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Ferry Pilots 1939/45

Aetheris Avidi
Eager for the Air

Flt Capt Miss Joan Hughes At the age of 22 had 600 hours flying time.
Ferried four engine bombers, and was the only women
instructor on all types of aircraft.



The ATA came into being in September 1939, under the direction of Gerard d' Erlanger, a young banker, private pilot, and director of BOAC British Overseas Airways Corporation. He foresaw the possibility of using privately owned aircraft, 'A' rated pilots and commercial pilot's who had been stood down, to assist the war effort by carrying mail, important passengers and spare parts.  The first recruits included farmers, publicans, journalists and World War 1 pilot's, but they were soon in action delivering aircraft from factories and maintenance units to the Fleet Air Arm and the R.A.F.  They began with with light aircraft and progressed to cover all twin and four engined machines, flying boats and early jets.  Ansons were used mainly, to take ATA pilots to collect aircraft and return them afterwards to their bases. White Waltham became the H.Q. and number 1 ferry pool.  The organisation grew speedily and in January 1940 eight women were recruited , soon to be joined by others, including Amy Johnson who met her death in the Thames estuary in 1941,while ferrying an Oxford,a twin engined aircraft.

During the Battle Of Britain the demand for ferrying Spitfires and Hurricanes to airfields in the south east of England became enormouse and it often had to be done during Luftwaffe attacks.  Every type of British and American aircraft used by the Fleet Air Arm and the R.A.F where delivered by the ATA. By 1944 the ATA had 22 U.K bases, 659 pilot's (inc 108 women) and 109 male and female flight engineers.  As the allies moved into Europe the ATA organisation followed into France , Holland and finally into Germany.  At it's peak the staff of ATA totalled 3,555, comprising aircrew, ground staff, and R.A.F attached personnel.  ATA pilot's where from 28 different nations. ATA operated throughout the war and was not disbanded until November 1945, by then no less than 309,011 aircraft had been ferried and 414,984 hours flown, a remarkable record that we should not forget.

Lord Beaverbrook, who was Minister for Aircraft Production, said of the ferry pilot's:

'They were soldiers fighting in the Battle
just as completely as if they had been
engaged on the battlefront'

By the time the war had been going on for some time, every aircraft flown by the Fleet Air Arm and the Royal Air Force had, first of all, been flown by an ATA pilot, but not without casualities. The ATA flew every day, in all weathers and without radio.  They had to avoid flying into balloon barrages which were around cities, towns and important factories. Some times they were shot at by the enemy and, now and then, by their own side.  They could not shoot back, as the aircraft were not armed. 174 highly trained personnel were killed and to these people
'we will remember them'

No 16 Ferry Pool Kirkbride

The taxi Anson's piled with flying kit   Each ferry pilot con's his morning chit
When from the weather office comes the cry  That from the west black clouds bestride the sky
Then out "Met's" Head is thrust from window wide  This dark portent to ponder or deride
'Tis dull, tis dark, the clouds precipitatin'  No weather this for us to aviate in!
But 'One' more bold by far than all the rest  Out to the runway taxies - gazes west
Raises an eyebrow, casts his eyes about  Wiggles his corns, his shoulder blades, his snout
Instinct at work - 'Will it be wet or fine'  What does this Flying Weather seer devine
He turns about and trundles back to 'Met'  To tell them that it really will be wet.

Author Unknown


Women of the Air Transport Auxiliary's
No5 Ferry Pilots Pool, Hatfield Hertfordshire.

Air Transport Auxiliary (Womens Section)

It has been decided to form a small pool of women pilot's based initially at Hatfield to ferry new training machines of the Tiger Moth type from factory to variouse aerodromes.


The following shall apply to candidates by way of qualifications:-

1).   Women age 22-45
2).   Minimum of flying hours - 250
3).   Candidates shall be the holders of A or B licences
4).   Candidates will be required to pass practical flying tests and although "A" Licence medical standards should, in most cases, surffice, in certain instances a further examination may be required.


At the outbreak of war, British Airways, in conjunction with the Air Ministry, initiated a National Service organisation known as the "Air Transport Auxiliary". This organisation is now being enlarged to encompass a women's section and it is to this section that women pilots will be attached.

The ATA is a self-contained unit with it's own executive and senior officers and I have been invited and have accepted the post of "Officer in Charge of the women's section"; It is in this capacity that I am writing this letter.

Admission to the women's section of the ATA will be on a competitive basis in veiw of the fact that, at this stage at any rate, the number of women pilots whom it is contemplated engaging will not be large, and upon admission pilots will be required to enter into a contract with British Airways, the terms which have yet to be settled, but it will provide for a rate of pay, insurance, and under the contract pilots will be given the rank of Second Officer and a uniform.  The contract provides, intor alia, for the

1).   Pilots will be required to maintain their "A" and/or "B" licence.

2).   That pilots should serve as instructed.

3).   That any pilot if required, shall submit herself to periodical tests at the Company's School for Pilots and, if necessary, subsequently undertake in the school further training.

And so began the first induction of women pilots into the 'Air Transport Auxiliary'

Aircraft Training

Training in a variety of aircraft became necessary as a result of the ATA Conversion School being formed.  Various types flown by the ATA where organised into different categories:

Class 1: Single-engined light aircraft:
 Magister, D.H. Moth, Auster, Proctor, Swordfish, Gladiator, Tutor, Messenger.

