“Golden Wings,” by Alison King. 191 pp. 8¼ in. by 5½ in. (C. Arthur Pearson Ltd., Tower House, Southampton Street, Strand, London, W.C.2. 15s,)
This is an exceedingly absorbing story of some of the women Ferry Pilots of A.T.A. It is told by Alison King, who had every reason to write “Golden Wings,” because she joined A.T.A. as a “sub-sub-Adjutant” in 1940, became the first woman Operations Officer, dealing with the daily movement of ferried aircraft, and in 1941 she filled the same capacity for the Hamble Ferry Pool, which was composed entirely of women pilots.
These pilots flew every aeroplane that they were asked to move— and that included four-engined bombers such as the Stirling and Fortress, the fastest fighters like the Spitfire, Tempest and Mosquito, and even jet-fighters such as the Meteor. They flew through the worst of the English weather, without radio, and went from one type to another, often very different from the predecessor, several times a day. They flew in open unheated cockpits as well as in the over-crowded Avro Anson “taxi.” They did this as well as the men and yet retained to the full their femininity.
Alison King gets this over superbly. Her account of the day-to-day activities of A.T.A. women’s ferry pools makes the reader feel horribly frustrated, and more fed up than ever with petrol-rationing.
That she writes in a somewhat naive fashion at times doesn’t matter a hoot. This is straight adventure, unpadded and therefore extremely realistic—adventure in which the reader has the greatest admiration for the actors. In addition, Alison King, who, today, is Director of the Women’s Junior Air Corps and Chairman of the British Women Pilots’ Association, does not shrink from technicalities, and she includes some quite “near-the-bone” anecdotes.
There are some understandable but delightful glimpses of how male Army officers and civilian V.I.P.s reacted to being flown by a slip of a girl pilot, often realising, as the weather closed right in, that she was without radio. And of the incredulity of male Service personnel as these slight females handed in their papers for a Lancaster or Boston they had just landed casually through the balloon-barrages and out of the murk, or sought their papers prior to lifting a Mosquito off into the fog.
The fine personality of A.T.A.’s able leader, the late Pauline Gower, is also described by the author, who knew the Senior Commander well, in times of stress and times of relaxation.
Understandably, too, there is tragedy—the facts of Amy Johnson’s last flight are given in detail, for instance. We learn how these girls lived and played off duty, of how they graduated from Tiger Moth to four-motor types and of the complex organisation which ensured that the maximum number of aeroplanes were moved daily and that an Anson or Fairchild “taxi” was at the right place at the right time to bring the weary ferry pilots back to base, and another full day’s flying on the morrow. The lurid and inaccurate stories about these pilots which appeared in the newspapers are made fun of—Miss King tells us all.
Incidentally, we expected to meet some ex-motor-racing types in “Golden Wings,” but the nearest we got, which wasn’t very close, was to meet the grand-daughter of the late Woolf Barnato.
The illustrations, although reproductions of Press photographs, are in keeping with the rest of this splendid book. Our favourite is that of Philippa Bennett nonchalantly flying the A.T.A. Avro Anson “taxi,” apparently with a small boy occupying the co-pilot’s seat. You may prefer others: Jackie, for instance, looking glamorous in the cockpit of a Meteor. Whatever your tastes, you should treat yourself to this first-class book.—W. B.
Books received: “Empire of the Air,” by Viscount Templewood (Collins), “The Difference to Me,” by John Bryan (Faber & Faber), “No Moon Tonight,” by D. E. Charlwood (Angus & Robertson), “Fly for Your Life,” by Larry Forrester (Muller), and “Period Flight,” by Doris Leslie (Hutchinson).