WE SALUTE MARY ELLIS ON HER 100th BIRTHDAY
Mary Ellis, one of Air Transport Auxiliary’s most accomplished female pilots, celebrated her 100th birthday on February 2nd. Mary was born at Leafield near Fairford in Gloucestershire and not a million miles from RAF Brize Norton. She joined ATA in October 1941 and served until the end of December 1945. For almost all that time she was based at No.15 Ferry Pool at Hamble, one of two ATA bases staffed entirely by women. With the Supermarine factory just round the corner in Southampton, Spitfire deliveries were the bread and butter of Hamble pilots. Mary ferried 403 Spitfires, including 70 out of Eastleigh airfield. She qualified as a First Officer and was authorised to fly all aircraft types up to Class 4 operational twin engined planes such as the Mosquto and the Wellington, which ATA pilots flew solo. On one occasion she delivered a Wellington and the ground crew would not believe she was the pilot until they searched the aircraft from one end to the other. Mary has just published her autobiography “A Spitfire Girl” in which she describes her action-packed career which spans almost a century of aviation. From Tiger Moths to Hurricanes and Spitfires, from Wellington Bombers to post-war jets, Mary’s desire to take to the skies has never faltered. “A Spitfire Girl” is available from the Maidenhead Heritage Centre shop on http://maidenheadheritage.org.uk/shop/ It is a great read and if you buy the book from us you will supporting our work to preserve the ATA story for future generations.
NEW YEAR IN ATA, 75 YEARS AGO
Here are more entries from the diary of the young American pilot Stuart Updike, who was based at No.1 Ferry Pool at White Waltham. The extracts follow on from those in the previous piece about Christmas. Expect further extracts after the New Year break.
30 Dec Have a bad cold, didn’t go to work today, too foggy to fly anyhow – stayed in bed except for going out to lunch.
31 Dec Didn’t fly again today, fog. Went to Club’s New Uear’s Eve party, then top Colonel’s – arrived home at 4:00am. (He WAS young!)
1 Jan Slept late today – too foggy to work – Kitty, Rita & I went to Ray Lodge for a bit this eve – wrote letters home. (Ray Lodge was a club in Maidenhead)
2 Jan Had a Spit this morning – weather not too good – stopped to have oil removed from windscreen at Pershore (in Worcestershire)
AN ATA CHRISTMAS 75 YEARS AGO
We are lucky to have several diaries in our ATA collection here in Maidenhead. The following extracts come from the diary of the American pilot Stuart Updike, who served with ATA from May 1941 to June 1942. This sequence of entries starts on Christmas Eve.
24 Dec Had 3 Spits today, 5 landings – a Canadian Sgt. Pilot on “Ops” gave me a pack of Sweet Caps – good cigarettes
25 Dec Worked today – two Turkey dinners, one at Shawberry (weather landing at lunchtime) & one at the Austin’s (note Shawberry means RAF Shawbury near Shrewsbury, and the Austens were the family with which he was billetted near Maidenhead)
26 Dec Eric, Aneah and I had a party at the Services Club today – cocktails at Col. Ticklers – cards with Mr Austin at Bach’s
27 Dec Haven’t felt too good today – but of a cold – whiskey and Aspirin – 3 mnoer boys killed – Lee Garlow, Texan
28 Dec Two Hurry’s today, pretty bad weather – just read about Jap raids on Manila – we sure were caught off guard. (The Japanese invasion of the Philippines had started on December 8th, 10 hours after the attack on Pearl Harbour)
29 Dec No flying – foggy and very cold – attended a ball at Lady Astor’s this evening (at her mansion at Cliveden) – talked to Commander’s wife practically all the time.
ATA’s SPEED MERCHANTS
Three great speed merchants flew for Air Transport Auxiliary during World War II. They were Wally Handley, Luis Fontes and John Cobb.
Walter Handley was born in 1902 in Aston, Birmingham. He was a champion inter-motorcyclist ace well-known to crowds at the Isle of Man Tourist Trophy races and later at Brooklands on motorcycles and in cars. Three times European motorcycle champion and holder of numerous world records, he later took up racing cars (MG and Riley) and learned to fly as a recreation. He owned an SE5A, a Bristol Fighter and a Puss Moth. When war broke out he had around 700 flying hours and was one of the first group of men to join ATA on 11 September 1939. He was appointed as CO of No.3 Ferry Pool at Hawarden (nr Chester) where ATA’s first offices were in a semi-detached house on the edge of the airfield. Hawarden was ATA’s largest Ferry Pool.
Wally Handley was killed on 15 November 1941, exactly 75 years before the date of this post. He went in an air taxi Anson to Kirkbride near Carlisle to collect a Bell Airacobra to return to the maintenance unit at Hawarden. The Airacobra’s engine was behind the pilot, with a 10ft long drive shaft to the propeller, which made it prone to serious vibration. It was also notorious for the long take-off run it required. Handley’s accident, in Airacobra AH598, is described in Brief Glory. “Before he had passed the end of the runway the engine was revving at an unnaturally high rate and black smoke poured from the exhaust. The engine continued to run imperfectly until the pilot reached about 700ft. When about 3 miles from the aerodrome there was a loud explosion and a sheet of flamed enveloped the aft part of the machine. The Airacobra turned about 45 degrees to port, flew on a little on an even keel and went into a dive from which it never recovered.” So perished an ‘endearing character and a gallant airman’.
ATA’s second speed merchant was Luis Fontes (1912-40), who won the Le Mans 24 hour race for Lagonda in 1935 and also raced aeroplanes. However his racing career ended when he was arrested and charged with manslaughter after a head on collision resulted in the death of a motorcyclist. He served three years in jail and was banned from driving for 10 years. Fontes had learned to fly at Woodley Aerodrome and qualified as a pilot in 1934. He joined the Air Transport Auxiliary in 1940 as a civilian ferry pilot and became a First Officer based at White Waltham. Aged only 27, he died on 12th October 1940 ferrying Vickers Wellington Mk IC, R1156, which stalled after an engine failed while circling RAF Llandow, Glamorgan, and crashed in a nearby village.
