Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Spitfire Women

Readers of my blog (hello!) will know that I am very keen on the RAF being remembered correctly for what Fighter Command did in 1940 (viz. saved civilisation) and what Bomber Command did in 1940-44 (viz. provided a bloody Second Front to aid our Soviet allies).

Imagine my interest then when a programme is currently being advertised on the telly all about the "Spitfire Women" (based on the book of the same name). In the trailer it claims that the Battle of Britain could not have been won without these women delivering fighters to the front-line squadrons.

Now why did they have to spoil it?

I am a huge admirer of the ATA (Air Transport Auxiliary) and of the women who delivered all manner of aircraft from factories and repair facilities to RAF bases throughout the war. However, to say that the Battle of Britain could not have been won without them is to do their efforts a major disservice.

The efforts of the ATA were heroic. Nearly 90% of the ATA pilots were men (shock!) and they delivered the vast majority of the aircraft. They were mainly ex-BOAC pilots (and the like) too old to fly modern combat aircraft. The very small number of female pilots were glamorised in the Press because they were so few in number. The beautiful Diana Barnato - one of the first women into the ATA - didn't deliver her first Spitfire until mid-1942. The first front-line fighter (a Hurricane, incidentally) delivered by a woman was in mid-1941. The "Spitfire Women" did not fly Spitfires to the hard-pressed RAF in the summer of 1940 and thus turn the tide in the Battle of Britain.

So why come out with this tripe?

I have the utmost respect for all of that small band of women who resupplied the RAF with fresh fighters and bombers. I couldn't have a higher regard for them. So why does some idiot on the BBC think it right to tell lies about them? Why, also, are the efforts of the rest of the ATA (i.e. the men) largely ignored. Do we so have to rewrite history to "big up" the part that womankind played in our survival between 1939 and 1945 that we overlook the men? Women played their part in the Second World War in a myriad of different ways. But they didn't man (pardon that atrociously sexist word) the submarines and destroyers fighting the Battle of the Atlantic, the Lancasters and Halifaxes being massacred over Germany, the trenches, tanks and guns in Europe, North Africa and Burma.

The BBC besmirches the memory of them all, women and men.

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