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Raising the profile of the ATA


Author: Stephen Wynn

Publisher: Pen & Sword Military: First published 2021, RRP £14.99

ISBN: 978 1 52672 6 049

The Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA) played a major role in the Second World War in ensuring that the frontline aircrew had aircraft to fly against the enemy. In theory it was not the ATA's job to be in harm's way, yet a significant number of ATA personnel died on duty. It is often argued that the ATA has not had enough credit for its achievements, though Friends of the Few may recall the article by the late Dr Tony Mansell in 1940 no 5.

There have been plenty of attempts in recent years to put right the lack of exposure and Stephen Wynn now raises the former organisation's profile with Air Transport Auxiliary at War.

This is not a full account of the ATA contribution to Allied victory, rather it is a scrapbook of various aspects of the matter, with a list of sources which merely gives 11 website addresses. One chapter, for example, deals with press coverage of the ATA, another with references to the ATA in parliament, as recorded by Hansard. There is a short chapter, which I did not understand, relating to a rest room at the airfield at Hatfield "in North London". Does it describe an experience the author has had, something he has read about, a painting or photograph he has seen or what he has been told by somebody who was there? One pilot, James Allan Mollison, has a chapter devoted to his life, though why he has been selected to represent ATA aircrew is not explained.

So men are certainly not absent from this book, but there is a lack of balance, exemplified on the front and back covers where a total of 10 ATA personnel appear, all of them apparently women. The author states that 1,152 men and 168 women flew in the ATA.

Mr Wynn clearly takes pleasure in exploring nooks and crannies. As a fellow enthusiast for the "not many people know that" school of writing history I enjoyed learning many things from this book. Motor sport addicts may know, for instance, that the 1935 24 Hours of Le Mans race was won by Johnny Hindmarsh and Luis Fontés driving a Lagonda Rapide. I gathered here that, later in that year, Fontés was imprisoned for three years (for causing death by dangerous driving). He later joined the ATA. On October 12 1940 he was killed when the Wellington he was flying crashed on take-off from RAF Llandow in south Wales. He is buried at St Margaret's church, Mapledurham, close to the Thames near Reading.

It might be added, not entirely irrelevantly, that Hindmarsh had been an RAF pilot and, as a Hawker test pilot, died on September 6 1938 when Hurricane L1652 crashed at St Georges Hill, Weybridge, Surrey, during a pre-delivery test.

The author resists the temptation to point out a further, if loose, link between the ATA and Le Mans. In 1928 and the subsequent two years one of the drivers of the winning Bentleys was Woolf Barnato, an RAF Wing Commander in the Second World War. His daughter Diana (Barnato Walker from 1944) became an ATA pilot. Many years later she was a well-known figure at Memorial Days at Capel-le-Ferne.


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