Speed merchant No.3 was racing driver John Cobb (1899-1952). In the first part of World War II he served as a pilot in the RAF but joined Air Transport Auxiliary in September 1942. Despite having raised the world land speed record to 376.91 mph in his Railton special in 1939, he was apparently concerned that he wouldn’t be up to the flying at ATA. Given that most of the aircraft ATA were ferrying wouldn’t fly anywhere near as fast as his land speed record, his apprehension was unfounded and he served until the end of June 1945. Cobb was killed in 1952 while attempting to break the world water speed record on Loch Ness.
REMEMBERING ATA’s CASUALTIES
In this season of Remembrance, we must not only remember the military casualties of both world wars and other conflicts, but also the 173 civilians of ATA who died in ATA service, including Amy Johnson. As a group, they are commemorated on a special memorial in the crypt of St Paul’s Cathedral, London, where members of the ATA Association gather every Remembrance Sunday for a short but special service. Individually ATA aircrew, victims of poor weather, mechanical failure, pilot error or accidents in training, lie in many cemeteries around Britain. The proportion of women fatalities was lower than the proportion of men. The late Peter George said simply that “the women were more reliable. They didn’t do the same damn fool things as the men did.” The largest group of ATA graves is at All Saints’ cemetery in Maidenhead, where 17 war graves represent men and women 6 different nationalities.
A full list of ATA fatalities is available if you Click here for full details of ATA fatalities.
You will notice a group of 11 American pilots who never actually reached Britain. Having been recruited in the USA and flight tested in Canada, they took ship for England aboard SS Nerissa, which was torpedoed and sank on 30 April 1941. Notice also that the last ATA casualty was the South African Rosamund Everard Steenkamp whose Spitfire XIV crashed in Worcestershire on 19 March 1946 – months after ATA had been officially disbanded. In fact a number of ATA pilots transferred to 41 Group RAF and continued ferrying from a base in White Waltham.
MOLLY ROSE RIP
We record with great sadness the death of ATA pilot Molly Rose on 16th October at the age of 95. Molly was one of the greatest supporters of Maidenhead Heritage Centre’s ATA work and will be greatly missed by us all. She was born in Cambridge in 1920 and learned to fly in a Tiger Moth in 1937, gaining her licence when she was 17 years old. The family firm was Marshalls of Cambridge and Molly started the war in the hangars ‘having my bottom pinched by every passing man’. But when ATA reduced its flying hour requirement for new recruits she was off. She served from 16 September 1942 to 25 May 1945 and flew 38 different types – everything up to and including Wellingtons (Class 4). She was based at the all women pool at Hamble, where she shared a flat between The Bugle Inn and the yacht club with Betty MacDougall. Spitfire deliveries were their ‘bread and butter’. 273 of Molly’s 486 deliveries were Spitifres!
We are sure you will be interested in this interview which has been posted on YouTube. It was recorded at earlier this year at Molly’s home at Bampton, not far from RAF Brize Norton. We have our own interview with Molly which was conducted by pupils at Furze Platt Senior School as part of a World War II history project. More…..
100 YEARS YOUNG
Congratulations to ATA First Officer Raymond Eric Roberts, who celebrates his 100th birthday today, October 24th 2016. Ray was born in London and his World War II service began in the RAF. After injuring a leg baling out of a Miles Master trainer, he joined ATA in October 1941 and served until ATA was wound up at the end of November 1945, which is why Maidenhead Heritage Centre has a good head and shoulders photo of him taken from an ATA travel permit. We believe that he was Class 5 qualified (4-engine bombers) because in 1945 he was scheduled for training on the Sunderland flying boat (Class 6). His wife Lily was a parachute packer with ATA at No 2 Ferry Pool at Whitchurch near Bristol. This last summer Ray’s family arranged for him to fly in a Spitfire from Biggin Hill; his daughter kindly supplied the attached photo.
5 YEARS ON AND OUR ATA COLLECTION KEEPS ON GROWING
October 11th 2016 is the 5th anniversary of the Royal opening at Maidenhead Heritage Centre of Britain and the world’s only exhibition and archive dedicated exclusively to Air Transport Auxiliary and the inspiring exploits of its 1246 male and female aircrew during World War II. ATA’s headquarters was at White Waltham on the outskirts of Maidenhead, making the town the spiritual home of ATA.
Our ambition is to be the centre of excellence for ATA research and our ever-growing collection at Maidenhead is one of the largest in the world. It is regularly consulted by relatives of ATA veterans as well film, television and radio producers and by historians as well as writers of fiction. We now have over 1500 photographs, many of them personal pictures from albums loaned by veterans or their relatives, covering around 75% of ATA aircrew. We have ambitions to make this 100% and so would be delighted to hear from anybody with ATA photos which they might be willing to lend for scanning. The same applies to ATA logbooks, which are the primary historic evidence that this almost unbelievable story is actually true! The museum already holds over 105 original or scanned logbooks of pilots, flight engineers and ATC cadets flying as pilot’s assistant. Possibly the most important are those of Ruth Ballard and Philippa Bennett, two of only 11 women to fly 4-engined bombers for ATA, and of Joe Stern, a Czech, and Josep Carreras from Spain, who were two of the handful of pilots cleared to operate flying boats. Several fascinating diaries are in the collection, and our volunteers have also filmed over 40 interviews with ATA veterans – not just pilots, but ground staff as well.
The exhibition, simulator and archive is staffed by volunteers, most of them pilots, and is open 50 weeks a year. Visitors have come from all over the world, including China, New Zealand, Australia, Poland and the USA, and excellent reviews are frequently posted on the TripAdvisor website. Our very popular Spitfire simulator was inaugurated by HRH Prince Michael of Kent and has been flown by British Prime Minister Theresa May as well as ATA and RAF veterans and children of all ages from 9 to 94.
RUTH SMITH ATA
We record the death of Ruth Smith in September. Ruth was one of many backroom people who helped ATA to run smoothly and worked in Ferry Pilots Records at the headquarters of ATA at White Waltham. Along with other administration functions her office was not on the airfield itself but at a house called Altmore in Cherry Garden Lane. Her great contribution to our knowledge about ATA is that in the autumn of 1945 she was detailed to collect and destroy the travel permits issued to ATA pilots. However she decided to tear the passport type photos off the permits and wrote the names on the back. Eventually she got fed up of doing this and ripped out the whole page with the pilot’s details. The result is that Maidenhead Heritage Centre has photographs of 568 ATA pilots and also knows the date and place of birth of 223 of them. Given that our collection also includes many group photos with names written below, it is calculated that we know the faces of at least 75% of the 1246 aircrew who worked for ATA during World War II. Thank you Ruth!
