The Air Transport Auxiliary, responsible for delivering new or repaired planes to RAF bases around the country during the war, used an initial team of eight women pilots, to free up time for fighter pilots to concentrate on training.
An MBE medal awarded to one of them – Flight Lieutenant Joan Lily Amelia Hughes (1918-93) – was sold by Chilcotts (21% buyer’s premium) in Honiton on December 12 for £5800 (estimate £100-200).
Hughes, who was the youngest of the group nicknamed the ‘Attagirls’, flew nearly 100 different craft including Stirling and Lancaster bombers (with the help of a cushion and an engineer to help her reach the levers and controls).
The medal was sold together with a Pike Trophy medal awarded in 1980 and a related scrapbook.
Hughes had become interested in flying after her brother Douglas started learning, and she asked if she could do it too. They both learnt with the East Anglian Flying Club at Abridge. She was just 15 when she took her first solo flight in a Gypsy One Moth biplane, securing her licence at 17 to become the youngest flyer in England.
She went on to become a flying instructor, training with Rosamund King Everard-Steenkamp of the ATA, the first woman to pilot a Spitfire and a jet aircraft (but was killed in a demonstration accident in 1946).
After the war she began a career as a stunt pilot – flying Kenneth More’s spitfire in Reach for the Sky (1956) and a replica of the diminutive 1909 Demoiselle in Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines (1965).
She stood in for George Peppard during the dogfight movie The Blue Max (1966) and served as Lady Penelope’s stunt pilot in the original Thunderbirds series, famously flying under a bridge on the M40 motorway while under construction in 1967, a daring deed for which she was prosecuted but was later cleared of all charges.
Dancer to pilot
Meanwhile, at Exeter saleroom Bearnes Hampton & Littlewood (23% buyer’s premium) on December 15, six pilot’s logbooks belonging to Rosemary Rees MBE (1906-95), another of the eight original ATA women, took £7400 against an estimate of £400-600.
Brian Goodison-Blanks of BHL said: “A private collector in the UK outbid all of the competition on the phone. They had also been interested in the medal in Honiton [at Chilcotts - see above] but as it had been presented post war, their interest in the period logbooks was greater.”
The logbooks dated from June 25, 1933 (Trial Lesson in a Club Cadet) to June 23, 1947, and were offered together with a leather flying helmet, leather gloves, two photograph albums, photographs of Rees as a dancer and related ephemera and books on flying.
Rees began her early career as a dancer travelling around the world and performing in Ceylon, China and the US.
After her trial lesson in 1933 she gained her full licence after only six hours of flying time. By the time she joined the ATA she had obtained her instructor’s licence and over 600 hours flying time.
As one of the first female pilots of the ATA she began to fly a wide range of aircraft including Spitfires, Hurricanes and Mosquitos as well as larger four engine aircraft.
In 1941 she became deputy to Margot Gore at the all-female ferry pool at Hamble-on-Solent, eventually flying 91 different types of aircraft.