong impression of me, and has succeeded in keeping me out of work in aviation for over twelve months. It is a very poor excuse to say that I "suffer with nerves" which is a lie - and perfectly ridiculous. I don't drink, and I have not had a single accident during the 2,000 hours that I have flown and out of those 2,000 hours I did a season's joy-riding at Blackpool with Mrs Joy Davidson. The only fault they can find is that three times while flying with Air Dispatch I 'turned back' - on account of 'no see - no fly'. I should always turn back when I could not see the ground any more - and when my altimeter showed only 500ft! providing of course I had no wireless operator.

I am so deadfully unhappy, and don't know what to do about it all. I do so want to join up with you. I know I  am a bit rusty, but I feel that after a few landings and take-offs I should be perfectly O.K. You know that don't you?

I am not a difficult person to work with and I have never had a row with anyone. Should I ever have the luck to be taken on in the A.T.A. I should be perfectly humble and start all over again - I would not talk - except to tell my troubles to you - if I had any. I know I should work well and try to please the A.T.A. in every way. Won't you let me have a crack at it? I would love to go to the C.F.S. and travelling in trains at night would not bother me in the least.

Just before war broke out I had great trouble at home. I had to give up my instructors job at Sheffield, and return home. My dear mother died very suddenly - in fact she committed suicide. She had had several operations and I suppose could not face another. Afterwards while flying with Air Dispatch I was rather run down and 'spat' at one or two people over the maintenance of a particular machine - I suppose the shock of mother's death upset me - and also being left with very little money. I have never told any of my flying friends about mother's tragic death - but I feel that you are such a nice person that you may be sorry for me and understand.

When I heard that I was supposed to 'suffer with nerves' I thought perhaps someone in the flying world had heard about mother, and tried to make out she was mad - and being jealous spread it around that I was nervy. It is not true - my health is perfectly sound and my medicals at the Air Ministry have always been good.

Forgive me writing this awful long letter, but I have tried to explain things. Can anything be done about me?

I enclose a letter I received from one of the Miles Bros of Philips & Powys - reading it appears that a man called 'Delanger' is up against me. I have never met him. How I wish I could call in at Hatfield and have a talk - but as I am an A.R.P. ambulance driver I am not allowed to leave the town - besides I have given up the car. It is so difficult to explain by letter.

Could you spare the time to ring me up one morning - phone Preston 2431. I will be in any morning all this week. 

Yours Very sincerely, Margery Spiller.

p.s. Capt. Harry Love at R.A.F. Aerodrome Sywell writes that he will be very glad to give me a reference, should you require one. He employed me at Eastbourne Club as an instructor.


Dear Miss Spiller,

I received your letter yesterday. I had intended to write to you concerning the possibility of you joining the Air Transport Auxiliary, but I did not know your new address.

I would point out that you are labouring under a delusion in thinking that you have an enemy in Mr. d'Erlanger or anywhere in the Air Transport Auxiliary. Personal prejudice, even if it existed, which I am sure it does not, would never be allowed to interfere with the engagement of a pilot, and I must say that although I quite understand your feelings, I do not think you do yourself or your chances any good by writing such letters.

I pointed this out to you some time ago, if you remember. However, I am now able to offer you a position as a pilot in No.5 Ferry Pool on a month's probation, providing the Air Ministry sanction the granting of a contract. Will you please send me three copies of a photograph of yourself. It should be head and shoulders, without a hat, and on receipt of these photographs, we will send them to our Administration Officer, and he will communicate with you here in the near future.


21 Nov 1940. From: Henrietta Stapleton-Bretherton, Adjutant.

To: Mr Purnell, Establishment Officer, White Waltham.

Miss P.M. Spiller passed her test here on 29.6.40. I shall be glad if you can get her pass through as soon as possible. Will you please communicate with her at 60, Wiltdean Court, Preston, Brighton, where she has gone to live, as 'Dene Place' is now shut up.


26 Nov 1940. Dear Miss Gower,

I was so pleased to receive your letter and to hear that you will give me a job. I do hope I shall make a success of it. I promise you I will try to do my best in every way. I enclose the photographs you asked for.

I wonder if the A.T.A. will kindly write to Capt. Jennings-Bramley A.R.P.O., Brighton, saying that you have called me up and ask for a transfer to the A.T.A. I would be very much obliged if you would. I propose leaving the A.R.P. say two weeks from next Wednesday. I would like a weeks rest before I start work with you. I imagine it will take about three weeks before my papers go through.

Could you suggest somewhere for me to live in Hatfield, and would it be possible to bring my old wire terrier dog as I don't know what to do with the poor little chap. It would break his heart to leave me. I thought perhaps someone may know of a kindly landlady who would not object to looking after him when I am away. He is a very old dog and gives no trouble, and I just couldn't bear to leave him.

Does one get paid during the four weeks on probation? Monthly or weekly? Would I be allowed to have a uniform providing I wear no stripes, only wings. It would save the bother of bringing lots of clothes, and would be inspiring. If allowed where do I get the uniform? Would it be cheaper to get flying kit at Hatfield - or shall I rush up to town and get a rigout, and what do you wish me to get? At the moment I have nothing as I gave it all away thinking I would never fly again.

Should I be allowed to start off with a blue uniform I could send the measurements and could have any necessary alterations made down here by my tailor. My wardrobe is so low at the moment, as I have been wearing uniform in the A.R.P.. If I could start with your uniform it would save buying a lot of things. Should I be unfortunate and not be taken on after the months probation, I would be quite prepared to take the loss.#Please excuse all these questions but they do seem rather necessary as I cannot call to see you.

Thanking you for your kind consideration. Margery


28 Nov 1940. Dear Miss Spiller,

Miss Gower has asked me to reply to your letter and to acknowledge receipt of the photographs.

Miss Gower will write to Capt. Jennings-Bramley, and will ask for you to be transferred to the Women's Section, Air Transport Auxiliary.

When your contract has been signed, Mr. Purnell, Administration Officer of the Air Transport Auxiliary, at White Waltham, will tell you when to report for duty. This will probably not be for some weeks.

Before joining us, most pilots come here and arrange about their own billet, but if you are unable to do this, I will book you a room at the Stone House Hotel for a few days, and this will enable you to look round yourself afterwards. The Stone House has no accommodation for dogs.

You will be issued, on loan, with flying kit and your pay will start from the date upon which you join. No uniform of any kind is issued to pilots until they complete their probationary month. Yours Sincerely, (Adjutant)


8 Feb 1941. Dear Miss Gower,

I do hope nothing has gone wrong with my contract to join the A.T.A. It is nearly three months since I last heard from you. I have moments of 'panic' when I think about it.

It is rather awkward not knowing when I have to report to you for duty - as I can't make any definite arrangements about 'rooms'. I have written to various addresses at Hatfield, but there doesn't seem anywhere to live there. How I wish you operated from Gatwick Aerodrome as I live so near and it would save me from keeping two places going. I suppose it would be ridiculous of me to ask if I could be fitted in at Gatwick. I heard that you did send a machine round London for that purpose. Should I have to live a little way out of Hatfield could you arrange for me to have an extra supply of petrol coupons? I have a 12 h.p. car and I only have 6 galls per month. It would take all that to get from here to Hatfield. I wish I could run up and have a talk with you. It is so difficult to explain all this by letter.

I do hope I shall make a success of the job. Believe me I do want to do my very best both in the air as a pilot and on the ground. When I start work I wonder as a special favour if you would personally give me a few 'circuits'. It would give me confidence. I have the greatest faith in you as after all you are one of the pioneers of flying & you are the right person in the right job. Please accept Best Wishes for a Happy New Year. Yours Sincerely, Margery.


 10 Feb 1941, Dear Miss Spiller,

In reply to your letter of the 8th inst., addressed to Miss Gower, we have not yet received your pass from the Air Ministry, and until this comes through you will not receive your contract. There is always unlimited delay in this connection, and you will have to wait patiently until it is received.

I am afraid you have been misinformed about a taxi machine picking up pilots who live in or around London. There has never been any such means of conveyance. If you live within a radius of ten miles of Hatfield, it will be possible for you to have a little extra petrol to get to and from work.

As I said in my letter of the 28th November last, it would be better if you stayed the first few days at the Stone House and looked round for living accommodation from there.

You will be notified by Captain Kiek at White Waltham when to report here for duty. Yours Sincerely, (Adjutant)


 19th February. Dear Miss Spiller,

Will you please report here for duty on March 1st.

During your probationary period you will be paid at the rate of £230 per anum, plus £7.10.0 subsistence allowance. Subject to your probationary period and final test proving satisfactory, you will then be rated as Second Officer and be entitled to a basic salary of £230 per annum plus £8 per month flying pay, plus £15 per month subsistence allowance.

If you require any further information, I shall be pleased to let you have it.

Yours Faithfully, (Adjutant)


29th February 1941. Chief Instructor To: O.C. No 5 F.P.

Re: 2nd Officer Spiller and Clayton.

The above have this day successfully passed a confirmation of appointment flight test.

Both these officers are considered good pilots for the experience they have had and are likely to become useful ferry pilots.

margery spiller ata  At Last.


 29 May 1941: Instructor's Report:

Flies well and carefully. Little lacking in confidence and although quite good shows experience of only about 300-400 hours rather than the 2,000 claimed.

29 May 1941: This one is self-explanatory:

BAT Letter Spillerjpg


 1 Jun 1941. To: The Accountant, B.A.T. From: Henrietta

Dear Sir,

Thank you for your letter of 25th May.

Miss Spiller is employed at this Ferry Pool, and the above address will find her. Her Commanding Officer has spoken to her about this matter, and Miss Spiller has said that she will look into it.


White Waltham. Sunday. Dear Miss Gower,

I hear we are retuning to Hatfield soon, as we have finished school. I wonder if you could do me a secial favour? and give me permission to stay here, and go over every morning in the Anson? I am so terribly happy and settled in my billets, and was so uncomfortable at Hatfield.... I am staying with some friends of my family and living a normal comfortable home life, which makes such a difference to my work.