AMY JOHNSON STATUE UNVEILED AT HERNE BAY IN KENT
On September 17th, Prince Michael of Kent unveiled a bronze statue of ATA pilot Amy Johnson on the seafront at Herne Bay, overlooking the Thames Estuary where Amy died after baling out of the Oxford aircraft she was flying from Blackpool to Kidlington on 5 January 1941. Neither her body nor the aircraft were ever found. As our Watson diaries record it was ‘a spectacular end to a spectacular life’. At the time of her death she was based at the ATA women’s Ferry Pool at Hatfield, but living with friends not far from White Waltham.
Amy Johnson was the first woman in the UK to become an Air Ministry qualified ground engineer in 1929. She became the first woman to fly solo to Australia, landing in Darwin on 24 May 1930 after 19 and a half days. In 1931 she became the first pilot to fly from London to Moscow in one day. In 1932 she flew solo from London to Cape Town in South Africa, breaking her husband Jim Mollison’s previous record by 11 hours.
The Herne Bay statue was created by Ramsgate artist Stephen Melton and funded by local people and businesses.
The photographs were taken by John Webster and Amy Chau (British Women Pilots Association)
ATA – EQUAL PAY PIONEER
A recent British report on gender equality (or the lack of it) in the workplace reminds us that 73 years ago the intrepid women pilots of Air Transport Auxiliary achieved that very thing. When women were first recruited by ATA in January 1940, they were paid 20% less than the men and restricted to trainer and communication aircraft such as Moths, Magisters, Oxfords and Ansons. From July 1941 they were allowed to fly all single and twin-engined operational types such as Spitfires and Wellingtons (in ATA terms Aircraft Classes 1-4). But the pay gap remained until 1943 when Lettice Curtis and Joan Hughes became the first two women to qualify on 4-engined bombers (Class 5). At which point the Hon. Ben Bathurst, ATA’s Director of Services and Personnel petitioned Sir Stafford Cripps, Minister of Aircraft Production, for equal pay but was rebuffed. Not until Pauline Gower, ATA’s Director of Women Personnel, got to work on Cripps did he change his mind. Nobody knows why, but perhaps it was to avoid embarrassment to the government when he was questioned in the House of Commons on the subject by Irene Ward MP on 18 May 1943. In this way ATA became one of Britain’s first equal opportunity employers.
However one wonders if women working as fitters and riggers in the hangars were paid the same as the men they worked alongside. And when the gongs were handed out during and after the war, no woman received a higher honour than MBE, whereas all the senior men received OBE or better! Clearly equality had its limits! Incidentally Stafford Cripps was a vegetarian, so when he visited the ATA at White Waltham they fed him on macaroni cheese.
BLACK DAYS FOR ATA
10 August 1941, 75 years ago, was a black day for ATA when a Liberator AM261 with 22 people on board crashed into a mountain on the Isle of Arran having left Heathfield Ayr airport (next door to Prestwick) en route for the USA. The navigator was Captain F D Bradbrooke, a colour-blind journalist on the ‘Aeroplane’, who had joined ATA on 11 September 1939, and three Radio Officers named Powell, Oliver and Rees are also listed as ATA casualties. Who were all the others?
When the White Waltham Ferry Pool was opened in February 1940 it was commanded by Bradbrooke, but in early 1941 he was recommended for the Atlantic Ferry Service and went to Canada for a course on Hudson bombers. These he subsequently flew across to Britain and then, as navigator, moved on to the 4-engined Liberator bomber. He was navigator on the ill-fated flight which left Prestwick with a load of ferry pilots (not employed by ATA) returning to the USA. The captain was E R B White, who according to Lettice Curtis had been in charge of the Training Pool at White Waltham. He transferred from ATA to the BOAC-run Atlantic Return Ferry Service and is not listed in any of our ATA records.
4 days later, another Liberator AM260 carrying 22 people on a transatlantic flight crashed after trying to take off on the wrong runway at Heathfield Ayr. There were no survivors. 5 ATA First Officers are listed as casualties, one British and four American.
SHORTS STIRLING IN WHEELS UP CRASH
A recent visit from Justin Wills, who lives in New Zealand, brought to light an incident in the ATA career of his father, Director of Operations Snr Commander Philip Wills, who was an well-known glider pilot. On February 22 1941, Philip Wills (at that time Chief Operations Officer) collected a Short Stirling bomber at Sealand near Chester for delivery to RAF Wyton. With a crew of 4, the flight was uneventful until the landing gear was selected down – and only one leg extended! Landing on one leg only would cause the aircraft to slew sideways and possibly cartwheel. So Wills decided to try to raise the extended undercarriage leg and land wheels up; at least the aircraft would go in a straight line. Luckily the retraction worked, and the emergency landing was successful with no injuries. The note in the pilot’s logbook says simply ‘Wheels up crash’. No further comment required! Many thanks to Justin Wills (also a glider pilot) for bringing this entry to our and your attention.
DENMARK’S WARTIME CONNECTION TO MAIDENHEAD – FLIGHT OF THE CONDOR
This is the sad story of how ATA won and lost a giant 4-engined Focke-Wulf 200A Condor, which had a wingspan of nearly 108ft. It belonged to Danish Air Lines and was one of the most unusual aircraft seen at White Waltham during World War II. It happened like this.
Danish Air Lines had two 26-passenger Condors and maintained a regular scheduled service linking Copenhagen with Amsterdam and Shoreham in Sussex, which had served at its UK terminal since the outbreak of war in September 1939. When German troops invaded Denmark on 9 April 1940, Condor OY-DAM, named Dania, was at Shoreham under the command of Captain Harald Julius Hansen. Not surprisingly Captain Hansen did not fly home and his aircraft was impounded. Initially it was given to the airline BOAC, given the name Wolf and a British civilian registration G-AGAY. Later it was passed as DX177 to the RAF, who offered it to ATA for 4-engined training. The Condor came to White Waltham, once again carrying the civilian registration G-AGAY, and Captain Hansen remained to look after it.
