Tuesday 31 July 2018

The Cottingley Fairies

Why do so many people still believe in the Cottingley Fairies?

 David Barnett
17 JULY 2017 • 6:27AM

One hundred years after the photographs were taken, why is one community still transfixed by the hoax? By David Barnett
At the bottom of Luke Horsman’s garden, there are fairies. Or at least, there were, a century ago, when two young girls unwittingly created a modern fable that brought together two worlds; the relatively new one of photography and the ages-old sphere of spirituality and folklore, entrancing as redoubtable a figure as Sherlock Holmes creator Arthur Conan Doyle.

Mr Horsman, 35, lives in Main Street, a narrow road of terraced houses, in the village of Cottingley in West Yorkshire, with his partner Ruth. He’s an illustrator and is working on a graphic novel called, with perhaps a nod to the idyllic outlook from his end-of-terrace house, Edengate. But, despite the sometimes fantastical nature of his own work, he had no idea when he and Ruth purchased the property in November 2015 that he was buying a slice of the history of the famous Cottingley Fairies.

“It wasn’t mentioned to us at all,” says Mr Horsman, leading me to the kitchen, which overlooks the garden behind the house. “It was only when we moved in and one of the neighbours said to us, ‘Ah, you’re the ones who’ve bought the fairy house’ that we had any inkling. I had no idea what they were talking about at first.” Mr Horsman takes me through the garden, along slate paths to an arbour that perches on the edge of a brook that cascades down past the backs of the homes in Main Street. This is Cottingley Beck, a narrow stream that separates the row of gardens from a lush, thick dell, dappled in sunlight.

It is here, precisely here, where Elsie Wright and Frances Griffiths crossed the stepping stones from this very garden to that very dell in July 1917, bearing Elsie’s father’s cherished camera, and came back with a series of photographs that would capture imaginations across the world.

Back then, the house in Main Street was occupied by Arthur and Polly Wright and their only daughter, Elsie. Arthur was an electrical engineer and keen amateur photographer, the proud owner of a Midg quarter-plate camera, an expensive piece of kit for the time. Also living with them, temporarily, were Polly’s sister Annie Griffiths and her daughter Frances, who had made the perilous wartime sea journey from South Africa.

By 1917, Elsie was 15 and Frances nine, but, despite the age gap, the girls became firm friends and played together in the dell, often coming home soaking wet and covered in mud.

It was Elsie who first started blaming fairies for their dishevelled appearance, and an amused Arthur indulged them with the loan of his precious camera to allow them to “prove” the Little Folk were real.

The girls duly obliged and returned the Midg with two glass plates ready for developing in the darkroom Arthur had built for himself in the cellar. He was somewhat taken aback to see the images slowly emerging of Frances, wearing a string of flowers in her hair, watching a quartet of dancing, winged fairies on a tree stump in front of her, and another showing Elsie sitting in the grass, greeting what the girls said was a gnome.

Arthur’s Midg camera resides in the National Science and Media Museum in nearby Bradford. The museum’s head of collections, Michael Terwey, reverently holds it up, explaining how it held a magazine of glass plates covered with photographic emulsion.

“People wanted to believe in the photographs,” says Terwey. “The very idea that these beings had apparently been captured by a camera gave an air of scientific credibility. There were constant references made to the trustworthiness of the family, the fact they hadn’t done it for money, so why would they make it up?”

Looking at the photographs now, with a sophisticated 21st-century eye, it seems incredible that anyone was taken in. It’s obvious the fairies are what they were indeed later revealed to be: drawings by Elsie cut out and stuck in the ground with hatpins.

But perhaps the horrors of the First World War meant people were desperate to embrace something more positive, more spiritual. Terwey says “spirit photography”, and the belief that cameras could capture what the human eye could not see, experienced a great boom in the years surrounding the end of the Great War, as desperate families clung on to some slim hope that those they had lost in the conflict could be contacted on “the other side”.

Still, the first two photographs weren’t taken wholly seriously by the Wrights and might have remained a family joke but for Elsie’s mother, Polly, who attended a meeting in Bradford of the Theosophical Society, the organisation set up in the 19th century to discuss and debate matters spiritual, religious and unexplained.

The talk was on fairies, and Polly showed the speaker the photographs Elsie and Frances had taken. The Theosophical Society was instantly captivated, and displayed the pictures some months later at the society’s annual meeting.

From there, to use modern parlance, they went viral, earning the clear stamp of approval from photography experts who declared them genuine, and eventually coming to the attention of Conan Doyle, who had been commissioned to write a feature on fairy lore for The Strand magazine.

Conan Doyle secured permission from the Wrights to use the two photographs, and made a gift to the girls of a Kodak Cameo camera to obtain further “evidence”, which they duly did, producing three more images of Frances smiling at a leaping fairy, a fairy offering a posy of harebells to Elsie, and another captioned “The Fairies and Their Sun-Bath”, all of which were published in 1920.

In a 1983 letter to Geoffrey Crawley, a journalist who had written extensively about the Cottingley Fairies, Elsie finally admitted how she and Frances had taken the pictures, and said they persisted with the story for so many years because they didn’t want to embarrass all the people who had believed them, Conan Doyle especially, and waited until everyone had died before admitting the hoax.

Arthur Wright was always uncomfortable with the attention the photographs brought on his family. He died in 1926, still frustrated that Elsie and Frances had never owned up.

The very idea that these beings had been captured by a camera gave an air of scientific credibility
Polly, who was really responsible for the photographs reaching so wide an audience, lived until 1955. Elsie, who emigrated to America to escape all the attention, went on to live in India, where she spent the Second World War with the Women's Voluntary Service, before returning to the UK after Indian Independence. She died in 1988, aged 87.

Frances died in 1986 and her memoirs, completed by her daughter Christine Lynch, were published under the title Reflections of the Cottingley Fairies. Frances maintained until her death that she had always seen fairies, and after publication of the interviews with Elsie claiming it was all just a hoax, relations between the two grew strained.

The late Joe Cooper, who wrote a book about Elsie and Frances (which informed the 1997 film Fairy Tale: A True Story, starring Paul McGann, Peter O'Toole and Bill Nighy) also believed the girls had really seen fairies, and had faked the photographs to help their story.

“He believed that they had genuinely seen fairies,” says his daughter Jane. “In terms of my opinion I don’t think that because at least some of the photos were faked this somehow ‘proves’ that they didn’t experience anything. Joe met many people over the years who said they had seen fairies.

"I believe in the phrase ‘beware certainty’. Joe was certain they were telling the truth and many others are certain that fairies don’t exist – both positions are rather risky. People also fail to make a proper distinction between the question ‘Do fairies exist?’ and the question ‘Do people see fairies?’.”

