On the 75th anniversary of VE Day the contribution of the men and women of ATA to the war effort must not be forgotten. For almost 6 years ATA ran a conveyor belt of serviceable aeroplanes (over 309,000 of them) without which the RAF and the Fleet Air Arm could not have fought the battle in the air. Not without reason did Lord Beaverbrook (first Minister of Aircraft Production) say that ATA had contributed as much to victory as if they had been fighting in the front line. Nor must we forget that 173 ATA flying personnel, 14% of a total of 1250, lost their lives in ATA service.
What was ATA doing on 8th May 1945? Not flying much! We have trawled through all the 140 logbooks in our collection and have failed to find a single pilot who flew on 8th or 9th May. Peter George was flying in and around Belgium around that time, while Peter Garrod flew 2 Tempests and a Mosquito on 7th May. Joy Gough (Lofthouse) was at Thame converting to Class 3 twins (Oxford/Anson) and Cecile Power was at White Waltham for a course on Class 4 twins such as the Hudson and the Wellington. As for celebrations, the only mentions in any of the many ATA pilot autobiographies are from Lettice Curtis (The Forgotten Pilots) and USA pilot Nancy Stratford (Contact! Britain!).
Lettice describes VE Day as ‘something of an anti-climax taking away incentive, our very raison d’etre and putting nothing in its place’. Nancy was based at Prestwick at the time and wrote that ‘It was the slowness of an actual clear-cut announcement that made V-E Day less important than it otherwise would have been. Many went to work on V-E Day, not having heard Churchill’s announcement, but they soon fell into the swing of things. At Prestwick itself, it was fairly quiet. I was rather glad I wasn’t in a big mass of humanity in Glasgow or London. Prestwick had its celebration at The Cross, where more people congregated that I knew existed in that town. There was cheering and dancing and smiles spread over all faces. The Americans there did little celebrating though, because as most of them said to me, “This war isn’t over yet”. So a group of us went out and played volleyball at the American Red Cross Club. It was just a sort of an anti-climax, for the European war had been over days ago. But there was no doubt that inside we all heaved a sigh of relief.’
ATA pilot Monique Agazarian recorded her rather different memories of VE-Day in an interview for the Imperial War Museum. Click here to listen to Monique.