On 12 July 1941 Capt Hansen, with First Officer Ken Day as his co-pilot, took it for a short flight test. As the Condor was an ‘enemy’ type and to avoid any risk of it being attacked, the flight was limited to one hour and a 5 mile radius of the airfield. During the flight, a heavy storm built up and all the ATA flying school aircraft hurried back to base. By the time the Condor landed the grass runways were very slippery. The aircraft skidded and collided with a farm vehicle on the edge of the airfield and was written off.
Ken Day’s logbook records this event very succinctly ‘Test flight. Caught in thunderstorm and crashed. No injuries.’ The recorded flight time was 45 minutes. The Watson diaries record that ‘Captain Hansen made a normal landing in a thunderstorm, but his brakes did not stop his giant and she crashed through the hedge injuring no-one. His first accident in 25 years. There was nothing he could do. Since he was facing trees there was no room to take off again. So the school lost its first and only 4-engined trainer. Although I doubt it could have been of much use, since it could only fly with special permission or an escort of Spitfires, to guard against being shot down as an ‘enemy’.
Captain Hansen was transferred to ATA’s Ferry Pool at Whitchurch near Bristol, but just 10 days later he was severely injured at RAF Brize Norton when the Avro Anson R9761 which he was flying was struck by a Blenheim. He died in hospital in Oxford on 24 July 1941, aged 49. He had clocked more than 1.5 million km flying with Danish Air Lines. Once again Watson made a diary entry: ‘Poor Hansen was killed this week… when a Blenheim landing with one engine went through his Anson’.
AN IMPORTANT 75TH ANNIVERSARY FOR WOMEN
July 19th 1941 was an important milestone in the progress of ATA women towards equality with their male colleagues. Although ATA had recruited it first 8 women pilots in January 1940, they had been restricted to trainers and communications aircraft, with the boys’ toys like Hurricanes and Spitfires being reserved for their male colleagues.
Pauline Gower, Director of ATA’s women personnel, waited patiently for 18 months until her girls had proved their mettle before pressing the case for them to be allowed to fly front line aircraft. So on 19 July 1941 a Hurricane fighter was sent from Air Transport Auxiliary’s headquarters airfield at White Waltham to Hatfield so that a group of ATA’s women pilots could have a go. The first four were Winnie Crossley, Margaret Fairweather, Joan Hughes and Rosemary Rees, who demonstrated without any drama at all that of course they could fly a Hurricane. The following day Philippa Bennett and others also flew their one circuit flight, lasting 15 minutes. They and their colleagues rapidly progressed to Spitfires, Mosquitos, Wellingtons and scores of different types of plane. Eventually 11 women would even fly 4-engined bombers, but it would take until May 1943 for them to receive equal pay. ATA’s Spitfire women not only defied the many men still kidding themselves that only ace male pilots could fly fighters. They were also trailblazers, opening up a whole new future for women in aviation, so that ATA pilot Jackie Moggridge could become one of Britain’s first female airline pilots. Jackie and her 163 female colleagues are amazing role models for young women today, and their story of courage, skill and sacrifice is told in our permanent Grandma Flew Spitfires exhibition here at Maidenhead Heritage Centre.
TO CELEBRATE THIS ANNIVERSARY, FOR THIS WEEK ONLY (19-23 JULY) WE ARE OFFERING FREE 15-MINUTE SPITFIRE SIMULATOR FLIGHTS TO ALL FEMALE VISITORS TO GRANDMA FLEW SPITFIRES EXHIBITION. PLEASE PHONE 01628 780555 TO BOOK YOUR FLIGHT
VIVE LA FRANCE!
Bon Jour! Today, July 14th, is Bastille Day and so Maidenhead Heritage Centre pays tribute to the five Frenchmen (no women) who crossed the Channel by devious routes and flew for ATA during World War II.
They were (left to right above) Lionel Leon BETIN, Maurice SAMAT, Jacques Andre HOLLANDE, Maurice HARLEand Claudius ECHALLIER.
We know nothing except dates of service about Betin and Samat. Echallier was killed in June 1944 flying a Beaufighter which crashed in poor weather on the Mull of Galloway in Scotland – every pilot dreads becoming sandwiched between rising ground and lowering cloud and that day Echallier and his Flight Engineer came to grief. Maurice Harle was based at Aston Down, which in 1944 was designated as an invasion pool. On 6 September 1944, flying a Spitfire, he became the first ATA pilot to land in France since 1940 (see Brief Glory pp165-169). 42-year old Hollande escaped from France via Morocco (see Brief Glory pp87/88), joined ATA, was based at Ringway and married a much younger MT drivers called Pamela.
If anybody knows French sources of information which we might tap to find out more about these pilots, please let us know. Brief Glory is the official history of ATA, first published in 1946, and available only from Maidenhead Heritage Centre, price £12.99 + postal charges. Contact us to purchase your copy.
Betty Huggett (nee Keith-Jopp) – ATA’s mermaid
We regret to record the death of Betty Huggett on 5 July 2016 in Port Elizabeth, South Africa. Betty was the niece of one-eyed, one-armed Stewart Keith Jopp, the original Ancient and Tattered Airman. Betty was one of a group of 17 WAAFs (Womens Auxiliary Air Force) who were recruited into ATA in May 1944. Others included Pat Provis, Annette Mahon from Dublin, Katie Smith and Peggy Lucas, author of ‘WAAF with Wings’. They were trained from scratch, and Betty went solo on May 30th after just over 11 hrs flying training. We are privileged to have a copy of her logbook, which shows many air taxi flights followed by a Harvard conversion course in March 1945. Her first Spitfire flight was on April 18th 1945. Posted to No 4 Ferry Pool at Prestwick the following month, she first flew a Fairey Barracuda (lumpy and underpowered beast) on 25 May. On her second Barracuda flight, from Prestwick to Lossiemouth, she flew into poor weather and obeying instructions not to go ‘over the top’ she turned back in a slow turn over the Firth of Forth, unaware that she was gradually losing height. She saw the water a second before hitting it, did a good landing ‘all things considered’, but the aircraft started to sink until it settled on the sea bed. When Betty pulled the canopy release lever a giant bubble of air was released – but she had not released her parachute and harness straps. When she did, ‘it took forever to get to the top.’ It was her lucky day and a little fishing boat chugged past and pulled her out of the water. The fisherman was quite surprised to find he had rescued a lady ATA pilot!