Fairies are still evident in Cottingley today. They haunt the village, in the cut-out fairies that adorn the gates of the Nuffield gym; in the housing estate where streets are named after fairies and other characters from Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream: Titania Close, Oberon Way, Lysander Way. Every year there is a Cottingley Fairy Fest, which this year will mark the centenary of the photographs.

But, do people really see fairies?

Perhaps Mr Horsman is best placed to answer the question. “It’s a great old Yorkshire tale, and it’s fantastic to live in the house where it all happened,” he tells me. “Have I ever seen fairies at the bottom of my garden? No.”

And in the cool, dim bowels of the rooms at the Science and Media Museum in Bradford, where the artefacts linked to this fascinating, enduring tale are stored, Michael Terwey takes a similarly pragmatic view. “You have to remember that Elsie wasn’t a child at the time, he says. “She actually had a job, working for a photographic studio in Bradford, where she touched up photographs.

“She had some technical knowledge, and here we have drawings she did of fairies that show she was a pretty good artist.”

He pauses, considering the camera in his hands, given by Conan Doyle to Elsie and Frances in an attempt to marry science with the mysteries of the unexplained. “But Frances always maintained there actually were fairies. Just because these pictures are staged, that doesn’t mean they’re not there…”

The Cottingley Fairies appear in a series of five photographs taken by Elsie Wright (1901–1988) and Frances Griffiths (1907–1986), two young cousins who lived in Cottingley, near Bradford in England. In 1917, when the first two photographs were taken, Elsie was 16 years old and Frances was 9. The pictures came to the attention of writer Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who used them to illustrate an article on fairies he had been commissioned to write for the Christmas 1920 edition of The Strand Magazine. Doyle, as a spiritualist, was enthusiastic about the photographs, and interpreted them as clear and visible evidence of psychic phenomena. Public reaction was mixed; some accepted the images as genuine, others believed that they had been faked.

Interest in the Cottingley Fairies gradually declined after 1921. Both girls married and lived abroad for a time after they grew up, yet the photographs continued to hold the public imagination. In 1966 a reporter from the Daily Express newspaper traced Elsie, who had by then returned to the UK. Elsie left open the possibility that she believed she had photographed her thoughts, and the media once again became interested in the story.

In the early 1980s Elsie and Frances admitted that the photographs were faked, using cardboard cutouts of fairies copied from a popular children's book of the time, but Frances maintained that the fifth and final photograph was genuine. The photographs and two of the cameras used are on display in the National Science and Media Museum in Bradford, England.

In mid-1917 nine-year-old Frances Griffiths and her mother—both newly arrived in the UK from South Africa—were staying with Frances' aunt, Elsie Wright's mother, in the village of Cottingley in West Yorkshire; Elsie was then 16 years old. The two girls often played together beside the beck (stream) at the bottom of the garden, much to their mothers' annoyance, because they frequently came back with wet feet and clothes. Frances and Elsie said they only went to the beck to see the fairies, and to prove it, Elsie borrowed her father's camera, a Midg quarter-plate. The girls returned about 30 minutes later, "triumphant".

Elsie's father, Arthur, was a keen amateur photographer, and had set up his own darkroom. The picture on the photographic plate he developed showed Frances behind a bush in the foreground, on which four fairies appeared to be dancing. Knowing his daughter's artistic ability, and that she had spent some time working in a photographer's studio, he dismissed the figures as cardboard cutouts. Two months later the girls borrowed his camera again, and this time returned with a photograph of Elsie sitting on the lawn holding out her hand to a 1-foot-tall (30 cm) gnome. Exasperated by what he believed to be "nothing but a prank", and convinced that the girls must have tampered with his camera in some way, Arthur Wright refused to lend it to them again. His wife Polly, however, believed the photographs to be authentic.

I am learning French, Geometry, Cookery and Algebra at school now. Dad came home from France the other week after being there ten months, and we all think the war will be over in a few days ... I am sending two photos, both of me, one of me in a bathing costume in our back yard, while the other is me with some fairies. Elsie took that one.
Towards the end of 1918, Frances sent a letter to Johanna Parvin, a friend in Cape Town, South Africa, where Frances had lived for most of her life, enclosing the photograph of herself with the fairies. On the back she wrote "It is funny, I never used to see them in Africa. It must be too hot for them there."

The photographs became public in mid-1919, after Elsie's mother attended a meeting of the Theosophical Society in Bradford. The lecture that evening was on "fairy life", and at the end of the meeting Polly Wright showed the two fairy photographs taken by her daughter and niece to the speaker. As a result, the photographs were displayed at the society's annual conference in Harrogate, held a few months later. There they came to the attention of a leading member of the society, Edward Gardner. One of the central beliefs of theosophy is that humanity is undergoing a cycle of evolution, towards increasing "perfection", and Gardner recognised the potential significance of the photographs for the movement:

... the fact that two young girls had not only been able to see fairies, which others had done, but had actually for the first time ever been able to materialise them at a density sufficient for their images to be recorded on a photographic plate, meant that it was possible that the next cycle of evolution was underway.

Gardner sent the prints along with the original glass-plate negatives to Harold Snelling, a photography expert. Snelling's opinion was that "the two negatives are entirely genuine, unfaked photographs ... [with] no trace whatsoever of studio work involving card or paper models". He did not go so far as to say that the photographs showed fairies, stating only that "these are straight forward photographs of whatever was in front of the camera at the time". Gardner had the prints "clarified" by Snelling, and new negatives produced, "more conducive to printing", for use in the illustrated lectures he gave around the UK. Snelling supplied the photographic prints which were available for sale at Gardner's lectures.

Author and prominent spiritualist Sir Arthur Conan Doyle learned of the photographs from the editor of the spiritualist publication Light. Doyle had been commissioned by The Strand Magazine to write an article on fairies for their Christmas issue, and the fairy photographs "must have seemed like a godsend" according to broadcaster and historian Magnus Magnusson. Doyle contacted Gardner in June 1920 to determine the background to the photographs, and wrote to Elsie and her father to request permission from the latter to use the prints in his article. Arthur Wright was "obviously impressed" that Doyle was involved, and gave his permission for publication, but he refused payment on the grounds that, if genuine, the images should not be "soiled" by money.

Gardner and Doyle sought a second expert opinion from the photographic company Kodak. Several of the company's technicians examined the enhanced prints, and although they agreed with Snelling that the pictures "showed no signs of being faked", they concluded that "this could not be taken as conclusive evidence ... that they were authentic photographs of fairies". Kodak declined to issue a certificate of authenticity. Gardner believed that the Kodak technicians might not have examined the photographs entirely objectively, observing that one had commented "after all, as fairies couldn't be true, the photographs must have been faked somehow".The prints were also examined by another photographic company, Ilford, who reported unequivocally that there was "some evidence of faking". Gardner and Doyle, perhaps rather optimistically, interpreted the results of the three expert evaluations as two in favour of the photographs' authenticity and one against.

