Stella Meets Her Spitfire

Little did I know when I started this website a few years ago how one thing would lead to another. A series of incremental steps led to wartime draughtswoman Stella Rutter having the opportunity to visit the Boultbee, which she knew was only a few miles from her home. As one of the founding members of the Spitfire Society, Stella has on occasions been to Spitfire events but not to Boultbee. So near yet so far.

My initial chance meeting with Stella was at The Spring, Havant, This year Stephen Mosley fulfilled Stella’s wish to visit Boultbee. Go to Stella’s page to read the start of her story.

Stella Rutter at Boultbee Academy Goodwood

Stella Rutter meets a Boultbee Spitfire, Goodwood 2017. Copyright Stephen Mosley

I will leave it to Sussex aviation engineer Stephen Mosley to relate how Stella met Boultbee. Thus he fulfilled her dream, all those years after D-Day. He has also provided the first positive identification of one of the signatures on Concord Morton’s painting of the Schneider Trophy winner. (G. W. Nicholas)

Stephen is writing here under his pen name of Actuarius. He is also an artist from the Futurist school of art, his idol being C. R. W. Nevinson.

Concorde by Futurist artist Stephen Mosley

Concorde painted by Stephen Mosley in ‘Futurist’ style

My thanks to Stephen for his contribution and his kindness to Stella. Anyone wanting to contact Stephen can do so via the Contact page.

Here then is his story of how the Past met the Present with a Futurist.

An Evening with Stella – By Actuarius.

The opportunities that come about in life are not always straightforward or predictable. Thus I started with an incomplete group of autographs, personally obtained over 20 years ago, and ended recently via a convoluted process with finally completing the set.

At the start of 2017 I made a couple of fairly rash investments through a well-known auction website, both being items related to the Schneider Trophy. This was an early 20th Century air race that ended when Great Britain won it for a third time in succession, in 1931, and therefore got to keep the trophy forever. Having done the deed I thought I ought to research new purchases but both of them proved to be rather difficult to find information on.

Supermarine S6B Schneider Trophy Winner

Supermarine S6B Schneider Trophy Winner. Copyright Stephen Mosley

 Coincidentally, if anyone knows anything of 1929 commemorative “smoking stands” or the large model of the Supermarine S5 that was on display at Calshot up until the 21st Century, then I would appreciate your getting in touch.

However, it was during this exercise that I stumbled across a painting of an S6 by Concord Morton on the Solent Aviatrix website run by Anne Grant. It was chiefly notable for having a number of signatures under the image. The working hypothesis is that these were probably Supermarine staff, possibly those who had an involvement with the actual aircraft. However there was nothing to back this up.

Supermarine S0595 Schneider Trophy winning aircraft painted by Concord Morton

Supermarine S0595 Schneider Trophy winning aircraft painted by Concord Morton

The story now jumps back a couple of decades to 1997 and the presentation of a hand written book, listing the engineering staff at Supermarine who had worked on the Spitfire, to the Solent Sky museum in Southampton. My wife saw an article about it on the morning news and a rapidly arranged afternoon off ensured that I could attend. The staff at Solent Sky were very kind in allowing me to loiter for the price of a standard admission ticket whilst the purchase of a couple of copies of Chaz Bowyer’s “Spitfire” from their shop ensured I had something suitable to collect autographs in. It was an honour to meet the Supermarine staff present, and important to me that these largely unsung heroes and heroines should know the high regard they are held in. Aircrew and ground staff are rightly lauded by all but without the superlative aircraft the engineers provided their efforts would have been for nought.

Supermarine Staff signatures

Supermarine staff signatures collected by Stephen Mosley 1997

Back to the present day and this collection of signatures provided a handy reference for the painting. I contacted Anne to pass this on and it was during our conversation that she mentioned a member of Supermarine’s staff was still living nearby in Emsworth – and asked if I would like to meet her. Of course most of us would require no more than a moment’s thought before saying, “yes please!”

So it was that on 1 March 2017 I headed over and had a very pleasant evening chatting to Stella Rutter. As Stella Broughton she had become the first draughtswoman at Supermarine, transferring to their technical publications department from being a tracer at HMS Excellent on Whale Island in Portsmouth.

