"The Forgotten Pilots"

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By Lettice Curtis. 337 pp. 8 1/5 in. x 5 2/5 in. (G. T. Foulis & Co. Ltd., 50a, Bell Street, Henley-on-Thames, Oxon. £4.95)

This is not the first book to be written about Air Transport Auxiliary, that remarkable ferry organisation which flew so many aeroplanes to their vital, urgent destinations almost daily throughout the war. The previous book dealt with the women ATA pilots, those fantastic girls who flew aeroplanes of all kinds, Spitfire to four-engined bombers, often in “impossible” weather conditions, in the service of their country. Much the same sort of thing is vividly described by Lettice Curtis but her book is far more comprehensive; is, indeed, a complete history of ATA, covering courageous males as well as the incredible female pilots. She has a happy way of interspersing official history with anecdote, so that her long account is readable as well as an impeccable work of reference.

I enjoyed being reminded of the heroic feats of 1940-45, especially how very ably the girl pilots coped. There are references to racing motorists Wally Handley, killed in an Airacobra, Duncan Hamilton, and Sir Malcolm Campbell, to G. G. Grey and F. D. Bradbrooke whom one read so avidly in The Aeroplane, and to the authoress’ Lancia Augusta, whose cylinder block cracked because she omitted to drain it as well as the radiator—the surprising thing being that this very skilful and capable pilot, who writes of almost every war-time aerodrome in Britain and could find her way to them, apparently didn’t know the correct location of the Lancia depot—or was it the printers who rendered Alperton as Alpherton?

Anyway, this is a great book. It recaptures the very atmosphere and adventure of flying Tiger Moths (or Liberators, and those remarkable women flew even these!) under war-time conditions of expediency and bad weather. It gives the detailed flying characteristics and quirks of most of the aeroplanes of that era. It is a tremendous tribute to ATA, an organisation which was so shamefully forgotten once the war had been won. It is a very painstaking, detailed history, complete with 22-leaved Appendices.

That an attractive person like Lettice Curtis, who began flying in Yamon in 1938, found time to write it is almost as amazing as the war-time flying she and her colleagues so cheerfully and capably undertook. Congratulations to Foulis for giving her a pretty weighty hearing.—W. B.