Am working very hard and do hope you will receive a not-too-bad report. In haste. Please accept my love. Margery.


White Waltham. Monday. Dear Miss Gower,

Thank you so very very much for giving your permission for me to stay on here until we move to Luton. It really is most kind of you and it helps no end. How relieved I am to know that 'we girls' are sticking together under your control, although it is rather fun landing out at various aerodromes. It is more interesting and broadens our 'flying views' and I think shows the men that we can fly as well if not much better than they can.

Please may I learn to fly the Anson, so that when Margie [Fairweather] is off I could take it to Hatfield and back. It would be empty, and I know I could do the job, as I feel happy on twins (or used to). It would be a lovely way to start on a machine like that in case later on I may be needed on something big.

Please do let me? I would feel more useful. I am getting on very well and doing everything very quietly. Am so terribly happy, and love my job. I hope to have dual on the Harvard tomorrow. Do hope I put up a good show and that you will be pleased and never regret having taken me on in the A.T.A.

Am so grateful to you. Love, Margery.


6 Nov 1941. From: A.B. Macmillan, Chief Instructor.

This is to certify that First Officer M. Spiller (Miss) has this day completed a course of training qualifying her to fly Class 2 aircraft.

Confidential School Report

This Officer is a good pilot and her progress during the course has not been unduly slow. She is inclined to underconfidence however and when nearing the end of the course she became over anxious about the result and was obviously trying too hard. She was granted 7 days leave, returned and passed out with assessment average.


8 Nov 1941. To: Chief Accountant.

Please note that F/O Miss Spiller is entitled to receive "First Officer C" pay as from and including 7.11.41


4 Dec 1941. To: Miss P Gower, C.O. 5FPP, Hatfield. From: O.C. RAF Sealand, Flintshire, Wales

RE: 1st Officer Spiller

This pilot has twice recently landed at Sealand and telephoned us up asking for us to take on her machine. Each time she has given personal reasons for wanting to get back, and also complained that she is very frightened of the types of machines she has been flying, namely: Hurricanes and Masters.

This morning when she telephoned us she claims to have been at Sealand for a week, and to be short of money and laundry. We have been flying between here and Prestwick on at least three days during the last six, and at any rate there has been good enough weather for her to fly her machine into Hawarden. She seemed extremely reluctant to do this, but I think it is wrong that we should be asked to take machines from other aerodromes than Hawarden.

On both these occasions I felt more or less obliged to take over the machine, as this officer sounded very nervous and worried about her job, so I decided that it would be unwise to leave her there with it.

...Perhaps some steps can be taken to prevent this pilot continuing this practice.


[Margery went off sick on the 21st December]


12 Jan 1942. From: Dr J.G. Thwaites, Brighton

This is to certify that Miss M Spiller is suffering from debility after mumps and is not fit to return to duty.


26 Feb 1942. From Establishment Officer. To: Chief Instructor

Re: Acting F/O P.M. Spiller

According to our records the above officer has been absent from duty since 22.1.42 suffering from mumps. Her flying pay and subsistence allowance were accordingly stopped after a fortnights absence, but in view of the exceptionally long time she has been off duty I should be glad to know whether you wish any further action taken.


16 Mar 1942. From Dr. E.F.Bambury M.D, 10 Harley St London W.1

This is to certify that Miss M. Spiller is not yet fit to resume flying duties. She probably will be able to resume her duties within two months.


20 Mar 1942. From : Kitty Farrer (P.A. to Miss Gower) Dear Margery,

Miss Gower has just received your Medical Certificate dated March 16th.

In view of the fact that you have now been away on sick leave for the past three months and that this last certificate states that you "will probably be able to resume duties within two months", Miss Gower considers that it would be much more satisfactory if you were to see the Chief Medical Officer of A.T.A.

She has therefore arranged for him to see you on Tuesday March 20th[sic], and has asked me to write to you to ask you to report to him at White Waltham on that date. I understand that he will probably be able to see you at any time during the day.


11 May 1942. From Mrs Nicholas, 30 Aberdeen Pl, St John's Wood London NW8. Dear Miss Gower,

Just a short note to let you know that my cousin Margery Spiller died this morning from cancer, she unfortunately left it too long before consulting a Dr. as to what really was the trouble. I am glad to say she did not realise how seriously ill she was & it really is a happy release under the circumstances.

I wonder if you could let me have the address of her billets at Hatfield also at White Waltham as I understand she has left belongings at both places, also I believe she had some flying kit at Hatfield but I do not know if it is her property or issue & the same with her uniform, I would be glad if you would let me know.

The funeral as far as I know will be on Thursday next at Croydon Crematorium being the nearest place to Sevenoaks if any of her particular pals would come, to know [sic].


12 May 1942. From: Pauline Gower. Dear Mrs Nicholson,

Thank you very much for your letter of the 11th May. I am more sorry than I can say to hear the sad news about Marjorie [sic, I'm sorry to say] Spiller, and please accept my very deep sympathy.

She will be a great loss to us, not only as a pilot, but as a very charming companion, and I know that I am speaking for all her colleagues, as well as for myself.

Unfortunately, I shall not be able to go to the funeral myself, but I believe that some of her friends are coming.

With again my deepest sympathy. Yours Sincerely, Commandant of Women Pilots.


 12 May 1942, From Flt. Capt. Stocks, Establishment Officer, ATA. Dear Mr Spiller,

It was with deep regret that I learnt from the Commanding Officer of the death of your neice - Miss P.M. Spiller, and I am directed to express the heartfelt sympathy of the Commanding Officer and fellow A.T.A. pilots in your sad bereavement.

No doubt you are aware that your neice had been with this organisation for over twelve months, and it is felt that had she been spared, her adaptability and proficiency would have made her an excellent ferry pilot, and her loss is one that we can ill afford.


15 May 1942. From P.A. Spiller, to Establishment Officer, ATA. Dear Capt Stocks,

I deeply appreciate the kind lines of sympathy in which you have expressed the sympathy of the Commanding Officer and fellow A.T.A. pilots, including yourself, to me in the sad death of my neice Miss P.M. Spiller who has been with you all for a long time now.

Your reference to her adaptability, and proficiency, is also gratefully acknowledged, for I know her whole heart and soul was in the war job which she had undertaken.

I will ask you to kindly convey my thanks, and the contents of this letter, to all who knew my neice and have so kindly thought of me in my bereavement.

I am, Yours Sincerely, P.A. Spiller


Flight recorded her passing, thus:

28 May 1942: "We regret to record the death, at Sevenoaks, after an illness, of Marjory [sic, and I wish somebody would spell her 'f'ing name right for goodness' sake] Spiller , who was Chief Instructor to the Eastbourne Flying Club before the outbreak of war, and afterwards joined the women's section of the A.T.A.

She learnt to fly at Shoreham in 1935 as a member of the South Coast Flying Club and gained an instructor's endorsement to her 'B' licence in 1938."


15 May 1942. From Betty Nicholas. Dear Miss Gower,

Thank you very much for your kind sympathy and the lovely flowers.

I am sure Margery would have been very honoured to know that she was missed as she was so proud of being in A.T.A. & of being of some use to the country during these trying days.


Margery's flying record in the ATA:

Moth: 74hrs 50min;

Magister: 18hrs 35min;

Tutor: 4 hrs 35min;

Hart: 1hr 10min;

Harvard: 3hrs 30min;

Battle: 1hr 05min;

Hurricane: 1hr 30min;

Master: 4hrs 25min.

W.32

1 Mar-41 to Aug-45

Flight Captain

4-engine (Class 5) pilot

 elizabeth may 1934

RAeC 1934

W032 May Elisabeth

ATA 

The Hon. Elisabeth Frances May

flag england

b. 29 Jun 1907, Rickmansworth

Mrs Henderson from 1955

 

King's Commendation for Valuable Service in the Air

 

d. 1995

W.33

1 Mar-41 to Nov-45

First Officer

 joan jenkinson 1933

RAeC 1933

joan jenkinson 1935

RAeC 1935

ata joan dutton HB

HB 

Mrs Joan Jenkinson

flag england née Joan Molesworth Dunn, 7 Aug 1908, Sevenoaks, Kent

5' 9". Fair hair, blue eyes.

Mrs Duggan from 1928 to 1930; (one child, of which the father was granted custody)

m. John Jenkinson (suicide, 1935)

31 October 1935: "WORRY DRIVES MAN TO NEEDLESS SUICIDE Dramatic evidence was given Mrs. Joan Jenkinson, the youngest daughter of Sir James Dunn, the Canadian financier, at the inquest at Hammersmith to-day on her husband, Mr. John Anthony Jenkinson, who was found shot in his Chelsea home on Tuesday. A verdict of "Suicide while of unsound mind" was returned. Mrs. Jenkinson told the coroner that her husband was 29 years of age, and a cigar merchant. His general health had not been very good of late, and he had been in a nursing home for little while. He had been depressed owing to financial troubles. She had been away, and when she returned home on Tuesday she found a letter on the table in her husband's handwriting addressed to her. She had lunch with him afterwards, but returned about 4:40pm to find him dead."

prev. a Cadet Officer with the Mechanised Transport Corps, May to Jul 1940

Address in 1940: 1, Wilton House, London SW1

Ferry Pools: 1, 5, 9, 15

 

Her C.O. at 9 FPP, Hugh Bergel, thought her "a most conscientious, industrious and reliable ferry pilot. Her unassuming but charming personality are both an asset and a good influence in the Pool."

 

Hon. Mrs Dutton from 1943, after she married the Hon. Charles Dutton, also of the ATA (q.v.)

 

d. 1982

W.34

1 Mar-41 to May-43

First Officer

 mary corbett-lowe 1939

RAeC 1939

Mary Josephine Hunter

flag england

 née Corbett-Lowe

b. 17 Dec 1913, Bromborough, Cheshire

[Contract Terminated by ATA]

d. 2010

 W.35

1 Mar-41 to Nov-45

Flight Captain

veronica innes 1940

Veronica May Innes

flag england b. 20 Apr 1917, Cambridge

RAeC Cert 17,266 (16 Feb 1939)

Veronica joined the ATA having spent the previous 15 months as a driver for the London Ambulance Service.