Betty’s logbook for 29 May shows the departure point of Prestwick, a flight time of 1 hour, but a dash – in the destination column.
She did make a number of flights after this adventure, including 4 more Barracuda flights, but her last ATA flight was made on 11 August 1945. She left ATA on 17th August, 2 days after VJ-Day. We offer our sincere sympathy to her family in South Africa.
It is with great sadness that we report the death of Peter Garrod on 23 June 2016 at the age of 95. He was one of the most accomplished ATA pilots, flying more than 100 aircraft types including variants. He was a great ambassador for ATA, and a dedicated supporter of Maidenhead Heritage Centre. He supplied us with many photographs to use in our ATA exhibition and in our talks. The archive also includes a filmed interview with Peter in which he describes his very varied ATA career.
His father was an RAF officer and Peter learned to fly while he was at school. He joined Hawkers as an apprentice at their Kingston factory and later at Brooklands. When he received his call-up papers he was rejected by the RAF due to his eyesight, but ATA was looking for experienced pilots. At Hatfield he was given a test flight by the famous Joan Hughes and was accepted into ATA on 28 August 1941. Subsequent posting were at White Waltham, Ratcliffe, Cosford (two stints prior to it becoming an all-women pool), Sherburn in Elmet and then White Waltham again, when he served with Air Movements Flight and ferried aircraft into newly liberated France and Belgium. He left ATA on 31 October 1945. While at Ratclife, Peter broke the ‘no aerobatics’ rule in a Hurricane and was suspended for 3 days without pay, and while at Sherburn he once suffered a total engine failure in a Wellington. Peter declined an offer to convert to Class 5 4-engined bombers, preferring to stay with the fast types. He had quite an adventure delivering Spitfires to the French Air Force at Luxeuil during the winter of 1944 and operated out of several temporary landing grounds.
Normally when ATA pilots collected a new aircraft it had been test flown by the factory test pilot, but on several occasions Peter actually flew the maiden flight of a DH Mosquito.
Peter lived in Hamble and the photo shows him speaking at the unveiling of a memorial to ATA erected at the entrance to the former Hamble airfield, home to ATA’s No 15 Ferry Pool. Peter kept a sailing yacht on the Hamble River close to his home, and used to cruise the south coast of England and across to France – single handed! He also kept up his flying, as his son Chris owns a light aircraft, which Peter loved to fly – and the last time he was airborne in a Spitfire was last year! If you follow this link http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZgS4RCTNo8k you will find film of Peter flying the Spitfire simulator at Maidenhead Heritage Centre. ‘He has slipped the surly bonds of earth’ RIP
ATA pilot honoured by RAF High Wycombe
On April 26th, the RAF High Wycombe renamed the Ladies Room in the Officers Mess in honour of ATA pilot Lettice Curtis. The Curtis Room was rededicated by Air Commodore Chris Elliott (centre). The ceremony was attended
by Mrs Patricia Peal (3rd from left) niece of Lettice Curtis and her father Mr Peter Sladden (left, front row). Also in attendance was Mr Roy Strutton (right, front row), who served as an ATC cadet with ATA at White Waltham and who flew with Lettice Curtis as pilot’s assistant. He also flew with other famous pilots such as Jim Mollison. Roy left ATA in 1943 to join the RAF and went to Texas for pilot training. The war ended just before he got a chance to fly a Spitfire, but he fulfilled a life-long ambition when he visited Maidenhead Heritage Centre on his 92nd birthday and flew their Spitfire simulator, instructed by Chairman Richard Poad (back row 7th from left). Other attendees were carers of invited guests or personnel from RAF High Wycombe.
INTERNATIONAL WOMENS DAY
Today March 8th is International Womens Day and so we salute the achievements of the ladies of ATA who came from Britain and 9 other countries to fly for ATA. The largest non-British contingent were 27 American women recruited by Jackie Cochran. There were 6 Canadians including Vi Milstead who had a stamp issued in her honour a few years back. 4 New Zealanders, 3 Poles, 3 Dutch women and 3 South Africans also joined ATA – including Jackie Moggridge whose autobiography Spitfire Girl is a terrific read and is available from our museum shop. Mardi Gething was the sole Australian woman, Margot Duhalde arrived from Chile with virtually no English and Annette Mahon from the Irish Republic was posted to Prestwick and was known as the “Barracuda Queen”. Among the Brits, Joy Lofthouse, Molly Rose and Mary Ellis still make regular media appearances. To listen to Molly in full flow, follow this link
this link to Radio Berkshire and fast forward to 17:00 and the next five minutes.
LEAP YEAR DAY IN ATA
Posted 29 February 2016
Most of us would be hard pushed to remember what we did on the last February 29th, in 2012. But thanks to our fascinating collection of ATA logbooks, we can see what ATA pilots were doing on the two leap year days during World War II, in 1940 and 1944. In 1940, ATA had very few pilots, including only 8 ladies who were based at Hatfield and delivered Tiger Moths to training airfields all over the country. So we find Marion Wilberforce, later CO of Cosford Ferry Pool, taking a Tiger from Hatfield to Kemble in the Cotswolds. By February 29 1944 ATA had hundreds of pilots and the logbooks are much more revealing.
Ed Ballard (USA) took a Lancaster from Coventry to Coningsby, while his wife Ruth flew an Anson air taxi for three trips. Vi Milstead (Canada) flew two Spitfires and a Mustang, while Peter Mursell (Director of Training) flew two air taxi flights, a Tempest from Langley to Aston Down, and Typhoons from there to Manston in Kent and back to Langley. Philippa Bennett flew an Albermarle, a Halifax bomber and two air taxi flights; Diana Barnato-Walker flew two Spitfires while ATC cadet Phil Rogers (based at Hamble) rode as pilot’s assistant in a Hudson from Gosport to White Waltham, and in a Walrus amphibian back to Lee on Solent. Flight Engineer Bernard Wadsworth, who died last December, was a passenger in an Anson from White Waltham to Hawarden, took a Mitchell from there to Bicester, then another taxi flight back to White Waltham.
All in day’s work!
