ATA Girl

Photo:The First 8-Marion Wilberforce nearest camera

The First 8-Marion Wilberforce nearest camera

Photo:Marion Wilberforce

Marion Wilberforce

By Geoff Whiter


The Air Transport Auxiliary was formed at the beginning of WWII to transport new aircraft from their factories to the airfields in and around the country. Originally founded and run by male pilots who were not fully fit for operational flying, they were often called the Ancient and Tattered Airmen.

By the end of 1939 however with all the men now wanted for operational flying, women pilots were needed .

This was at a time when there were few women who drove let alone fly, however there were some.

On December 16, 1939, the first group of twelve women pilots were assembled at Whitchurch, and flight-tested in a Gypsy Moth. From this group of twelve, eight were selected and appointed as Second Officers.

One of these eight was Mrs Marion Wilberforce who farmed at Nevendon Manor, Wickford.

Mrs Wilberforce was born in Aberdeen in 1902.  Apparently she was an all round sports woman, accomplished exponent of ju-jitsu and a member of her University’s mountaineering club, as well as later to be a daring and skilled pilot.

In 1932 she married and they moved to Nevendon Manor.  She had taken up flying as a hobby, her first plane being a De Havilland Cirrus Moth, and later a Hornet Moth. She used these to transport livestock around Europe, as far as Hungary.


In the beginning,this major step for women in the Royal Air Force was not accepted by everyone and on many occasions people were surprised to see throughout the ensuing five years of active duty, attractive, young and often physically slight women emerging from the cockpits of huge range of planes from Spitfires to heavy bombers such as Lancasters.


In the ATA she rose to become Deputy Commander of the No. 5 Ferry Pool at Hatfield, and later became Commander of the No. 12 Ferry Pool at Cotsford, one of only two women pool commanders in the whole ATA.

By mid 1941 Marion Wilberforce was flying operational machines including Hurricanes and Spitfires which she piloted as a matter of course.

The first Spitfire she flew was donated by the citizens of Grimsby and accordingly called Grimsby II.

During 1942 she mastered the whole gamut of twin engined medium bombers including the Wellington and Mosquito

Two years later she became one of only eleven women pilots trained to fly four engined bombers such as the Lancaster.

She served the full 5 years until the ATA was disbanded after the war


When she was eighty she decided that the time had come to give up flying...In peace time she was best known in aviation as someone who did what she was not meant to do, whether it was skirting the ground at two hundred feet to avoid radar when on a route she shouldn't have been on, or disrupting a NATO exercise.


Marion Wilberforce  died in 1995









This page was added by Geoff Whiter on 02/07/2014.
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