I recently shared a video of one of these aviators, a women who flew in Great Britain during World War II (see my October 28th post). In the course of my various readings on aviation over the last few years, I begun to learn a little more. I knew that a group of women pilots, known as Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASPS), a paramilitary organization, transported military planes within the United States during the later part of World War II. Many of these planes were to fly overseas as a part of the war effort. For example, a plane would be built, tested if necessary and ready to fly. A WASP pilot would pick up the plane and fly it to a military base where it was assigned to a squadron for deployment over seas. See this wikipedia article for a little history of WASPs. I have done some reading about some of the women who served as WASPs, which I'll get to a little later. What impressed me is that these were a group of women who loved to fly and wanted to help their country. The service of the WASPs was not long, for those women who were in the first classes, their service was less than two years. The first class graduated in early 1943, WASPs were disbanded in December, 1944. While they freed up men for combat overseas, many were disappointed that they were not allowed to fly in combat missions.
It was during the course of my reading about WASPs that I learned about the group of women pilots in Great Britain, who were a part of the Air Transport Auxiliary (wikipedia), who did similar service. At first they transported military planes within their country, but towards the end of the war they may have been allowed to transport planes to the European Continent. Women started to fly for the ATA in early 1940. In November 1945, the last women flew as ATA pilots in order to free up jobs for the male pilots returning from combat duty.
As I learned about these wonderful, skilled, and brave women who transported or ferried military planes during World War II, my respect and admiration for them increased. Many died. They were skilled pilots. They too were away from their families during their service. Some continued to fly after the War, and some did not. Women pilots had fewer options then men in those days. Things are better for women pilots these days, including the fact that women can join the military and fly. These early female aviatrixes, helped to pave the way for a later generation of female aviatrixes.
When I go for one of my scenic airplane rides, there is a mural of a WASP standing next to her plane. I think of them every time I go for an airplane ride. I am not a licensed pilot, and in all likelihood never will be. But when I read about their flying and that of the ATA pilots, they take me with them through their words.
In May of 2016, the United States Congress passed legislation allowing WASPs to be buried at Arlington National Cemetery, For more information you might want to check out this Smithsonian Magazine article (May 23, 2016) and a May 11, 2016 report from National Public Radio. After decades had passed where the WASPs failed to get military recognition for their service, they will receive the military honor of have their cremated remains buried at Arlington National Cemetery.
For more information on the web
Books or Kindle Singles I have read. This just touches the surface of what is available, I include this list for your information. I got Kindle editions of all these books, except where noted they are available in other formats.
- A WASP Among Eagles: A Women Military Test Pilot During World War II by Ann B. Carl
- Spreading My Wings (one of Britain's top women pilots tells her remarkable story from pre-ear flying to ATA service to post-war flying and breaking the sound barrier) by Diana Barnato Walker.
- Bomber Girls In It Together by M.J. Forman (Kindle Single)
- Flying Higher: The Women Airforce Service Pilots of World War II by Wanda Langley
- My Piece of the Sky (Memories of a WWII Women Airforce Service Pilot) by Anna Flynn Monkiewicz (Kindle edition only)