She had a few mishaps - she 'mishandled the controls' of a Hurricane and it nosed over after landing; struck the side of a low-loader in a Spitfire (reprimanded for taxying without due care), and also struck a pile of chocks when taxying an Argus. She also had one forced landing after engine failure in an Anson, but even the ATA couldn't blame her for that.

She was considered a 'careful, steady' pilot: "An extremely reliable and intelligent pilot whose influence in the pool is good [that's the ferry pool, presumably]. Has progressed well."

She was, however, reckoned to be 'too diffident in manner to really possess any great qualities of leadership. It is her sense of responsibility and interest in the job that makes her a useful Flight Captain".

 

Mrs Volkersz from 1942 - she married Flt. Lt. Volkersz of the Netherlands Navy, and took out Dutch nationality.

 

wrote "The Sky and I" (W.H.Allen 1956)


d. Dec 2000

W.36

1 Mar-41 to Apr-43

First Officer

honor pitman salmon

RAeC 1936

honor pitman ata 

ATA

ata honor pitman 

MUWW

Honor Isabel Pitman

flag england b. 30 Oct 1912, London; father Ernest, mother Frances Isabel (Butler), who was Irish. She was an heir to the Pitman (of shorthand fame) family fortune.

Honor learnt to fly originally in 1927 (at the age of 14) at the Bristol and Wessex Aero Club but "because of my age, I always had to fly with someone & could never go to other aerodromes to land." Eventually, in 1936, she passed her RAeC Certificate and had done 120 hours before the start of WWII.

She was in Australia in 1938, and then started as a driver in the 12th Oxford Motor Transport ATS on the 1st September 1939; however, when she heard that the ATA was on the lookout for people with flying experience, she wrote to them in March 1940:

"I would very much like to know if there is the possibility of my joining your section of the service? I am an 'A' pilot & have only done about 120hrs flying in small club planes - Swallows, Cadets and Aroncas, but I am prepared to take any training in any line if I could help you. 4 years ago I joined the FANYs [which I gather stands for First Aid Nursing Yeomanry] in hopes of a flying section being started, but this never materialized.... I had been hoping on my return from Australia last year to have my own plane & work for my 'B' licence but instead I have had to content myself with reading text books."

The ATS, by the sound of it, didn't want to release her, and in December 1940 she asked the ATA to "please write to my Group Commander so that she can have a letter to show the 'powers that be' that the work I am asking to transfer to will be more important than the work I am doing at this present".

Eventually she was invited to do a flight test, which she passed, although the assessment was that she lacked experience and would need to be carefully supervised during her development. She enjoyed the experience, though: "Monday was a wonderful break to this humdrum war life for me, I thought everyone was so kind."

However, as there were no vacancies at the time for less experienced pilots, she was placed on a waiting list. She wrote: "I am of course very disappointed to hear you now cannot take me, but I am still bouyed up hoping one day you may call me up. In the mean time, I have a very interesting job and am trying to persuade myself that I am lucky."

 She started her probationary month with the ATA in March 1941, and became Mrs Pomeroy Salmon in June.

Honor Pitman 1941 via Andrew Heron

Her subsequent flying career was not, I'm afraid, a great success - in retrospect, it would perhaps have been kinder for her to have been stood down from flying. As it was, she suffered two accidents in two days; firstly, on the 5th March 1942, she taxied a Spitfire into an unmarked soft patch, then on the 6th the starboard undercarriage of a Hurricane collapsed.

These events left her in what was called in those days a 'very highly strung condition', and she was given a month's rest, and then a refresher course.

The instructor's report was ambivalent: "This pilot needed a refresher and has benefitted by being returned to school. Her chief fault is her attitude towards her job. If she can be persuaded that flying is, after all, a very ordinary occupation, with common sense the main ingredient and that an ordinary sensible woman makes a better ferry pilot than a temperamental prima donna, she will do better and inspire greater confidence."

Unfortunately her subsequent reports, whilst allowing that she did improve generally, were hardly any better: "An unstable type. She admits she gets into a flap flying with an instructor, and claims she has no difficulty in navigating solo. Apparently tends to rely on Bradshawing [i.e. following railway lines] so I did not destroy her confidence in that, but showed her more polished methods."... "Very self-important at times" ... "This pilot occasionally flies well - but not so well as she thinks she does. Her progress will need very careful watching".

She had another mishap, on the 26th August;  she overran the perimeter of the runway in a Spitfire and nosed over in a heap of rubble, damaging the propeller. She was, however, deemed "Not responsible, as she had to swerve to avoid an Oxford landing"; lack of aerodrome control was blamed.

But still the worrying comments from her instructors kept coming: "She is not very bright when any difficulty arises. She is definitely very over-confident, and also lost herself on one occasion"... "this pilot has taken a long time to reach an average standard. Has worked hard and been very attentive, but should be watched carefully"..."Her greatest trouble now is her forgetfullness. Her flying is satisfactory but she is apt to forget things"

Again with hindsight, you have to wonder why the warning signs were ignored and she was allowed to carry on flying; perhaps it was because everyone seems to have liked her.

Eventually, what now seems inevitable happened; on the 19 April 1943 she flew on in bad weather instead of turning back, and was killed when her Airspeed Oxford MN765 hit high ground near Devizes.

airspeed oxford

She was the only ATA woman casualty who was deemed to be 'at fault' for her fatal accident.

pitman memorial plaque in St Peters Church 

Memorial in St Peter's Church, Dyrham (with thanks to Andrew Heron)

Western Daily Press, 24 Apr 1943: "The death of First Officer Honor Isabel Pomeroy Salmon (30), of the Air Transport Auxiliary, is announced. Daughter of and Mrs Ernest Pitman, of The Cottage, Dyrham, Glos., and the grand-daughter of the late Sir Isaac Pitman, of Pitman's shorthand, she attended school at Abbot's Hill and at Westonbirt School, near Tetbury. and at the age of 17 became a member of the Bristol Flying Club, taking her licence and becoming a keen pilot. She was a keen breeder and trainer of ponies, and frequently hunted with the Duke of Beaufort's pack and took part in point-to-point meetings. In June, 1941, she married Major H. Pomeroy Salmon, of the 3rd Hussars. She had been a member of the A.T.A. for two years."

WILL OF MRS. HONOR SALMON First Officer Honor Isabel Pomeroy Salmon left £30.279 7s. 2d. gross, with net personalty £28,131 6s. 6d She left her shares in Sir Isaac Pitman and Sons, Ltd., and Dun Mallard, Ltd., to the children of her brothers Isaac, Christian and John, together with her leasehold property, the site of 1, Amen Corner, London (destroyed by enemy action) and the right to receive war damage compensation. Subject to the disposal of her effects she left the residue to her husband, to whom, together with her brother Christian E. Pitman, Doynton House, Doynton, probate has been granted. "

Pauline Gower should have the last word, perhaps. "Honor will be very much missed not only as an excellent pilot but as a friend. She was a charming and gallant person."

W.37 *

1 Mar-41

2nd Officer

Miss Guinness

4th April 1941:

"Second Officers Pitman and Guinness attended for confirmation of appointment flight test on the 30th March, 1941 and both were successful.

Miss Guinness is considered above average for the amount of experience she has had."

[... but so far, no more details of the mysterious Miss Guinness have emerged]

W.39

10 Mar-41 to Nov-45

First Officer

 victoria cholmondeley 1933

RAeC 1933

Victoria Millicent Cholmondeley

flag australia

b. 5 Mar 1902, Longford, Tasmania

 

King's Commendation for Valuable Service in the Air

28 Mar-41 to 1945

Shorthand Typist

carol sworder ata 

ATA

carol sworder ata2 

ATA

Carol Sworder

flag england

b. 22 Nov 1922, Enfield

Father: Lieut-Cdr Kenneth Faviell Sworder RN, DSO

[Roedean alumni]

I/C General Office, No 5(T) FPP

later Mrs Bickerton

1 Apr-41 to Nov-41

2nd Officer

 enid bruce 1935 

RAeC 1935

Enid Frances Lilian Knight-Bruce

flag england or za-1928flag

b. 19 Feb 1900, Eastham Cheshire

(1903, Bloemfontine, SA on RAeC Cert.)

 prev: Censor

prev exp: 400hrs

On indefinite sick leave (collitis) from 6 Aug 1941

exp in ATA:

Moth: 38hrs 40min;

Magister: 2hrs 35min.

[Resigned 27 Nov 1941]

W.38

1 Apr-41 to Dec-45

Flight Captain

 lucy falkiner 1938

RAeC 1938

Hon. Mrs Lucy Agnes Vera Falkiner

flag england

née Verney-Cave

b. 1 Jan 1905, Stanford

prev: WAAF

prev exp: 14 hrs solo

d. 1980

W.40 *

15 Apr-41 to Apr-43

First Officer

 ruth cokayne 1936

RAeC

The Hon. Ruth Margaret Moore

flag england

née Cokayne 

b. 8 Nov 1909, London

Mrs Moore from 1939

Mrs Williams from 1949

d. 1997

Apr-41 to Dec-44

Flight Engineer

patricia parker 1938 

RAeC 1938

Patricia Mary Barbara Parker

flag UK

b. 9 Sep 913, Insein, Burma

d. 2000

Hatfield May 1941  ELC

- Hatfield in May 1941 -

Connie Leathart, Lois Butler, Margaret Cunnison, Pauline Gower, Jackie Sorour, Honor Pitman, Ann Douglas, Anna Leska, Stefania Wojtulanis, Winnie Crossley, Lettice Curtis, Pat Beverley (at the time she was a driver), Audrey Sale-Barker, Audrey Macmillan, Rosemary Rees, and Kitty Farrer

W.41

1 May-41 to Sep-45

Flight Captain

4-engine (Class 5) pilot

 cassandra bradford 1939 

RAeC

Cassandra Felicity 'Fay' Bradford MBE

flag england

b. 22 Sep 1915, London

Mrs Bragg from Jul-41

d. 1984

W.43

1 May-41 to Mar-42

3rd Officer

betty sayer 1937

RAeC 1937

 bettey sayer signature

Betty Eileen Sayer

flag england b. 18 Sep 1917, London

Daughter of Samuel Arthur Sayer and of Elizabeth Emma Sayer, of Stoke D'Abernon, Surrey.

