Pat Maslen Jones, Ferry Pilot
Air Transport Auxiliary
Pat (née Provis) was one of a very small elite band of adventurous women in their early twenties who collected and delivered aircraft to and from places where needed by the RAF or Fleet Air Arm. Some already held a pilot’s licence, others were carefully selected volunteers during 1944 and 1945 from the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (formed 1939). Those who were taught to fly from scratch could be ferrying any type of light aircraft anywhere within the UK within six months and, providing they didn’t crash through pilot error, would be ferrying Spitfires and other fighters within a year of their first solo flight!
Air Transport Auxiliary was a newly formed civilian organisation by BOAC (now BA) who recruited only men at first. Later eight women, who held a pilot’s licence, joined them. Before the WAAF entry came in eleven women had qualified to fly four-engined bombers. The author of ‘Forgotten Pilots,’ Lettice Curtis, delivered over 300.
There were 14 ferry pools. Some were against having women particularly Belfast, Bristol and Lossiemouth.
Pat said, “Amy Johnson was my heroine. When I was six she flew to Australia and I listened on my crystal set1 wireless and said I’d like to do it.” She volunteered for the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force on her 18th birthday in 1941 and was one of 17 who went into the ATA from the WAAF in February 1944 until September 1945 “When they were only too glad to get rid of us with masses of pilots demobbed and waiting for flying jobs.” After a medical the girls awaited an interview in the library of the Ministry of Aircraft Production and there Pat noted the titles of two books on aircraft technology. When asked she said that she had read those books and learned quite a lot from them. She put her selection down to ‘being a good liar’.
“I was selected to join the 16 others who went in from the WAAF and I learnt to fly the Swordfish when I was 21. I went solo after 12 hours training as we were all expected to do and if you didn’t you were sent back to the WAAF. We were posted to various stations and given cross country training so that we could use railways for navigation. (Roman roads came in useful, too). There were no radios in those days for communication with control towers. 15 of the 17 intake went on to fly Spitfires, Hurricanes, Tempests, Typhoons and Barracudas - being able to fly one you were expected to fly all the rest.
My war was mostly comic - getting in everybody’s way! In January 1945 I crashed a Swordfish - that was comic too! The petrol pumps packed up when I was close to Turnberry Airfield. I thought that the forced landing would be easy but I made a horrible mess of it and finished up on the sea wall - what is now, I think, the ninth hole on the Turnberry Golf Course. The most dangerous thing about a Swordfish was the climbing in and out of it. However, on this occasion, there was no problem. I just put my foot over the side and there was the ground. I was still more or less on the airfield so the fire engine and ambulance came out pretty smartly but not before the Station Engineering Officer rushed up and said “Where’s the Form 7002 and, by the way, are you alright?.” Then someone said “*****, it’s a woman!” I replied, “Yes it’s a woman, so can you see if you can find me a mirror?”
They took me in the ambulance to Sick Quarters where they gave me the very latest treatment for crashed pilots - a cup of tea and two Aspirins.”
I was blamed for it at the crash enquiry so did not progress to delivering Spitfires, etc. Some eventually flew Lancasters and one of our people delivered a converted Lancaster for the Dam Buster raid.”
A very good book published in 1992 by Y M Lucas (Peggy) called ’WAAF with Wings’ tells the story of the ATA with contributions from the girls themselves. In it Peggy describes delivering a repaired Martinet to St Eval for target towing and collecting a damaged Spitfire from there to deliver to a Maintenance Unit.
Peggy Lucas continued flying and at age 84 qualified as a helicopter pilot!
Frankie Horsburgh, a Canadian, located 16 out of the 17 for their first reunion. Now aged 82 Pat said, “Reunions are held every year at Lynham. I went to the 50th but the Golden Girls of the 40’s had turned into the Silver Girls of the 90’s and most are dead now, anyway.”
Pat married after the war and did no flying for 44 years then she went up with an instructor in a Cessna from Bodmin Airfield (she had more flying hours than him) and found she had not forgotten how to fly. She said, “It’s like riding a bicycle - you never forget how to do it.” Of her time with ATA she said. “I was very lucky to do it from scratch and be paid to do it!”
1 Crystal Set: A simple radio receiver which operates without the need for batteries or any other form of electrical power. A key component is a crystal (usually Galena). A fine wire (called a cat’s whisker) in a special holder is brought into contact with crystal. When the correct spot is found by trial and error, local radio stations can be heard in the headphones. There are groups today that hold competitions to find out who can build the most sensitive crystal set.
2 Form 700: Every aircraft in the RAF has a Form 700. This is a book that is updated regularly and forms a complete history of the aircraft. In particular, it includes details of all work carried out including faults found by the aircrew and the rectification measures carried out by the groundcrew. In the event of an accident the Form 700 is impounded and its contents used to help determine the cause in any investigation that follows. BC
Pat Provis on her 21st birthday in the uniform of a Cadet, Air Transport Auxiliary. On her shoulder is her rank stripe which the girls called ‘the blonde hair.’ Jacket, skirt, trousers and forage cap were dark blue. Pat lives in Rock.
The Fairey Swordfish torpedo bomber, affectionately known as ‘The Stringbag’, was a very successful aircraft serving throughout WW2. 2,396 were built.