Grandma Flew Spitfires

PUBLISHED: 14:15 13 October 2011 | UPDATED: 20:07 20 February 2013

Grandma Flew Spitfires

Grandma Flew Spitfires

HRH Prince Michael of Kent will open Maidenhead Heritage Centre's new Grandma Flew Spitfires exhibition on Wednesday, October 19 at 11 am.

In the presence of the largest gathering of Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA) veterans since the Veterans Medal was awarded in September 2008, HRH Prince Michael of Kent will officially open the Maidenhead Heritage Centres new Grandma Flew Spitfires exhibition on Wednesday, October 19 at 11 am.

Over 20 ATA men and women, including pilots, flight engineers, ground engineers, parachute packers and ATC cadets who flew as pilots assistants will be attendance to celebrate the new 100,000 Grandma Flew Spitfires exhibition and archive, which remembers the courage, skill and sacrifice of ATA.

Were delighted to say that the November issue will have a superb feature with interviews and previously unpublished photos on this exhibition, so look out for that in newsagents and local stores.

The Grandma Flew Spitfires project keeps history alive and shines a light on one of the least known but most inspiring stories of bravery and courage during World War II, when the civilian men and women of ATA kept the supply of aircraft flowing to front line airfields for Royal Air Force and Royal Navy pilots to fly into battle.

The new permanent exhibition and archive, which is backed by a 50,000 grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF), charts the achievements of 1200 brave and determined ATA pilots, including 168 women. Unarmed, without radios or navigation aids and at the mercy of the weather, they ferried 309,000 warplanes between factories and front line airfields.

Richard Poad, aviation historian and Chairman of Maidenhead Heritage Centre, says: We are delighted to be welcoming our Patron and a great supporter of aviation history, HRH Prince Michael of Kent to officially open our new Grandma Flew Spitfires exhibition and archive which records, preserves and celebrates the fascinating heritage of ATA.

Based at 13 airfields around Britain, including ATAs headquarters at White Waltham just outside Maidenhead, ATAs pilots from 25 different nations flew scores of different types of aircraft, ranging from Tiger Moth trainers to Spitfires and Lancaster bombers. Often they had to fly a type they had never even seen before. They are some of the unsung heroes of the war, especially as most of them had only flown light aircraft before they joined ATA.

The Grandma Flew Spitfires project has required a major fund-raising effort and involved hundreds of hours of volunteer time. The displays have been designed by a local firm Kersey & Balme, who have previously worked with Museum of Reading, Eton College and Marlow Museum.

Grandma Flew Spitfires features ATA uniforms, flying equipment, wartime maps, logbooks, aircraft models and scores of photographs and includes recorded interviews with ATA veterans. Displays explain how an aeroplane works and amateur civilian pilots were trained to fly planes they might never have seen before. Interactive displays range from a map tracing a days work for an ATA pilot to a Spitfire simulator (sponsored by the Spitfire Society and the Leonard Stillwell Bequest), permitting visitors to step back 70 years and have a go at flying the iconic World War II fighter aircraft.

ATA veteran Peter Garrod, who served with ATA for four years, including 18 months at White Waltham, adds: The tremendous achievements of ATA men and women during the Second World War have largely been forgotten. With no weapons, no radios and at the mercy of the great British weather, we flew Spitfires, Hurricanes, Tempests, Mosquitos, Wellingtons, Lancasters and many other warplanes from factories to front line squadrons. We veterans are delighted to support Maidenhead Heritage Centres project. It brings our contribution to victory back to life so that our grandchildren, great grand children and future generations can learn all about our particular war effort.

For more information contact Maidenhead Heritage Centre at Tel 01628 780555 or write to 18 Park Street, Maidenhead SL6 1SL.

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