Jackie Moggridge: Air Transport Auxiliary Pilot
As a part of the RAF’s Centenary celebrations, the RAF Museum has launched RAF Stories. This is an online collection of personal memories, capturing and sharing inspirational stories connected to the Royal Air Force.
To help celebrate the RAF Stories project, a series of talks will take place at the Museum’s Cosford site to highlight some of the most inspiring individuals that have been brought to light by the project so far.
One of these amazing people is Jackie Moggridge, whose story is told to us by her daughter, Candida Adkins.
Candida has shared with us the amazing story of her mother, Jackie, who flew as a pilot during the Second World War with the Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA), and later with the RAF Voluntary Reserves.
Jackie’s passion for flying began at a young age, when she saw a plane flying overhead in her hometown Pretoria, South Africa. Instantly, she wanted to become a pilot and began taking flying lessons, working towards her commercial pilot’s licence. Her brothers used to tease her about her petite frame, claiming that a woman wouldn’t be able to fly, to which Jackie thought, “I’ll show them!”
In order to learn, Jackie’s mother sent her to Aeronautical College in Oxford, as there weren’t any Flying Colleges in South Africa at that time. She had to study hard, particularly at maths, as she needed to prove that a woman could do it just as well as the men studying there.
Jackie had only been at College a year when the Second World War broke out. She desperately wanted to be a part of the action and to put her flying skills to good use, despite her mother’s calls for her to return to South Africa. Jackie initially tried to join the RAF but unfortunately, they wouldn’t allow female pilots at that time, so instead she joined the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF).
At first, Jackie’s role was as a Radar Operator, as Candida explains:
‘They were put in tiny little cubicles. All girls, in little cubicles. They were looking at a series of dots on a screen. And it wasn’t until the end of the week, when they’ve been doing reporting on the screen that some were kicked out and those that stayed were then told that they were doing a very secret operation, which was RADAR. So, my mother actually watched the Battle of Britain as little dots on a screen.’
As the war progressed, Jackie took a flight test and was accepted into the ATA to transport planes from factories to aerodromes around the country. While these planes were deemed safe to fly, the risk was still incredibly high. They often had no radio, no weapons, and no navigation systems, and there wasn’t a guarantee that everything worked. Initially, the ATA only took men, many of whom had been unsuccessful in their RAF application often due to age or injury, earning ATA the nickname ‘Ancient and Tired Airmen’. But as the war went on, there was a greater demand for pilots and so they began enlisting women. Jackie joined No. 15 Ferry Pool in Hamble, Southampton; an all-women’s pool.
Their pilots had to fly every and any type of plane that came out of the factories, from Lancasters to Spitfires, using only the information given to them in a small ring binder. Candida tells the story of her mother giving a lift to an airman in a new type of aircraft:
‘The weather was terrible and they were flying through this awful weather. And when they landed the commandant of the airfield came over and asked, ‘How was the flight?’ And the chap who’d been given a lift said ‘well, it was just dreadful weather, and I can’t believe not only was I flying back here by a woman but she was reading a book!’
And my mother went, ‘Oh no, I wasn’t reading a novel, these are my ATA notes, I hadn’t flown this type of plane before.’ He nearly threw up. But this is what it was really like, they hadn’t flown that plane before. They were just told that’s what you’re flying next.’
At the end of the war the ATA was disbanded, and although they were thrilled that war had ended. they were sad that their job was over. As Jackie herself reflected:
‘You’re out!’ they say, when war is won. ‘We know of all the work you’ve done.’ But men must work, and women weep. And the women say ‘yes’ like a lot of sheep.’
Most of the women who had flown went back to being housewives or women of the estate and, sadly, many never flew again. In 1940, Jackie was given the King’s Commendation for Services in the Air, and later joined the RAF Voluntary Reserves. Despite her work during the war, Jackie still encountered mistrust for being a female pilot. For example, on a trip to Burma delivering Spitfires:
‘When they all landed, they were stuck at the airport for about three hours because they didn’t believe that a woman had flown this Spitfire in, and they thought that a fourth pilot had just jumped out and done a runner. And they had to ring back to England to find out that it was actually true, and they were all stuck waiting while everything was checked. So yes, they did have some trouble. And you can imagine these countries couldn’t even imagine that there might be a woman pilot.’
Jackie continued to face obstacles when she wanted to become the first woman to break the sound barrier. After hearing of two other women trying to grab the title, Jackie pushed hard to be the first and grab the title for Britain. Sadly, the RAF and private aviation organisations were unwilling to allow her into a Jet, and so she was beaten to the title. Jackie did later get the chance to fly in a Meteor Jet, an experience which she loved, but it was a shame that she wasn’t allowed the opportunity sooner.
After five years of service in the Voluntary Reserves, Jackie was given her RAF wings on the 26th August 1953. After this, Jackie became the firsts female airline Captain, flying passengers all over the world. When she was young, Candida didn’t realise just how renowned her mother was, and what an important role she played during the war. Candida and her siblings saw her as a typical. embarrassing mum, who was away often for work. It was only as she grew older that Candida began to truly appreciate the work her mum did and what an important historical figure she is.
‘I realised that actually everyone was terribly interested in the life of ATA, the life of a woman pilot, and that she is so inspirational. She came from an ugly little girl who wasn’t particularly clever, at a school in Pretoria and just had a dream. She just got there with sheer will power and believing in her dream of anything is possible. And everyone should be able to do that.’
For me, Jackie’s story is truly inspirational, showing that determination can take you far. Despite the hurdles she faced, Jackie was able to live our her dream of being a pilot. It is also encouraging to see how much the RAF has changed over the 100 years. From initially not allowing women to enter the Royal Air Force to now having an open, non-discriminatory policy. I hope Jackie’s story encourages others to also pursue their dream careers.
Jackie’s story will be told by her daughter Candida for the RAF Stories series of talks on Thursday 4th October, at RAF Museum Cosford. To find out more information and to book your free ticket to Candida’s talk, please visit the museum website.
You can also find Jackie’s and many other inspirational stories on the RAF Stories website.
RAF Stories is proudly supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund.