April 22: Motto of the ‘Ancient and Tattered Airmen’

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From: Hugh Rogers, Messingham Road, Ashby.

CONGRATULATIONS to Chris Bond a for running such a wonderful article about the Air Transport Auxiliary (The Yorkshire Post, April 17). “Always Terrified Airwomen” wasn’t their only unofficial motto. Another was “Ancient and Tattered Airmen” – a reference to the fact that the ATA employed many flyers who could not serve with the RAF because they were too young, too old or physically incapacitated in some way. Or because they were women.

The most well-known female pilot was of course the redoubtable Lettice Curtis (1916-2014) who during her service with the ATA is reckoned to have flown 222 Halifax bombers, as well as four-engined bombers such as the Avro Lancaster, one of only a dozen or so women to do so. After the war, she was a test pilot for Fairey Aviation and was still flying helicopters when she retired at the age of eighty.

As a postscript to this story, I should point out that the ATA did have an official motto – it was Aetheris Avidi or “Eager for the Air” But even more, I love the call sign which pilots used when approaching airfields which weren’t always expecting them. It was “Lost Child”. I don’t know about anyone else but I find that rather touching and appropriate considering the unsung nature of the role performed by the ATA.