Doyle also showed the photographs to the physicist and pioneering psychical researcher Sir Oliver Lodge, who believed the photographs to be fake. He suggested that a troupe of dancers had masqueraded as fairies, and expressed doubt as to their "distinctly 'Parisienne'" hairstyles.

Doyle was preoccupied with organising an imminent lecture tour of Australia, and in July 1920, sent Gardner to meet the Wright family. Frances was by then living with her parents in Scarborough, but Elsie's father told Gardner that he had been so certain the photographs were fakes that while the girls were away he searched their bedroom and the area around the beck (stream), looking for scraps of pictures or cutouts, but found nothing "incriminating".

Gardner believed the Wright family to be honest and respectable. To place the matter of the photographs' authenticity beyond doubt, he returned to Cottingley at the end of July with two Kodak Cameo cameras and 24 secretly marked photographic plates. Frances was invited to stay with the Wright family during the school summer holiday so that she and Elsie could take more pictures of the fairies.[16] Gardner described his briefing in his 1945 Fairies: A Book of Real Fairies:

I went off, to Cottingley again, taking the two cameras and plates from London, and met the family and explained to the two girls the simple working of the cameras, giving one each to keep. The cameras were loaded, and my final advice was that they need go up to the glen only on fine days as they had been accustomed to do before and tice the fairies, as they called their way of attracting them, and see what they could get. I suggested only the most obvious and easy precautions about lighting and distance, for I knew it was essential they should feel free and unhampered and have no burden of responsibility. If nothing came of it all, I told them, they were not to mind a bit.

Until 19 August the weather was unsuitable for photography. Because Frances and Elsie insisted that the fairies would not show themselves if others were watching, Elsie's mother was persuaded to visit her sister's for tea, leaving the girls alone. In her absence the girls took several photographs, two of which appeared to show fairies. In the first, Frances and the Leaping Fairy, Frances is shown in profile with a winged fairy close by her nose. The second, Fairy offering Posy of Harebells to Elsie, shows a fairy either hovering or tiptoeing on a branch, and offering Elsie a flower. Two days later the girls took the last picture, Fairies and Their Sun-Bath.

The plates were packed in cotton wool and returned to Gardner in London, who sent an "ecstatic" telegram to Doyle, by then in Melbourne. Doyle wrote back:

My heart was gladdened when out here in far Australia I had your note and the three wonderful pictures which are confirmatory of our published results. When our fairies are admitted other psychic phenomena will find a more ready acceptance ... We have had continued messages at seances for some time that a visible sign was coming through.

Doyle's article in the December 1920 issue of The Strand contained two higher-resolution prints of the 1917 photographs, and sold out within days of publication. To protect the girls' anonymity, Frances and Elsie were called Alice and Iris respectively, and the Wright family was referred to as the "Carpenters". An enthusiastic and committed spiritualist, Doyle hoped that if the photographs convinced the public of the existence of fairies then they might more readily accept other psychic phenomena. He ended his article with the words:

The recognition of their existence will jolt the material twentieth century mind out of its heavy ruts in the mud, and will make it admit that there is a glamour and mystery to life. Having discovered this, the world will not find it so difficult to accept that spiritual message supported by physical facts which has already been put before it.

Early press coverage was "mixed",[22] generally a combination of "embarrassment and puzzlement".The historical novelist and poet Maurice Hewlett published a series of articles in the literary journal John O' London's Weekly, in which he concluded: "And knowing children, and knowing that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle has legs, I decide that the Miss Carpenters have pulled one of them." The Sydney newspaper Truth on 5 January 1921 expressed a similar view; "For the true explanation of these fairy photographs what is wanted is not a knowledge of occult phenomena but a knowledge of children." Some public figures were more sympathetic. Margaret McMillan, the educational and social reformer, wrote: "How wonderful that to these dear children such a wonderful gift has been vouchsafed." The novelist Henry De Vere Stacpoole decided to take the fairy photographs and the girls at face value. In a letter to Gardner he wrote: "Look at Alice's [Frances'] face. Look at Iris's [Elsie's] face. There is an extraordinary thing called Truth which has 10 million faces and forms – it is God's currency and the cleverest coiner or forger can't imitate it."

Major John Hall-Edwards, a keen photographer and pioneer of medical X-ray treatments in Britain, was a particularly vigorous critic:

On the evidence I have no hesitation in saying that these photographs could have been "faked". I criticize the attitude of those who declared there is something supernatural in the circumstances attending to the taking of these pictures because, as a medical man, I believe that the inculcation of such absurd ideas into the minds of children will result in later life in manifestations and nervous disorder and mental disturbances.

Doyle used the later photographs in 1921 to illustrate a second article in The Strand, in which he described other accounts of fairy sightings. The article formed the foundation for his 1922 book The Coming of the Fairies. As before, the photographs were received with mixed credulity. Sceptics noted that the fairies "looked suspiciously like the traditional fairies of nursery tales" and that they had "very fashionable hairstyles".

Gardner made a final visit to Cottingley in August 1921. He again brought cameras and photographic plates for Frances and Elsie, but was accompanied by the clairvoyant Geoffrey Hodson. Although neither of the girls claimed to see any fairies, and there were no more photographs, "on the contrary, he [Hodson] saw them [fairies] everywhere" and wrote voluminous notes on his observations.

By now Elsie and Frances were tired of the whole fairy business. Years later Elsie looked at a photograph of herself and Frances taken with Hodson and said: "Look at that, fed up with fairies." Both Elsie and Frances later admitted that they "played along" with Hodson "out of mischief", and that they considered him "a fake".

Public interest in the Cottingley Fairies gradually subsided after 1921. Elsie and Frances eventually married and lived abroad for many years. In 1966, a reporter from the Daily Express newspaper traced Elsie, who was by then back in England. She admitted in an interview given that year that the fairies might have been "figments of my imagination", but left open the possibility she believed that she had somehow managed to photograph her thoughts.The media subsequently became interested in Frances and Elsie's photographs once again. BBC television's Nationwide programme investigated the case in 1971, but Elsie stuck to her story: "I've told you that they're photographs of figments of our imagination, and that's what I'm sticking to".

Elsie and Frances were interviewed by journalist Austin Mitchell in September 1976, for a programme broadcast on Yorkshire Television. When pressed, both women agreed that "a rational person doesn't see fairies", but they denied having fabricated the photographs. In 1978 the magician and scientific sceptic James Randi and a team from the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal examined the photographs, using a "computer enhancement process". They concluded that the photographs were fakes, and that strings could be seen supporting the fairies.Geoffrey Crawley, editor of the British Journal of Photography, undertook a "major scientific investigation of the photographs and the events surrounding them", published between 1982 and 1983, "the first major postwar analysis of the affair". He also concluded that the pictures were fakes.

