Posts Tagged ‘ww2’

Mary Ellis was a Spitfire pilot in WW2. At 98, she still flies

March 11th, 2015

“Come to lunch,” said some friends on the Isle of Wight, “there’s a lady we’d like you to meet.” And so we went, and we met her – a slight woman, with a twinkle in her eye and a warm, engaging smile – and were simply enchanted by the most remarkable story.

Mary Ellis is 98 and bright as a button. When she was at school she was hopeless at hockey and so she opted for another sporting endeavour: she learnt to fly. It was at an air show in Hendon that she was bitten by the bug, after persuading her father to let her take a pleasure flight in an Avro 504. “From that moment I was hooked,” said Mary. She had been awarded her flying licence by the time she was 16. That in itself is remarkable, but it was only the beginning of Mary’s story, for in 1941 she heard an appeal on the radio by the civilian Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA) for women pilots. She applied, took a flying test and was accepted into their ranks.

At Hatfield, Mary Wilkins, as she then was, learnt to fly Spitfires, Hurricanes and Harvards with the object of delivering the newly manufactured planes to the bases from which they would be used. After basic training Mary was based at Hamble on the south coast, and during the war she single-handedly delivered 76 types of aircraft, including about 400 Spitfires. I say single-handedly as Mary was alone in the aircraft, which was equipped only with a compass and a stopwatch. She found her way to her target using a map. The ATA delivered 308,567 aircraft during the war; Mary’s own total was in the region of 1,000 planes. I asked her if she had been shot at. “Just the once,” she said. During the war, 143 ATA pilots were lost – one in 10 did not survive – including 14 women. “Attagirls”, they were called, and not without cause.

Seated in her first Spitfire prior to delivery, Mary was asked by the mechanic who had helped her into the cockpit, “How many times have you flown one of these?” As she relates the story her face breaks into a smile. “I said never, and he fell off the wing.”

Of the different planes that Mary piloted, the Wellington bomber was probably the largest. That such an aircraft could be handled by such a slender young woman filled many with disbelief. Having landed and taxied a Wellington to its parking place at an airfield, Mary climbed down the ladder to be greeted by the ground crew who asked her where the pilot was.

“I’m the pilot,” she said. It was not until they had searched the aircraft that they finally believed her.

At the end of the war Mary delivered the very first Meteor jet. “You will run out of fuel in about 35 minutes, so make sure you’re down by then.” She did.

In 2006 a memorial to the ATA pilots was erected at White Waltham airfield in Berkshire. Though rarely the subject of recognition, they deserve our gratitude and our admiration, for their work was every bit as vital as the Battle of Britain pilots whose aircraft they delivered.

Mary still gets airborne, though she no longer flies solo. The light in her eyes when she talks of her experiences is completely infectious, but she is as interested in other people and their stories as in relating her own. “I’m nothing special,” said Mary at our lunch. “I’m just ordinary.”

Perhaps she will forgive us if we beg to differ.


World War Two

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15 Astonishing World War 2 Photos That Bomb Your Senses

April 11th, 2009



As the saying goes “A picture is worth a thousand words” – I think I’d have to disagree. I think it tells you more than that. Maybe I am too much of a WW2 fanatic, but every time I look at those images, my mind starts to analyze every tiny detail in the picture.
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Enjoy the pictures! They come with the official NARA (National Archives and Records Administration) descriptions. There are 15 in total. (Click pictures to zoom in.)
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#1 – Over the Pyramids, Egypt

An Air Transport Command plane flies over the pyramids in Egypt.Loaded with urgent war supplies and materials, this plane is one of a fleet flying shipments from the U.S. across the Atlantic and the continent of Africa to strategic battle zones. 1943. Exact Date Shot Unknown.  (Army)
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#2 Arriving in France on D-Day

Landing on the coast of France under heavy Nazi machine gun fire are these American soldiers, shown just as they left the ramp of a Coast Guard landing boat, June 6, 1944. CPhoM. Robert F. Sargent. (Coast Guard). The effect between clouds and dunes is extremely nice.
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#3 Shell After Shell

American howitzers shell German forces retreating near Carentan, France. July 11, 1944. Franklin. (Army)
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#4 Paratroopers Over Holland

Parachutes open overhead as waves of paratroops land in Holland during operations by the 1st Allied Airborne Army. September 1944. Exact Date Shot Unknown (Army)
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#5 Noisy Mortar

“Getting across the Rhine wasn’t all there was to it. There was the little matter of establishing a beachhead. We threw our mortars at them and everything else we had untill they finally gave away.” 1945. Army. Exact Date Shot Unknown (OWI)
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#6 Stay Low!

“I drew an assault boat to cross in – just my luck. We all tried to crawl under each other because the lead was flying around like hail.” Crossing the Rhine under enemy fire at St. Goar, March 1945. Army. Exact Date Shot Unknown (OWI)
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#7 Air Bombing

“The first big raid by the 8th Air Force was on a Focke Wulf plant at Marienburg. Coming back, the Germans were up in full force and we lost at least 80 ships – 800 men, many of them pals.” 1943. Army Air Forces. Exact Date Shot Unknown (OWI)
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#8 Running Into Uncertainty

Soldiers of the 55th Armored Infantry Battalion and tank of the 22nd Tank Battalion, move through smoke filled street. Wernberg, Germany. April 22, 1945. Pvt. Joseph Scrippens.  (Army)
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#9 Spotting

Observer who spotted a machine gun nest finds its location on a map so they can send the information to artillery or mortars to wipe out the position.  Iwo Jima, February 1945.  Dreyfuss. Exact Date Shot Unknown (Marine Corps)
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#10 Raising the Flag

Flag raising on Iwo Jima. February 23, 1945. Joe Rosenthal, Associated Press. (Navy) From the crest of Mount Suribachi, the Stars and Stripes wave in triumph over Iwo Jima after U.S. Marines had fought their way inch by inch up its steep lava-encrusted slopes.  Ca.  February 1945.
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#11 Rockets

Corsair fighter looses its load of rocket projectiles on a run against a Jap stronghold on Okinawa. In the lower background is the smoke of battle as Marine units move in to follow up with a Sunday punch. Ca. June 1945. Lt. David D. Duncan. Exact Date Shot Unknown (Marine Corps)
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#12 Dashing For His Life

A Marine dashes through Japanese machine gun fire while crossing a draw, called Death Valley by the men fighting there. Marines sustained more than 125 casualties in eight hours crossing this valley. Okinawa, May 10, 1945. Pvt. Bob Bailey.  (Marine Corps)
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#13 Anti-aircraft Fire

Japanese night raiders are greeted with a lacework of anti-aircraft fire by the Marine defenders of Yontan airfield, on Okinawa.  In the foreground are Marine Corsair fighter planes of the “Hell’s Belles’ squadron. 1945. T.Sgt. Chorlest. Exact Date Shot Unknown (Marine Corps)
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#14 Air Raid

USS ESSEX based TBMs and SB2Cs dropping bombs on Hokadate, Japan. July 1945. Exact Date Shot Unknown (Navy)
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#15 Hundreds of Shells

Task Force 58 raid on Japan. 40mm guns firing aboard USS HORNET on 16 February 1945, as the carrier’s planes were raiding Tokyo. Note expended shells and ready-service ammunition at right. February 1945. Lt. Comdr. Charles Kerlee. (Navy) – Note the shells on ground.

Thank you for viewing. More photos at WW2 in Color.

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