Felicity Bragg – Forgotten ATA Captain

Cassandra Felicity Bradford married name Bragg. Also known as Fay Bragg.

Cassandra Felicity Bradford. Image courtesy of RAeC Trust.

When the Air Transport Auxiliary closed down after the war, six women were honoured by the UK by making them Members of the British Empire.

Much has been written about four of them. Pauline Gower’s leadership of the women’s section is now widely regarded as having been outstanding. Margot Gore’s command of the Women’s Ferry Pool at Hamble has also been recognised. Her Deputy, Rosemary Rees, has featured in many books, including her own biography. Joan Hughes’ contribution to training male and female A.T.A pilots has been acknowledged. So too has her later aviation career including that of stunt pilot for, “Those Magnificent Men In The Flying Machines.”

Of the remaining two women, Miss Roy Mary Sharpe managed to forge a post-war career in aviation as a test pilot, aircraft saleswoman and race competitor.

By comparison the sixth aviatrix, Felicity Bragg, has slipped into history almost forgotten. Yet she rose from junior pilot to Deputy Commander in three years. Quite an achievement.

Go to Cassandra Felicity Bragg’s story

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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

 

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.

Pauline Gower the Movie – by FlyGirls film maker Red Door Films

FlyGirls by Red Door Films mini Dramatic TV series by Director Matia Karrell

FlyGirls by Red Door Films mini Dramatic TV series by Director Matia Karrell

Oscar Nominated Director Matia Karrell has contacted Solent Aviatrix with the exciting news that “Harvest of Memories: The Life of Pauline Gower” is to be made into a movie. The biography, written by Pauline’s son Michael Fahie, has been optioned by Red Door Films.

Matia is currently developing a Dramatic TV mini-series called “FlyGirls”. It is about the American WW2 Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASPS) – The Forgotten Fliers of WWII.

Anyone who has read “Harvest of Memories” will know that the Women’s Section of the A.T.A included a number of American women. Brought over to the UK in the spring of 1942 by Jacqueline Cochran, the women made up the largest contingent of non-English pilots. Jackie Cochran returned to U.S.A. following a tense working relationship with Pauline Gower.

There, Mrs. Cochran set up the WASPs. But the Americans who’d signed up with the A.T.A, like Roberta Sandoz-Leveraux, stayed here.

In October 1942 the Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt, wife of the American President came to England. She took the opportunity to visit the A.T.A at White Waltham, to show her support for the women pilots. Woman Commandant Pauline Gower accompanied Mrs. Roosevelt and Winston Churchill’s wife on a tour of inspection of the Air Transport Auxiliary base.

My thanks to Matia Karrell and Red Door Films for permission to use the FlyGirls image.

Learn more about FlyGirls by following the links below:

FlyGirls by Red Door Films
FlyGirls of Facebook
FlyGirls on YouTube

ATA 70 – Rarely Seen White Waltham Photograph

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.

Air Transport Axiliary at White Waltham

Air Transport Axiliary at White Waltham

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.

Air Transport Auxiliary Badge

Air Transport Auxiliary Badge

Britten Norman Islander and Lettice Curtis

Ask any Isle of Wight resident which aircraft they most associate with the Island and, depending upon their age and how long they have lived there, they will give a different answer.

People who have known the Island from the 1930s will suggest the ‘Spartan Arrow’. Those who lived through World War Two may answer, ‘The Walrus’. Saunders Roe post-war workers of the 1950s era will say ‘The Princess Flying Boat’. But the generation who started work in the 1960s and the decades following, will probably chorus, ‘ The B-N Islander’.

Islander G-AVCN Aircraft Preservation Society

Islander G-AVCN Aircraft Preservation Society

Bob Wealthy, of the Britten-Norman Aircraft Preservation Society, will give a talk at a social meeting, to be held at the Propeller Inn, Bembridge, Isle of Wight, on the restoration progress of the historic aircraft, the Britten-Norman Islander G-AVCN.  Bob’s talk takes place on 28th October (see the poster for full details).

The fuselage of the aircraft has just been painted. Recently, the restoration volunteer group were informed that they have been awarded a grant by the Transport Trust to help with this project.

The 50th anniversary of the first flight of the prototype B-N Islander is in June 2015 and the volunteer group hope to have completed the restoration in time for this occasion.

In the 1970s the well-known wartime Air Transport Auxiliary aviatrix, Lettice Curtis, was hired by Britten-Norman to ferry a military version of the Islander, called the Defender, to India.

Another British aviatrix, Janet Ferguson, who learned to fly just after the war, accompanied Lettice Curtis in a second Defender. Together they flew G-BDJW and G-BDJZ, to Cochin, India.

Anyone interested in the B-N Islander G-AVCN restoration project, can contact Bob Wealthy at solentaeromarine@hotmail.co.uk