In 1983, the cousins admitted in an article published in the magazine The Unexplained that the photographs had been faked, although both maintained that they really had seen fairies. Elsie had copied illustrations of dancing girls from a popular children's book of the time, Princess Mary's Gift Book, published in 1914, and drew wings on them. They said they had then cut out the cardboard figures and supported them with hatpins, disposing of their props in the beck once the photograph had been taken. But the cousins disagreed about the fifth and final photograph, which Doyle in his The Coming of the Fairies described in this way:

Seated on the upper left hand edge with wing well displayed is an undraped fairy apparently considering whether it is time to get up. An earlier riser of more mature age is seen on the right possessing abundant hair and wonderful wings. Her slightly denser body can be glimpsed within her fairy dress.

Elsie maintained it was a fake, just like all the others, but Frances insisted that it was genuine. In an interview given in the early 1980s Frances said:

It was a wet Saturday afternoon and we were just mooching about with our cameras and Elsie had nothing prepared. I saw these fairies building up in the grasses and just aimed the camera and took a photograph.

Both Frances and Elsie claimed to have taken the fifth photograph.In a letter published in The Times newspaper on 9 April 1983, Geoffrey Crawley explained the discrepancy by suggesting that the photograph was "an unintended double exposure of fairy cutouts in the grass", and thus "both ladies can be quite sincere in believing that they each took it".

In a 1985 interview on Yorkshire Television's Arthur C. Clarke's World of Strange Powers, Elsie said that she and Frances were too embarrassed to admit the truth after fooling Doyle, the author of Sherlock Holmes: "Two village kids and a brilliant man like Conan Doyle – well, we could only keep quiet." In the same interview Frances said: "I never even thought of it as being a fraud – it was just Elsie and I having a bit of fun and I can't understand to this day why they were taken in – they wanted to be taken in."

Frances died in 1986, and Elsie in 1988. Prints of their photographs of the fairies, along with a few other items including a first edition of Doyle's book The Coming of the Fairies, were sold at auction in London for £21,620 in 1998. That same year, Geoffrey Crawley sold his Cottingley Fairy material to the National Museum of Film, Photography and Television in Bradford (now the National Science and Media Museum), where it is on display. The collection included prints of the photographs, two of the cameras used by the girls, watercolours of fairies painted by Elsie, and a nine-page letter from Elsie admitting to the hoax. The glass photographic plates were bought for £6,000 by an unnamed buyer at a London auction held in 2001.

Frances' daughter, Christine Lynch, appeared in an episode of the television programme Antiques Roadshow in Belfast, broadcast on BBC One in January 2009, with the photographs and one of the cameras given to the girls by Doyle. Christine told the expert, Paul Atterbury, that she believed, as her mother had done, that the fairies in the fifth photograph were genuine. Atterbury estimated the value of the items at between £25,000 and £30,000. The first edition of Frances' memoirs was published a few months later, under the title Reflections on the Cottingley Fairies. The book contains correspondence, sometimes "bitter", between Elsie and Frances. In one letter, dated 1983, Frances wrote:

I hated those photographs from the age of 16 when Mr Gardner presented me with a bunch of flowers and wanted me to sit on the platform [at a Theosophical Society meeting] with him. I realised what I was in for if I did not keep myself hidden.

The 1997 films FairyTale: A True Story and Photographing Fairies were inspired by the events surrounding the Cottingley Fairies. The photographs were parodied in a 1994 book written by Terry Jones and Brian Froud, Lady Cottington's Pressed Fairy Book.

In 2017 a further two fairy photographs were presented as evidence that the girls' parents were part of the conspiracy. Dating from 1917 and 1918, both photographs are poorly executed copies of two of the original fairy photographs. One was published in 1918 in The Sphere newspaper, which was before the originals had been seen by anyone outside the girls' immediate family.

Cottingley Fairies - Explained and Debunked

Saturday 28 July 2018

WWII Spitfire Pilot Mary Ellis Dies / "The First of the Few".

Second world war pilot Mary Ellis dies aged 101
Ellis joined Air Transport Auxiliary in 1941 and flew 1,000 planes in four years

Jessica McKay
Thu 26 Jul 2018 15.21 BST First published on Thu 26 Jul 2018 09.02 BST

Mary Ellis delivered Spitfires and bombers to the frontline after responding to an appeal for female pilots.
Mary Ellis, one of the last surviving British female pilots from the second world war, has died aged 101 at her home on the Isle of Wight.

She delivered Spitfires and bombers to the frontline after responding to a radio appeal by the Air Transport Auxiliary for female pilots.

Ellis, née Wilkins, joined the ATA in 1941 and flew about 1,000 planes over the next four years, including 400 Spitfires and 47 Wellington bombers.

After the war, Ellis moved to the Isle of Wight and managed Sandown airport from 1950 to 1970.

She married fellow pilot Don Ellis in 1961 and continued to live in their home beside the runway at Sandown after his death in 2009.

Ellis was awarded the freedom of the Isle of Wight earlier this year, and was described by the council leader, Dave Stewart, as a “national, international and island heroine”.

Other surviving female second world war pilots include Eleanor Wadsworth, who lives in Bury St Edmunds, Nancy Stratford, who lives in the US, Jaye Edwards, who lives in Canada, and Ethel Elizabeth Sharpe, who lives in Truro, Cornwall.

Tributes have been paid to her on social media by fellow pilots including the Red Arrows flier Mike Ling.
Mike Ling MBE (Red 3)
 More awful news. RIP Mary Ellis. A legend of the Air Transport Auxiliary. Over 1000 aircraft; 76 different types and over 400 Spitfires alone. I hope you’re enjoying a well-earned sherry up there with Joy Lofthouse again. Blue skies Ma’am #LestWeForget
11:27 PM - Jul 25, 2018

The TV presenter Dan Snow said he took his children to meet her last week, when Ellis shared her thoughts about the Spitfire. She described it as her favourite aircraft at her 100th birthday celebrations last year, saying: “I think it’s a symbol of freedom.”

Dan Snow
 Mary Ellis, one of Britain's greatest aviators, died yesterday at age 101. Last week I took my kids to meet her. My boy clasped a model plane. She asked what it was. 'Spitfire' he whispered. She leaned down and shared a few private thoughts about the aircraft.
9:00 AM - Jul 26, 2018

The author and former RAF navigator John Nichol described Ellis as a “truly remarkable lady”.

john and mary together at a charity eventmary in ATA uniform during the war in 1943

John Nichol
 Very sad to hear that WW2 ATA pilot Mary Ellis has died aged 101. A truly remarkable lady, she flew 400 Spitfires & 76 different types of aircraft during WW2. Another giant leaves us to john her heroic friends in Blue Skies. Rest in peace Mary; you truly deserve it. Thank you.
11:27 PM - Jul 25, 2018

The author and historian James Holland said it was “traumatic” to see how fast Ellis’s “amazing generation” of pilots was slipping away.

