The original plan was for the ATA to ferry people and messages in light aircraft to relieve the RAF pilots who could get on with the fighting. From this small start, the ATA grew, they took in men over 25, who were considered too old to fly as fighter or bomber pilots, and some First World War pilots: many men who could not pass the strict RAF medical also joined. There was three ATA pilots with only one arm and one with only one eye, this is where the name of the Air Transport Auxiliary was some times changed to Ancient and Tattered Airmen Against great opposition, eight women were accepted into the ATA, they already had many hours of private flying, and women with lesser flying experience were also accepted, even abinitio women.
The job of the ATA gradually altered with the ever-increasing number of aircraft from the factories that had to be delivered to the Fleet Air Arm, Royal Air Force and the Maintenance Units, and fly the old ones away. As the war progressed into Europe they had to deliver to Group Support Units across the Channel.
There was six different aircraft categories flown by the ATA ferry pools:
1). Light single engined: Magister, Gladiator, Hart.
2). Advanced single engined: Spitfire, Mustang, Typhoon.
3). Light twin engined: Oxford, Anson, Dominie.
4). Advanced twin engined: Wellington, Beaufighter, Mosquito.
5). Four engined: Lancaster, Liberator, Fortress.
6). Seaplanes: Sunderland, Catalina.
Pilots learn to fly one aircraft in each category, and are then let loose on any of the others in the same category. They fly duel and then solo and attend lectures on aircraft engines. They then go back to their respective pools and begin ferrying aircraft in their new class of aircraft. After a while they are sent back to school to learn the next category, gradually moving up until eventually they are able to fly all six classes of aircraft. They would not be able to cope with several different types of aircraft without being able to refer to the ferry pilots notes. This is a loose leaf book with a card for each aircraft giving pre-flight and in-flight details, engine operation, speeds and any other pertinent notes. The card is four inches by six and a half, they would not have been able to remember all the infomation without them. Every aircraft flown by the Fleet Air Arm and the Royal Air Force had been flown and delivered by the ATA.
Miss Lettice Curtis
The Lancaster was by far the easiest of the wartime heavy bombers to fly and, was not used for four-engined training in the ATA.
I am sure that any competant twin-engine pilot could have got into a Lancaster and flown it without any trouble. Although up to 1943 some ATA pilots were trained on the Sterling, the majority graduated on the Halifax and in fact, after spring 1943, all training took place at Marston Moor where an ATA Halifax training flight was run in conjunction with the RAF.
Unlike singles and twins, each four-engined aircraft was endorsed on one's authorisation card separately. After ferrying ten of the type on which one had been trained, one progressed to further types by doing two trips in the right-hand seat, and one ferry trip with another pilot to see - what went one. Then one went out and ferried one oneself. The Lanc was so straight-forward it was the only aircraft on which we did not have to do these 'stooge' trips. I was lucky enough to be the first women to be cleared for four-engines in February 1943. I flew my first Lanc in April, ED396, from Llandow to Elsham Wolds.
In May 1943 I delivered ED817/G from Farnborough to Scampton, then a grass airfield. Although I suppose we knew about the dam busting we had no idea where the dam busters were based and so I had no reason to know that this was a specially modified aircraft. We flew quite a lot of 'G' aircraft, mostly Halifaxes fitted with H2S for the Pathfinders and Coastal Command; and, incidentally, a friend used to tell me that Bomber Command had to release the Halifax to Coastal Command not only because of the ASV Mk11, but because the Lancs had very poor ditching characteristics. They sank in minutes if they came down in the sea. I used to get a tremendous satifaction from landing a Liberator or from three-pointing a Sterling or a Halifax, but the Lanc was straightforward, safe and efficient but, I fear, a rather dull and characterless flying machine.
Miss Curtiss delivered several hundred aircraft while serving with the Air Transport Auxiliary
Anne Duncan flew everything from light planes through Spitfires to medium bombers and transport aircraft like the Douglas DC3 Dakota. Close to the end of the war, at Cowes on the Isle of White, an encounter with an amphibious Walrus was not a success.
The Walrus was a very unattractive aeroplane to fly, it was like several sacks of coal. It was terrribly unstable and wallowed, and it made the most dresdful noise. The airfield had a nasty up-hill slope, and you usually had to take off up hill, and as a Walrus was a very lumbering kind of aeroplane I took off this day very much across wind, but couldn't get an angle into the wind. As soon as I had opened up, and we'd left the ground it felt to me as though it wanted to turn over on it's back. I simply couldn't hold it I concluded that the controls must hsve been crossed, somthing which could happen, so I throttled back. But the minute I throttled back, it righted itself so then I quickly realized that it wasn't the controls, it must be able to take off, but by this time, since I had left the ground, the aircraft had swung even further across wind.
