Members of the Air Transport Auxiliary – pilots who ferried planes in the Second World War – are to receive a new award recognising their contribution to the war effort.
The ATA was made up of trained pilots who were ineligible for a combat flying role. This included men who were too old or unfit, women and foreign nationals. Among them were pilots like Stuart Keith-Jopp, a 50-year-old First World War veteran who’d lost an arm and one eye. In all 1,152 men and 166 women served as pilots, with a number of engineers and ground crew. Thirty different nationalities were represented.
The ATA ferried training aircraft, fighters and bombers around the country on behalf of the RAF, often flying aircraft they had little experience with. The most qualified pilots were expected to fly up to 147 different types of aircraft. They had no radios and little in the way of instruments, making flying in bad weather particularly hazardous. German fighters were also a very serious threat as the planes were invariably unarmed.
Over 150 members of the ATA were killed and a small number of war memorials record their service. These include a tablet in St Paul’s Cathedral, unveiled in 1950 and a recently unveiled memorial stone at Manchester Airport Memorial Gardens.
The photo above dates from 1939 and shows the first nine women pilots in the ATA. At the far left is Pauline Gower, the Commandant of the women’s section. She was a commercial pilot before the war and was instrumental in the decision to allow women to fly in the ATA. Sadly she died in 1947, shortly after giving birth.
The other members (left to right) are Mrs Winifred Crossley, Miss M Cunnison, The Hon. Mrs Fairweather, Miss Mona Friedlander, Miss Joan Hughes, Mrs G Paterson, Miss Rosemary Rees and Mrs Marion Wilberforce.
The founding members all survived the war, with the exception of Flight Captain Margaret Fairweather, who was killed in August 1944. Margaret had been the first woman to fly a Spitfire. Her husband, Captain Douglas Fairweather, was also an ATA pilot and was killed four months before his wife. They are buried together in a joint grave tended by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.