Monday, March 28, 2011

Bigger and better?


Hello, chaps - Stella here. Evie's stuck out on a delivery to Lossiemouth, so she asked me to answer 'Vanity Fair's' question about the big bombers. She said 'frankly my dear, you are much better equipped to talk about the large planes anyway.' Which is true. A lot of the girls adore the fighter planes - they say the Spitfire fits you like a well tailored cocktail dress. I've always had my eye on the big bombers - the Lancasters and Stirlings.

Today's picture is of darling Joan Hughes - she was Britain's youngest pilot. The first woman to fly a four-engined bomber was Lettice Curtis. Only eleven ATA girls have flown these so far ... I'm planning to make it 12.

We've come a long way, but this quote from the Daily Mail may give you some idea of what we are up against:

"There were many other dangers. Scandalously, one woman's aircraft was even thought to have been sabotaged by male rivals, threatened by the sight of attractive, young and physically slight women emerging from the cockpits of huge heavy bombers.
"Women are not doing this job for the sake of doing something for their country," declared one outraged male authority figure.
"Women who want to serve their country should take on work more befitting their sex instead of encroaching on a man's occupation. Men have made aviation reach its present perfection."

Frankly, I can't wait. There is nothing like the look on the face of some RAF chap who thinks he's seen it all when a slight girl like Joan steps out of the cockpit. And as Jackie Cochran said - 'I may fly bombers, but I'm still feminine'. She should know - she was a beautician before she became of America's great women aviators.

If you're interested in finding out more about the inimitable Lettice Curtis, you might enjoy these video clips:

Right, it's market day and as Evie's not here to do the food shopping I'd better bicycle into town with our coupons and see what we can get for supper.


Stella x

Monday, March 14, 2011

Silver Screen

Click image to go to BFI site for 'Ferry Pilot' newsreel

Our dear friend, Becci, asked me an interesting question the other day. How do girls as young as Megan cope with the job of a Ferry Pilot? Meggie is a teenager, and like a few of the girls can fly a plane but not drive a car. We do have a 'flying grandmother' in our ranks, but most of us are terribly young. You grow up quickly during a war, but the majority of fighter pilots you meet will be in their early twenties. The ATA is rather special - we have a wide age range, from people like Meggie who are practically children through to veterans of previous wars who may be unfit to fly in combat, but boy are they welcome in our ranks.

That helps, I think, when we younger girls have had a bad flight, or have seen a friend not make it back to base. The older pilots at our Ferry Pool are a great source of comfort and advice. Every ferry pilot believes their base is the best, but I really do feel like we have formed a family at ours. We help each other through. Everyone - from Jean the tealady to Miss Gold and Mikki who take care of admin at the Pool - helps us out between flights. And the pilots ... well, sometimes I wonder if I will ever be fortunate enough to fly again with such a remarkable crowd of people.

Perhaps the best way to give you an idea of our work day to day is to look at the BFI Pathe newsreels of the chaps at Aston, or the famous 'Ferry Pilot' film of 1941 (copies are available from the Imperial War Museum). Interestingly, we girls weren't allowed to be shown flying in the film. A few of us just had to stand around admiring the chaps.

As I said before, a plane doesn't know if you are a man or a woman - it only matters how good a pilot you are. We girls cope just as well as the men, and keep each other going. We fly together, live together, play together ... talking of which, I must get a move on. We are going dancing at the Riviera tonight, and I have nothing to wear.

Yours ever,

Evie x

PS If you enjoy the Ferry Pilot clip, I do recommend 'They Flew Alone', the biopic of dear Amy Johnson's life

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Smile ...

Dear All,

Thank you for all your lovely messages. We girls have been working non-stop today, clearing new planes from the factories. It has brightened my day to hear from you. Helen asked:

Dear Evie, What is your favourite wartime slogan? Is it difficult being a woman in such a male dominated world?

I think my favourite is 'Make Do and Mend'. Stella is far better than me at 'Keep Calm and Carry On'. I must be honest, before the war I was shockingly wasteful, and rather too partial to a pretty frock or a new pair of shoes. I think I've come to realise how little 'things' really matter. I am happier than I have ever been in my whole life, and I'm making do with not a lot. Perhaps living, and working in constant danger makes one feel terribly alive. Thinking about it, perhaps that slogan means mending a broken heart as darning socks to me ... Still, chin up. Mustn't wallow.

As for the boys, you get the odd rotter but you do everywhere. I must say the ATA is a model example of how men and women can work together side by side. Did you know we are the first women to receive equal pay and terms? I think we Spitfire Girls, and the women engineers have proven we can do any job just as well as a chap. I do love the look on the faces of the RAF chaps when some slip of a girl jumps out of the cockpit of a big old Lanc ..!

Perhaps that is the best slogan to get us through this War. Whatever Jerry throws at us, however hard it gets - smile.

Yours ever,

Evie x

Ps if you have any wartime memories, do share them with us.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Beyond the Clouds

Dear All,

Apologies for the delay in answering Geeta's note. The weather closed in at Lossiemouth and I've been stuck up there for days. Then they had the nerve to send me back on one of the ghastly night trains. Freezing cold, pitch black, moving along at a snail's pace ...

The night trains are the opposite of flying. Geeta asked how it felt when I first took control of a plane. Was I scared? Excited, I think. I had been absolutely desperate to get in the air, but Daddy (Leo), forbade it. Of course, I wasn't going to put up with that. I gave French lessons to earn the cash to bally well pay for the lessons myself.

