Seventy years ago the Air Transport Auxiliary was closed down, following the end of WW2. On 29th September 1945, an Air Pageant was held at White Waltham and the public were shown the work of A.T.A.
In 1998 I was given a copy of a rarely seen photograph of A.T.A. personnel, taken at White Waltham. Even the late, great, Lettice Curtis had not seen this until she too received a copy of it in 1998. The lady who gave me the photo was Marjorie McKinven. She worked for A.T.A. for six years, in other words from the start to the very end. Employed as a civilian, she was a secretary in the Operations Room and typed the aircraft collection chits. Marjorie saw all the pilots, male and female, as they came into her office to collect their chits.
In the photo Marjorie is the petite lady stood on the left in the light coloured coat, middle row. Next to Marjorie is Lettice Curtis, plus twelve other women pilots. In the same row is another lady, second from right, Miss Gold, also wearing a light coloured coat. She worked in the Operations Room with Marjorie. In that same row can be seen Jennie Broad, eighth from left. Eleventh from left and sixth from right, is Naomi Allen (nee Heron-Maxwell). Jennie’s story and Naomi’s story will be added to this website soon. They were both based at Hamble.
Marjorie describes the photo: “I knew Freddie Laker, seen here in the photo, fourth from left, in the back row, wearing the forage cap of a flight engineer. After the war he went on to start his own airline ‘Sky Train’. The one lady sitting in the second row from the front, third from right, is Joan Hughes, who was a Flying Instructor at White Waltham. I had a long conversation with Lettice Curtis recently, after I sent her a copy of this photo. She said she had never seen it before and doesn’t remember it being taken. Lettice was surprised to see so many female pilots in the line up, as she and Joan Hughes were the only two women based at White Waltham. I told Lettice I thought it was a specially arranged photo-call, so some of the women must have been drafted in from Hamble. Or they may have been there for some flight instruction on an aircraft new to them. I’m not sure when the photo was taken but I think it must have been sometime between 1940 and 1942.”
Marjorie couldn’t be more precise than that but by using the dates of A.T.A service in ‘Forgotten Pilots’ by Lettice Curtis, it is possible to narrow down when the photograph was taken. Naomi Allen joined on 24th February 1942 and Jennie Broad left on 11th June 1943. All new pilots had to go through a conversion course, which took at least a week, so Naomi wouldn’t have been available for a photo-shoot until March 1942 at the earliest.
If Jennie ever had a copy of this photo, it no longer exists, as her photo collection was destroyed.
ATA pilot Mary Wilkins (Ellis) told me, “Jennie was forced out because of that silly breathing test to check our lungs. It was ridiculous. Jennie was perfectly fit and a few weeks later she was called back to rejoin ATA after Pauline Gower objected to losing so many pilots. But it was too late. By then Jennie had got another job.”
Marjorie continued, “Of course I knew about Amy Johnson’s death while in the service of the ATA because it was in the newspapers, but you’ve surprised me by telling me more women pilots died. Other than Amy, I don’t remember any female fatalities.”
Knowing what we know today, with all the books that have been written about the ATA, Marjorie’s comment, made in 1998, is perhaps surprising to us now. But that best demonstrates the secret nature of so much that went on during the war. Everyone was only told on a ‘need to know’ basis and too much talk of pilot deaths would have been bad for morale. It was impossible to keep news of fatalities from the other pilots though. Mary Wilkins (Ellis) knew that her friend Dora Lang had died. Both women were based at Hamble. Dora’s death hit Mary hard, and she was unable to fly for a few days.
If anyone can help to identify the other pilots in this photograph, male and female, please contact me.
28th May 2015 Update:
Solent Aviatrix website follower, Danica, has made the following observation towards identifying the other pilots in this photo:
“In looking at the White Waltham photo, I think the woman pilot (fifth person from the left in the third row) is Jadwiga Piłsudska, who, I believe, was stationed at White Waltham. Also, the pilot to her left (sixth from the left) might be one of the other Polish women pilots. The picture is a tad blurry when I expand it so I’m not 100% positive, though…”
Thank you for your contribution Danica.