Stella told me how, when she joined, Supermarine’s design office was located in a hanger in the field at the back of Hursley Park House. The weekday commute was from digs near Winchester and then walking through the formal gardens. Weekends were spent back with her parents in Bedhampton near Portsmouth so Mondays were more trying with a cycle commute to a friend’s at the bottom of Portsdown Hill and then a walk up to the top for the bus. Week in, week out despite blackout regulations, snow or “tip and run” raids by the Luftwaffe – and repeated in the reverse direction every Friday. The dangers and corruption of the everyday under wartime conditions were brought home when she told me how, whilst at Bedhampton, a bomb had exploded just past the end of their garden and the night’s sleep would invariably be interrupted by the sound of mobile anti-aircraft guns being moved up and down the coast.

Stella Rutter at Supermarine Drawing Office Hursley

Stella Rutter in the Supermarine Drawing Office 1943

Her move to Supermarine came about due to her father meeting Gerald Gingall, the head of the Technical Publications Department, and suggesting her for a vacant position. She believes her success was down to having inherited a notable ability for drawing from her parents (her father being the Vice Principle of the College of Art in Portsmouth), and from having older brothers meaning she was unperturbed by working in an entirely male environment. In her opinion she gained a mutual respect with the rest of the staff because in attitude she was “as much a man as any of the others”. When other women joined the staff later she found she had to be careful of her approach and activities because she “didn’t wish to end up being ostracised or the subject of malicious gossip.” Such considerations may seem almost unbelievably unenlightened to our modern sensibilities but these were different, and difficult times.

Stella worked as part of a small team under Gingall, “ a very stocky man”, virtually exclusively on the Spitfire; and covered all aspects of the aircraft. Their area in the hanger was located next to the obscured “secret section” and because theirs was a small section, and possibly because Stella was something of a novelty, the frequent visitors tended to stop off for a word.

Thus Jeffrey Quill, chief test pilot and Joseph Smith, Mitchell’s successor, were known to her. She got on well with her boss and was even chosen to join him at home one evening to work overnight on a drawing that needed to be completed urgently.

I asked what it was like to work at Supermarine given the legacy of the S6, after all this was the catalyst for our meeting. She was sure that she’d worked with people who had been involved with the Schneider Trophy aircraft and this was part of what gave them a sense of being the “crème de la creme”.

Spitfire taken by Stephen Mosley

Spitfire flypast. Copyright Stephen Mosley

Let me put it this way”, she confided, “We were the company of the year.” There are further tales of pouring tea for Monty and being involved in a special party before D-Day, but that can wait for another time. As I was leaving she suddenly remembered how, when she was about 8 years old, she had climbed out onto the valley between the two pitches of the roof at her home to watch an aircraft fly up from the Southampton end of the Solent, turn and fly back. Conjecture I know, but the dates match so surely it is not beyond the realms of possibility that I was hearing the first hand account from a witness to that final Schneider Trophy win?

Today Stella is bright and articulate but has trouble accessing detailed memories, I suspect this being attributable to the ME she mentions in her excellent autobiography, “Tomorrow is D-Day.” There was so much I wanted to find out about her work and the people she knew but, frustratingly, a lot of these memories remained locked out of reach. Thankfully there is her autobiography, only written a few years ago, and enough still accessible to provide unique insights into her career and her life. Such considerations matter little though when you reflect on the singular honour of sitting and listening to these memories being related in person.

For some reason, although she was present, I’d missed the chance of getting Stella to sign my book in 1997 but her autograph now sits on the page surrounded by those of her colleagues – which is exactly how it should be.

As a postscript, Stella had mentioned how she knew of the Spitfires at the Boultbee Academy just down the road at Goodwood, but that she hadn’t had the chance to go and see them. Well, Boultbee are always keen to help reunite veterans with the aircraft, so a month and a half later my wife picked her up and we had a very pleasant hour in the hanger. Our sincere thanks to those who made this possible and who gave up their time for it.

Stella Rutter and Stephen Mosley ay Boultbee Academy Spitfires

Stella Rutter with ‘Actuarias’ and Boultbee Spitfire. Copyright Stephen Mosley

USAF General Salutes Mary Ellis

There is one very proud centenarian on the Isle of Wight today.

Mary Ellis at Sandown

Mary Wilkins Ellis. Photo courtesy of Phyllida Scrivens via John Kenyon.

Mary Ellis has received a letter from General David Goldfein, Chief of Staff, United States Air Force, Washington D,C.

Mary is so delighted she wants to share it with Solent Aviatrix followers. She says:
I think it is absolutely marvellous – what say you?”

General Goldfein has congratulated Mrs. Ellis on her recent 100th birthday. On behalf of 660,000 American Airmen he salutes Mary with the following tribute:

USAF General David Goldfein, Chief of Staff.