James Holland
 First Tom Neil, then Geoff Wellum and now the wonderful Mary Ellis.  Three flying legends gone, just like that.  It’s really quite traumatic how fast that amazing generation is slipping away.  I feel more than wistful.
8:15 AM - Jul 26, 2018

The youngest Spitfire pilot in the second world war, Geoffrey Wellum, who was 18 when he joined the Royal Air Force in 1939, died last week aged 96.

The Battle of Britain pilot Tom Neil also died earlier this month, aged 97.

Ellis was born in the village of Leafield, Oxfordshire, in 1917.

The Royal Flying Corps had an active presence in the county, and Ellis enjoyed flying aircraft for pleasure up until the war began in 1939, and all civilian flying was banned in Britain.

After coming to terms with the possibility of being unable to fly again for a long period, two years into the war, Ellis heard the ATA’s appeal for female pilots.

Women were allowed to fly military trainer and communications aircraft from 1940. A total of 168 women served in the ATA during the war; 15 died in the line of duty.

The First of the Few (US title Spitfire) is a 1942 British black-and-white biographical film produced and directed by Leslie Howard, who stars as R. J. Mitchell, the designer of the Supermarine Spitfire fighter aircraft. David Niven co-stars as a Royal Air Force officer and test pilot, a composite character that represents the pilots who flew Mitchell's seaplanes and tested the Spitfire. The film depicts Mitchell's strong work ethic in designing the Spitfire and his death. The film's title alludes to Winston Churchill's speech describing Battle of Britain aircrew, subsequently known as the Few: "Never was so much owed by so many to so few".

Leslie Howard's portrayal of Mitchell has a special significance since Howard was killed when the Lisbon-to-London civilian airliner in which he was travelling was shot down by the Luftwaffe on 1 June 1943. His death occurred only days before The First of the Few was released in the United States on 12 June 1943, under the alternate title of Spitfire.

A newsreel sets the scene for summer 1940, showing Nazi advances in Europe with Britain facing invasion and aerial attacks on the island increasing. On 15 September 1940, during the Battle of Britain, RAF Squadron Leader Geoffrey Crisp (David Niven), the station commander of a Spitfire squadron, recounts the story of how his friend, R. J. Mitchell (Leslie Howard) designed the Spitfire fighter. His pilots listen as Crisp begins with the 1922 Schneider Trophy competition, where Mitchell began his most important work, designing high speed aircraft. While watching seagulls with his binoculars, he envisages a new shape for aircraft in the future. Crisp, an ex-First World War pilot seeking work, captivates Mitchell with his enthusiasm and the designer promises to hire him as test pilot should his design ever go into production. Facing opposition from official sources, Mitchell succeeds in creating a series of highly successful seaplane racers, eventually winning the Schneider Trophy outright for Great Britain.

After a visit to Germany in the 1930s and a chance meeting with leading German aircraft designer Willy Messerschmitt, Mitchell resolves to build the fastest and deadliest fighter aircraft. Convincing Henry Royce of Rolls-Royce that a new engine, eventually to become the famous Rolls-Royce Merlin, is needed, Mitchell gets the powerplant he requires. Faced by the devastating news that he has only one year to live and battling against failing health, Mitchell dies as the first prototype Supermarine Spitfire takes to the skies. Crisp ends his account when the squadron is scrambled to counter a German attack: the fight sees the Germans beaten, with the Luftwaffe losing more planes than the British. In the end, Crisp is happy over the victory and looks to the heavens to Mitchell, voicing a thanks to Mitchell for creating the Spitfire.

R. J. Mitchell, subject of the biopic
The First of the Few is a British film produced and directed by Leslie Howard, with Howard taking the starring role of aviation engineer and designer R. J. Mitchell. Leslie Howard bore little resemblance to R. J. Mitchell, however, as Mitchell was a large and athletic man. Howard portrayed Mitchell as upper class and mild-mannered. Mitchell – "the Guv'nor" – was in fact working class and had an explosive temper; apprentices were told to watch the colour of his neck and to run if it turned red. Howard himself was well aware of these deliberate artistic discrepancies, and dealt delicately with the family and Mitchell’s colleagues; Mrs. Mitchell and her son Gordon were on the set during much of the production.[1] When told that the "authorities" had come up with the name "Spitfire", Mitchell is reported to have said "Just the sort of bloody silly name they would think of".

The film's score was composed by William Walton, who later incorporated major cues into a concert work known as Spitfire Prelude and Fugue.

Because The First of the Few was made during the Second World War and dealt with subjects related to the conflict, it was, in effect, propaganda. Because of its value as propaganda, the RAF contributed Spitfire fighters for the production. U.S. producer Samuel Goldwyn allowed Niven to appear in exchange for U.S. rights to the film, which was distributed by RKO Pictures. After seeing the prints, Goldwyn was furious that Niven was cast in a secondary role and personally edited out 40 minutes before reissuing the film as Spitfire.

Wing Commander Bunny Currant ("Hunter Leader") Squadron Leader Tony Bartley, Squadron Leader Brian Kingcome, Flying Officer David Fulford, Flight Lieutenant 'Jock' Gillan, Squadron Leader P. J. Howard-Williams and Flight Lieutenant J. C. 'Robbie' Robson are among the pilots and RAF Fighter Command personnel who make uncredited appearances. Some pilots seen in the early sequences did not survive to see the completed film. Jeffrey Quill is the test pilot who flies the Spitfire prototype in the scene demonstrating its ability to climb to 10,000 feet and dive at more than 500 miles per hour.

"The First of the Few" (RAF Ibsley)

The First of the Few Ending Clip

The Spitfire Girls

Silk stocking and Spitfires: The dark reality of the girls who flew dangerous wartime missions
By GLENYS ROBERTS in The Daily mail

Rich, beautiful and oh-so daring...the girls who flew dangerous wartime missions seemed to lead charmed lives. But a fascinating new book reveals a darker reality She climbed out of the cockpit of her Fairey Barracuda and became instantly famous. Wearing a summer uniform of white shirt, dark tie and sleeves rolled above the elbows, she slung a parachute over her shoulder and shook out her long blonde hair.
Back-lit by the afternoon sun, pilot Maureen Dunlop looked unbelievably glamorous.
And when the picture appeared in 1944 on the cover of the magazine Picture Post, the world was convinced the Air Transport Auxiliary - or ATA - was an-all woman outfit.
The ATA, or the "legion of the air" as it was known, performed an essential role during World War Two, delivering British warplanes from the factories where they were made to RAF airfields all over Britain. It was dangerous work which gave rise to incredible feats of heroism.

