Forgotten First Five Women Won RAF Wings

++ Press Release ++ Forgotten Famous First Five ++ 8 July 2018.

Five Women Make History. News headline in 1955. Jean Bird, Benedetta Willis, Jackie Moggridge, Freydis Leaf and Joan Hughes were the history makers. They gained their full RAF Wings when serving in WRAFVR.

Five Women Make History. Newspaper headline 1955. Jean Bird, Benedetta Willis, Jackie Moggridge, Freydis Leaf and Joan Hughes were the history makers. They gained their full RAF Wings when serving in WRAFVR.

Much has been written and filmed about the centenary of the Royal Air Force but one thing has been overlooked, some would argue deliberately ignored, during this media coverage of the RAF100 celebrations.

Benedetta Willis Won Her Wings. Image courtesy of The Echo (formerly Southern Evening Echo)

Benedetta Willis Won Her Wings. Image courtesy of The Echo (formerly Southern Evening Echo)

Other than the much deserved acknowledgement of the role played by the Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA) men and women, there has been little if any mention of the general contribution made by women in the RAF. Once again it has all been about the ‘Brylcreem Boys.’

In particular, the most glaring omission is the outstanding achievement of the First Five Women to get their RAF Wings in the 1950s. It is largely believed that the first woman to win her wings was Julie Gibson in 1991. Not so. In 1952, amid a fanfare of publicity, the first woman to achieve this distinction was Jean Bird. She was a member of the Women’s Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve. Pilot-Officer Bird was presented with her full wings at a ceremony at Redhill Aerodrome.

Jackie Moggridge Gets Her RAF Wings at Award Ceremony in 1953.

Jackie Moggridge Gets Her RAF Wings at Award Ceremony in 1953. Image from the Jackie Moggridge Archive courtesy of Candy Adkins.

Jean was the pioneer. Four other women followed in her trail blazing flight path. They were Benedetta Willis, Jackie Moggridge, Joan Hughes and Freydis Leaf. All five women were ex-ATA. All five overcame the rampant prejudice in the RAF to attain their full wings. But as soon as they did so, the RAF introduced new rules to exclude any other women from emulating the ‘Famous Five.’

What is worse, their achievement have been all but airbrushed out of history, or conveniently forgotten as the prejudice carried down through four decades until Julie Gibson’s wings award.

These remarkable women pilots will be the subject of a new documentary called, ‘Forgotten Famous Five.’

Candy Adkins, daughter of Jackie Moggridge, is determined that her mother’s story will be told. Together with her friends, film maker Jackie Wetherill and researcher Anne Grant, Candy has been working towards this aim since April. It followed her visit to RAF Hendon and their abject denial of the ‘First Five.’

Progress is at last being made towards a documentary, with interest in this story gathering pace.

The Telegraph were given the exclusive of this story today by Candy Adkins, Jackie Wetherill and Anne Grant.
The quote from the RAF in response disappointingly continues to ignore our ‘First Five’.
https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2018/07/08/women-raf-pilots-forgotten-centenary-celebrations-say-relatives/

++ Press Release ends ++

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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