Exhibition commemorates WWII female fighter pilots

A group of women posing with a spitfire at Hamble Airfield in Southampton The women pilots helped keep the RAF's front-line airfields equipped

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One July day in 1941 as war raged in Europe four women made history when they took to the skies in RAF fighter aircraft.

Winnie Crossley, the Hon Margaret Fairweather, Rosemary Rees and Joan Hughes made 15-minute flights in a Hawker Hurricane from Hatfield Aerodrome, in Hertfordshire.

Aged just 23 in 1941, Ms Hughes had been flying since she was 15, and held the record for the youngest person to fly solo.

They were the first of 168 women who were recruited to fly aircraft during World War II from factories to airfields as part of the Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA).

A new exhibition in Maidenhead, Berkshire, is commemorating their previously unsung achievements on the 70th anniversary of the first flights, which took place on 19 July 1941.

A flying boat will sail into Maidenhead next month as part of the celebrations.

'Madly interested'

Molly Rose, 90, who lives near Brize Norton in Oxfordshire, flew with the ATA from 1942 to 1945 from a base in Hamble near Southampton.

She said she was "privileged" to have flown as part of the war effort.

"We didn't talk about it before for 67 years, and suddenly everyone's madly interested in it. I think they want to catch us before we pop off," she said.

"I joined the ATA when my husband went off to fight in the Middle East. I flew all the single engine fighters and twin engine fighters, but I didn't go on to the four engine bombers."

Joy Lofthouse, one of the first female pilots to fly a Spitfire during World War II, learned to fly before she learned to drive.

She said it was rewarding to be "feted".

Joy Lofthouse in 2011 (left) and in the 1940s (right) Joy Lofthouse learned to fly before she learned to drive

Pilots in the ATA included the pioneering British aviator Amy Johnson, who died along with 14 other female pilots while undertaking the vital role of ferrying military aircraft as part of the war effort.

These unsung heroes helped keep the RAF's front-line airfields equipped.

The headquarters of the ATA were at White Waltham Airport, near Maidenhead.

The women pilots who flew aircraft from White Waltham during World War II are to be commemorated with a permanent exhibition at Maidenhead Heritage Centre.

The exhibition will open on Tuesday 2 August and the following week a 1943 Catalina flying boat will land at White Waltham Airport.

Mrs Rose said she intended to leave her flying logs to the Maidenhead Heritage Centre in her will.

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