Flying in the ATA whether you were a man or a woman was one of the most high-risk activities in the whole war - its death rate was higher than in RAF Fighter Command.
Of 1,124 pilots who flew for the outfit, nearly one in six was killed. Constantly depleted, the elite troupe needed replenishing - yet even when their country clearly needed them, women had to fight hard to be allowed to take part at all.
The hoops they had to jump through to be accepted in a hitherto male preserve seem quite extraordinary, as does their amazing single-mindedness.
The famous female flyer Amy Johnson, the first woman to fly solo to Australia before the war, had a hysterectomy when she was only 26 because she blamed her womanhood for holding her back.
One fellow pilot, Jackie Surour, was so unhappy in 1939 when her male friends went off to join the RAF she recalled: "I despised my body, my breasts, all the things that pronounced me woman and left me behind as solitary and desolate, as a discarded mistress.
"I looked malignantly at my breasts, symbols of bleakness rooted to my chest and remembered the cut-throat razor in the bathroom."
Other women were so keen on flying that they forewent the chance of marriage so nothing would detract from their passion. Inevitably, there were whispers about lesbianism. Yet more tried to keep marriage, family and flying alive.

Margaret Fairweather, who lost her pilot husband while she was pregnant, got back into the cockpit the moment her baby was born, only to crash land in a field.
This time she escaped with her life, though by 1944 she died in another crash, in common with one of ten of the women who flew with the ATA.
There were 146 brave women pilots just like her, their fates mostly unsung today, not least because of the extreme modesty of the handful of elderly survivors.
But a new book, The Spitfire Women Of World War II, has collected the extraordinary stories of these Atagirls for a new generation.
There was Diana Barnato Walker, granddaughter of a South African diamond merchant; Mary de Bunsen, daughter of the British ambassador to Vienna; and Lettice Curtis, ex-captain of the Oxford ladies' tennis team - the first woman to fly a four-engined bomber.
There was also Mona Friedlander, an ice-hockey international; Lois Butler, captain of the Canadian women's ski team; Audrey Sale-Barker, Olympic skier and the future Countess of Selkirk; and Rosemary Rees, a former ballet dancer. They were among the cream of their generation.
To join the ATA you had to have 200 hours in the air and flying was, therefore, a rich person's sport. Young, beautiful and wilful, they swopped a life of privilege for one where death was potentially just round the corner. For in order to make their mark they volunteered for the most dangerous jobs
In 1939 Amy Johnson was routinely flying across the Solent acting as target for searchlight batteries and anti-aircraft gunners to draw attention away from the combat pilots.
She was killed in January 1941, when her plane ran out of fuel in thick fog and she baled out over the Thames estuary. She landed safely, but got lost in the water and drowned.
But 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."
Sometimes danger came from the sheer unfamiliarity with the planes they were flying - there were 143 different types and often the pilots had a mere half-hour with the handbook before taking off.
More usually it came in the guise of the weather. For the most part, these pioneer women were flying in open cockpits without instruments and without radar and when, like Johnson, they were engulfed with cloud, they had little hope of finding their way to land safely.
There were some terrible nearmisses. One January morning in 1943, Diana Barnato Walker was flying over the Cotswolds when the clear blue sky suddenly filled with cloud more than 6,000 ft thick.
As her plane started losing height, Barnato, then 25, desperately peered through the clouds trying to find a place to land.
She finally broke through at treetop height and banked sharply to avoid a patch of woodland. Improbably she recovered to make a perfect landing in heavy rain on a grass airstrip at RAF Windrush.

Luck played its part in her survival, but it was also a great feat of concentration and endurance.
Flying in open cockpits, these brave women were often dangerously cold by the time they reached their destinations, but they went straight back to base on the train to ferry another plane the next day.
And if the natural challenges weren't enough, some pilots took their lives wilfully in their hands. Ann Wood-Kelly, 24, once followed two male pilots up the Avon gorge and under the Clifton suspension bridge in a Spitfire.
The fact was that life in the air was glamorous. It was daredevil, it was cutting edge and the women flaunted their fascination with it and their feminity, often playing up to the men's direst fears.
"My dear, I've got my first Hudson and I know I shall I crash and I've got a pain (cold, temperature, etc)," wrote one female pilot in her memoirs, parodying the attitude in the mess before they took off.
Her parody continued: "They would totter out, leaving a trail of handkerchiefs, lipsticks, handbags, etc, which would be picked out by willing male hands.
"They would then fly the aircraft superbly to its destination."
That of course was the point. These plucky women knew they could do the job and they were determined to prove it. For all of them the holy grail was the Spitfire, the brave little plane which men found so sexy they talked about it more as a mistress than a machine.
Yet the iconic British single-seater fighter was in fact the perfect plane for a woman to fly. The cockpit was so petite that their smaller frames fitted in perfectly. Women who flew it used to liken the feeling to wearing a well-fitting dress.
They loved its sensitive and powerful-performance, too. With its 1600 horsepower Rolls-Royce engines, it made the first post-war jets seem sluggish by comparison.
The first woman to fly one was Margaret Fairweather, daughter of Liberal peer Lord Runciman, who joined the ATA in 1941 with 1,000 flying hours to her credit.
Margaret was one of the unique bunch of women flyers called the First Eight, flying out of the tiny airport of White Waltham which still exists near Maidenhead, Berkshire.
The team was assembled by Pauline Gower, the first female even allowed to climb into an RAF plane, let alone fly one.
Gower, daughter of a Tory MP, had no use for anyone who thought women too frail to fly, saying every girl should take lessons - they were "the best antidote to the manifold neuroses which beset modern women", usually because they had too little to occupy their minds.