Prev. Exp: 37 hrs solo

Betty was an 'Assistant Passenger Agent', working for Messrs Butterfield and Swire in Shanghai in 1940, but she had gained her Royal Aero Club 'A' Licence 3 years before. So, when the call came for women pilots for the Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA), she didn't hesitate; clutching this letter of introduction, she made her way back to England:

She explained to the ATA that her licence had, in fact, expired in August 1940; she had got half way through the course for a 'B' licence but abandoned this to return to Shanghai to join her father. She had 37 hrs 51 min solo, out of a total of 90 hrs 55min -  "chiefly Tiger Moths and Gypsy I"

'Well', said the ATA, 'as you've come all this way, you'd better have a flight test.' Which she did, and it was satisfactory.

As quite often happened, nothing happened. When they finally did write, it was to say that there were no vacancies, and anyway, "nobody with less than 50 hrs solo can be accepted at the moment."

Betty was understandably, a tiny bit annoyed. She wrote to them, again: "I told you at the time about my solo hours... there would seem to be little point in my carrying out a flight test ... I have travelled here from Shanghai for the express purpose of doing something to help the war effort...  Could you please let me know when I may expect to hear from you, as naturally I do not wish to do nothing whilst awaiting a communication from you... I might join the WAAF, although naturally I would prefer to become a member of the ATA."

They wrote back on the 28 March 1941: "You are on the first reserve", then on 5 April the long-awaited call came through: "Please report on May 1st".

ATA Betty Sayer

Betty was keen, and started instruction; she was 'shaping well', but the next setback came on 9 May:

"We have sufficient pilots to cope with our work at present, and we do not require your services. You had slightly less experience than any of the pilots we have taken on so far."

ATA Senior Commander Pauline Gower was not best pleased, either; she wrote to her boss, "I have had to dispense with the services of Miss Sayer as a pilot ... You instructed me to bring our numbers up to 40, and this is what I have done."

Poor Betty was shunted off to the non-flying staff, as a Secretary on 3 pounds 10 shillings a week. There she languished for a few weeks until, on the 3 July 1941, in another triumph of long-term planning, she was ... put on the flying strength once again. She had another test, on the 17th:

"Miss Sayer is obviously inexperienced and requires more practice with forced landings and compass turns. Try her again after another 20 hours dual and solo"

By the 9th Aug 1941 they reported: "Better: her turns near the ground have improved... enterprising and sensible in her flying."

 

The final, bitter blow was only just round the corner, however; on the 15 Mar 1942, she (with Bridget Hills (q.v.)) was killed at 12.20pm on the 15 Mar 1942 when flying as a passenger in Fairchild Argus HM178, which stalled and crashed onto a bungalow when returning to land at White Waltham after bad weather.

fairchild argus

Yorkshire Evening Post, 17 Mar 1942: "AIRWOMEN KILLED Ferry Pilots' 'Plane Hit Bungalow. The Ministry of Aircraft Production announces that Flying Officer Graham Lever, Third Officer Bridget Hill, and Third Officer Bessie Sayers lost their lives in a flying accident on Sunday. The accident occurred in the course of their duties with the Air Transport Auxiliary. The 'plane crashed on to a bungalow. A fourth passenger in the machine, also a woman A.T.A. officer, was injured. Twenty-six people were injured when they rushed to the house to extricate the passengers in the 'plane. It is believed that the petrol tank in the machine exploded.

Among the injured were children who were in the street. The petrol tank exploded some time after the crash, owing, it is believed, to contact with a fire in the kitchen. A man named Croft, living in an adjoining bungalow, was blown through a window into the street and badly hurt but a child in the front room of the bungalow was rescued almost uninjured. "

She was buried at Maidenhead Cemetery - Sec. D. Row K.K. Grave 19. 

Pauline wrote that "she was a vey keen pilot, who had her heart in her work. She flew well and had the makings of a good ferry pilot."

W.45

8 Jul-41 to Jul-45

First Officer

margaret bennett 1934

RAeC 1934

ata faith bennett 

MUWW

 faith bennett 1944

1944

 'Faith' Bennett

flag england née Margaret Ellen Riddick, 12 May 1900, London (1903 on RAeC Cert)

She married Hollywood film writer Charles Alfred Seiny Bennett in 1930, and calling herself 'Faith Bennett', was an actress pre-WWII -  firstly on the London stage and then in films. Known (apparently, according to iMDB) for 'Seeing Is Believing' (1934), 'Master and Man' (1934) and 'Eyes of Fate' (1933), although I've seen references to other films e.g. 'Love In The Air' and 'Atlantic Crossing.'

At the same time, she took up flying and passed for her 'A' Licence in 1934.

Anyway, in May 1941, she decided to 'do her bit': "Faith Bennett, actress and writer, is flying to England to ferry 'planes for the Royal Air Force [sic]. Mrs Bennett was born in London 30 years ago [sic]. Flying is her hobby. She holds both American and British licenses. ''One of my brothers died in the last war, another is in the Royal Navy, my sister is a censor at Bermuda - they are all doing their bit, and I want to do mine,' she said."

And indeed she did; she served in the ATA for over 4 years.

 

Post-WWII, she married Herbert Henry Newmark who, as it happens, was also an ATA pilot:

herbert newmark 1938

 

 

d. 1969 in London.

11 Jul-41 to 3 Aug-41

Secretary

lilian gearle ata 

ATA

Mrs Lilian Mary Gearle

flag england

b. 9 Apr 1901, Slough Bucks

[Contract Terminated by ATA]

24 Jun-41

geraldine james ata 

ATA

Geraldine Mildred James

flag UK

b. 28 Sep 1922, Chile

W.44

1 Aug-41 to Aug-45

First Officer

 mary de bunsen 1934

1934

Mary de Bunsen 1941 

ATA 

Mary Berta de Bunsen

flag UK b. 29 May 1910. Madrid, Spain

  1932

Mary born in Madrid, the daughter of Sir Maurice, the British Ambassador there.

She had been dragged round dances and hunt balls by her parents in the hope of finding her a suitable husband - these were, of course, in short supply after the carnage of WWI. "I was far too innocent to realise... that with a lame leg [after a childhood attack of polio] and horn-rimmed glasses I stood no chance whatever". 

She famously served in the ATA for four years, though, despite these physical challenges.

 

She never married, and died in 1982 in Dorset.

W.46

1 Aug-41 to Nov-45

First Officer

jean lennox bird 1930 

RAeC 1930

Jean Lennox Bird

flag UK

b. 8 Jul 1912, Hong Kong

d. 1957

W.47

1 Aug-41 to Jan-43

2nd Officer

irene arkless 1937 RAeC 1937

ata irene arckless MUWW

Irene Arckless

flag england

b. 28 Dec 1915, Uppingham

Prev. Exp: 53 hrs solo

 

Irene was one of those ordinary working-class girls who, by sheer enthusiasm and determination, and with the help of the subsidised Civil Air Guard Scheme, learnt to fly in the years before WWII. She managed to amass over 50 hours solo between 1937 and 1939. Amy Mollison (Amy Johnson as was, and she were only the daughter of a fish merchant in Hull) once snootily dismissed someone as "the typical CAG Lyons-waitress type".

You've probably met someone like Irene; bubbly, a bit cheeky, innocent, irreverent - 'high spirited', if you like that sort of thing, a complete pain if you don't - and probably exactly the sort of person who would get right up Captain The Hon. Margie 'Mrs Cold Front' Fairweather's nose. Which she indeed did - and of that, more later.

Anyway, in her first letter, dated 11 Mar 1941, having heard Lord Londonderry's appeal on the wireless the night before, she applied: "I wish to put forward the following for your approval, and I will be most grateful to hear from you if you think that my services could be of use in connection with the ATA... I was studying for my 2nd class navigators certificate and intending to take a 'B' licence but the war stopped all that I'm afraid.

I am 25 years of age, height about 5ft 4. I would very much like to get into the ATA, particularly as my fiancé is a prisoner of war in Germany (Flt Lt lockyer) and as he is no longer able to fly his beloved spitfires, if I can carry on his good work I would love to do so. I am swotting up all the information I can get hold of with regard to v.p. airscrews, superchargers and boost pressure, as we did not have any of those on our poor old gypsy moths, hornet moths etc!"

She closed by "Hoping I can do my bit for our dear old country."

 They invited her for a flight test, and on the 31st March she wrote:

"Dear Mr Wood
First of all I better give you an explanation of this letter! A few days ago I wrote to W/Cdr G. Tuttle asking if he could tell me anything about the prospects of the A.T.A. I had already submitted my application to them, and have since had a letter asking me to go to Hatfield for a flight test. I have arranged to attend at Hatfield on Tuesday, April 8th at 10-00.
I have had a letter from Geoffrey today, and he gave me your name and address, and told me to write to you, so I trust you will forgive the liberty I am taking.
What I want to know at the moment, and before I go to Hatfield next Monday - I am travelling down to London on the 7th instant, is - I might as well come straight to the point! - do you know what kind of machines they are using at Hatfield for the flight tests? I would be most grateful if you could drop me a note and let me know what to expect to handle - 'cause I want to be as well prepared as possible. I have handled Gipsy II, Hornet Moths, Fox Moth, and several of the ultra light types, such as Pragas, Taylor Cubs etc. I am hoping I don't have to do the test on a completely strange machine - if they have Tiger Moths there I shall be quite happy, as they are very similar to Gipsys as you know. If it will be in order for you to inform me what I will be most likely take the test on, I shall be most grateful to you."

He sent a telegram back which (even before the days of auto-correctign smartphones) managed to read "Tiger Mothers for initial test".