United States Air Force General David Goldfein. Image courtesy of USAF News Services

“As a member of the greatest generation, you bravely answered the call of a nation at war, and are counted among a treasured legion of international heroes.
Your service as an Air Auxiliary Transport pilot during World War II shines as an inspiration to all men and women.We honour your courage in the chronicles of history.”

And so say all of us. 660,000 American Airmen can’t be wrong.

Now, if only we can convince the new 40 Isle of Wight Councillors to honour Mary Ellis with the Freedom of the Wight …

What else is Mary doing of late? Locally based TV documentary makers, Woodcut, are hoping to feature Mary Ellis in their upcoming film about The Battle of Britain. Based in Eastleigh, Woodcut have an impressive show reel. It includes Fred Dineage Casebook, Defenders of the Sky, and many more. They work with all major TV channels including BBC, ITV, Sky, History channel, the list goes on. Go to Woodcut website to see for yourself.

For news of other local events, such as Southwick Revival and Daedalus 100, go to the Notice Board page.

Southwick D-Day Dakota Fly-Past.

Southwick D-Day Dakota Fly-Past. Copyright Anne Grant.


Mary Ellis at RAF Brize Norton ceremony in March 2017

Mary Wilkins Ellis chatting to RAF personnel at Brize Norton at rose planting ceremony March 2017

Mary Ellis chatting to RAF personnel at Brize Norton. Image courtesy of Oxford Times and Oxford Mail.

 On 14 March 2017 ex-ATA pilots Mary Ellis and Joy Lofthouse were invited to a special ceremony at RAF Brize Norton, to plant a rose bush in memory of Molly Rose, who passed away in October last year.

The rose bush jointly commemorates Mary and Molly and all of the ATA pilots for their contribution to keeping the RAF in the air throughout the war years.

Mary Ellis and Joy Lofthouse at RAF Brize Norton tribute to ATA Molly Rose and Mary.

Mary Ellis and Joy Lofthouse at RAF Brize Norton tribute to ATA Molly Rose and Mary. Image courtesy of Oxford Times and Oxford Mail.

On 17 March Mary Ellis contacted Solent Aviatrix to say what a splendid time she had at RAF Brize Norton. She said:

Tuesday was a great day for me. I flew up to the RAF station in a wonderful aircraft supplied by my friend Graham Rose, (Molly’s son). But it was also sad because Molly wasn’t there. The film people were there (BBC) and The Oxford Time and Oxford Mail.”


Mary Ellis planting a Mary Rose bush at RAF Brize Norton 14 March 2017.

Mary Ellis planting the Mary Rose bush at RAF Brize Norton 14 March 2017. Image courtesy of Oxford Times and Oxford Mail.

Mary went on to say she was keen to see any reports from the Oxford local newspapers.
Having forwarded on Mary’s message to the newspaper editor, I’m pleased to say that Mrs. Ellis will receive complimentary copies of both newspapers. My thanks to the managing editor, Sara Taylor, who said,

It was an absolute pleasure and a privilege to be able to cover Mary’s story. She truly is an amazing and inspirational lady and none of us can quite believe her grand age! Our photographer took some wonderful pictures. We covered Mary’s story on the front page of the Oxford Mail as well as The Oxford Times.

Follow this link to read the Oxford Times online story and to view more photos of the occasion, including some pictures of the late Molly Rose..

Mary Rose rose bush planted in tribute to the Air Transport Auxiliary pilots at RAF Brize Norton

Mary Rose rose bush planted in tribute to the Air Transport Auxiliary pilots. Image courtesy of Oxford Times and Oxford Mail.


Petition started to get Freedom of the Wight for Mary Ellis

Mary Ellis at Sandown

Mary Wilkins Ellis. Photo courtesy of Phyllida Scrivens via John Kenyon.

A petition has started OnTheWight to gain support for the suggestion that the Freedom of the Wight should be bestowed upon war time ATA pilot Mary Ellis.

Isle of Wight resident Mary reached her 100th birthday this month.

After the war she became the first female commandant of an airport in the UK, when she took up the position at Sandown. She has lived in the town ever since and done the Island proud.

Although the ATA were never in combat with German aircraft, the job of ferrying British planes was a dangerous one. Many of them were damaged or defective, being flown to repair workshops. It is a sobering thought that 152 ATA personnel died; 14 of them were women pilots, plus 1 female flight engineer and 1 female cadet, 132 male pilots died and 4 male cadets.

