A recent visit from relatives of a Polish ATA pilot had a funny side to it.
Magda Drzewiecki and her sister, together with other relatives, live in Canada and the USA. Their father’s name is recorded in our ATA database as JERZY DRZEWIECKI. He served with ATA from 25 February 1942 to 30 November 1945, the day on which ATA was formally wound up. He was known as George or ”DRY WHISKY’ and was Class 4 qualified. At the end of the war he was made MBE and emigrated from Britain to Canada in 1947.
Flt Capt Klemens Dlugaszewski. He was known as ‘the Dlug’ or ‘Double Whisky’ and was Class 5 qualified. He had been a pre-war airline pilot with LOT Polish Airlines and was one of the oldest and most experienced pilots to join ATA. He served from 21 June 1940 until 30 November 1945. He was also made MBE.
The third of our Polish Whiskies was Second Officer Antoni Gosiewski who was known simply as ‘Whisky’. He was killed in ATA service on 19 December 1941 and is buried in All Saints Cemetery in Maidenhead.
On Remembrance Sunday let us remember the 173 men and women who died in ATA service. These casualties represent 14% of the total aircrew workforce of 1250 pilots and flight engineers. The first casualty was Douglas King, killed in April 1940 and the last was South African Rosamund Everard Steenkamp, killed in January 1946 while ferrying for 41 Group RAF. However the number of women casualties was proportionally fewer than the men. As Peter George said: ‘The women were more reliable than the men. They didn’t take the same damn fool risks.‘
Male or female, they will be remembered with gratitude.
The first of these three entries shows that within 3 weeks of World War II breaking out, ATA’s role was already expanding beyond the original remit to operate communication flights.
22.9.39 Telegram from British Airways saying report to CFS Upavon (the RAF’s Central Flying Schoolon the northern edge of Salisbury Plain) 09.00hrs Monday 25th inst for test. The ATA is to assist the RAF with ferrying.
25.9.39 Reported Upavon 09.00hrs. Flew HARVARD dual with Squadron Leader Cox for 50min. Flying test OK, the third circuit unaided. Darned fine lunch in Officers Mess! Other ATA pilots were F.D. Bradbrooke, C.S.Napier, H.A.Taylor (from “FLIGHT”). We received our instructions from Squadron Leader Constantine.
28.9.39 Letter from
C.A.G. releasing me from obligations.
Filled in National Register as “Air Pilot, Air Transport Auxiliary, 2nd
Officer, British Airways”
11 September 1939 was a landmark day in ATA’s history. On this day, contracts were signed with the first 29 recruits, all male. One of these by Graham Head, who had been an instructor in the Civil Air Guard and would become ATA’s unofficial photographer. His diary is in the ATA museum collection and reveals that he was first contacted by British Airways on 30 August asking if he would be willing to be a ‘transport pilot’ in case of war. On 6 September he had a flying test at Whitchurch near Bristol with Mr A R O Macmillan, on loan from British Airways. On 11 September he had a letter saying he was accepted and got married at 11 am! On the 12th he wrote “Damn Hitler. FLABBERGASTED by honeymoon!” The very next day he wrote “Hotel charge of 2 guineas per night. Left hurriedly. Here endeth honeymoon.” More entries will follow as his diary records the evolution of the young ATA.