She was well into her stride now. Here she is, writing to ATA Adjutant Kitty Farrer on the 9 Apr 1941:
"Dear Madam,
First of all I would like to say how pleased I am that I was successful in passing my flight test yesterday, and that I am looking forward very much to coming down to take up duty. I already feel I shall be very happy with you all, as everyone was very nice to me yesterday. I do sincerely hope it will not be long before you send for me - you know I am honestly very anxious to get down to what I term 'a real job of work'.
There was one thing I forgot to ask you yesterday, a rather important one as well! The question of salary!!
I know the rates as published in 'Flight' but whether these apply to male and female, or only the former, I do not know, will you be kind enough to tell me exactly what the scale is?
From what you said yesterday, I gather I shall be at Hatfied 'under training' for about a month, & during this time I take it flying pay will not be applicable. I should like to know just how I shall be fixed as regards salary, so that I can make necessary arrangements here before I leave, i.e. (so that if necessary I will have sufficient cash to last me until I draw my first pay).
I am asking you this because I have recently transferred my Bank balance to War Bonds, & naturally do not want to have to 'cash in' on these if not necessary. I think you will quite understand my asking - I hope so anyway.Further, if there are any special subjects I can 'swot' meantime, will you send me a list? I am swotting up Met: Navigation, etc, and also my morse - I don't know whether the ATA ever have need to use the latter, but it may be useful at some time or other.

Believe me Mrs Farrer, this job of work I am going to do, & I shall do my utmost to do it well, means an awful lot to me, I told you my fiancé F/Lt Lockyer is a prisoner of War, & to me now, every 'plane we can deliver to the Great Lads of the RAF, means one day nearer to the time he will be home, & everyone carefree & happy again. You don't know Tommy, but he is a grand fellow, & a damn good pilot, he has over 3,000 to his credit! My record is a mere detail beside that isn't it?
To me, however, his 3,000 hours means an awful lot, & whenever I fly, I always try my best to do it well, I've his good reputation to uphold you see. You'll probably think that a very sentimental reason, on the other hand, maybe you'll understand what I mean.
By the way, I think I could get off with a fortnight's notice, so if perchance if I could start with you in May, will you let me know. Here's hoping I can start then.

Forgive me for taking up so much of your time with this letter please, I started it with the intention of being very business like! but I'm afraid it's got to be a personal letter in the end - hasn't it?

Hoping to be with you all very soon.

Irene"

She wrote back to Mr Wood to say thank you, and that "I passed the flight test successfully - in fact, I did very well indeed, so I was told by the Adjutant afterwards - she said "Your test was excellent". So you may guess I felt quite proud of myself!
Actually I surprised myself I must admit, because after being 'off' flying since the outbreak of war, I thought maybe I'd have forgotten a few things - however I hadn't, thank goodness! because this job means rather a lot to me as I told you."

Nothing happened ...

20th April 1941, to Kitty:

"Dear Mrs Farrer,
Many thanks for your letter of the 14th instant. You know you make me feel very much at 'home' the way you write, and I know that I will be very happy with you all when I come to join you.
I think I told you I am at an E.F.T.S. at the moment, and British Air Transport, who are running the School, have a scheme for training boys to become engine experts! (we hope!) so after office hours, I am an apprentice! I am trying to put together all the numerous parts which go to make up an aircraft engine!!
I suppose I will be reaching the 'watchmaker' stage before too long - you know - one piece over! Where the heck does this go?!! I have learned quite a lot about 'twin' types, and already, in theory! I think I could fly 'em!! That remains to be seen, but I hope one day soon I shall be flying twin, or even more than twin types.
Optimistic aren't I! Strange to say though, right from childhood I've always felt more at home 'upstairs' than on the ground.
Here's hoping you will soon require some more pilots Mrs Farrer, I'm an awful pest aren't I? but I'm just longing to get started you know."

Nothing continued to happen ...

5th June to Kitty:

"Dear Mrs Farrer,
Yes, it's that Arckless pest again! I am going to ask you something point blank, and leave it to you to decide what happens!
As so far there seems no possibility of me coming down to join you in the immediate future on the flying staff, I wonder if in the meantime there is any chance of a Ground appointment, either as a typist or clerical staff.
If there is any opportunity of work of this nature in the meantime, I would be perfectly willing to come down, and then later, when a vacancy exists for a pilot, I could be transferred to that vacancy.
I feel sure that I could make myself quite useful if there are any openings in this direction, but of course, as you will understand, I naturally want to start on flying duties as soon as possible.
I am sure you will think I am an awful nuisance, but as you have been so kind, I hope you will forgive me troubling you again. To be perfectly honest Mrs Farrer, this is between you and I entirely -  I am sitting in the office here doing practically nothing all day and I don't like it!
You see, as Mr Brown, our Accountant, knows I am leaving to come to A.T.A. sometime, he has taken on someone else who is taking over my job, and the point is, that I am left without anything to do, except to watch that my job is done correctly by someone else!
Well, there you are, thats the position, and if you are able to help me, I shall be most grateful to you.
Thanking you in anticipation of your reply, Very Sincerely, Irene"

Nothing still continued to happen; eventually Irene took herself off to another job, so she must have been amazed to finally get the call to report on 1 August 1941.

 

She completed training (although she bumped into another aircraft when landing on the 11th August, due to 'bad airmanship'), went on to ferry work, and progressed through the ranks; she was promoted to Third Officer on 5 Feb 1942, then Second Officer on 1 Jul 1942.

ata irene arckless

On the 24 Feb 1942, ATA Senior Commander Pauline Gower invited Irene into her office to discuss a rather delicate matter. Irene was typically ... forthright:

"Interview with 3rd Officer Irene Arckless
To Pauline Gower Dear Madam,
Further to interview of this morning, I would like to place the following statement on record as I feel it would be more satisfactory from my own personal view point. The matter being to me of a very serious nature, and effecting my good character, as such it has always been to date.

Reference the accusation made, and presumed to concern myself i.e. that at a certain aerodrome (unnamed) an unnamed duty pilot is reported to have said to me - when I requested the delivery chit to be signed - "I will, if you give me a kiss first".

I wish to emphatically deny these words, as never, on any occasion, has such a familiar attitude been adopted by any duty pilot wherever I have been.
Further, I would like to place on record that far from adopting a familiar attitude myself - I get my chits signed as soon as possible, and depart from the duty pilot's office.
Having served six months in H.M. Forces prior to joining A.T.A. I consider, that as an Officer and I trust, a lady, I know how to conduct myself both in and out of uniform.... "

Irene demanded a full and detailed enquiry, and went on,

"I would like to add that recently at a number of aerodromes visited, & by a number of people, I have been mistaken for another female member of the ATA, whether there proves to be any connection with the charge made & the above - will do doubt, after investigation, come to light.
I an Madam, Your Obedient Servant, Irene

Pauline (no doubt muttering under her breath 'For goodness' sake, calm down, woman'), replied:
"With reference to your letter to me of today's date, I would point out to you that you have not been charged with any offence. Certain matters have been brought to my attention and I took the course of discussing these with you in order to clear them up.
Under the circumstances I shall make a further investigation but in the meantime I am fully prepared to take your word concerning the particular instance mentioned in our conversation this morning."

... and that appears to have been the end of that.

 

The very next month (March 1942), however, a more serious matter came up, and she was grounded. Without boring you with all the tedious details of 'She said to me, so I said to her', etc, what happened was this:

On the 15th March, Irene ferried an aircraft from Catterick to Prestwick, via Carlisle. As she landed, who should be watching but Margie Fairweather, and she was not pleased by what she saw; "I noted the circuit and approach of the machine which ultimately turned out to be piloted by 3rd Officer Arckless. The final turn into the slight wind which was blowing, was done in a series of jerks, in the nature of flat turns, and the machine was then under-shooting by several hundred yards. The engine was now used to recover, and height was again gained. Thereafter the machine made a perfectly good landing on the grass. I was shocked to discover the pilot was 3rd Officer Arckless who is known to have some experience."

Margie confronted Irene, criticised her turns, the height at which she circuited the aerodrome, minutely cross-examined her on her knowledge of the valley, and queried Irene's explanation of a fuel leak for the large quantity of petrol taken on at Carlisle; (she asked for a 'Snag Report' and said "If it's found to be alright, it will be too bad for you", or words to that effect"); she also told Irene she clearly didn't know how to work an altimeter. Margie summed up her opinion of Irene in no uncertain terms: "Her whole bearing during our conversation convinced me, that her extreme confidence in herself as a pilot has no justification."

Irene, in turn, wrote, "Personally I feel that there is some personal prejudice existing in the whole of Captain Fairweather's attitude" and ended her report by stating, "my one ambition is to be an asset to A.T.A. and not a menace!"

As it happens, Irene came up with convincing arguments against all Margie's criticisms; nevertheless, she was sent back to School for a Check Flight, with the Chief Instructor, no less. I wonder if she could resist a slight smirk when the report came back:

19 Mar 1942
T/O I. Arckless
We have duly received your report dated 15 March regarding the above Officer, and thank you for writing.
Miss Arckless has had a flight check with the Chief Flying Instructor who has given us such a good report that we have no alternative but to return her to full flying duties.
Her explanations on your various points seem fairly satisfactory, but we shall, of course, keep this Officer under observation.

To be fair to Margie, she was just doing her job, and she was absolutely right to be concerned; the 15th of March 1942 was one of the worst days of ATA's existence, with 6 people dead in 4 separate crashes. Plus, Margie was a very experienced pilot and instructor; if she had concerns about the way Irene was flying, she was aprobably right. But in any case Margie and Irene's personalities and backgrounds were so different, they were perhaps bound to clash.

 

Pauline thought it best to transfer Irene anyway, with this note in her file:

"Miss Arckless suffers from over confidence and I am not at all satisfied with her ability as a Class I pilot. I should be grateful therefore if you would keep a careful check on her flying and general airmanship."

Irene's next mishap turned out entirely to her credit; on the 20 Aug 1942 she took off in a Mk I Hurricane, and the port undercarriage leg failed to retract. She wrote "I flew around for about 30 minutes trying to get port leg up, or starboard down, by the emergency methods... nothing happened, in any of these directions, the port leg remained down and starboard up.