CHINESE PILOT IN ATA
Pilots came from 25 countries around the world to fly for ATA. It is Chinese New Year on Monday 8th February, when the Year of the Monkey begins, so it is appropriate to record details of the one Chinese pilot who worked for ATA for 8 months in 1941. His name was Raymond Lu Yu Chang and he joined ATA as a second officer on 18 February 1941. In the diary of Arnold Watson we find two entries about Chang. On 6 March 1941, when Watson was a teaching navigation to his students, he wrote: “Today I passed out my first Chinese pupil – Chang “B” license son of the Chinese Generalissimo Chang Kai Sheck. Another pupil was flying the mail from Cologne to London in 1919. But he had never seen a modern compass or directional gyro”. Almost 5 months later there is another diary entry on 30 July 1941, when Watson wrote: “Chang, our only Chinese pilot, came in too fast and about 100 feet high over the boundary in a new Spitfire. He might have got away with it on dry ground, but his wheels locked and skidded on the sodden turf and he was still doing about 20 m.p.h when he went down a gun pit and over on his nose at the far end of the field. Then a school Hurricane had to land with the wheels stuck up; it only came out from repairs in the hangar this morning”. For unknown reasons Chang left ATA on 6 October 1941.
For unknown reasons, Chang left ATA on 6 October 1941.
DEATH OF AMY JOHNSON
White Waltham Airfield is marking 80 years of aviation history this week. Maidenhead Heritage Centre chairman RICHARD POAD takes a look back over the site’s heritage.
Eighty years ago this week, pilot training began at the new White Waltham Airfield just west of Maidenhead, a tradition which has continued almost unbroken ever since.
Now the airfield is home to West London Aero Club; then, in 1935, it was operated by the De Havilland School of Flying, teaching students for the RAF Reserve.
Their planes were mainly De Havilland bi-planes Tiger Moths.
Tiger Moths are still in evidence at White Waltham 80 years later.
The Second World War saw the Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA) move its headquarters to White Waltham.
From bases up and down the country, its civilian pilots, men and women, took over from the RAF the routine movement of aircraft between factories, maintenance units and front-line squadrons.
More than 309,000 service aircraft were ferried by ATA pilots during the war. ATA is Maidenhead’s most important claim to wartime fame and its amazing story is told in a permanent exhibition at Maidenhead Heritage Centre in Park Street.
After the war, a number of famous aviation companies made their home at White Waltham – notably Fairey Aviation and Fairey Air Surveys.
The Gannet was test flown here and the revolutionary Fairey Rotodyne, the world’s first vertical take-off airliner, made its first flight at White Waltham in November 1957.
Sadly the Rotodyne project was cancelled five years later.
Meanwhile Fairey Air Surveys planes flew all over the world, from Australia to modern Zimbabwe; many of their aerial photos of Maidenhead are included in a temporary exhibition at the heritage centre.
ML Aviation and its predecessor companies worked at the airfield for more than 50 years.
Its Malcolm ‘bubble hood’ gave wartime fighter pilots greatly increased visibility and was installed in planes, including the Typhoon.
ML built a tiny aeroplane with an inflatable wing, which was the world’s first microlight, although it never went into production; neither did an ejection seat, a pilotless target-towing drone or the miniature Sprite spy helicopter.
But Bomb storage and Release Units were a huge success and installed in Jaguar and Tornado planes by the RAF.
The RAF itself occupied the south side of the airfield between 1946 and 1973, and Prince Philip learned to fly there. He made his first solo on December 21, 1952, then flew himself to Sandringham for Christmas.
RAF Home Command was here, while air cadets flew gliders and Chipmunk trainers, as did the students of the University of London Air Squadron.
The Ministry of Defence sold White Waltham in 1982. Since then the West London Aero Club has operated the airfield. The airfield is a centre of excellence for aerobatic flying and many club members keep their planes here; the oldest resident plane was built in the Thirties.
Last year saw many vintage military aircraft passing through on their way to D-Day celebrations, and during this year’s Battle of Britain commemoration, Spitfires and Hurricanes filled the skies above White Waltham.
Few grass airfields anywhere in the world have such a fabulous aviation heritage. Maidenhead should be proud of it.
AUTUMN EXHIBITION FROM 17 SEPTEMBER TO 20 FEBRUARY 2016
MAIDENHEAD FROM THE AIR
Fascinating aerial photographs of Maidenhead and the surrounding area, dating from the 1920′s to the present day. Some of the photographs were taken by Fairey Air Surveys, based at White Waltham for 20 years, while others have been taken by modern drones. Free admission.
AIR TRANSPORT AUXILIARY AGM HELD AT MAIDENHEAD
On Friday 4th September the ATA held their AGM and Dinner in Maidenhead. Amongst those attending were ATA Pilots, Molly Rose, Mary Ellis, Joy Lofthouse and Peter Garrod.
On Saturday 5th September many members came to the Heritage Centre to fly the Spitfire Simulator and then moved to White Waltham (the old headquarters of the ATA) to attend the Aeroclub Open Day. They were shown round a Spitfire 1X by The Battle of Britain Memorial Flight.
70th ANNIVERSARY OF D-DAY
On the 70th anniversary of VE-Day we salute the 173 men and women who lost their lives in ATA service. Proportionately men died in larger numbers than the women who suffered only 17 fatalities, including Janice Harrington who was killed with Dora Lang on 2 March 1944 when their Mosquito crashed while carrying out a go-around at RAF Odiham. Both are buried at All Saints’ Cemetery in Maidenhead. The LAST ATA pilot to be killed was the South African Rosamund Everard-Steenkamp who died ferrying a Spitfire for 41 Group in January 1946 – many weeks after ATA was wound up.
ATA MEMORIAL UNVEILED AT YORKSHIRE AIR MUSEUM
On April 11th a memorial to the men and women of ATA was unveiled by ATA veteran Martin Nicholson, who lives in Yorkshire. Also attending the ceremony was ATA veteran Peter Garrod, who lives in Hampshire, and members of the ATA Association, including relatives of ATA veterans. The photographs show the wording of the plaque, which was commissioned by the ATA Association, and the veterans standing proudly in front of it.
