The Spitfire Girls

Written by Jenny Holmes
Review by Simon Rickman

My father was a World War Two pilot. He told me much about aircraft but not so much about the Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA), and certainly not about these feisty, flightworthy females who do as much flirting as flying in this kissing and cowlings tale which revolves around an airbase in the North of England whence the ATA deliver various planes to various places with no radio, just top skills, a map, compass, and parachute.  Fortunately for RAF resourcing, the girls experience more emotional pangs than actual pangs. The English class divide between officers and oiks features strongly throughout, culminating in a thrilling dénouement as we follow three main and several minor characters having their fair share of excitement with not only their planes in the air, where they encounter weather (bad) and the Luftwaffe (worse), but also with their beaux in the pubs and bars where they encounter no wartime shortage of alcohol (better).

As insights go, this respectful story lovingly portrays the ATA, nicknamed ‘Anything to Anywhere’, although ‘Another Tipple Anytime’ would perhaps suit the acronym better.  The off-duty attire and coiffeur of the otherwise uniformed characters, ladies in particular, are interestingly sketched with detailed description. The real unsung heroines, though, are the ATA drivers covering hundreds of miles back and forth across the country on poor roads, often at night, to deliver or retrieve the pilots.  Yorkshire to Bristol returning via Walsall is just another day towards fulfilling the ATA motto ‘Aetheris Avidi’ (Eager for the Air), which fairly reflects the attitude of almost every character.  They all want to fly, and fly well, because, “we are all in this together.”  A captivating story.