Perhaps if you've been fortunate enough to travel by aeroplane, you know the joy one feels the moment one breaks through the clouds? Dear Magee's poem gives you a taste of how it feels for a pilot. We aren't actually meant to fly beyond the clouds in the ATA - we're meant to fly in sight of land at all times, but ... sometimes there is little choice. Look at Amy. The planes we fly aren't fitted with what they call 'the finer elements' - radios, arms. If you get caught out by the weather or the enemy, you are on your own.

Perhaps what I love most about flying is this - the freedom, the sheer bliss of being in the air. A plane doesn't care how old you are, or what sex you are. Virginia (step-monster), delights in telling me I am too young to do this or that, or I can't do something because I'm a girl. Phooey. A good pilot is a good pilot - it's as simple as that.

Must dash. I've just seen Teddy storming down the corridor with a chit in his hand ...

Yours ever,

Evie x 

Ps the darling film the Beeb made will tell you more about what it's like for us to fly.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Pure Merlin ...

My dear friend Henri alerted me to this clip. It doesn't need me waffling away. Spitfire girls and boys, simply sit back and enjoy ...

Yours ever,

Evie x

Ps if any of you would like to share wartime clips or memories, do let me know. We'd love to hear from you.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Getting some fun out of life ...

Hello folks - Stella and I have had a jolly busy day off, spring cleaning the cottage. (Frankly like a lot of girls these days we are just doing the bits that show). I'm cooking pea soup tonight - would you like the recipe? My tripe casserole was a disaster, but you can't go wrong with this soup. I was just settling down by the fire with Stalin (the cat, not the dictator), and Billie Holiday, when I noticed we had a couple of questions from new friends.

Jo, I can well believe your 17 year old students disbelief about the stockings! Tell them we have to fight some of the chaps for the few available pairs - they say they wear silk stockings in flight for warmth ... Yes, I know what you are thinking! I shall be jolly glad next time I get stuck out on a delivery to a US base. The GIs are tremendous fun, and there are always stockings!

Geeta, thank you for asking about flying. I shall answer you properly tomorrow - my eyelids are drooping. In the meantime, dear John Magee's lovely poem tells you all you need to know about why pilots fly. Like a lot of my friends, we lost poor John when he was only nineteen.

More later. Yours ever,

Evie x

Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I've climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
of sun-split clouds,-and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of-wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov'ring there,
I've chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air...
Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue
I've topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace
Where never lark nor even eagle flew-
And, while with silent lifting mind I've trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand, and touched the face of God

‘High Flight’ by John Gillespie Magee, Jr – Spitfire pilot, No 412 Fighter Squadron RCAF.  Killed 11 December 1941, aged 19

Acknowledgement: "Reproduced by kind permission of This England Publishing Ltd."

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Keeping Your Seams Straight

What a glorious day. I went for a gallop on Monty first thing, and I'm feeling bright eyed and bushy tailed. Ghastly Teddy has given me a rare day off, and as I need a good grooming as well as Monty, let's address our first question from our dear friend Miss Scarlet. We may be at war girls, but we mustn't let our standards slip!
Scarlet asks how one might fake the appearance of silk stockings. This is indeed a pressing issue for many of us. I traded my last proper pair with Jean the tea-lady last week for a bent tin of peaches for Megan's birthday. Stella, Megan and I have tried countless things from clay to pancake make up, but these are our best suggestions:
  • mix up a little gravy browning, and paint on in even strokes with a soft brush (trying to avoid that stripy creosote look ...)

  • or brew a pot of tea and cool - place the leaves in a little square of muslin, and dab on

  • finally, (you will probably need a friend - a *good* friend - to do this for you). Take a kohl eyeliner, and carefully draw a line up the back of your leg where the seam would be. If you are ticklish like Megan, this may take a few attempts.

There we go - Bob's your uncle. As long as you avoid rainstorms and dogs who may want to lick you if you've overdone it on the gravy browning, you are all set for your night out. I had a narrow escape last week from 'Ace', Beau's German Shepherd - one whiff of Bisto and he chased me half way across the airfield.

Are you going dancing, Miss Scarlet? I can recommend the Riviera - perhaps we'll see you later. To get you 'In the Mood', do take a look at the new Beauty Chorus playlist on Youtube.

Yours ever,

Evie x

Ps - do keep the questions coming everyone!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Chocks Away

Dear All,

Welcome to 'Ask Evie'. I'm so excited - it's less than a month until our book
'The Beauty Chorus' is published by the lovely people at Corvus, Atlantic. We girls have been saving our coupons for new frocks, and Beau has a bottle of champagne chilling. If you'd like a sneak peek ahead of April 1st, good old Waterstones has a downloadable preview of the first chapter here.

Over the coming months, I shall be bringing you news of 'The Beauty Chorus' - reviews, photos, interviews and videos. There will be links to ATA sites, and interesting WW2 info.
I do look forward to getting to know you all, and if you have any questions, ask away. If it's planes, horses or looking good on a wartime budget, I'm your girl. For advice on affairs of the heart, Stella is the best one to talk to (let's face it, she's had far more experience than me ...). We're going to dig out some of Meggie's gardening tips, and if you dare I'll give you a few of my wartime recipes.

Anyway, must dash. I have a chit - Spitfire to Tangmere. More soon.

Yours ever,

Evie x