At Maidenhead Heritage Centre we are proud that among the 100 ATA logbooks in our collection are copies of the logbooks of Martin Nicholson and Peter Garrod. Filmed interviews with both men are available for researchers, and Peter kindly allowed us to copy photographs from his personal photo album. Both Martin and Peter have flown our fabulous Spitfire simulator, and a visit to Youtube will show Peter demonstrating his flying skills! He is still an active pilot, flying from Lee-on-Solent.
Other memorials to ATA have been erected at White Waltham, Whitchurch, Ratcliffe, Ringway and Hamble. If you know of any others, please contact us.
ATC Cadet Ron Neal RIP
We have just learned from Ken Fostekew at the Museum of Berkshire Aviation of the passing of Ron Neal on the 26th March. Ron along with Don Ellis were 16 year old ATC Cadets attached to ATA. Ron served from 22/1/41 to 27/11/43. He had some memorable flights with ATA and was full of yarns. He flew with Jim Mollison to Hullavington in a Ventura and had to crawl into the tail to release the tailwheel as it had jammed; for that Jim treated Ron to a slap up lunch in the mess. On another occasion Ron and another cadet went to Scotland with Commodore Gerard d’ Erlanger in a PBY (Catalina) amphibian for mooring training. At the end of each session both boys were soaked to the skin, d’ Erlanger gave them both a £1 each for their supper and a trip to the cinema. Ron flew as “pilot’s assistant” with Lettice Curtis, Joan Hughes in Halifaxes,Lancasters etc..
Ron obtained his Private Pilot’s Licence and was a founder member of the embryo Fairey Aviation Flying Club at White Waltham. After his many years with Fairey Surveys, redundancy happened, as it did with many of us. Ron then moved to Lydd in Kent and flew with a company photographing shipping in the channel for US Naval Intelligence ?? until retirement age 65. His last years were spent house bound and then bed ridden, but that did not stop him writing many interesting articles for aviation magazines, some of which are in the archive at Maidenhead Heritage Centre.
Ron’s funeral is on the 21st April at the Charing Crematorium nr Ashford, Kent.
Note re ATC Cadets: ATA employed teenaged Air Training Corps cadets (and at Belfast Sea Cadets) as messengers and general dogsbodies. They got to fly as pilot’s assistants in aircraft where, for example, the pilot could not reach the emergency undercarriage handle. They enjoyed a great deal of ‘street cred’ as a result. The archive at Maidenhead Heritage Centre includes the logbook of ATC Cadet Phil Rogers, who was attached to the all-women ferry pool at Hamble. One ATC cadet, Geoffrey Regan was killed on 20 June 1945 in an accident while flying in a Hudson with pilot Miss Leslie Murray. She was practising single-engined flying, and the aircraft span into the ground near Taplow, about 3 miles north east of White Waltham. Other White Waltham ATC cadets included Rod Edginton and Larry Lambourne, both of whom still live in this area.
Remembering First Officer Donald Hoare ATA
With deep regret we record the death on April 3rd of ATA First Officer Don Hoare, who lived at Flackwell Heath near High Wycombe. Don joined the RAF in 1940 and was trained as a pilot in 1942 in the USA, then posted to a Wellington squadron. He moved to ATA and served with ATA from 6 February 1943 until 15 April 1945. Throughout that time he was based at No 9 Ferry Pool at Aston Down, which was also home to an RAF fighter squadron. During his time with ATA, Don flew 34 different types, flew 769 hours and made 548 deliveries. Since Aston Down was designated an Invasion Pool in 1944 (along with White Waltham), Don found himself flying Ansons with supplies and personnel into and out of Europe. His first flight across the Channel was on 18 September 1944, to Caen with 1500lbs of freight and 4 passengers. Two days later he went to airfield B59 just inside Belgium with 1500 lbs of freight and 5 passengers. His logbook entries demonstrate the invaluable service ATA provided in shipping freight into France in support of the advancing allies.
Don received an ATA commendation in January 1944. The citation reads “On 28 January 1944 First Officer D H Hoare was ferrying a Typhoon when the engine failed completely. He managed to reach a nearby small airfield and made a successful landing with the wheels down and without damage to his aircraft.” His log book tells us that the aircraft was MN247, which he collected from Brockworth in the Cotswolds. The destination is recorded as Northleach (the “small airfield” of the citation) , with a flight time of 10 minutes. His notes, written in a neat hand, say “Forced landing – u/c down – no damage – defect fuel pump seizure”. Exactly two months later he had to make another forced landing, this time in a Spitfire. Our archive includes a filmed interview with Don which we recorded about 3 years ago.
Don Hoare (left) with Peter George at the opening of flew 769 hours. in October 2011
When he left ATA, Don served with the Fleet Air Arm, then with BEA and British Airways – his civilian aircraft were the Viking, Viscount, Comet and BAC One-Eleven. This photo shows him is in BA uniform. Don served on the committee of the ATA Association for several years.
“He has slipped the surly bonds of earth…”
February 15th marked another very important 75th anniversary for ATA and White Waltham. For on that date in 1940, ATA ferrying operations commenced from the first all civilian ferry pool at White Waltham. Until then, ATA pilots had been attached to the RAF’s existing Ferry Pools at Hucknall (Derby)and Filton (Bristol). The new pool at WW was initially designated No.3 Ferry Pool and its headquarters was a wooden hut at the east end of the main hangar occupied by the RAF Elementary Flying Training School No.13.The new pool was required to clear new aircraft from specific factories in the midlands and the south of England. So WW was a good centre from which to collect Masters from Woodley, Hurricanes from Langley and Oxfords and Tiger Moths from Hatfield. Initially, only one Tiger Moth available as a taxi aircraft so most return journeys were made by train, which could take forever.In the first 3 weeks the 40 pilots at WW (including speedway ace Wally Handley and famous names such as F D Bradbrooke, Douglas Fairweather and Philip Wills) shifted 260 aircraft, with more work being piled on them every day. After 6 weeks, 640 aircraft of 17 different types had been delivered, with only one being damaged through the fault of an ATA pilot.Eventually ATA was to ferry 309,011 aircraft, an average of 141 aircraft every day for 6 years. Here in Maidenhead we are determined that this amazing achievement should never be forgotten.
