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Women Airforce Service Pilots

You'll be thinking of insects, but this is not the kind you think...

Eric Craigie threw a dinner party for the neighbours in the Shean Lodge and Miss E... was invited along with the PP of the time. She was short, wiry and a very proper American lady. Eric told the story of a Flying Fortress which crashed in Belmullet. All the crew escaped unhurt and were repatriated to the six counties. The RAF collected the plane. The only thing missing was its cargo of chocolate.

The locals presented at Doctor's surgeries for miles around complaining of sleep deprivation. The explanation was that the plane had carried a large cargo of Benzedrine chocolate to keep the pilots awake. This anecdote caused a ripple of laughter - helped by the volumes of wine, and loosened tongues.

After the story Miss E ... piped up that she flew Flying Fortresses during the Second World War. It turned out she was a ferry pilot and a member of an elite group of woman pilots in the US forces.

She told how she had been chosen from among thousands of applications. They were given six-month training and flew B17 aircraft across the Atlantic.

This new and secret female air corps conserved the drastic short supply of male pilots for war duty. She said, “what the girls feared most were the masculine maintenance crews, who deliberately sabotaged the planes to discredit the women pilots."

When she reached England, she transferred to the RAF as a ferry pilot. While repositioning an unarmed Mosquito aircraft, she was attacked by a German fighter plane.

She out-flew the other fighter to the extent that it crashed, and she was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross by the RAF  - a rare thing, and seldom given to women.  Suddenly, she stopped speaking, stood up and walked out of the dining room and walked home.

The records show in 1944 America was desperate for trained pilots. Twenty-five thousand experienced women pilots applied to join the WASP’s or Women Airforce Service Pilots, of which one thousand and thirty seven were accepted.  They trained to a higher standard than their male counterparts, often in unsafe civilian planes. They flew every aircraft type, in all commands, from transport to fighter.

They flew non combatant missions; even so, Thirty-eight of them lost their lives serving their country.  Their families had got to pay the air force for the return of these brave women’s bodies for burial. If you thought that was bad, when they shuttled the bombers across the Atlantic and Pacific, they had to pay the cost of the return journey from their wages.

They were not recognised as part of the Air Force until 1977. They were declassified as a top-secret and given honourable discharge. The service stood down in 1944; they had flown collectively more than 60 million miles for their country.

wasp 02Nancy Love at the controls of a B-17 Flying Fortress. She was an American pilot and commander of a squadron that would later become the Women Airforce Service Pilots

For more about this fine body of women pilots, please click on the WASP wings