Air Transport Auxiliary Memorial Hamble-le-Rice Hampshire UK

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Alison King wrote that on their first day at ATA Ferry Pool 15 in Hamble-le-Rice in October 1941, "It was cold and drizzly, we  left the airfield and wandered through the village, suddenly we turned from the wide windy road round a corner and down a sloping lane into something that had been in a world of its own since the fourteenth century”.

In 1939, at a time when few women knew how to drive cars, or even had an opportunity to learn, a group of young women broke into the all-male world of military flying. This is the story of an important chapter in aviation and women's history and equal rights.

Pauline Gower and been a "joy ride" pilot through the 1930's, running a pleasure trip business for the general public on a field next to a major highway in Kent. With the sign, "fly now - first left", she and her partner had started one of the earliest all-woman commercial flight businesses. As war approached, and with 2,000 hours flying time and 33,000 passengers under her belt, Pauline looked for an opportunity to contribute to the war effort with her kinds of skills. She was appointed as the second woman Commissioner for Civil Air Defense for London and the Southeast of England, based upon her considerable flying experience.

In September 1939, she approached the Director General of Civil Aviation with the idea of using women to ferry planes, with the newly formed and all-male Air Transport Auxiliary; permission was granted in November 1939. A unique feature of the ATA was that they wanted any pilot that could do the job; it had crew from 28 countries. Following initial bureaucratic resistance to women entering in upon this male preserve, permission was finally granted in November 1939. On December 1 1939, Ms. Gower was appointed Second Officer. Two weeks later she took a ten-minute flight-test in a Gypsy Moth, and was promptly promoted to First Officer Class. Pauline Gower was promptly asked to form the Women's Section of the ATA was born.

On December 16, 1939, the first group of twelve women pilots were assembled at Whitchurch, and flight-tested in a Gypsy Moth. From this group of twelve, eight were selected. This was a major step forward for women in aviation caused. By June of 1940 there were 12 women pilots, to rise to more than 168 women by the war's end.

The Hamble Base was primarily run by women. Margot Gore (Hamble C.O.) and Rosemary Rees, Philippa Bennett, Lettice Curtis, Wendy Sale-Barker, Jacky Moggridge and Alison King were the original Hamble women pilots. In ‘Golden Wings’ Alison King wrote on their first day at Hamble in October 1941 it was cold and drizzly, they left the airfield and wandered through the village, “Suddenly we turned from the wide windy road round a corner and down a sloping lane into something that had been in a world of it’s own since the fourteenth century”.

Rosemary Rees (Rosemary Lady du Cros) had been a flyer before the war, and held an instructors license in 1938 and had toured extensively around the world in her Miles Hawk. She had even attended an air show in Germany as war threatened. Escaping in time, she returned to England to fly with the ATA. To add to this colorful background, Rosemary Rees was also a former ballet dancer. She became the Second in Command at the Hamble Ferry Pool.

Between September 1939 and November 1945 the ATA flew 309,011 aircraft missions (415,000 hours) flying 130 types of aircraft. One of many notable achievements of the women is that they earned the same pay as men in equal rank as the men flying with the organisation. This was the first time that the British Government gave its blessing to equal pay for equal work, within an organisation under its jurisdiction.

Once cleared to fly one class of aircraft, pilots could be asked to ferry any plane in that class even if they had never seen that type of aircraft before. To do so they had Ferry Pilot Notes, a two-ring book of small cards with the critical statistics and notations necessary to ferry each aircraft. A pilot cleared on more than one class, could be asked to fly an aircraft in any of the categories on which he or she was qualified; thus even a pilot cleared to fly four-engine bombers could be assigned to fly a single-engine trainer if scheduling made this the most efficient way to get the aircraft to its destination.

The most famous ATA female pilot at the time was Amy Johnson who sadly crashed and drowned in the Thames Estuary in January 1941 whilst ferrying an ATA aircraft.