She paid for her own lessons by teaching the violin, wisely keeping them secret from her parents because as soon as her father found out he tried to clip her wings by cutting off her allowance.
Ultimately just like Amy Johnson's father, Sir Robert Gower became his daughter's fiercest supporter and even gave her the down-payment for a first plane of her own, a little twoseater, for her 21st birthday.
Pauline used it to become a joyride pilot offering pleasure trips from a field next the road in Kent.
As war approached, she had a massive 2,000 hours flying time and had flown 33,000 passengers, yet as a woman she was not allowed to fly in combat.
Then, in 1940, she came up with the idea of persuading her father's powerful friends that women should be allowed to boost the dwindling numbers of pilots, by ferrying planes alongside the hitherto allmale Air Transport Auxiliary.
Pauline was paid a salary of £400 a year - 20 per cent lower than a man doing the same job - to recruit the original eight female flyers, who themselves joined up for an abysmal £26 per annum, plus a much coveted uniform consisting of a pleated skirt, slacks - not to be worn off base - a one-piece "Sidcot" flying suit and quilted liner, a sheepskin leather flying jacket, great coat and cap.
At first the women were restricted to flying light planes which were so inexpensive they were easy to replace "if broken by women", observed Pauline wryly.
Their horizons soon expanded. By the time she was 22, Joan Hughes, one of the first and the youngest to join - she had started flying at 15 - had clocked up 600 hours ferrying everything from light trainers to heavy four-engine bombers.
Hughes used her skills after the war teaching airline pilots and in 1965 starred in the film Those Magnificent Men In Their Flying Machines flying a replica of a 1909 Demoiselle. She died in 1992, aged 74, with 11,800 hours in her logbook.
Only the war made such progress possible. Women knew it and they were soon arriving in Britain from all over the world to take part. The Americans were recruited by the dynamic Jackie Cochran, who wanted to show the British what American women were made of.
An orphan from the deep South, her background as a hairdresser was far removed from the upper-crust English beauties she came to join.
Each winter, Jackie styled the hair of rich women in Miami and there one year she met millionaire Floyd Odlum, who owned several aircraft factories.
The two were married and when Floyd advised her to learn to fly Jackie went solo on her third lesson. "To live without risk would be tantamount-to death," she declared.
The happy couple set up home in the California desert, where they often entertained fellow flyers, such as the doomed Amelia Earhart and the eccentric Howard Hughes.
Then in 1941 when Arthur "Bomber" Harris, the famous boss of Bomber command, was in Washington casting round for extra ferry pilots, Jackie was recommended.
She offered him American women pilots including Dorothy Furey, a southern belle so spirited she lured Lord Beatty - son of the famous First Sealord - away from his wife and married him in 1947, and then moved on to have an affair with soontobe Prime Minister Anthony Eden.
Women brought extreme passion to their vocation. As Jackie's first batch of Americans gathered in Montreal for the long voyage to Britain, through sea lanes patrolled by U boats, they partied hard to soothe their nerves.
There were tales of all-night benders with male flyers and of a particular party trick which consisted of filling their shower curtains with water and bombing them down the stairs at their hotel. The high jinks continued throughout the ten-day passage.
Centre for these hardliving Americans in London was Mayfair. Blacked out, dirty and haunted by barrage balloons, the capital was teeming with exiles from all over the world, many of them flying for the ATA. Often their extrovert natures clashed with the British, who were quietly getting on with the job.
Unlike the Brits, the American women already knew they could breach all-male preserves. One of them, Helen Richey, had become the first U.S. civil airline pilot as early as
1934. In fact, Helen was sent home before the end of the war for pranging one too many planes. Poor Helen, whose early life had been so full of great achievements, committed suicide in 1947, because she felt the world had become such a dull place.
Not for the British women. The ATA had enabled them to make their mark in the air. Before the war they had flown, like Audrey Sale-Barker, a doctor's daughter, for fun and to draw attention to themselves.
Audrey, nicknamed 'Wendy' after she got her wings, ditched in lion country in the middle of Africa with co-pilot Joan Page, daughter of the chief justice of Burma, memorably wrote an SOS in lipstick which they gave to an illiterate Masai tribesman in the hope that he would pass it on to someone who could save them.
"Please come and fetch us. We've had an aircrash AND ARE HURT," it read. Amazingly the lipstick SOS did get through to rescuers. It saved their lives and only encouraged Audrey's flamboyant personality.
When the time came for her to join the ATA, she refused to wear the regulation RAF uniform and had her own made in Savile Row with a bright red lining.
If women were going to be the butt of male criticism, she reckoned they might as well make the most of it.
By the end of the war, everything had changed. The 'Atagirls' had acquitted themselves so well that from now on the sky was the limit.
Though the Air Transport Authority itself was disbanded immediately after the war, many of them carried on flying into old age.
Most of all, they had proved without doubt that women were equal to men. And that was a legacy which would help coming generations make their mark in all sorts of professions

The Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA) was a British World War II civilian organisation that ferried new, repaired and damaged military aircraft between UK factories, assembly plants, transatlantic delivery points, Maintenance Units (MU), scrap yards, and active service squadrons and airfields-but not to aircraft carriers. It also flew service personnel on urgent duty from one place to another and performed air ambulance work.

The original intended usage was to transport mail and medical supplies. However the pilots were immediately needed to work with the Royal Air Force (RAF) ferry pools transporting aircraft. By 1 May 1940, they took over transporting all military aircraft from the factories to the Maintenance Units to have guns and accessories installed. On 1 August 1941, the ATA took over all ferry jobs. This freed the much-needed combat pilot for combat duty. Lord Beaverbrook, (Max Aitken, 1st Baron Beaverbrook), gave an appropriate tribute at the closing ceremony disbanding the ATA.

"Without the ATA the days and nights of the Battle of Britain would have been conducted under conditions quite different from the actual events. They carried out the delivery of aircraft from the factories to the RAF, thus relieving countless numbers of RAF pilots for duty in the battle. Just as the Battle of Britain is the accomplishment and achievement of the RAF, likewise it can be declared that the ATA sustained and supported them in the battle. They were soldiers fighting in the struggle just as completely as if they had been engaged on the battlefront."
During the war, the service flew 415,000 hours and delivered over 308,000 aircraft of 130 types including Spitfires, Hawker Hurricanes, Mosquitoes, Mustangs, Lancasters, Halifaxes, Fairey Swordfish, Fairey Barracudas, and Fortresses. The average aircraft strength of the ATA training schools was 78. Total of 133,247 hours were flown by school aircraft and 6,013 conversion courses were put through. The total flying hours of the Air Movement Flight was 17,059 of which 8,570 were on UK internal flights and 8,489 on overseas flights. 883 Tons of freight was carried and 3,430 passengers transported without casualty. Total taxi hours amounted to 179,325 excluding Air Movements.

The administration of the organisation fell to Gerard d'Erlanger, a director of the British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC). He had suggested a similar organisation prior to the war in a letter dated 24 May 1938. In late August 1939, the ATA was placed under British Airways Ltd. for initial administration and finance. On 10 October 1939, Air Member for Supply and Organisation (AMSO) took over the control of the ATA. The first pilots were assigned to RAF Reserve Command and attached to RAF Flights to ferry trainers, fighters and bombers from factory and storage to Air Force Stations.
Late in 1939, it was decided that a third and entirely civilian ferry pool at White Waltham near Maidenhead in Berkshire should be set up. Operations of this pool began 15 February 1940. On 16 May 1940, RAF Maintenance Command through 41 Group, took control. Then on 22 July 1941, the ATA came under the control of the Ministry of Production (MAP). Although control shifted to these many departments, administration was always done by BOAC with Commander Gerard d'Erlanger CBE.

The organisation recruited pilots who were considered to be unsuitable for reasons of age or fitness for either the Royal Air Force or the Fleet Air Arm (therefore humorously referred to as "Ancient and Tattered Airmen"), pilots from neutral countries and, notably, women pilots.

