This wonderful documentary tells the story of the 168 fearless women who provided vital support to the RAF in transporting planes from factory to aerodrome throughout the war; the Air Transport Auxiliary.
Constantly subjected to sexism and underappreciated for their bravery and hard work, it was fascinating to see how these young, mainly upper class ‘gals’ battled to be allowed to risk their lives for their country via their shared passion and talent for flight.
The ‘ATA Girls’ quickly became pin-up stars when they were formed in 1939; the glamorous band of female pilots drove the press into a frenzy; subsequently there is no shortage of real film footage of the girls frolicking, both in flight and on land. The surviving ladies, now well into their eighties, happily regale tales of endless parties in London before rushing back to the base to fly for 9am.
In a time when women’s options were so limited, these girls were truly breaking boundaries – and having the time of their lives. There was a poignant air to their recollections though, as for many this was a brief hiatus of freedom; after the war any hope of continuing to fly professionally was dashed, the girls were expected to go home and get married.
We are told the stories of many inspiring and determined women, many of whom deserve their own documentary entirely; from Amy Johnson, the first woman to fly solo from London to Australia and ATA ‘head girl’, to the feisty American beauty product billionaire (and pilot) Jackie Cochran. As well as being pioneers of aviation, the ATA girls were pioneers in the struggle for women’s rights, succeeding in the first ever ‘equal rights for equal pay’ battle in 1943. Given the current trend for ‘vintage’ television such as Pan Am and Mad Men, one feels it won’t be long until the ATA girls’ story is told on the big screen.
“Spitfire Women” is no longer available on BBC iPlayer but can be found on YouTube.