Spitfire Girl

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Authors: Jackie Moggridge
the nucleus of a civil organization that by the war’s end employed 650 pilots and had ferried over 300,000 aircraft from factories and maintenance units to Royal Air Force and Fleet Air Arm squadrons.
    As the first few months of the war progressed and the factories produced a steadily increasing flow of aircraft it was a propitious moment for attacking the prejudice against women pilots. Service pilots were too busy on vital operational flying to be spared for ferrying. There were a hundred women pilots in Britain wasting their priceless experience in domestic chores. Some wrote, others interviewed. The influential, and there were many, pulled strings but to all their advances they received a polite ‘No’. It was not in the national interest to trust vital aircraft to the whims and fancies of feminine pulchritude.
    A spokesman was needed; perhaps I should say a spokeswoman. She appeared in the person of Miss Pauline Gower. Her name was internationally renowned, her influence in flying circles formidable. It would have taken a courageous person to resist the cogency and urgency of her arguments.
    Within a few weeks her victory was complete and she was charged with the responsibility of recruiting a small number of women pilots to form the first all-women A.T.A. ferry pool at Hatfield.
    A few days later I reported to Hatfield Aerodrome. The suspense of the last few days had reduced me to numb anticipation of failure. I knew that had I taken the flying test immediately after my days at Witney I would have passed. But now. Even the saffron yellow Tiger Moth training aircraft busily taking off and landing and following each other around the aerodrome circuit like a brood of chicks had lost their familiar look and taxied by like strangers. I had forgotten the vast spread of aerodromes and was awed by the verdant turf, as smooth and resting to the eye as a billiards table, reaching to the horizon. Only the windsock waved to me in welcome.
    Luck, cunning, industry and circumstance had contrived this crossroad. I knew succinctly what it meant to me. Success and fulfilment. Failure and uselessness. As usual when I wanted something I prayed.
    With lips fingering a mental rosary, uniform neatly pressed, buttons gleaming and hair a compromise between officialdom and chic I penetrated the security guards and R.A.F. police guarding the main gates. One of the latter escorted me to the tiny offices of the Air Transport Auxiliary perched insignificantly behind de Havilland’s hangars and workshops. Overhead the occasional business-like rumble of experimental fighter aircraft dominated the twittering of the Tiger Moths.
    As we walked, the smell, the passing show, and the cacophony of aviation sent crystal shivers along my nerves and calmed them as though with cocaine.
    ‘Come in.’ The R.A.F. policeman left me with an encouraging smile that contrasted strangely with his scarlet brassard and white blancoed belt. I entered the office as vulnerable as a snowflake. A smile and I might win. A frown and I would melt into oblivion.
    She smiled: ‘Miss Sorour?’
    ‘Yes, Ma’am,’ I answered envying and admiring the trim picture smiling so confidently. The A.T.A. at that time possessed only a few dozen pilots, eight of whom were women. Here was one. One of the eight. To me she was one of the most distinguished women living. She wore navy-coloured tunic and slacks. Her shoulders bore two rich gold stripes. On her left breast she wore wings embroidered in gold thread with the letters ATA in the centre. I confess without shame that here was the height of my ambition. Patiently for years I had courted flying. Its glamour, its adventure, but above all for its elusive mysticism and solitude. Before me I could see a union that I must achieve. To have flying and to wear it modestly on my breast. The infatuation that I possessed for flying in those earlier days was nurtured greatly by vanity. Today, without wings and other florid insignia, I catch

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