Wargrave Local History Society

Latest News - April 2002

The Air Transport Auxiliary by Ted Wallington.

Ted had become involved with the ATA as a result of organising a meeting at which Lettice Curtis, one of the well known ATA pilots, was the guest speaker. As a result, he become an Associate member of the ATA Association, and has collected information about the ATA and those who worked for it.

In the late 1930s the Air Ministry considered that the use of qualified RAF pilots to perform some of the non-combat flying tasks was a waste of flying hours. Gerard d’Erlanger (of the then British Airways) suggested the formation of a group to specialise in this work, and eventually he was asked to form a unit to be called the Air Transport Auxiliary. It was formed of existing ‘A’ licence pilots, to fly light aircraft and carry mail, news, medical officers, perform ambulance duties etc., but this limited role did not last for long! Initially, the pilots were males aged 28 - 50, with a minimum of 250 hours flying experience, but who were not eligible for the RAF or the Royal Auxiliary Air Force. There were medical standards to be passed - although it was evident that these were not always enforced. They were given a rank and uniform, and a rate of pay equivalent to a junior rank in the commercial airlines, and had to undertake to keep up their A licence - letters were sent to likely pilots in August of 1939.

Later it was suggested that lady pilots may be able to take part in this work, and so a ladies section was formed under Pauline Gower - just 29 at the time - who had 2000 hours flying experience herself. Eventually 166 of the over 1000 ATA pilots were women. The pilots included many volunteers from overseas - one from South America had an 'unpronounceable name’, so was (and still is) known as ‘Chile’. The work soon developed into the ferrying of aircraft from manufacturer to air base, or between RAF stations. The pilots delivered 308,567 aircraft - made of 24 single engined types, 18 twin engined types, 7 4-engined types, and 2 types of flying boat. The pilots were provided with ‘pilots notes’ - a very basic set of about A5 sized instructions, had no radio on board, and had to navigate as best they could - often by following railway lines. The women also flew the largest machines - Lettice Curtis, for example, delivering 400 of the 4-engined bombers. Another well known woman ATA pilot was Amy Johnson, whilst Joan Hughes became the only woman instructor to both sexes for all types of aircraft.

Ted told us of many flying incidents - such as Rosemary Lees collecting a Baltimore from the manufacturer, whose agent asked who passed the pilots, and how much training did they have on Baltimores. He was surprised at the answers .... no-one, and none. Many RAF stations would be surprised at the sight of the ferry pilot - a blonde 5ft 1in tall girl having delivered a Lancaster bomber, or a slim young girl delivering a Mosquito. On another occasion, a pilot had taken a new plane from the manufacturers, but due to a fault once in the air, the throttle could not be closed. Speed went up to 400 mph, and in an effort to slow down, she climbed, and decided to head for White Waltham. Still the speed was too high, so she cut the engine, but it became apparent that she would overshoot the airfield. The engine then refused to re-start, and a crash followed, severely damaging the plane, but the cockpit section stayed together, so the pilot was able to get out. But when the emergency teams arrived soon afterwards, they found the pilot had returned to the cockpit. On enquiring why --- the answer was that she was scared of the cows in the field !

Further information about the ATA and especially the role of women in its work, can be found at http://www.fleetairarmarchive.net/RollofHonour/ATA/ATA.html
http://www.raf.mod.uk/history/ata.html


The A'Bear Family Gathering

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A weekend gathering of nearly eighty family members took place on Saturday 4th May 2002 at Polehampton Junior School, Twyford, near Wargrave in Berkshire, with half of this number staying over until Sunday 5th May. Amongst them were cousins from South Africa, Canada and New Zealand.

The idea was conceived following a chance meeting of David F A’Bear (Ryde, Isle of Wight) and Mark A’Bear (Charvil, nr Reading) sixth cousins once removed, in Hare Hatch, Wargrave, in July 2001. The following nine months were spent seeking out and notifying all family members, gathering information, preparing presentations and agreeing Mark’s family tree research with that of David’s father, Stanley George A’Bear in the early 1980s.

Due to the unexpectedly high support for this event, original plans had to be altered. The venue was at first planned to be at the Conference Centre at Hill House, the family home, and Sunday lunch was to be at The Horse and Groom nearby, probably the family’s local inn. It was also hoped there would be a tour of Hill House, but this was ruled out due to health and safety reasons.

In his welcome, David read e-mails from absent cousins, and explained that through the development of the internet, searching for records and people had become easier; this had regenerated interest in genealogy. It therefore seemed timely to display our information so that family members could check it and be aware of the research that had been done. Through the internet, two foreign branches of the family had recently been discovered living in South Africa and Canada, and it was hoped that others would be found in the future.

Talks were given by David Ford, a distant relative of the family, who had completed much research into our family history, Richard Lloyd of the Wargrave Local History Society, David and Mark A’Bear. These presentations covered our knowledge of the origins of the family name and probable early connections with the Delabere family, the Wargrave locality and the A’Bear family in Wargrave, the origins of the branches of the family as they now stand and their migration between the year 1700 and present times, family tree statistics and photographs of family properties and memorials.

Those attending brought a large amount of documentary evidence and photographs which were inspected and duplicated.

On Sunday the family attended church services at St Mary’s, Wargrave, and Waltham St Lawrence. After lunch at a nearby local inn there was an arranged sightseeing tour of the area, including Rocky Lane Farm and Rotherfield Peppard. The afternoon concluded with tea at "A’Bears Corner", a property in Milley Lane standing on land owned and farmed by the family for generations. Thanks were expressed to Mrs Pat Willett for her kind hospitality.

The weekend was declared a great success, and family members expressed the wish to keep in touch in future, and possibly organise another social gathering.

With acknowledgements to David A'Bear for this report. For further information about this family, there are two websites to visit:
www.dfab.freeserve.co.uk/abear%20geneology.htm
www.mayfamilyhistory.co.uk/abear/