After this I circuited the aerodrome, wiggled my wings, and made very amazing other actions. By amazing actions I mean: I trimmed aircraft to fly hands off as well as was possible under the circumstances, took both hands off and feet off everything and tried brute force to move the selector lever... during this period the aircraft certainly appeared to perform some remarkable antics!

I then did a further circuit and went in to land. Port wheel fortunately retracted and I made a normal crash landing."

She went back to School, but this time on a conversion course. Her final report was, again, positive:

"from A G Head, Temp. O.C. Training Pool
"a keen and safe pilot who has shown considerable initiative and resourcefulness. A likeable personality who is inclined to be rather high spirited but whose work is of a high standard. An extremely good navigator who will make a most useful ferry pilot.She had to cope with a difficult problem in a Hurricane with undercarriage selector trouble recently, and belly landed it with less damage than the Engineer Officer of the Station had ever seen before with similar circumstances. She was exonerated by the Accidents Committee, thus proving her School reports to carry considerable weight.All her work in Training Pool has been very satisfactory."

She had another accident, on 21 Dec 42; her Airspeed Oxford developed low oil pressure in its starboard engine and she had to force land. The incident was investigated and she was found 'not to blame'.

 

Sadly however, her next accident - less than 3 weeks later, in the same type of aircraft - was fatal. On the 3 Jan 1943, her Oxford V3888 crashed onto a house on the outskirts of Cambridge when an engine cut during a night take-off. She was taken to Addenbrooks but pronounced dead.

airspeed oxford

I don't think Pauline Gower ever warmed to her, actually; rather than the usual fairly positive summary, she managed to damn Irene with faint praise: "her conduct and general character was satisfactory and she performed her duties conscienciously"

 

 The ATA Benevolent Fund went to visit her parents, to offer assistance, but reported back:

"Mr Arckless is an ordinary working man, being an organ-builder by trade and I understand that in recent years he has not been fully employed, hence the reason that I deemed it advisable to interview the deceased's parents on the question of the Fund.

Both Mr. and Mrs. Arckless have requested me to thank the Organisation and the Committee for the consideration shown to them, but they feel that, although their daughter contributed considerably to the home, they cannot under the circumstances avail themselves of any monetary allowance which the Committee may have sen fit to grant them as they feel there must be many more deserving cases, namely young widows left with small children."

Cairns Post, 15 Jan 1943; "Irene Arckless, daughter of a Carlisle organ-builder, was known as "the flying school-girl." She realised her school-girl ambition to emulate Amy Johnson. She made her first solo flight when she was 21. She was killed on the day after her 28th birthday [sic]. She had just returned to her station from four days leave. She was engaged to Flight-Lieutenant Thomas Lockyer, a prisoner of war in Germany.

Lockyer's father said last night "Tom and Irene had known each other since childhood. She took flying lessons as soon as she left school. When Tom joined the RAF, she was determined to get her 'wings as soon as he.”

She joined the RAF ferry service in October, 1941 [sic], after she heard that Lockyer was a prisoner. 'One of us must keep flying, she said'.”

1 Aug-41 to 31 Dec-41

Cadet

louise colby 1936 

RAeC 1936

Mrs Louise Marie Melina Colby

flag UK

née Morin

b. 5 Dec 1910, Montreal Canada

Accident Record:

20 Nov-41: Hart - unsuccessful forced landing: "failed to notice main petrol cock was off"

W.48 *

15 Aug-41 to Mar-42

3rd Officer

bridget hill 1939 

RAeC 1939

Bridget Grace Marian Ledger Hill

flag england b. 7 May 1914, Camberley

 Prev. Exp: 78 hrs solo

bridget hill signature

Bridget's father was Major-General Walter Pitts Hendy Hill and they lived in Amesbury, Wilts.

She earned her RAeC Certificate in Feb 1939 in Wiltshire. That September, within a fortnight of war being declared, she wrote to Marion Wilberforce;

"I am writing to know if you have any sort of flying job to offer me. I had almost completed my instructor's course, during which I did some blind flying - this was interrupted by the outbreak of war. I do hope you can find some use for me, as I adore flying and have spent everything on my training as an instructor."

And, to back her up, her instructor wrote "I hereby certify that Miss Bridget Hill has carried out 108 hours flying, of which 78 have been solo. During her training as a pilot she has shown very good progress, and as a cross-country pilot I would place her as above average.
She has learned quickly and has displayed remarkable common sense in the matter of estimating the weather in the interests of safety.
While flying here she started an instructor's course and, although this was not completed, she gave evidence of ability as an instructor."

 

ATA Bridget Hill

She was actually a bit too early: "I regret to inform you that we are not considering employing lady pilots in the ATA at the moment. In any case the minimum solo flying experience requred is 250 hours. We are filing your letter, however, and if in the future the position should change we would get in touch with you."

They didn't, of course, get in touch with her, so in May 1940 she wrote again, and was offered a test.

This, as she admitted later, was a disaster: "I am more than aware what a mess I made of my test, but I think the strongest nerves could hardly help being affected by waiting from 10 to 5 with so much at stake!"

 

However, by December of 1940, she was brave enough to write to Pauline Gower, again; "There has been so much in the newspapers of the expansion of the ATA, that I have decided to risk bothering you again by writing to know if there is any hope for me."

This time they wrote back to say No (again) - and you still need at least 150 hours.

 

Most people would probably have given up by now, but Bridget was made of sterner stuff. She took a job driving a mobile canteen but, here she is again, on the 10 Mar 1941: "I am answering the appeal made on the wireless this evening by Lord Londonderry to members of the Civil Air Guard and holders of 'A' licences .... I am hoping that there is some chance of my being able to be of service."

At last, they relented, and offered her another test on the 2 April 1941. She was grateful, excited, and a bit apprehensive; "One is bound to be a bit rusty not having flown for so long..."

Her test was with Margaret Cunnison, and this time it went OK - "quite good, but would need some further training".

 

Even then, there was another couple of months' wait until, finally, she got the call: "Please report 15 July for 15 Aug."

She was delighted.

 

Kitty Farrer, the ATA Adjutant, filled in a little essential background knowledge: "She tells me she is a Baha'i, but would be satisfied with any form of christian burial!"

 

After 4 months at Hatfield, she was posted to Hamble, then Training Pool. Her flying instruction went well. "She is shaping very well indeed. An intelligent, hard-working pilot. Expected to do well." She completed 23hrs on Tiger Moth, 4hrs 45min on Magister.

She was seconded to No 15 Ferry Pool (Hamble) on the 19th Jan 1942, and made 75 ferry flights, totalling 129.35 hrs, in the following few weeks. She flew Tiger Moths, Puss Moths and a Wicko.

ATA Bridget Hill 2

Sadly, however, she was killed at 12.20pm on the 15 Mar 1942 when flying as a passenger in Fairchild Argus HM178, which stalled and crashed onto a bungalow when returning to land at White Waltham after bad weather.

fairchild argus

Yorkshire Evening Post, 17 Mar 1942: "AIRWOMEN KILLED Ferry Pilots' 'Plane Hit Bungalow. The Ministry of Aircraft Production announces that Flying Officer Graham Lever, Third Officer Bridget Hill, and Third Officer Bessie Sayers lost their lives in a flying accident on Sunday. The accident occurred in the course of their duties with the Air Transport Auxiliary. The 'plane crashed on to a bungalow. A fourth passenger in the machine, also a woman A.T.A. officer, was injured. Twenty-six people were injured when they rushed to the house to extricate the passengers in the 'plane. It is believed that the petrol tank in the machine exploded. The injured woman passenger was Third Officer P. D. Duncan."

THROWN CLEAR At the inquest, which was adjourned until April 14. the Coroner stated that Miss Duncan, who was in hospital, had had "an extraordinary escape." It is understood that she was thrown clear of the house as the 'plane crashed, and escaped with cuts and bruises. Among the injured were children who were in the street. The petrol tank exploded some time after the crash, owing, it is believed, to contact with a fire in the kitchen. A man named Croft, living in an adjoining bungalow, was blown through a window into the street and badly hurt but a child in the front room of the bungalow was rescued almost uninjured. "

She is buried in Britford Cemetery.

 

[Her older brother, Brigadier James Hill, was a World War II Commander who joined the British Airborne Forces at an early stage, fought in North Africa and went on to play a vital role in the D-Day landings and the crossing of the Rhine:

https://paradata.org.uk/article/286/related/16590]

 

"My Dear Miss Gower, I must write and tell you once again how happy in, and proud of, her Corps Bridget was. It was all one great adventure for her, and her purpose in life was to make it a success ... The man who stood next to me at her graveside would have been her husband and it is so sad to think that they were deprived of that great happiness."

"I wouldn't have had my darling in any other service... it was a wonderful life and she was so supremely happy."

W.50

15 Aug-41 to Aug-45

First Officer

 pamela duncan 1935

RAeC 1935

Pamela Mary Dauvergne Duncan

flag wales

b. 10 Jan 1917, Radyr, Wales

Mrs Gollan from 1942

W.54

15 Aug-41 to Nov-45

First Officer

 zita irwin 1939

RAeC 1939

 ata zita irwin HB

HB

Mrs Zita Kathleen Irwin

flag switzerland b. 30 Aug 1907, Lucerne, Switzerland

prev: Bridge Hostess [whatever that is] at Grockford's Club

prev exp: 30hrs 50min (55 hrs with dual)

Richard Hoblyn tells me that "I knew her through my father & grandfather years ago. She worked for Hoblyn & King after the war and was probably the first ever female stockbroker (although not a Member); I still have her dealing books. Raymond Baxter met her when she piloted one of the air races.

 My father was an executor of her estate and when she died circa 1975 I helped clear her flat in Sloane Street. I was gifted a German war medal for this which Zita took from the burnt out Reistag in 1945.

A remarkable woman. Her connections were extraordinary and she was highly regarded at Hoblyn & King especially by my grandfather."

