6 June 1944 was a turning point in World War II but it seems that for ATA it was just another day. We have looked at some of our 140 logbooks and here are some of our findings.
At Hamble (left, with landing craft moored in the river prior to D-Day) the ladies were busy. Diana Barnato-Walker flew an Auster from Hamble to Tangmere followed by an Albacore from Hamble to Eastleigh. Mary Wilkins (later Ellis) flew a Spitfire from Hamble to Cowley, a Fairchild Argus from Brize Norton back to Hamble and then another Spitfire from Hamble to Aston Down in Gloucestershire. Later she wrote ‘D-Day’ in the margin of her logbook and highlighted the entries. Philippa Bennett started with a taxi flight to White Waltham, then took an Auster to West Hampnett (now known as Goodwood) and a Fairchild back to Hamble. Then an Albacore to Eastleigh (5 mins) and a Swordfish also from Hamble to Eastleigh. Jackie Sorour (Moggridge) ferried a Mosquito from Hullavington to Lasham and another from Shawbury to Lasham, while Monique Agazarian did 1hr 45mins taxi flying from Heston to Northolt to White Waltham to Luton to Woburn to White Waltham. All in a day’s work for ATA pilots!
In Scotland Jose Carreras flew a Beaufighter, 2 Ansons, a Boston and a Fulmar. In Yorkshire Ratcliffe-based Ruth Ballard was being checked out on a Halifax at Marston Moor and from Aston Down Charles Tutt flew 4 Ansons, a Typhoon, an Albermarle and a Typhoon.
After the Battle of Normandy was won, Ansons of ATA’s Air Movements Flight flew stores, plasma, maps and radios to Normandy and with the allied advance they ranged as far afield as Oslo and Cairo. In 12 months they flew 8485 hours and carried 3,430 passengers and 883 tons of cargo.
Mary Webb Nicholson (USA) and Lettice Curtis were remembered at ceremonies on 22 and 23 May 2019 respectively.
Mary Nicholson was the only American woman to be killed in ATA service, when the propeller of her Miles Master detached itself near Worcester. In the ensuing crash the aircraft hit an agricultural barn at Littleworth and caught fire; bystanders, including the farmer, were unable to save Mary from the flames. She died on 22 May 1943 and on the precise anniversary a group of local aviation enthusiasts led by Mr Geoffrey Hudson unveiled a memorial plaque on one of the surviving buildings on the site.
On 23 May 2019 a wing of the spanking new Star and Garter home at High Wycombe was named in honour of Lettice Curtis, one of ATA’s most accomplished pilots and the first woman to fly a 4-engined bomber in the autumn of 1942. Lettice’s niece and her husband travelled from Norfolk to attend the ceremony; her niece is shown admiring the citation in the Lettice Curtis Wing.
March 1st is St David’s Day and so we salute the Welsh wizards of ATA, who appear in the employee listings only as British. We have looked at our collection of over 300 ATA travel permits issued in 1944. They provide information about date and place of birth, and reveal 5 pilots and 5 flight engineers, all men. As there were 1250 ATA aircrew we would guess than the Welsh contingent numbered many more than 10.
One of those we found was First Officer Gwynne Johns (left), who was born in Llandovery, 27 miles north of Swansea. He was a pre-war champion parachutist and in civilian life a bank manager. His age and his glasses would have barred him from RAF service, but ATA were happy with both. He was based at Kirkbride, the Ferry Pool known as the ‘salt mines’ on the Solway Firth west of Carlisle. In his right hand is his parachute and in his left his maps and his essential copy of Ferry Pilots Notes, the bible of every ATA pilot. Did you know that our on-line shop sells facsimile copies of Ferry Pilots Notes? Another Welshman was Captain George Pine (right) , born in Porthcawl. He was based at Whitchurch (No.2 Ferry Pool) and was qualified Class 5, ie 4-engined bombers. At the end of the war he was awarded the MBE.
