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What a life!

Old 22nd Jan 2004, 18:29
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What a life!

Jackie Moggridge
Intrepid airwoman who ferried aircraft from factory to squadron in wartime and afterwards became an airline captain

(From The Times)

One of that remarkable band of women pilots who undertook the often hazardous work of ferrying new aircraft from factories to the frontline squadrons as part of the wartime Air Transport Auxiliary, Jackie Moggridge went on to become an airline pilot after the war, and also flew jet aircraft as an officer in the Women’s Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve.
In a world still weighted against women in the sphere of such aspirations, one ambition that was denied her was to fly faster than sound. In spite of strenuous lobbying both of the Secretary of State for Air and the Duke of Edinburgh on behalf of an attempt which she thought would be fitting in the year of the Queen’s Coronation, 1953, her pleas fell on deaf ears.

Born in Pretoria, South Africa, in 1922, Dolores Teresa (Jackie) Sorour became fascinated with aircraft and flying at an early age. In spite of being airsick on her first flight at the age of 15, she persuaded her mother to let her take flying lessons. Although she was really far too young, she soon shrugged off any trepidation and showed herself to be a natural pilot. Her mother, always immensely supportive, lied about her age and she went solo at the age of 16.

Nevertheless, her mother also insisted that she matriculate at school, as the intention was that she should go to England, to enter Oxford University. In the event she did go to Oxford, but not to its university. Persuading her mother that a “B” licence would be more useful to her than a degree, she asked her to advance the money for a residential flying course at Witney Aeronautical College.

The year was 1939, and war broke out while she was still training. However, the creation of the Air Transport Auxiliary, to ferry aircraft from the factories to the squadrons, appeared to offer a marvellous opportunity of exciting and useful service for those — generally well-heeled — young women who had learnt to fly in the enthusiasm for private aviation in the interwar years.

It was not immediately to be. There were entrenched prejudices among the authorities about women doing anything so serious, and for the first months of the war the ATA’s pilots were all men. These pilots, most of whom were either too old or otherwise unfit for combat flying, rejoiced in the name of “Ancient Tattered Airmen”.

Frustrated at this outcome, though nothing deterred, Moggridge joined the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force, fondly imagining that her pilot’s licence would enable her to fly. Again, it was not to be. The nearest the WAAF could allow her to approach the aerial action was as a radar operator, in which role she served during the Battle of Britain.

By that time the sheer drain on pilots from losses in combat had caused the authorities to rethink their ban on women ATA pilots, and when this was relaxed Moggridge gratefully transferred to the ATA. The influx of so many undeniably personable young women transformed the public perception of the ATA completely. The “Attagirls”, as the women pilots soon became known, in zippy contrast with their male counterparts, were a visible and glamorous — as well as highly valuable — asset. They even drew snide comments from the German Propaganda Minister, Joseph Goebbels, who sneered that the British were being forced to draft “perverted” women into their war effort.

Ferrying work might, at this distance in time, sound routine, but it meant the pilots familiarising themselves with a wide variety of aircraft in a very short time. They then flew them, solo, without radio and navigation aids beyond a gyro compass in all weathers. (Many of the pilots were, in any event, not instrument rated.) Even such a practised veteran as the pioneering Amy Johnson fell victim to the hazards of ferrying, losing her way and running out of fuel in thick cloud, having to bale out and parachuting to her death in the Thames in January 1941.

Moggridge was herself airborne that day, ferrying a twin-engine Airspeed Oxford similar to that flown by Johnson. Taking her life in her hands, she elected to attempt a descent through the cloud that enveloped her route and, though shaking with fright all the way down, eventually came through the cloud base and found herself over her destination. She was even more shaken — and profoundly saddened — when she learnt of the death of Amy Johnson, whom she knew well.

From then until the end of the war, she delivered more than 63 different types of aircraft, ranging from single-seat Spitfires to four-engine bombers. At the end of the war she received a King’s Commendation for Services in the Air. She had ferried more aircraft — 1,500 — than any other ATA pilot, man or woman. By that time more than a tenth of the ATA’s 1,300 pilots were women.

In 1945 she married Lieutenant- Colonel Reginald Moggridge, whom she had met earlier in the war. She tried to settle down as a wife and mother, but the urge to fly was still strong. She joined the Women’s Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve, which enabled her to keep flying, and she gained her full wings and instrument rating in 1954, converting to Meteor and Vampire jets.

But soon afterwards the RAFVR closed down its flying training schools. Looking round for a job, she found one ferrying ex-RAF Spitfires from Cyprus to Rangoon for the Burmese Air Force. In 1957 she joined Channel Airways, where she became an airline captain, operating short-haul passenger services in such aircraft as de Havilland Doves and Douglas Dakotas from Southsea to the Channel Islands and the Continent, as well as to domestic destinations.

She was always amused when passengers, who saw her walking out to the aircraft as they themselves boarded, assumed that she was an air hostess.

She gave up airline work before the birth of her second daughter in 1961. But she kept up her licence and continued flying occasionally, for such purposes as mapping and aerial photography. Her memoir of her flying years, Woman Pilot, was published in 1957.

Ten years ago she was airborne again in a Spitfire, ML 407, which she had originally delivered on April 29, 1944, from Castle Bromwich to 485 Squadron, Royal New Zealand Air Force, based at Selsey in West Sussex. For the flight, which commemorated the 50th anniversary of that occasion, she was piloted by Carolyn Grace, whose husband Nick had bought the (by then two-seater) fighter in 1979 and painstakingly restored it to flying condition. (Nick Grace had been killed in a road accident in 1988, and his wife had determined to learn to fly the aircraft.)

Since Moggridge had not flown a Spitfire since her ferry work in the Far East, she was at first content to be a passenger. But after a short while memories — and determination — came flooding back, and she was soon accepting Carolyn’s offer to take the controls. For the next half hour she hugely enjoyed herself, putting the aircraft, which had always been one of her favourites, through its paces.

Jackie Moggridge’s husband, who ran a building business in Taunton, died in 1997. She is survived by two daughters.

Jackie Moggridge, wartime Air Transport Auxiliary pilot and postwar airline captain, was born on March 1, 1922. She died on January 7, 2004, aged 81.
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Old 23rd Jan 2004, 04:05
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Met this remarkable lady at Duxford at the time. Despite her years she turned up in her ATA uniform (which still fitted!)and quite happily posed against the Grace Spitfire - as if she'd being doing it for years.

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