Zita carried on flying after WWII; she was commissioned as a Pilot Officer in the Womens' RAF Volunteer Reserve in 1949, and flew a Proctor in the 1951 South Coast Air Race:

Zita Irwin 1951  http://www.bbc.co.

W.83

1 Sep-41 to Nov-45

First Officer

 margot duhalde bg 

Brief Glory

Margot 'Chile' Duhalde Sotomayor

flag chile

b. 12 Dec 1920, Santiago Chile

 - no RAeC certificate pre-war -

W.51

1 Sep-41 to Aug-43

First Officer

 benedetta day 1937

RAeC 1937

Mrs Benedetta Willis 

flag UK

née Day

b. 25 Jan 1914, Famagusta, Cyprus

Mrs Willis from 1938

Prev: Architects Assistant

[Contract Terminated by ATA]

d. Dec 2008

W.52

8 Sep-41 to Mar-44

First Officer

Dora Lang

dora tily lang RAeC 1939

ata dora lang 2 ATA

ata dora lang

 

 flag england nee Tily, 30 Mar 1914, London. Mother Amelia (Fielding), her father was a garden contractor.

dora lang signature

 

She joined the government-subsidized Civil Air Guard flying scheme, and got her RAeC Certificate in 1939. She gave her occupation then as 'fancy goods manufacturer'.

Prior to WWII, she had 12 hours solo on Gypsy Moth, B.A. Swallow and Miles Magister (later supplemented by, as she wrote '26 hours duel with the RAF' - she was a Corporal in the WAAF, stationed at Hornchurch in Essex as a 'plotter').

 

She wrote originally to the ATA in March 1941, following an appeal put out on the wireless by Lord Londonderry:

"Dear Sir,

I possess a pilot's 'A' licence and would very much like to qualify as a ferry pilot. I have 25 hours in my log book and have since done some passenger flying in RAF machines (Magisters). I am studying for a navigator's licence. I would be pleased of the opportunity to fly at my own expense to complete the required number of solo hours necessary to qualify for the advanced training provided under your scheme. I will be very eager to hear if any arrangements can be made.

ACW Dora Lang."

 

She got the standard reply at the time which was a) you need more hours, and b) we have no training facilities so, No.

She didn't give up, though; she wrote back straight away to say "I am informed by the Air Ministry that I may be able to do the training in Southern Ireland. Can you tell me how many hours I need?"

Well, they said, 50, although people may come here for a flight test with 30.

 

While she was mulling this over, (things changed quite rapidly for the ATA as 1941 wore on), on the 29 July they said, actually, "there are a few vacancies, come to Hatfield for a flight test."

She took her test on the 9th August, it was satisfactory, and she reported for duty on the 6th September as a Second Officer.

dora lang ata

She flew 17 hrs on Moths, 2 on Harts, 8 on Magisters, and a Swordfish, and was posted to training pool in March 1942. Her instructors' reports were consistently positive: "This pupil came to ATA at practically 'ab initio' stage, but very satisfactory progress made in school has been furthered during stay with T.P. and she should make an excellent ferry pilot. Keen and quietly confident.... very active and attentive".

In May 1942 she went on the conversion course for Hurricanes, and was then posted to Prestwick in July. She was recommended for Class 4 conversion at an early date: "an intelligent and conscientious pilot whose flying is neat and tidy. "

She was promoted to First Officer in March 1943. 

 

She had an 'incident' in June 1943, for which she was held responsible; when taking off in Spitfire BL991, she attempted to retract the undercarriage too soon after take-off and the throttle slipped back, allowing the aircraft to sink until the propeller tips hit the ground.

Otherwise things progressed well, until the 2nd of March, 1944, when she had two accidents in rapid succession.

She had just been off sick for 2 days, but said she felt better. With her Flight Engineer Janice Harrington (q.v.), she ferried a Hudson VI FK458 to RAF Cosford, but then ground looped on the icy runway, causing slight damage to the port wing, which she did not report. She and Janice had examined the undercarriage but couldn't see any damage; she then had lunch at RAF Cosford, and "both she and her flight engineer appeared very calm and cheerful, and neither showed any sign whatever of tiredness or strain."

ata janice harrington 2

 Janice Harrington

Marion Wilberforce wrote that "F/O Lang was a most straightforward officer, and I feel convinced that she would have reported the possibility of damage to the wing had she suspected that such might have occurred. If such damage had been revealed her Pool C.O. would have been contacted before she was allowed to leave the Pool."

 

They were allowed to leave, however, and she and Janice were then killed in Mosquito VI HP932, which crashed on approach to Lasham.

220px-613 Squadron Mosquito FB.VI at RAF Lasham June 1944

The official report says "Whilst approaching to land the aircraft appeared to undershoot slightly, the throttles were opened gently and then fully, whereupon the aircraft climbed sharply 100 feet, stalled, crashed and was destroyed.

Insufficient evidence to determine the cause, but it is clear that upon the application of full power the pilot failed to get the stick forward quickly enough to prevent the nose of the aircraft rising.

Insufficient evidence to determine responsibility."

 

Buried Maidenhead Cemetery - Sec. D. Row W. Grave 18

Janice was buried alongside her - Sec. D. Row W. Grave 19.

 

On the 10th, her husband wrote: "during her service with the ATA my wife always received the greatest kindness, and she was very proud to be serving in your organisation."

On the 3rd May, her mother added this: "I know my daughter was very happy in her work & with her many kind friends in the ATA & wish to thank them for all their sympathy in our great loss."

W.57

1 Sep-41 to Nov-45

First Officer

 katie williams 1935

RAeC 1935

W057 Illsley Doreen 

ATA 

Katie Doreen Williams

flag wales

b. 29 Mar 1910, Cardiff

Mrs Illsley from Aug-44

d. May 1996

W.53

3 Sep-41 to Sep-45

First Officer

 roy mary sharpe 1938

RAeC 1938

Roy Mary Sharpe MBE

flag england

b. 13 Aug 1910, Bristol

Prev: Secretary and Saleswoman,

Motor Cycle Trade

W.55

1 Oct-41 to Jun-42

3rd Officer

joan marshall 

RAeC 1937

Joan Esther Marshall

za-1928flag b. 20 Aug 1913, Port Elizabeth, SA

Prev. Exp: 30 hrs solo

 

Joan was educated 'privately' in South Africa, and moved from there to Northumberland in 1926, aged 13, with her family - father Walter (a farmer), mother Eda, 2 elder sisters Brenda and Eda, and brother John.

She then went to the College of Domestic Science, Atholl Crescent, Edinburgh, and from there she became Catering Manager for Airwork at Heston, working for Susan Slade (q.v.); she earned her RAeC Certificate in 1937, in Gloucester.

 

She originally applied to the ATA in December 1940 (Susan had started with the ATA the month before), citing as her next of kin her sister Brenda Anderson, of Dyce, Aberdeenshire. By then she had 60 hours flying experience, of which half were solo, on "Moth I, II, Avro Cadet, Cirrus Moth, Leopard Moth, and Whitney Straight".

Things then moved quite quickly (Susan must have put in a good word), and the following February (1941) she went for a test; Margaret Cunnison reported that she was "worth training and has the makings of a good pilot. Needs about 5 to 8 hours dual".

 

As was often the case, she was then told to stand by, as there was no vacancy.

ATA Joan Marshall

And then a vacancy came up in July; they wrote to her and said "Can you report September 1st"; she wrote back and said "Sorry, no - Airwork need me until October. I am very disappointed indeed."

"Never mind", they said, "we can wait", and she duly started on the 15th October 1941. She was billeted in North Mimms (you may know it, lovely place) at 2 guineas a week.

 

She trained on the Miles Magister: "Her general flying is fair and shows average ability, but as her navigation was not yet up to OC standard, I have recommended further training. She misjudged a forced landing, but appears to understand the necessary procedure... average ability, keen, sensible; enthusaism apt to outweigh caution in selecting weather".

She was appointed Cadet on the 15th Feb 1942, then Third Officer 6 days later. She was off sick for a few weeks in March, with a chest infection then tonsillitis.

ATA Joan Marshall2 ATA

 

 

miles master

Sadly, she was then killed on the 20 Jun 1942, in Master I N7806 which spun into the ground when approaching to land at White Waltham. The official report said it was due to "a spin caused by stalling on a turn during a landing approach, for which it has been impossible to find a reason."

She was buried in Maidenhead Cemetery (Sec. D. Row K.K. Grave 24.); her pall bearers were Pauline Gower, and her fellow Third Officers Winnie Pierce,  Louise Schuurmann, Katie Williams, Mary Wilkins, Irene Arckless, and Benedetta Willis.

Pauline wrote that "her general character and behaviour were excellent in every respect", and her sister Brenda added that "we know that she was very happy in her work at White Waltham and that, if it had to happen, she would most certainly have wished to die as she did, flying."

W.56

1 Oct-41 to Dec-45

First Officer

 mary wilkins 1938

RAeC 1938

Mary Wilkins

mary wilkins ellis 2010

2010 

Mary Ellis 

flag england

b. 2 Feb 1917, Witney

Mrs Ellis from 1961

prev: Shop Manageress

W. 62 *

20 Nov-41 to Jul-45

First Officer

trevor hunter 1945 

NZ Evening Post 1945

Trevor Hunter

 flag nz

b. c.1921, NZ

Mrs Colway

W.59

2 Dec-41 to Aug-45

First Officer

diana barnato walker ATA 

ATA

Mrs Diana Barnato Walker

flag england b. 15 Jan 1918

 

[Severely Reprimanded May-43: Appeared at Windsor Races wearing trousers and side cap] 

Wrote "Spreading My Wings" (1994)

d. Apr 2008

  0398 0272a

 Receiving the Lennox Trophy from Lord Brabazon, 1963 [RAeC]

 

Oxford DNB: "Walker, Diana Barnato[née Diana Barnato] (1918–2008), aviator, was born on 15 January 1918 at 39 Elsworthy Road, Hampstead, London, the younger daughter of Woolf Joel Barnato (1895–1948), financier and racing driver [see under Bentley Boys], and his American first wife, Dorothy Maitland, née Falk (1892/3–1961). Her father, who was a captain in the Royal Field Artillery in the First World War, had inherited, at the age of two, the millions accumulated by his father Barney Barnato, the South African diamond magnate. After the war he became one of the celebrated ‘Bentley boys’ (he also bought a majority share in the Bentley company, of which he became chairman in 1925), and a highly successful racing driver, winning the Le Mans 24 hour race in 1928, 1929, and 1930. During the Second World War he served as a wing commander in the RAF, with responsibility for the defence of airfields in southern England.

