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Last Updated: Wednesday, 20 February 2008, 12:27 GMT
Honour for WWII Spitfire pilots
Spitfire
The pilots ferried planes to the front line
Men and women who flew Spitfires and other planes between bases during World War II are to be honoured with a special merit award.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown announced the move after a call from Scottish MP Nigel Griffiths.

The surviving 15 women and 100 men who served in the Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA) are eligible for the honour.

Their job was to ferry new and repaired Spitfires, bombers and other aircraft from factories.

The Air Transport Auxiliary was made up of old World War I pilots, injured airmen and well-to-do women who had private flying experience.

Amy Johnson, the first female pilot to fly alone from Britain to Australia, died on an ATA flight.

She was one of 154 ATA pilots who were killed doing their dangerous work.

The other airwomen who flew those missions included Wendy Sale-Barker, aunt of the Conservative politician Lord James Douglas-Hamilton.

Amy Johnson
Amy Johnson was one of the pilots who died on an ATA flight

He said: "She was enormously modest and would never speak about what she had done, but she was one of the first women pilots in Britain."

The women were not themselves allowed to fight, but they ferried the Spitfires from the factories to the front line. Many of them died when the aircraft developed engine trouble.

Lord James said that on one occasion his aunt crashed on her way from Cape Town to Cairo and had to be rescued from the Kenyan bush.

Speaking about the honour, he said: "I think they were able to fly every bit as well as the men and they did not receive the recognition which many of us feel they deserved.

"It is very refreshing indeed that they are now receiving that recognition belatedly, but they did give invaluable service to their country - notwithstanding their quite excessive modesty."

Mr Griffiths said it was high time the men and women of the ATA were properly recognised for their contribution to the war effort.

SEE ALSO
Lasting tribute to wartime hero
25 Sep 07 |  England
WWII hero pilot statue unveiled
19 May 07 |  Tayside and Central

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