© Robert Webber, 2020
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THE LEGAL BIT
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A Brief History of the girls of the Air Transport Auxilliary
As with many things, the Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA) was born out of a need to solve a problem. In 1938, with the storm clouds of war looming again over the British Isles, Gerard d’ Erlanger, who was a director of British Airways, foresaw that in wartime, many overseas routes would be suspended, and the commercial pilots who flew them would be redundant. Additionally, private pilots faced the same dilemma, with all non-military flying prohibited and civilian aeroplanes requisitioned for military use. Of course, those commercial and private pilots who were young and fit enough would be recruited into the Royal Air Force, but many were veterans of World War I who were too old or had disabilities that would prevent them from flying operationally. D’Erlanger identified this resource as a lost opportunity and argued with the government that creating a pool of peacetime civilian pilots would take pressure off the RAF and provide a backup service to the military. The government agreed, and the Air Transport Auxiliary was born to ferry aeroplanes from the factory to the operational squadron. That was fine for the male civilian pilots, but the government steadfastly refused to authorise women to fly military aircraft. Pauline Gower was a commercial pilot with over 2000 hours experience, and she was also a commissioner in the Civil Air Guard. She argued with all those in authority that women were as capable as men as pilots, and eventually, in November 1939, she was authorised to form a pool of eight women pilots to ferry Tiger Moth training aeroplanes from De Havilland’s to the various training pools, as the government maintained that simple aeroplanes were all that women were capable of flying! This pool of women was based at Hatfield, north of London, close to the De Havilland factory. The youngest of the initial eight women pilots was only twenty-one years of age, but all had more than 600 hours of flying time and were rated as instructors. Pauline Gower had a strong determination that women should be treated equally as men, which included the pay they received as well as the type of aeroplanes they were allowed to fly. By sheer determination, this formidable woman eventually achieved equality for women serving in the ATA, and by the end of the war, young women - some as young as eighteen - were flying all types of operational aircraft from Spitfires and Hurricanes to the mighty Lancaster bomber. The acronym ATA soon came to mean “Anything to Anywhere”, but it also had several other interpretations, including “Ancient and Tattered Airmen” and with specific reference to the aviatrix’s, “Always Terrified Airwomen”. But these young women faced danger every day, flying unarmed aircraft that were without radios, often from one end of the country to the other. Although Teddy’s War is a novel, it is written with massive respect to these brave women.