If you agree with the petition and want to show your respect for marvellous Mary then follow this link to sign OnTheWight


Happy 100th Birthday to Spitfire Girl Mary Wilkins Ellis

Mary Ellis gets her MASTER AIR PILOT certificate from Air Commodore Rick Peacock-Edwards, Courtesy Ivan Berryman

Mary Ellis receiving her MASTER AIR PILOT certificate from Air Commodore Rick Peacock-Edwards.
Image courtesy of Ivan Berryman via Derek Hermiston-Hooper.

On 2 February Mary Ellis will celebrate her centenary.

Among the many birthday cards will be one from the Queen. It promises to be a special day.

Here is Mary pictured last year, receiving her MASTER AIR PILOT certificate from Air Commodore Rick Peacock-Edwards, of the Honourable Company of Air Pilots. The ceremony at Cowes was organised by Derek Hermiston-Hooper of the Royal Flying Corps and Royal Naval Air Service Association.

A recent biography by Melody Foreman of Mary was published under the book title, ‘A Spitfire Girl’, subtitled ‘One of the world’s greatest female
ATA ferry pilots tells her story.’

Spitfire BM597 at Sandown Air Show 2005.

Spitfire BM597 at Sandown Air Show 2005. Courtesy of Bob Wealthy

During the war, Mary flew in excess of one thousand aircraft of all types to RAF stations and repair units across Britain. Of that number, more than four hundred were Spitfires. After the war Mary was Commandant of Sandown Airport.

Spitfire 161 at Sandown Air Show 2005

Spitfire 161 at Sandown Air Show 2005. Courtesy of Bob Wealthy

Derek Hermiston-Hooper’s godmother was the flying legend Amy Johnson. Amy was a good friend of his mother Gladys.  On 16 February, Derek will be giving a talk on the life and times of Amy Johnson and Jim Mollison.

Mary Ellis receives her MASTER AIR PILOT certificate November 2016. Courtesy of Ivan Berryman

Mary Ellis receives her MASTER AIR PILOT certificate in November 2016. Image courtesy of Ivan Berryman via Derek Hermiston-Hooper

Royal Mail stamp to commemorate 50 years since the Berlin Airlift 1948-1949

Royal Mail stamp issued in 1998 to commemorate 50 years since the start of the Berlin Airlift 1948-1949

Derek himself had a distinguished flying career. Among other things, he piloted a Halifax in the Berlin Airlift of 1948-1949.

This 1998 commemorative Royal Mail stamp was given to me by another ATA pilot, Peggy Lucas. Peggy was a friend of Mary. They were based at Hamble together. Peggy’s story will be added here soon
In November last year the suggestion was made by Solent Aviatrix, through the columns of the Isle of Wight County Press, that the Island should honour Mary by giving her the Freedom of the Wight. Watch this space for news on that.

Marjorie Spiller – the truly Forgotten ATA Pilot

Marjorie Spiller in ATA uniform 1941

Marjorie Spiller in ATA uniform 1941. Image courtesy of Terry Mace – A Fleeting Peace.

Lettice Curtis did her best to record all the names of every Air Transport Auxiliary pilot in her book, ‘Forgotten Pilots’. But there were a few omissions. One of them was British aviatrix Marjorie Spiller, also known as Margery. Pre-war actress, pilot and flying instructor, she served briefly with ATA. She died in 1942 from ill health.

Her story is now on record here. It also provides a small insight into Pauline Gower’s admirable leadership skills as Commandant of the Women’s ATA.

Click here to read about Marjorie Spiller’s life.

Mary Ellis to receive a high honour from pilots

Mary Wilkins Ellis in ATA uniform 1941

Mary Wilkins Ellis in ATA uniform 1941

Mary Ellis at Sandown

Mary Wilkins Ellis. Photo courtesy of John Kenyon.

On 17th November Mary Ellis, ATA aviatrix and former Sandown Airport Commandant, will be honoured on the Isle of Wight, at an official ceremony. The Honourable Company of Air Pilots will bestow upon Mary the MASTER AIR PILOT CERTIFICATE.

Mary has proudly told Solent Aviatrix, “It is a very high honour indeed.”

On Saturday 12th November, Mary took part in the Royal British Legion Festival of Remembrance at the Albert Hall, London. Along side Mary was her friend and ATA pilot, Joy Lofthouse. They received enthusiastic applause from the Royal Box and whole audience.

2016 has been a special year for Mary. She says, “I’ve recently been very busy. Amongst other things, I met up with a Spitfire that I last flew in 1944. The current owner flew it into Sandown Airport for the film folks. Ten days later I flew into Goodwood Airfield and did more filming.”