75 YEARS AGO – FIRST 8 WOMEN JOIN ATA
We cannot let January end without recording that it is 75 years since the first 8 women were signed up by ATA, on 1 January 1940. Eventually 164 women would service as pilots with ATA, and 4 as flight engineers (out of a total aircrew workforce of 1246).Originally it was proposed to recruit a larger first batch of women “as an experiment”, but the numbers were whittled down by a nervous establishment. So the first eight were wheeled out at Hatfield in mid-January (on a sunny day) for the press, who made them “scramble” – towards a line of Tiger Moths.
MARY VILLIERS – IN MEMORIAM
MARY VILLIERS of Horsham, Sussex, died peacefully aged 95 on 3rd January.
Mary served with ATA from 1 June 1943 until 31 October 1945, during which time she flew around 550 hours and 31 different types. The museum here in Maidenhead has a copy of her log book, which shows that within 3 days of joining as an ab initio pilot she was having her first flying lesson at ATA’s own flying school at Thame. Once she passed all the initial training she was posted to Cosford and Sherburn-in-Elmet before going back to Thame in December for conversion to Class 2 aircraft: single engine fighters for which training was carried out on the Harvard. After this she was posted in July 1944 to Sherburn (in Yorkshire) and then as ATA began to run down she went to Ratcliffe (nr Leicester) in March 1945. In June 1945 she did a Class 4 conversion course (operational twins), which is in some ways surprising at that stage of the war. Back at Ratcliffe, her flying including several trips as second pilot to Flt Capt Johnny Spiller in Sunderland and Catalina flying boats with destinations such as Beaumaris in Anglesey and Wig Bay in south west Scotland. Her very last day’s flying with ATA was 17 October 1945, when she flew an Auster, a Spitfire and a Harvard. Such was the variety of flying life in ATA.
Our archive includes a film interview with Mary when her spirit and sense of humour are very evident. She has slipped the surly bonds of earth.
SPITFIRE SIMULATOR GETS AN OVERHAUL
Our popular Spitfire simulator is now even more realistic. New scenery software (including the Shard and the Olympic stadium) has been installed, and the view from the cockpit of the outside world has been made even better by installing three much larger screens. Even more reason for coming to fly with us!
SPITFIRE GIRL – a new ATA book
Spitfire Girl is the revised and expanded autobiography of First Officer Jackie Moggridge of ATA. Jackie was born in South Africa, took to flying at an early age, ferried 1438 aircraft for ATA between July 1940 and the end of 1945. She married during the war, but despite the birth of two daughters couldn’t keep away from flying. She gained her wings with the RAF, flew a Spitfire to Burma for the Burmese Air Force and became one of Britain’s first lady airline captains. Her book has been revised by her daughters who have added a wonderful selection of photographs from the family albums. The book is a terrific read, and is available now from Maidenhead Heritage Centre, price £8.99 plus P&P. To buy just give us a call on 01682 780555.
LETTICE CURTIS – IN MEMORIAM
We record with sadness the death on 21 July 2014 of Lettice Curtis at the age of 99. One of the most distinguished of Britain’s women pilots, Lettice Curtis served with Air Transport Auxiliary during World War II, ferrying war planes between factories and front line squadrons. She served with ATA from 6/7/40 until 30/11/45.
Brought up in Devon, she studied Maths at Oxford where she was Captain of the University Women’s Lawn Tennis and Fencing teams. She learned to fly in Sussex and in May 1938 began flying for an air survey company, at a time when very few women made a living from flying.
Lettice joined ATA with the second batch of women in July 1940 and served at Ferry Pools at Hatfiield, Hamble, White Waltham and Ratcliffe, most of her time being with No.1 Ferry Pool at White Waltham. Fiercely professional, she became the first woman to fly a 4-engined bomber (a Halifax, in 1942) and went on to ferry over 364 4-engined bombers as well as 162 Spitfires and 125 Mosquitoes in an overall total of 1467 aircraft ferried. For ATA’s Closing Pageant at White Waltham at the end of September 1945, she brought in a white-painted Liberator bomber. Film in our collection at Maidenhead shows her walking away from the aircraft with a huge grin on her face!
Her 1971 book The Forgotten Pilots is the most authoritative book every written about ATA and is available from the museum. It is full of technical and organizational as well as personal detail. and has no less than 22 appendices! She quotes from her logbook a ‘round Britain tour’ on September 25th 1944 when, starting and ending at White Waltham, she ferried 6 different sorts of aircraft, the largest being a Stirling bomber, the fastest a Spitfire XXI and the smallest a Miles trainer. Wow! And there were plenty more days like this, as ATA pilots provided a continuous supply of aircraft for the RAF and the Fleet Air Arm to fly into battle.
Her post-war years were spent as a technician and flight test observer at Boscombe Down and later with Fairey Aviation at White Waltham, where she worked with Peter Twiss and on the Gannet flight test programme. She took an active part in British air racing in various aircraft including a Spitfire and her own Wicko G-AFJB. When Faireys was bought by Westland she moved to the Ministry of Aviation and the CAA, then to Sperry at Bracknell, retiring in 1979. In October 1991, she obtained a helicopter licence in a Robinson R-22.
Lettice was a patron of Yorkshire Air Museum, to which she gave her ATA uniform and her ATA logbook.
CELEBRITY ANTIQUES ROAD TRIP FILMS AT HERITAGE CENTRE
The BBC’s Celebity Antiques Road Trip is an addition to the growing number of film crews using the Grandma Flew Spitfires exhibition. The crew came on Wednesday 19th June to film an episode of Celebity Antiques Road Trip, which was screened in November 2014. In the picture below actress Nina Wadia, the Celebrity, is getting instruction from Christopher Hobbs on flying the Spitfire Simulator.
BATTLE OF BRITAIN VETERAN FLIES THE SIMULATOR
A Battle of Britain Spitfire pilot came to fly our simulator on Friday 21st June 2014. He was Sqdn Leader Alan Scott; – he joined the RAF in WW2 a bit later after a bad crash in Tiger Moth, this entailed a 6 months repair job in hospital! – flew Spits and Hurricanes – then onto Malta in 1942 – towards end of war working as test pilot at Kemble, he was ‘loaned to ATA at Aston Down for a while’. He is 92 in July and very fit – he climbed in and out of the simulator quite easily!
Alan enjoyed his extended flight and had full control immediately – when asked about aerobatics – Christopher Hobbs said no problem! So off he went – rolls and loops!