DR. WEEKS’ COMMENT:
A piece of history not taught in school – unfortunately. Hats off to these ladies! albeit 60 years late
Honour for the Spitfire’s unsung flying heroines
The survivors of a group of women who flew Spitfires in non-combat roles during the Second World War are expected to be honoured with a special badge.
The women of the Air Transport Auxiliary may not have taken part in the Battle of Britain but, without their flying skills and courage in delivering the aircraft to the RAF bases for their male counterparts to clear the skies of German bombers, the battle would never have got off the ground.
There are believed to be about 15 of the women pilots left, all in their eighties and nineties. They also flew Hurricanes, Lancasters, Mosquitoes and other wartime aircraft.
Now Gordon Brown has been approached to see whether they could be given formal recognition for the risks they took in ferrying Spitfires and other fighters and bombers from the manufacturers to airbases in Britain and France throughout the war.
Margaret Frost, now 87, who hated heights and was officially too small at just under 5ft 3in to become a Spitfire pilot, spent three years flying the aircraft, and welcomed the suggestion of a badge for her and her colleagues. “But I don’t think any of us is expecting it,” she said.
Nigel Griffiths, Labour MP for Edinburgh South, who has taken up the women’s cause and has already had encouraging responses from the Government, said: “These are forgotten people and they deserve an honour.”
He began campaigning for an honour for the survivors after reading Spitfire Women of World War II, a book by the Times journalist Giles Whittell. He referred to them as “a unique sisterhood of flying addicts who came to England from five continents to ferry combat aircraft for the Air Transport Auxiliary in the war”. They were the only women from among the Western Allies who flew in the war.
Mr Griffiths, whose father flew Mosquito fighter bombers in the war, had a meeting this week with Jim Fitzpatrick, Parliamentary UnderSecretary of State at the Department for Transport, and was given encouraging indications that the Prime Minister backed his campaign.
An honour for the Spitfire women would be in line with the announcement last year that the Land Girls of the Second World War were to receive a special badge.
Miss Frost, who lives in Mid Wales, said: “I was 23 when I joined the ATA. I was 5ft 2¾ when the minimum height requirement was 5ft 4in, but I got through. You had to fly the Spitfires without any radio system, and the only way you knew you could land at an airbase was when someone stood on the runway with a green light rather than a red light.”
She added: “The Spitfire was lovely to fly. I was lucky because the weather was kind to me, but there were others  who lost their lives flying in bad weather.”
Miss Frost said: “I always hated heights but it was different being enclosed in the Spitfire. I never flew higher than 2,000ft. I have so many memories of that time, but reminiscing is tiring.”
The most famous female member of the ATA was Amy Johnson, the first woman to fly solo from Britain to Australia in 1930, a journey of 11,000 miles. She joined the ATA in 1940 and was promoted to First Officer. In January 1941, while flying an Airspeed Oxford from Blackpool to RAF Kidlington in Oxfordshire, she was caught in poor weather and eventually the aircraft’s two tanks ran out of fuel.
She clambered out on to the fuselage with her parachute and jumped, but landed in the Thames Estuary and drowned. A rescue attempt was made but her body was never recovered.
””164 women flew with the Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA)
””In the Second World War the ATA flew 415,000 hours
””It delivered more than 308,000 aircraft of 130 types
””It flew repaired, damaged and new aircraft between factories and active service airfields
””Lord Beaverbrook, wartime Minister of Aircraft Production, said: “They were soldiers fighting in the struggle just as completely as if . . . engaged on the battlefront”
Source: Times database