Class1+: Indicates that the pilot for some special reason cannot progress beyond Class 1 but has enough experience to be authorized to carry passengers.

Class 2 section 1: Advanced single-engined:
Spitfire, Hurricane, Sea Hurricane, Corsair, Mustang, Typhoon, Tempest, Seafire, Hellcat, Defiant, Walrus.

Class 2 section 2: Dauntless, Helldiver, Battle, Kittyhawk, Seamew, Tomahawk, Kingfisher, Airacobra, Skua.

Class 3: Light twin-engined: Oxford, Anson, Dominie.

Class 3+: Indicates that a pilot is considered sufficiently steady to be put on continued taxi work.

Class 4 Section 1: Advanced twin-engined:
Beaufort, Mosquito, Mitchell, Beaufighter, Warwick, Hudson, Blenheim, Dakota, Whitley, Buckingham, Wellington.

Class 4 Section 2:
 Manchester, Whirlwind, Hampdon, Botha, Maryland, Hereford.

Class 5 Four Engined:
Halifax, Fortress, Lincoln, Lancaster, Stirling, Liberator, York,
Class 6 Sea Planes:
Catalina, Sunderland, Sea Otter, Walrus.

The first eight female pilots of the ATA were recruited in late 1939 by the remarkable and very capable commander Pauline Gower MBE, who had been given the task of organising and training the womens' section of the ATA.  Initially there was a good deal of male chauvinistic opposition to the idea of women pilots, but it was soon evident that these ladies could outfly there male counterparts.  Eventually there were 166 women pilots who served in the ATA throughout the second world war ( many from overseas) of whom fifteen lost their lives, including Amy Johnson aviatrix and pioneering pilot.  Amy's husband Jim Mollinson also served as an ATA pilot.
Female ATA pilots at first were only allowed to fly light training aircraft, but soon, as a result of Pauline Gower's initiative, progressed to high performance fighters, Spitfire, Hurricane, Typhhoon etc, and then later to the medium twin engined bombers, and later still the heavy four engined bombers Halifax, Sterling, Lancaster.  They flew everything but sea planes. ATA female pilots were later given equal pay, by a greatful British Government, one of the first examples of equal pay.

Pauline Gower's ladies were issued with an attractive uniform consisting of dark blue skirt or trousers, forage cap, light blue RAF style shirt, black tie and a single breasted jacket with the ATA insignia in the centre of wings of gold thread.  Badges of rank were gold bars on each shoulder. The press wanted pictures and tales of these glamorous girls whose pictures brightened up wartime magazines and newwspapers.  Many of the women were experienced pilots, had a good number of pre-war flying hours to their credit, and had owned their own light aircraft.  Pauline Gower was typical of these women.

Miss Pauline Mary de Peauly Gower was born in Tunbridge Wells on 22nd July 1910.  She was the younger daughter of Sir William Gower MP 1880-1952.  The family lived comfortably in a large house Sandown Court Pembury.  Pauline left the convent of the Sacred Heart Tunbridge Wells unsure of what to do with her life. After considering making a living giving violin lessons, she felt she was not good enough, and settled on training to be a pilot.  Her father was not pleased about this and cut off her allowance.  Pauline persevered, and paid for her flying lessons by giving violin tuitions, she went solo after seven hours on 4th August 1930 and soon obtained her commercial pilot's 'B' licence, only the third woman in the world to do so.  It was at the London Aero Club at Stag Lane where she met Amy Johnson and Dorothy Spicer an engineer and pilot, who became her partner in several aviation ventures.  After various spells with flying circuses. ( Britain was air mad at this time).  together they set up an air taxi and joy-riding business  'Air Trips Ltd' operating between Hunstanton in north Norfolk and Skegness in Lincolnshire.  Pauline used a hired Gipsy Moth and the two seater Simmonds Spartan bought for her twenty first birthday by her doting father, who by this time, had relented and become very supportive of her efforts.

By 1938 Pauline Gower was a formidable much respected figure in aviation circles, not only had she flown more than 2,000 hours and carried upward of 30,000 passengers, but had been given many honours, including an M.B.E. and appointment to several commissions into air safety.  She was commissioner of the Civil Air Guard, and was appointed to the board of B.O.A.C.
Pauline Gower as ATA commander was very approachable and protective of her fledgling pilots.  One who had failed an initial medical, she helped by recommending a 'doctor friendly to lady pilots'.  The same girl later crashed a Spitfire at Donibristle on the Firth of Forth Scotland, and was found at fault, and feared the chop.  She wrote: With the verdict came a summons to White Waltham H.Q. of No1 ATA ferry pool, and I went down by train in the depth's of despair. I was not very far out in my reckoning.  Pauline Gower was very nice about it all offering me the alternative of staying on just to fly light aircraft, 'alright I said, I'll fly anything you like if you let me stay.  I've never had any trouble with Oxfords, why not let me fly light twins too?  She agreed that this was a sensible idea and posted me to Luton Nr London No4 ATA ferry pool.
The pilot in questian was Mary de Bunson, a remarkable young lady with a connection to the Tennyson de' Eyncourt family of Bayons Manor Tealby Lincolnshire.

Pauline Gower married Wing Commander William Fahie at Brompton Oratory on 2nd June 1945.  Pauline died aged 37 of a heart attack after giving birth to twins on 2nd March 1947 and was burried in Tumbridge Wells.  Her leadership qualities, organisational skills and massive contribution to aviation assure her of a lasting place in British aviation history. 

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