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This is the second in a three book series, Ellen's War, the first being Blue Skies & Tiger Moths. This series begins in 1939 and will end in 1945.
I was looking for a subject to write a short story for an anthology ( I didn't write one) and came across a reference to the ATA - Air Transport Auxiliary. Before this was set up aircraft were delivered by serving pilots. This was a waste of trained men so the ATA came into existence.
This was initially men, injured RAF pilots, men too old to enlist and so on, but after Dunkirk it was obvious to the Air Ministry that there weren't enough male civilian pilots to do the job.
Pauline Gower persuaded the powers that be to allow women to join. Eight experienced pilots signed up, all from the upper classes; after all only the idle rich could afford to learn to fly. These brave women collected and delivered Tiger Moths, used for initial training, mostly to Scotland. These planes had an open cockpit and the women didn't have heated, padded flight suits like the men.
By the end of the war some of the women were happily flying four engine bombers, and anything else they were asked to deliver. There were around 800 members altogether in the ATA and around 200 were women. The most famous of these was Amy Johnson who tragically died after ditching in the Thames estuary.
This book is the story of Ellen, known as Ellie, after she joins the ATA.
Here is the opening which picks up exactly where the last book ended. I hope your are tmepted to download it after reading this.
Fenella J Miller
Glebe Farm didn't seem like home anymore now that her brother Neil was buried. Ellie wished she didn't have to stay the full week of her compassionate leave but it would be unfair on her dad and Mabel to leave early.
'Ellie, love, you've not eaten anything today. You'll fade away if you don't have something.' Mabel was more than cook housekeeper here now, she was the future Mrs Simpson and Ellie wasn't sure she was ready for more changes in her life.
'I'm sorry, every time I try and swallow my throat sort of closes up. I had some cocoa and a bit of the Victoria sandwich when I got up, so I'm fine.'
'Why don't you take the dogs for a walk, clear your head, Fred will be back from the bottom field for his lunch soon. He'll not want to see you moping about.'
Ellie bit her lip somehow keeping back a sharp reply. Neil's funeral had only been two days ago, for heaven's sake, why was she expected to be rushing about the place so soon? It was none of Mabel's business anyway, she wasn't a member of the family yet.
'I'll do that. I'll be back in time for lunch.' Jack and Jasper, the two dogs they'd rescued from Battersea, were delighted to be taken for an extra stroll – not that they needed any exercise as they were always racing about the place catching rats, chasing rabbits and generally enjoying themselves.
Every time she called Jack it made her think of the other Jack in the family. He was a fighter pilot as Neil had been, but he was flying a Hurricane not a Spitfire. Everyone believed the Germans were about to invade and he was going to be in the forefront of the fighting.
George, her one remaining brother, was also a fighter pilot. However, he had severed the link between Glebe Farm and himself and was now firmly in the same camp as her obnoxious fascist grandfather, Sir Reginald Humphrey, and her estranged mother. She no longer considered either of them as part of her life and would probably never know if George was killed in the line of duty.
Jack Reynolds was her brother now – the only one she'd got. If anything happened to him she wouldn't be able to cope. Pushing that miserable thought aside she whistled to the dogs and walked briskly down the lane towards the farmhouse. She'd seen the tractor with Dad and the two remaining ancient labourers returning to the farm. They were about to retire, were in fact already too old to be working, but Dad was keeping them on until they wanted to go.
She waved to the team of land girls busy clearing the ditches. They didn't work every day here, they were in teams and lived in a hostel in the village and were sent out in rotation to the farms in the area. Dad owned three of them so they tended to be working for him most of the time.
There was always a hot meal at lunchtime and it was served outside on a trestle table. She didn't go out and join them as she wasn't in the mood for small talk. She hadn't been hungry since that awful call to the CO's office a few days ago when she was told that her beloved brother was dead. The fact that he had bailed out over Dover when his Spitfire had been hit should have meant he survived. He was machine-gunned by a passing Messerschmitt and had been dead when he hit the ground.
Somehow being killed like this made it even worse. His death had been an unnecessary act of cruelty – he should have been safe over his own home soil and dangling from a parachute. She wished she could join Jack fighting the Germans and killing those that had murdered her brother in cold blood. She was certain no British pilot would do such a thing.
The kitchen was unpleasantly hot so she continued into the sitting room which was cooler. She wandered about picking up and reading an occasional sympathy card from those scattered along the windowsill and mantelpiece.
Did one reply to these? She didn't know the addresses of half of them. The parish magazine was no longer printed because of the paper shortage or they could have put a notice in that. Maybe the vicar would make an announcement? Anyway, she wasn't going to do it.
She couldn't even write to her friends Daisy and Mary, as by the time her letter had been sent to a central postbox and then delivered secretly to the radar station they were posted at, she would be back. Telephone calls were also banned. Even her parents and fiancé, Greg, didn't know what she was actually doing. They just thought she was involved with something to do with radio operations. It was all very hush-hush.
She would leave tomorrow. She couldn't stay here with nothing to do and too much time to think of what she'd lost. Keeping busy was the answer. Unable to settle, she made her way to her bedroom. Her eyes filled when she passed what used to be Neil's room, next to it George's room, neither of them would ever be used by her brothers again.
Perhaps there was something of Neil's left in his wardrobe she could have as a memento and take back with her. Of course, she had a photograph but something more personal would help with her grief. There was a war on, three families in the village had lost loved ones as well, she had to get a grip and stop wallowing in her misery. Dad and Mabel were quieter than usual but they were getting on with their lives.
She put her hand on the door of Neil's room but couldn't bring herself to open it. Too soon. Instead she went into her own bedroom and stretched out on the bed. She could hear the murmur of voices coming through the open window.
'Fred, love, I'm that worried about Ellie. She's taken this hard. I don't like to bring up the subject of her wedding, not when she's so down.'
'She was close to Neil, it'll take her a while to get used to the idea. Greg said he was going to contact the vicar and get the banns read so they could be married as soon as they can coordinate home leave. With that bastard Hitler about to invade us I don't see either of them getting time off in the next few months – so there's no rush, love. Let things settle a bit.'
The A.T.A. is one of those organizations whose war-time activities need to be celebrated, in my view. It's sad how the knowledge of what women did in the war has almost become lost - and they accomplished so much! Well done you for bringing the A.T.A story back to life.
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