A unique feature of the ATA is that physical handicaps were ignored if the pilot could do the job. Thus there were one-armed, one-legged, short-sighted, and one-eyed pilots with the ATA. Representatives of 28 countries flew with the ATA.
In late 1939, Commander Pauline Gower MBE was given the task of organising the women's section of the ATA.. There were 166 women pilots (one in eight of the entire service) who volunteered from Britain, the Commonwealth (Canada, New Zealand and South Africa), United States, the Netherlands, Poland, and one from Chile. Fifteen lost their lives in the air, including the British pioneer aviatrix Amy Johnson. One of many notable achievements of the women is that they earned the same pay as men in equal rank as the men flying with the organisation starting in 1943. This was the first time that the British Government gave its blessing to equal pay for equal work, within an organisation under its jurisdiction. (Note, at the same time, American woman flying with the Women Airforce Service Pilots, the WASP, were earning as little as 65% of their male colleagues.)[11] Although initially restricted to non-combat types (i.e. trainers and transports), women pilots were eventually permitted to fly virtually every aircraft flown by the RAF and Fleet Air Arm including the four-engined bombers, but excluding the largest flying boats.

Although the first ATA pilots were introduced to military aircraft at RAF's Central Flying School (CFS), the ATA soon developed its own training programme. Pilots progressed from light, single-engined aircraft to more powerful and complicated aircraft in stages. They first qualified on one "class" of aircraft, then gained experience on that class by doing ferrying work of any and all aircraft in that class before returning to training to qualify on the next class of aircraft. As a result, pilots progressed based on their own capabilities, rather than on a rigid timetable. This not only ensured that as many pilots as possible advanced, but those that could not were still gainfully employed flying the aircraft types on which they had qualified. Once cleared to fly one class of aircraft, pilots could be asked to ferry any plane in that class even if they had never seen that type of aircraft before. To do so they had Ferry Pilot Notes, a two-ring book of small cards with the critical statistics and notations necessary to ferry each aircraft. A pilot cleared on more than one class, could be asked to fly an aircraft in any of the categories on which he or she was qualified; thus even a pilot cleared to fly four-engined bombers could be assigned to fly a single-engined trainer if scheduling made this the most efficient way to get the aircraft to its destination.
The ATA trained its pilots only to ferry planes, rather than to perfection on every type. For example aerobatics and blind flying were not taught and pilots were explicitly forbidden from doing either, even if capable of doing so. The objective of the ATA was to deliver aircraft safely, and that meant taking no unnecessary risks.
A detailed account of the training that ATA pilots experienced and a vivid view of the daily life of an ATA pilot may be found in "Intrepid Woman, Betty Lussier's Secret War, 1942-1945", Betty Lussier, 2010.

First Officer Maureen Dunlop, one of the ferry pilots of the Air Transport Auxiliary, pictured in September 1944

Female aviators Dorothy Spicer and Pauline Gower, who later became an officer, in a bungalow in Reading

Pauline Gower, centre, officer of the Air Transport Auxiliary's No 5 Ferry Pilot's Pool Women's section based at Hatfield, Berkshire

Captain Joan Hughes prepares to start up a Hudson in September 1944

Pauline Gower, ferrying a new aircraft from the factory to the aerodrome in January 1940

The First of the Few

The First of the Few, known as Spitfire in the United States, is a 1942 British film directed by and starring Leslie Howard as R.J. Mitchell, the designer of the Supermarine Spitfire, alongside co-star David Niven. The film's score was written by William Walton ("Spitfire Prelude and Fugue"). The film's title alludes to Winston Churchill's speech describing Battle of Britain aircrew: "Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few."
A newsreel sets the scene for summer 1940, showing Nazi advances in Europe with England facing invasion and aerial attacks on the island increasing. On 15 September 1940, during the Battle of Britain, RAF Squadron Leader Geoffrey Crisp (David Niven), the station commander of a Spitfire squadron, recounts the story of how his friend, R.J. Mitchell (Leslie Howard) designed the Spitfire fighter. His pilots listen as Crisp begins with the 1922 Schneider Trophy competition, where Mitchell began his most important work, designing high speed aircraft. While watching seagulls with his binoculars, he envisages a new shape for aircraft in the future. Crisp, an ex-First World War pilot seeking work, captivates Mitchell with his enthusiasm and the designer promises to hire him as test pilot should his design ever go into production. Facing opposition from official sources, Mitchell succeeds in creating a series of highly successful seaplane racers, eventually winning the Schneider Trophy outright for Great Britain.
After a visit to Germany in the late 1930s and a chance meeting with leading German aircraft designer Willy Messerschmitt, Mitchell resolves to build the fastest and deadliest fighter aircraft. Convincing Henry Royce of Rolls-Royce that a new engine, eventually to become the famous Rolls-Royce Merlin is needed, Mitchell has the powerplant he requires. Faced the devastating news that he has only one year to live and battling against failing health, Mitchell dies as the first prototype Supermarine Spitfire takes to the skies (in fact, Mitchell died over 15 months after the first flight). Crisp ends his account when the squadron is scrambled to counter a German attack, voicing a thanks to Mitchell for creating the Spitfire.

Principal credited cast members (in order of on-screen credits) and roles:
Actor Role
Leslie Howard R.J. Mitchell
David Niven Geoffrey Crisp
Rosamund John Diana Mitchell
Roland Culver Commander Bride
Anne Firth Miss Harper
David Horne Mr. Higgins
J.H. Roberts Sir Robert McLean
Derrick De Marney Squadron Leader Jefferson
Rosalyn Boulter Mabel Lovesay
Herbert Cameron MacPherson
Toni Edgar-Bruce (as Toni Edgar Bruce) Lady Houston
Gordon McLeod Major Buchan
George Skillan Henry Royce
Erik Freund Willy Messerschmitt
Fritz Wendhausen (as F.R. Wendhausen) Von Straben
John Chandos Krantz
Victor Beaumont Von Crantz
Suzanne Clair Madeleine
Filippo Del Giudice Bertorelli
Brefni O'Rorke The Specialist

The First of the Few was a British film produced and directed by Leslie Howard, with Howard taking the starring role of R.J. Mitchell. Leslie Howard bore little resemblance to R. J. Mitchell, however, as Mitchell was a large and athletic man. Howard portrayed Mitchell as upper class and mild-mannered. Mitchell - "the Guv'nor" - was in fact working class and had an explosive temper; apprentices were told to watch the colour of his neck and to run if it turned red. Howard himself was well aware of these deliberate artistic discrepancies, and dealt delicately with the family and Mitchell’s colleagues; Mrs. Mitchell and her son Gordon were on the set during much of the production.
Because the film was made during the Second World War and dealt with subjects related to the conflict, it was, in effect, propaganda. Because of its value as propaganda, the RAF contributed Spitfire fighters for the production. US producer Samuel Goldwyn released Niven who was still under contract to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, allowing him to appear in exchange for US distribution rights. After seeing the prints, Goldwyn was furious that Niven was cast in a secondary role and personally edited out 40 minutes before reissuing the film as Spitfire.

Friday 27 July 2018

Heatwave: How the sun is exposing lost gardens - BBC Newsnight

BBC Newsnight
1 hr
The hot weather has helped to solve a mystery that’s been hidden in the landscape for centuries at Chatsworth House / FROM 3.42