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The Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA) was a British civilian organisation set up during the Second World War and headquartered at White Waltham Airfield that ferried new, repaired and damaged military aircraft between factories, assembly plants, transatlantic delivery points, Maintenance Units (MUs), scrap yards, and active service squadrons and airfields, but not to naval aircraft carriers. It also flew service personnel on urgent duty from one place to another and performed some air ambulance work. Notably, many of its pilots were women, and from 1943 they received equal pay to their male co-workers, a first for the British government.
The initial plan was that the ATA would carry personnel, mail and medical supplies, but the pilots were immediately needed to work with the Royal Air Force (RAF) ferry pools transporting aircraft. By 1 May 1940 the ATA had taken over transporting all military aircraft from factories to Maintenance Units to have guns and accessories installed. On 1 August 1941 the ATA took over all ferrying jobs. This freed the much-needed combat pilots for combat duty. At one time there were 14 ATA ferry pools as far apart as Hamble, between Southampton and Portsmouth, and Lossiemouth near Inverness in Scotland.
A special ATA Air Pageant was held at White Waltham on 29 September 1945 to raise money for the ATA Benevolent Fund, supported by the aircraft companies that had been served by the ATA. It included comprehensive static displays of Allied and German aircraft, including a V1, aero engines, and even an AA gun and searchlight complete with crew. Pilots taking part included Alex Henshaw in a Supermarine Seafire.
Lord Beaverbrook, gave an appropriate tribute at the closing ceremony disbanding the ATA at White Waltham on 30 November 1945:
“Without the ATA the days and nights of the Battle of Britain would have been conducted under conditions quite different from the actual events. They carried out the delivery of aircraft from the factories to the RAF, thus relieving countless numbers of RAF pilots for duty in the battle. Just as the Battle of Britain is the accomplishment and achievement of the RAF, likewise it can be declared that the ATA sustained and supported them in the battle. They were soldiers fighting in the struggle just as completely as if they had been engaged on the battlefront.”
Mary Wilkins Ellis flew planes during WWII for the Air Transport Auxiliary for women pilots. During the war she single-handedly delivered 76 types of aircraft, including about 400 Spitfires. She found her way using a map and a compass. The ATA delivered 308,567 aircraft during the war; Mary’s own total was in the region of 1,000 planes.