Spitfire women of World War II

by Giles Whittell

Hardcover, 2007




HarperPress (2007), 304 pages


The story of the unsung heroines who flew the newest, fastest, aeroplanes in World War II - mostly in southern England where the RAF was desperately short of pilots.

User reviews

LibraryThing member antisyzygy
This books retreads the well (or at least better) known stories of a few of the women of the ATA. You'll find a lot about the pre-war life of Diane Walker, Lettice Curtis, Jackie Cochran et al., but less about the day to day experiences of the bulk of pilots. The concentration on the more 'glamorous' recruits does begin to wear thin after a while, and leaves some questions unanswered e.g. obviously there was a certain amount of discrimination towards the women, but in the later years did it suffer from the same class distinctions as the RAF? It reads as though sourced mainly from biographies and interviews, and it would have been fleshed out so much more by examples of logbooks, the pilot notes or even a map showing the main bases. However, some of the actual flying stories are fascinating and it makes light reading as an introduction to the subject.… (more)
LibraryThing member AdonisGuilfoyle
The 'spitfire women', or female pilots of the ATA (Air Transport Auxiliary), whose stories are touched upon in Giles Whitell's book are inspirational. In fact, they are almost verging on the stuff of fiction, especially the glamorous Diana Barnato Walker (I downloaded her memoirs, Spreading My Wings, after finishing this general account of the 'atagirls'). Mr Whittell's patchwork narrative, however, left me wanting, and the Kindle version doesn't even contain photographs! He gives the background of the ATA, and spices up history with descriptions of the more dramatic flights, but I didn't really feel like I got to 'know' any of the women, even though Whittell personally interviewed some of them. This book - or maybe the TV documentary which prompted me to look up and buy the source material - is a great introduction to some of the relatively unsung heroes of the Second World War, yet doesn't give the full picture (or any pictures at all, in my case!)

The women, though, are truly incredible. Yes, the original set, selected by Pauline Gower, were from privileged backgrounds (they had to be, to afford flying lessons before the war), but the whole concept of a group of women flying war planes around the country, 'without radios, instrument training or weapons', in perilous weather conditions and under risk of enemy fire, was still a staggering achievement, then and now. I'm reminded of that quote from Ginger Rogers, who once said that she did everything Fred Astaire did, only backwards and in high heels! Women like Diana Barnato Walker and Lettice Curtis were skilled, professional and very brave, just like the men who actually flew into combat, only the women were then more or less pushed back into the kitchen after the war.

A fair and concise impression of the 'spitfire women', told in a patchy, 'anecdotal' style.
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