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.
A memorial service for Mary Ellis took place in Cowes, Isle of Wight, on Monday 24th September in brilliant autumn sunshine. The church was absolutely packed with everybody from the Lord Lieutenant downwards. No less than six standards, including the ATA standard, were paraded by local air cadets (Mary would have approved of that) and tributes were paid by local dignatories and representatives of the ATA Association and local Aircrew Associations. We even heard from Mary herself, in a clip from a radio interview. After the service two Spitfires from the Boultbee Academy at Goodwood flew past, followed by a solo display by the Spitfire ‘Spirit of Kent’ which had come over from Biggin Hill. What a wonderful send off for a wonderful lady! Here are a couple of photos from a display illustrating Mary’s career as an ATA pilot, and then running her own airline and becoming the commandant of Sandown Airport.
We are proud to announce that Mary Ellis bequeathed to the ATA Museum at Maidenhead Heritage Centre three logbooks which cover her entire flying career. The museum is honoured that Mary entrusted us with these; we will treasure them. Mary’s logbooks will be copied and added to our digitized collection of over 130 logbooks from pilots, flight engineers and ATC cadets. The logbooks are the primary record of ATA, evidence that its extraordinary story really is true. Thank you, Mary!
In the summer of 1940 ATA was still a young organization with around 100 pilots. But as today September 15th is Battle of Britain Day it gives us an excuse to trawl through the handful of logbooks (among the 130+ in our collection) which were kept by ATA pilots serving at the time of the Battle of Britain. We have managed to find these entries, but the very best account of ATA and the Battle of Britain is in the diary of Arnold Watson, whose entry is also reproduced here.
Stanley Brown (seconded from BOAC)
3 September Hurricane White Waltham – Kenley
10 September Spitfire Brize Norton – Middle Wallop
27 September Spitfire Little Rissington – Warmwell (satellite of MW)
30 September Hurricane Aston Down – Middle Wallop
15 October Hurricane Wroughton – Shoreham
Peter Mursell (later Director of Training)
23 September Spitfire ??? – Tangmere
29 October Spitfire West Malling – Gravesend
28 August Spitfire Hamble – Westhampnett (now Goodwood)
Philip Wills (later Director of Operations)
17 August Hurricane St Athan – Tangmere
19 August Spitfire Kirkbride – Middle Wallop
10 September Spitfire Brize Norton – Middle Wallop
J A V Watson: diary entry for 4 September 1940
The battle of Britain at its height. I landed a fully armed Hurricane at N. Weald in Essex (from Aston Down) 10 minutes after the Hun dropped 500 bombs there. The airman who waved me in was wearing all he’d got left – Tin helmet, pyjamas & sea boots. He looked very amazed when I said “This war’s getting quite brisk isn’t it?” I didn’t realise that the blitz had just happened. He had a bullet through the front of his tin hat which had torn the seat of his trousers! The hangars were burning, all the buildings were partly demolished, & bomb splinters were all over the aerodrome – still hot so I picked a few up. I had difficulty selecting a landing path between the craters. But remarkably few aeroplanes were damaged.
Later a Hurricane caught fire in the air & landed wheels up in flames. Neither the ambulance nor the fire tender could go out to it. The ambulance was on its side & the fire tenders tyres were all burst by blast. The pilot escaped but there were some thousands of machine gun bullets in the fire & these were going off for two hours afterwards, so no one could go near. Delayed action bombs also blew up at intervals so my taxi could not come to collect me. The operations room arranged a lift for me to Hatfield in a Blenheim. The Sergt. pilot landed at Radlett in error, and asked me up in front to navigate him to Hatfield! Visibility about 20 miles. Amy Johnson gave me a lift home from there in her Anson. Thus I hitch hiked my way home after an exciting day – but the damage at North Weald was depressing, but thank God, the casualties were remarkably few.