The Female Few : Spitfire Heroines
Through the darkest days of the Second World War, an elite group of courageous civilian women risked their lives as aerial courier pilots, flying Lancaster bombers, Spitfires and many other powerful war machines in thousands of perilous missions. The dangers these women faced were many: they flew unarmed, without radio and in some cases without instruments, in conditions where even unexpected cloud could mean disaster. In The Female Few, five of these astonishingly brave women tell their awe-inspiring tales of incredible risk, tenacity and sacrifice.
Their spirit and fearlessness in the face of death still resonates down the years, and their accounts reveal a forgotten chapter in the history of the Second World War. JACKY HYAMS is a journalist and writer. She is the author of Bombsites & Lollipops: My 50s East End Childhood and The Real Downton Abbey.
She has written for many newspapers and magazines, including the Sydney Morning Herald, London Evening Standard, The Times and Rolling Stone.
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The story of World War II's 200+ female pilots of the Air Transport Auxiliary is here told from the Civil Air Guard in 1938 which subsidised their training as ferry pilots to the eventual employment of a select few in fighters and bombers. Much of the information comes from records held in Maidenhead Heritage Centre since 2011, and anyone deeply interested should probably go there for more detail, but for the general reader the Brief History chapter is a good summary. Depressingly, it is clear that the participation of women in this very 'Boy's Own' side of the war was in the teeth of opposition from the RAF, and the fact that women pilots managed to get equal pay in 1943 was a real triumph.
The bulk of the book is devoted to the stories of five particular women, with separate chapters on Joy Lofthouse, Yvonne Macdonald, Molly Rose, Mary (Wilkins) Ellis and Margaret Frost. Most of the photos of smiling uniformed women are of these five. Other women are more briefly covered in Appendix 3, 'Five Lives Lost' and 4, 'Famous Pilots of the ATA'.
Of the four Appendices, the second, "ATA Pilots and Flight Engineers" gives a simple list which could be useful for anyone looking for a relative.
Although there is no bibliography, the reader is referred to 'The Forgotten Pilots' by Lettice Curtis, but there are no details of publisher or date. The writer is no scholarly historian, but she can tell a tale clearly enough.
Friends of The National Archives