Diana Barnato and her sister, Virginia, enjoyed the pleasures of high society, though Woolf separated from their mother when Diana was four. While their mother brought the girls up she maintained an amicable relationship with their father (who had two sons with his second wife, and married a third time shortly before his death). Diana was educated at Queen's College in Harley Street, London, until 1936, when she came out as a débutante and ‘did the season’. Disenchanted by the social rounds, she invested her allowance in flying lessons at the Brooklands Flying Club in Surrey at £3 per hour, rather than learn with the Civil Air Guard for a mere 7s. 6d. per hour. She wrote, ‘I was far too much of a snob to go to learn to fly with what I thought would be the hoi polloi’ (Spreading my Wings, 34). Having gone solo after six hours on a de Havilland Tiger Moth she ran out of money and had to stop.

Following the outbreak of the Second World War Diana Barnato worked as a Voluntary Aid Detachment nurse and with the Red Cross, but was attracted by the chance of flying with the Air Transport Auxiliary, although she had only ten hours' flying experience. She was tested by the chief flying instructor, but a riding injury then laid her up for six months. Meanwhile the AirTransportAuxiliary had set up a training programme, and after another test in December 1941 she became one of fewer than 170 ‘Atagirls’ (of whom sixteen were to lose their lives during the conflict).

The ATA's pilots ferried all types of military aircraft, from trainers to bombers, from factories to RAF stations or from maintenance units to squadrons. They had minimal pilot's notes and no radios, and often flew in marginal weather conditions. Barnato flew such aircraft as the single-engine Spitfire, Hurricane, Defiant, Mustang, Avenger, Wildcat, Vengeance, Firefly, Barracuda, and Tempest, and twin-engine types like the Oxford, Anson, Wellington, Warwick, Mosquito, Hudson, and Mitchell. She had her share of incidents. While flying a Supermarine Walrus air-sea-rescue amphibian, her least-liked aeroplane, from Cosford to Eastleigh on 19 September 1944, the windscreen was obscured by oil from the failing engine as she approached the Southampton balloon barrage at 1500 feet. Without power she could only push down the nose to prevent a stall and make a steep descent into the sea fog. Luckily she missed the balloon cables and emerged from the cloud a few feet above Eastleigh's grass airfield.

Three weeks after Barnato first met the battle of Britain fighter ace Squadron Leader Humphrey Trench Gilbert in 1942 they became engaged, but days later he died in a flying accident. Two years later, on 6 May 1944, she married another pilot, Wing Commander Derek Ronald Walker, and was docked three months' pay for making an unauthorized honeymoon flight to Brussels four months later in a Spitfire, accompanied by her husband in another. Derek Walker was killed in a flying accident shortly after the war's end, on 14 November 1945.

After the war Diana Barnato Walker, as she was now known, studied for the exams for a commercial pilot's licence, in company with the racing driver and industrialist Whitney Willard Straight (1912–1979), a naturalized American and former RAF air commodore. This led to a thirty-year relationship, and a son, Barney, was born in 1947, though Straight never left his wife, nor did Diana ask him to: ‘I was perfectly content. I had my own identity’ (The Times, 19 Nov 2005). Having gained her commercial licence she became a pilot for the Women's Junior Air Corps, giving the cadets air experience and training flights at weekends and accumulating many hours in the corps's Fairchild Argus and Auster aircraft. She had just taken off in the newly acquired Argus on 11 July 1948 when it burst into flames. Rather than bale out and lose a valuable aeroplane, she switched off the fuel and glided back to the airfield, where the flames were put out. In 1963, for her work with the corps, she was awarded the Jean Lennox Bird trophy, presented annually to a British woman pilot. On 26 August that year she became the first British woman to exceed the speed of sound, and the fastest woman in the world when she attained Mach 1.65 (1262 mph) in an English Electric Lightning T.4 trainer version of the RAF's front-line fighter. Shortly after this she won a battle with cancer.

In later years Diana Barnato Walker took up sheep farming and was master of the Old Surrey and Burstow foxhounds for thirteen seasons, while continuing to fly for the Women's Junior Air Corps (renamed in 1964 the Girls' Venture Corps). She also became commodore of the AirTransportAuxiliary Association. She died of pneumonia on 28 April 2008 in a hospital near her sheep farm in Surrey, and was survived by her son, Barney."

W.60

2 Dec-41 to Nov-45

First Officer

vera strodl 1937 

RAeC 1937

W060 Strodl Vera 

ATA 

Vera Elsie Strodl

flag england

b. 16 Jul 1918, Braughing

prev: cashier

later Mrs Dowling

W.63

2 Dec-41 to Jan-44

First Officer

Not in 'Forgotten Pilots'

rosemary fuller-hall 1939 

RAeC 1939

rosemary fuller-hall ata 

ATA

rosemary fuller-hall ata2 

ATA

Rosemary Lilian Fuller-Hall

flag england b. 25 Jun 1919, Hampton Middx,  daughter of Charles Fuller-Hall.

prev exp: 30hrs

5' 7", slight build, fair hair, blue eyes (you might as well know).

 

Got her RAeC certificate in 1939, became a stenographer (which I think is a sort of shorthand typist, but I could be wrong) for the Manufacturers Life Insurance Company of Canada, and then was in the A.T.S. from September 1938 to February 1939.

 

She is mostly interesting for the number of accidents she had :-)

Here is the story of the ups ladder and downs snake of her ATA career :-

- 3 May 1942: Completed Class 1 Training.  ladderPromoted to 3rd Officer (from Cadet)

- 23 Aug 1942: Completed Class 2 Training. ladderPromoted to 2nd Officer

- 6 Dec 1942: snake Accident to Master I N8057 at Hullavington. "Whilst taxying, the a/c skidded off perimiter track into ditch due to the pilot taxying without sufficient care on muddy surface. Pilot IS held responsible."

 - 12 Dec 1942: snake Accident to Fairchild EV774 at Hamble. "A/C overshot on landing and collided with fence due to gross error of judgement on part of pilot. Pilot is held responsible."

- 18 Dec 1942: snakeDemoted to 3rd Offficer.

- 21 Dec 1942: Back to School. "A good average pilot whose flying is quite satisfactory. Her recent accidents have apparently little or no connection with her flying skill, but seem to be purely a question of carelessness. " [That's all right, then].

- 1 Feb 1943:  ladderPromoted to 2nd Officer (again).

- 15 Mar 1943: snakeAccident to Mustang I. "Tail wheel punctured & tyre fell off on take off. Pilot is not responsible for accident." [phew].

- 20 Apr 1943: Completed Class 3 Training. "A hard working pilot of average ability whose flying is quite sound but she must pay very particular attention to her airmanship."

- 30 Apr 1943:  snake Accident to Barracuda P9740. "After landing undercarriage retracted. Pilot selected U/C up instead of flaps. Pilot is to blame.

- 7 May 1943: snake Suspended 3 days with total loss of pay and warned that "another accident, for which she is held responsible, will mean termination of contract."

- 13 Aug 1943: ladderPromoted to 1st Officer. "A keen pilot and a well-behaved officer. Her accidents are entirely due to lack of concentration."

- 30 Sep 1943: Class 4 Training Completed. "Somewhat forgetful with cockpit drill which gives the impression of overconfidence. She should be given ample Class 4 ferrying before being considered for 4+. Average Ability."

 

In Dec 1943, she married Mr Peter Pemberton-Legh and resigned from the ATA.

Total Hours ferrying: 459 hrs 15min.

She later moved to Australia, and died there in 1984.

W.58

16 Dec-41 to Dec-45

First Officer

joan nayler 1937 

RAeC 1937

Joan Emily Nayler

flag england

b. 23 Aug 1916, London

prev: Civil Servant, Air Ministry

prev. exp: 28 hrs solo

Mrs Russell from 1950

d. 1983

W.61

16 Dec-41 to Jul-42

3rd Officer

rhoda heppell 1939 

RAeC 1939

 rhoda heppell ATA 

ATS

Rhoda Elinor Heppell

flag england

b. 1 Feb 1920, Newcastle-on-Tyne

prev: Driver, ATS

d. 2003

W.64

16 Dec-41 to Nov-45

First Officer

 beatrice grant 1936 

RAeC 

W064 Grant Beatrice 

FANY 1940

Beatrice Glanley 'Betty' Grant 

flag UK

b. 21 Jul 1913, Calcutta, India

Mrs Hayman from 1943

W.69

16 Dec-41 to Jul-45

First Officer

W069 Ramsay Diana 

W069 Ramsay Diana ATA 

ATA 

Diana Patricia Ramsay

flag australia b. 9 Jun 1918, Brisbane, Australia

Joan's sister (see below)

 

Her nephew kindly tells me that she was "said by at least one American ATA pilot during a radio interview some years ago – the transcript of which I have somewhere – to have been one of the ATA's most amazing pilots until the throttle of her Tempest jammed one day and forced her to land in a grass paddock at horrendous speed.

Despite her claims that she came away from the crash with only a few scratches, she was never the same ebullient person she had been before. She died alone of a drug overdose on a remote road near Lismore in northern New South Wales in 1952. The coroner declared that the overdose was accidental and, even though they suspect otherwise, her close relatives are happy to accept that."

diana ramsay crash

diana ramsay inscription 

"Four Years a Ferry Pilot in the A.T.A. 

Brave Gentle Di. At last you are at rest.

You proved your courage and you passed your test

But paid the price with shattered nerves

That brought you here."

nav next 1942-44