On St Patrick’s Day we salute all the Irish men and women who served with ATA in a multitude of capacities. There were 8 men and 1 woman from the Irish Republic as pilots, together with further pilots and a couple of flight engineers who were born in northern Ireland. Then lots of riggers, fitters, and other occupations as well. The boss of the Belfast Ferry Pool throughout its existence was Paddy Armstrong (picture of him in Brief Glory). Belfast served the Shorts factory and their bread and butter was the Stirling bomber. Sunderland flying boats were also involved and to help with mooring duties ATA employed a small number of Sea Cadets. We bet they had fun. We heard an amazing story about Paddy Armstrong recently. When the Belfast Pool was being closed down, all the office furniture, files, etc were piled in the back of an Anson to go to Aston Down. In the copilot seat was Jill Farquaharson, who was in charge of MT at Belfast. As soon as they were airborne Paddy gave control of the aircraft of Jill and promptly went to sleep. Too much Guinness for lunch?!
Annette Mahon was born in Dublin and was one of the WAAFs recruited by ATA in 1944; the story of these WAAFs recruited is well told in the book “WAAFs with Wings” by Peggy Lucas. Annette served from May 1944 until the end of September 1945. After her training Annette was posted to No 4 Ferry Pool at Prestwick, where she was known as the Barracuda Queen. In the documentary film Spitfire Sisters she tells a wonderful story of flying over the heather covered hills of southern Scotland and suddenly thinking that the scent from the heather was very strong. When she looked down into the cockpit well she saw that her feet were soaked in hydraulic fluid! She used to say that she loved every minute in ATA and would do it all again, if she had to. Annette married Dr Hill who was on ATA’s medical staff.
On St Patrick’s Day in 1942, the American Stuart Updike (based at White Waltham) recorded in his diary “three deliveries today, Mohawk, Hurricane & Spit – a really good day, visibility good and ceiling about 2000ft – had tea at Shawbury – very good too!” But… the British weather changes all the time and the very next day he wrote “Flew an Anson through some stinking weather today, did not enjoy it one bit either. Lunch at Sherburn (No 7 Ferry Pool in Yorkshire) with Coe and Eddie”.
The first 8 women to join ATA at Hatfield in January 1940 were honoured by the local bus company UNO BUS at a ceremony on 4 February when 8 new buses were named after them! The youngest of the 8 was Joan Hughes, then aged 21 with 6 years of flying behind her. Joan was one of only 11 women to be cleared to fly 4-engined bombers from early 1943. After the war, Joan was a founder of West London Aero Club at White Waltham, where she was an instructor for many years. One of the volunteers in our ATA gallery was taught fly by Joan, who also flew replica aircraft for the films ‘Those Magnificent Men in ther Flying Machines’, ‘The Blue Max’ and ‘Thunderbirds’.
At a ceremony held in Hatfield University’s Fielder Centre, Richard Poad, chairman of the Maidenhead Heritage Centre, which has a huge collection of ATA memorabilia, spoke about the amazing achievements of ATA’s women. John Lumsden also recalled stories about his Aunt, Marion Wilberforce – one of those who has a bus named in her honour. Marion was another of the 11 ATA women to be cleared to fly 4-engined bombers.
After the formal presentations, the Mayor of Welwyn Hatfield Borough Council, Councillor Barbara Fitzsimon, cut the ribbon on the Marion Wilberforce bus. Each bus has display panels inside, with photos and text from Maidenhead Heritage Centre. so that passengers can learn about the background of each of those named and learn about ATA. The other ladies celebrated were: Joan Hughes, Gabrielle Patterson, Margaret Fairweather (killed in ATA service), Winifred Crossley, Margaret Cunnison, Mona Friedlander and Rosemary Rees
Background information: Uno (formerly UniversityBus) is a bus service operated by the University of Hertfordshire, England, serving members of the general public, and also its own students and staff. The service was set up in 1992, growing out of a shuttle service previously operated for students at Wall Hall college near Watford connecting them to the other campuses of the University and the Polytechnic (Hatfield) before it.
It provides student transport to the expanding university from local areas as well as improving east-west travel across Hertfordshire and has opened up new links from North London. Services have expanded rapidly as the University has closed outlying sites at Watford and Hertford and developed the new de Havilland Campus on the site of the former Hatfield airfield.