Thursday, July 26, 2018

Mary Ellis RIP

Mary Ellis, who flew over a thousand aircraft of 67 different types during World War II while serving as a pilot for the Air Transport Auxiliary, has died at the age of 101.

As Mary Wilkins she blazed a trail for female aviators as one of the first women to fly Spitfires, heavy bombers and jet aircraft. She delivered planes from factories to airfields from 1941 to the end of the Second World War.

The use of women pilots to deliver aircraft ran into a certain amount of prejudice at the time. At one RAF base, the ground crew refused to believe she was the pilot of the Wellington bomber she had just landed. "They actually went inside the aeroplane and searched it," she recalled.

The job of flying a wide range of aircraft was not without dangers and nearly one in 10 of the ATA's 168 female members were killed during the war, including aviation pioneer Amy Johnson.

Mary herself survived being shot at by friendly fire near Bournemouth and a crash-landing when the undercarriage on the Spitfire she was transporting jammed.

Mary's friend Dora Lang died in a crash in 1944. "I missed her terribly", she recalled. "And for two days I was not allowed to fly - I didn't want to. But after that one realised, well, there is a war on, we must get on with our jobs. And we did."

When the ATA was disbanded in 1945, Mary Wilkins was seconded to the RAF, where she became one of the first women to fly Britain's first jet fighter, the Gloster Meteor. She went on to become manager of Sandown Airport on the Isle of Wight in the 1950s and 1960s, hiring a former ATA colleague, Vera Strodl, as chief flying instructor.

She married Don Ellis, a fellow pilot, in 1961.

Mary Ellis was given the freedom of the Isle of Wight in January this year. Isle of Wight Council leader Dave Stewart described her a "national, international and Island heroine".

He added "She is one of the last of the finest generation who did so much to guarantee our freedom 70 years ago."

Rest in Peace.

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