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Alison Hills (Gareth Tarr).


Melody Foreman (Gareth Tarr).


Following Helen’s memories and lunch the topic moved on to the work of the ladies of the Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA), who delivered new aircraft to squadrons. Poet Alison Hill read excerpts from her books of wartime poetry, whilst Melody Foreman told stories from her biography of ATA pilot Mary Ellis. During her poetry readings Alison drew particular attention to Diana Barnato-Walker, daughter of the famous Woolf Barnato, Chairman of Bentley Motors. Diana was trained at Brooklands and flew solo after only six hours flying time. Many of her adventures are told in her biography Spreading My Wings. Alison described how the weather was often a concern for the ATA ladies who flew without radar, as was the reliability of overnight trains. The poems described the romance of flying the magnificent planes – 'Peter Pan inspired a passion for flying' – although they frequently surprised ground crew, who didn’t believe the new aircraft before them had been delivered by a petite woman. Mary Ellis was an exceptional ATA pilot as described by Melody Freeman. Growing up in the same neighbourhood as the Mitford sisters, Mary learned to fly at an early age and clearly loved what she did, saying, “I was in heaven before the Spitfire had taken off” and going on to describe the aircraft as “a symbol of freedom”. Mary was


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one of only four women of the ATA who were to qualify to fly four-engined aircraft, but she wasn’t keen on Brooklands which was particularly difficult to take off from. The ATA was based at White Waltham airfield near Maidenhead and did a vital job moving planes around the country, leaving the front-end pilots to get on with their job. In total the ATA undertook over 300,000 flights during the war and, like the Uxbridge bunker plotters, provided essential support to the war effort.


Gareth Tarr


ATA memorial at White Waltham aerodrome (Gareth Tarr).


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