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.

Jane Austen's House in Chawton, Hampshire.

Jane Austen’s House in Chawton, Hampshire. Copyright Anne Grant.

Her illustrious ancestor, Hampshire’s most famous daughter, would certainly not have let her descendant kin slip into obscurity. If Jane Austen was alive today she would write a family saga about Felicity possibly with this title, ‘Proud and Incredulous.’

The truth though is far better than any work of fiction and Cassandra Felicity Bragg’s story is told here in an attempt to keep alive her name. Go to Felicity’s page to read all about her.

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Fifty Ways to Fly

Fifty Ways To Fly anthology compiled by Alison Hill

Fifty Ways To Fly anthology

Alison Hill’s latest book is a collection of poems and songs on a single theme contributed by 45 people. She has edited the book in a creative style.

‘Fifty Ways to Fly,’ includes a poem by Jackie Moggridge which is published posthumously for the first time. It was discovered by Jackie’s daughter Candy amongst her mother’s memorabilia. ‘The Last Flight,’ is very moving. Jackie had written it on the back of an ATA snag report chit dated 1943.

Also republished is a humorous poem by Pauline Gower called ‘Ten Little Aeroplanes‘. Originally one of the ‘Piffling Poems for Pilots,’ Pauline’s son Michael Fahie is delighted to give permission for it to be one of the ‘Fifty Ways’.

Other contributors include Alison herself with her tribute to Jackie Moggridge and Ian Duhig has penned a tribute to the immortal Amy with, ‘The Last Testament Of Amy Johnson‘.

Look closely at the cover image and you may spot yours truly listed. My offering is, ‘Prayer for Freedom Flight’. I’m proud to appear in the same publication as Pauline Gower and Jackie Moggridge.

Alison Hill will be reading from Fifty Ways to Fly anthology, on Sunday, 17th September 2017 at The Square Tower, Old Portsmouth. It is organised by Tongues and Grooves, run by poet Maggie Sawkins, who has two poems in the anthology.

All profits from the book sale will go to British Women’s Pilot Association. Copies of the book are available by following this link to Alison Hill.

For news of other aviation events in the Solent area this year go to the Notice Board. Don’t miss the Southwick Revival and Daedalus 100. There are also two research projects asking for help and your anecdotes. Plus an Aviation Art Society is open to new members.

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

A New Job For Eve – Aviatrix Pioneers Movie

Pauline and Dorothy with Spartan G-AAGO

Pauline and Dorothy with Spartan G-AAGO. Copyright Michael Fahie.

Those of you old enough to remember the days when a visit to the cinema included a black and white newsreel and a second ‘B’ movie before the main feature was shown, will recall the British Pathé News films. Each news film lasted for little more than a few minutes. Two or three films were sandwiched together to inform the film-going public of current events of the day.

In its era, it was the equivalent of the television news of today. It covered everything, on an annual basis, from the Grand National Horse Race to the funeral procession of Sir Winston Churchill.

In 1931 British Pathé News made a film about Pauline Gower and Dorothy Spicer captioned “A New Job For Eve.”    It features them in action with their Spartan Aircraft G-AAGO.

It can also be viewed as a series of stills. This link will take you to it.

Message of support from Michael Fahie:
“I would fully support the idea of a revival of some sort of memorial for Dorothy and am happy to contribute in any way I can.

There is a very interesting story that is somewhat hidden in my book (Harvest of Memories). Namely the extraordinary way in which Pauline’s and Dorothy’s lives paralleled each other, which includes the deaths of their parents and that of their own.

I believe that both women would have achieved magnificently by themselves. However, their friendship and partnership lead to outcomes that neither could have achieved without the other.”

You can read Pauline’s and Dorothy’s story here.

Dorothy Spicer set a world record – with a little help from the Isle of Wight

Eighty years ago in 1934, Dorothy Spicer broke through the all-male barrier against women training for an advanced qualification in aviation engineering. Women were barred from studying at technical schools for the Ground Engineers ‘B’ licence. Dorothy found a way around the blockage.

Pauline Gower and Dorothy Spicer with Spartan G-ABKK 'Helen of Troy'

Pauline Gower and Dorothy Spicer with Spartan G-ABKK ‘Helen of Troy’

Who would have thought that the Isle of Wight would play such an important part in helping Dorothy to set a world record. The Island, so often thought of as being decades behind mainland England, actually provided Miss Spicer with the training she needed.

Dorothy’s full story is here.

Open skies

Solent Sky Blue Yonder