It was a silly thing in retrospect to have opened up again but I did. I thought I could make it, but it was clearly not to be so. I did not want to crash into the hangar and managed to keep clear. I had throttled back by this time and could see I was going to crash, we hit a shed at the side of the airfield. That's the last thing I remember, the aeroplane tipping forwards, I apparently landed alongside the aircraft straggled across a road near a bungalow which was opposite. I think one of the wings hit the bungalow. Luckily for me I was not strapped in. In this particular aeroplane you could not reach the pedals properly, so that if you were strapped in you were even less able to lean forward and reach the pedals properly. I had rather short legs so I left myself unstrapped. When the aeroplane came to rest, it burst into flames immediately but I was half thrown out of the cockpit. The bakers man was just delivering his bread at that particular moment, and had to dive out of the way but when he saw what had happened he came rushing over and pulled me away from the flames. I was burnt along with my clothes and was quite unconscious - but he managed to pull me clear
Miss Anne Walker, former ATA pilot became Mrs Anne Duncan when she married Alexander Duncan, their forthcoming marriage was announced in November 1948. Mr Duncan worked in the aviation division of R K Dundas 4 St James St London SW1 and The Airport Portsmouth. R K Dundas was one of the distributors of The Auster Aeroplane as featured in the Flight Magazine September 4th 1947.
Amy Johnson was born in Hull East Yorkshire in 1903, her father John William Johnson owned a successful fish merchants business in the city. Her mother Amy 'Ciss' Johnson, formerly Hodge, was a keen piano player and also played the organ for her local chapel. Amy had three sisters Irene, Molly and Betty. Amy attended private schools up to 1915, and onwards to 1921 Boulevard School Hull, she was a keen capable student and very fond of sport, including hockey and cricket. From 1922 to 25 Amy was at Sheffield University and gained a degree in economics, latin and french.
Amy had several jobs as a secretary and typist before moving to London where she joined the London Aeroplane Club. Amy practiced as a mechanic at Stag Lane Airfield near London, while there she took flying lessons, and studied for her pilots and engineers licences. May 5th to 24th 1930 she flew solo from Croydon London to Darwin Australia in her Gypsy Moth aircraft named 'Jason' first such flight by a woman. July 28th to August 6th 1931 she undertook a flight from London to Tokyo Japan, with a co-pilot.
In November of 1932 she carried out a record breaking flight from England to Cape Town South Africa, and in the same year married Jim Mollison also a famous pilot. The following year together with Jim Mollison they flew to the USA on the first leg of a long distance flight, but crash landed and the flight was abandoned. The next few years where spent air racing, motor car racing and gliding. By 1936 Amy had broken the England to South Africa solo flight record again, and was divorced from Jim Mollison. On her return to England Amy opened Sewerby Hal,l Sewerby Park, Bridlington, North Yorkshire. In 1940 Amy joined the womens section of the Air Transport Auxiliary, but in January of the next year she was drowned when she had to parachute from her Airspeed Oxford aircraft over the Thames Estuary.
In 1959 John William Johnson, her father, donated Amy's collection of trophies and other items to Sewerby Hall, where there is a special room dedicated to Amy.
Sewerby Hall is situated on the main coast road East Yorkshire, just north, and overlooking Bridlington bay and harbour.
I saw you glistening in the sky
like gleaming vapour flashing by,
I saw you next upon a marble shelf
a scorched grotesqueness of yourself.
The house you hit was still a smouldering shell,
that storm we had has turned my life to hell.
I went along to see
what could be done-
the smell of singeing flesh
and jagged, ugly hunks of metal
The wheels were there, and bricks
and burnt up privet hedges,
a single yellow rose
was blooming on a blackened stem.
I stood and looked and wept,
my heart cried out to him.
And as I stood, a little man
came up and watched as well,
'Your house, Ma'am? and your garden, Ma'am?
it will grow again...'
But when I turned and looked at him
just then he understood.
He picked the rose and gave it to me:
'I'm sorry, very sorry, Ma'am,
I didn't know,' he said
'Someone I love,' I cried,
'My heart sighs out for him.'
The years have passed,
my searing pains remained,
I went along to look
and there, as in a dream,
a house of Phoenix stood,
agleam and clean, with bright blue paint.
(The yellow rose was there)
And underneath the hedge of privet lay a puppy
and a battered teddybear, and close by
stood the pram.
'Life for life,' cried I,
and wept for freedom for my Calvary.
With kind permission of:
Diana Barnato Walker MBE 1918-2008
From her book 'Spreading My Wings'©