One of the most well known of the amazing women who risked their lives to fly aircraft around the country during World War 2 has died at her home in the Isle of Wight, aged 101.
Mary Ellis, then Mary Wilkins, joined the Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA) in 1941 after hearing an advertisement for women pilots on BBC radio. She and her fellow ‘Glamour Girls’, including the late Joy Lofthouse, a regular visitor to the Memorial, flew everything from Spitfires to massive Lancaster bombers.
The ATA was introduced to avoid male RAF pilots being taken away from frontline duties, with the female pilots being used to ferry aircraft from factory to fighter squadrons and elsewhere. Brave beyond measure, they flew without armament and often withour radios, relying on a simple manual to glean what they needed to know about the aircraft they were flying that day, perhaps for the first time.
In her latter years, Mary told many stories of the reception she and her colleagues received when they delivered aircraft to frontline bases. She told of one incident in which two men searched the aircraft in a bid to find the pilot as they simply didn’t believe she could have flown it. Local author Melody Foreman told the story of her life in her book “A Spitfire Girl”, which is available in our shop or online.
Mary, who was ATA Association Commodore, flew 400 Spitfires and 76 different types of aircraft during the war. One of a unique group of true heroes, she will be sadly missed.