IT is truly humbling to think that Mary Ellis, one of the last surviving female Second World War pilots, was older than the RAF which has just marked its centenary.
One of Britain’s greatest-ever aviators, she flew 400 Spitfires, and over 1,000 aircraft in total, as a proud member of the Air Transport Auxiliary.
This unlikely national heroine, who has died at the age of 101, only flew planes to the frontline after responding to a radio appeal for female pilots. That she, and her comrades, did so without navigation aids, radios or defences is testament to the personal sacrifice, and risk, that underpinned Britain’s war effort.
Yet it was the Spitfire, a still iconic plane, which always had a special place in her heart. “I love it, it’s everybody’s favourite,” she said on her 100th birthday. “I think it’s a symbol of freedom.” No one would disagree.