I thought a post dedicated to the brave and beautiful as Maureen Dunlop de Popp, who sadly passed away last week at the age of 91 was appropriate. She was one of the 164 female members of the wartime Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA), of which one in ten pilots died doing their duty of transporting planes between factories and military airfields. The above photograph proved the dream of the Picture Post photographer, who put this image of her emerging from the cockpit of a Fairey Barracuda on the cover, 1944.
The ATA's work was gruelling, they flew the length and breadth of the UK in all weathers, at a time when the nature of flying was changing to become a vital part of the war effort. The women pilots had to cope with opposition and rudeness from men who had little faith in their abilities - or perhaps even misplaced chivalry. The female pilots weren't permitted to fly in combat, but Dunlop expressed her wish to have been involved in the fighting : "I thought it was the only fair thing. Why should only men be killed?"
Maureen flew 38 different types of aircraft during her time at the ATA, including the Spitfire, Mustang, Typhoon and the Wellington bomber. However, when asked her favourite, she immediately responded "The Mosquito".
Maureen Dunlop began flying at the age of 15, when she joined the Aeroclub Argentino. Two years later she had obtained her pilot's licence. The example of her father's British military experience as a volunteer with the Royal Field Artillery in the First World War, together with an article in Flight magazine, inspired her to sail to England and offer her flying skills to the ATA.
She came through the war uninjured, but once had to make a forced landing with a faulty engine, and once was flying a Spitfire when a badly fitted cockpit cover blew off. After the war she qualified in England as an instructor and, returning to Argentina, flew for the Argentine Air Force and taught its pilots, as well as flying commercially.
Maureen is a true inspiration, but I think a widely unknown story. Perhaps reading about such bravery is a reminder that it was a national effort fighting in World Wars, and we should always be keen to learn, and remember their contributions.
If you would like to discover more, the "Spitfire Women of World War II" book by Giles Whittel can be found HERE
Thanks for reading,