MARY ELLIS – Air Transport Auxiliary Pilot
One of the most enjoyable aspects of the Log Book’s journey is its unfolding in the most random and coincidental of ways. Just as we were getting ready to send the book off to Japan for the second time, Ross sent me an article about Mrs. Ellis and I immediately knew the journey to Japan would be via the The Isle of Wight.
At the time of signing, Mary Ellis was one of the last surviving members of the British Air Transport Auxiliary. Ellis was trained to fly fighters and bombers. From 1942 to 1946, she flew 76 different types of aircraft including 400 Spitfires and heavy bombers like the Wellington, landing at over 200 airfields, logging more than 1,100 solo hours, delivering over 1,000 aircraft to front-line squadrons during WWII.
The Spitfire had a special place in her heart. “Some people say the Spitfire won the war. I say, it’s a symbol of freedom.” By 1950 she had become one of the first women to fly a Meteor jet and was managing director at Sandown Airport on the Isle of Wight.
The sad notion of men persisting in their delusions of superiority was as true then as it is now. Feeble male egos could not fathom the thought of women pilots. As one editor of an aviation magazine stated then “The menace is the woman who thinks she ought to be flying a high speed bomber when she really has not the intelligence to scrub the floor of a hospital properly”.
Such was the patronizing condescension when on one occasion, the 26 year old 5 ft 2 inch Ellis, landed a mighty twin-engine Wellington bomber -built for a 5 man crew- at a combat-ready Royal Air Force base in England.
“Where’s the pilot?” a ground crew member asked.
“I am the pilot!” she responded.
“They didn’t believe me,” she wrote in her memoir, A Spitfire Girl. “One or two of them still decided to clamber on up the ladder to check the aeroplane for the ‘missing’ pilot. They just could not believe women could fly these aeroplanes.”
Ellis was equally adept with speed on the ground as evidenced by her impressive rally car achievements, day or night: Her observation, “I love fast cars. Night rallying is very exacting. Get it wrong and you’ve lost your way in the dark.” Ellis didn’t often get lost or lose, winning a total of five IW cups.
On 24 July 2018, just 6 months after graciously signing the Log Book, this stoic icon of the skies passed away. Her tiny frame will forever be silhouetted against a backdrop of awe inspiring, larger than life achievements. Her modest unassuming playful spirit is something this world could use so much more of. Long may you soar among the clouds Mrs. Ellis.
Last Updated on 27 October 2020 by Lars McKie