sometimes witty book reviews
The Imitation Game is giving Bletchley Park, and particularly the women of Bletchley Park, a lot of air time at the moment. There has been a surge in recent years of research and publication of women in war. An excellent example is the Australian War Memorial’s newly refurbished Australia in the Great War exhibit has huge emphasis on women in the First World War and particularly at the Gallipoli landings.
Giles Whittell’ 2010 Spitfire Women of World War II was perhaps a forerunner of the present (well-deserved) hype of women in twentieth century warfare. These so called Spitfire women made up Britain’s Air Transport Auxiliary. At the start of the war, women were not allowed to drive army vehicles, let alone fly air force planes. With the all-male air force under serious strain, the air transport corps pilots (who shuttled the planes between friendly bases) were called on for battle. This left a shortage of able air-men to fly domestic plane deliveries.
Enter the aviator women of Britain’s upper classes. These women were brave, clever and fabulous. These women flew everything from slender Spitfires to hulking great Lancaster Bombers all over the British Isles. Male pilots would often believe this impossible, but every flight was done solo and without any sort of navigation gear (because, how could women be expected to understand equipment male pilots couldn’t fly without?).
Touching on issue of sexism, homophobia, transphobia and the general chauvinism these women had to deal with in their jobs, Whittell retells the rollicking adventures of these flying aces with excellent attention to his now quite elderly subjects. Never rose-tinted and always extremely well dressed, the employees and work of the short lived Women’s Air Transport Auxiliary is a great read.
And yes, there’s a pretty awesome BBC documentary of the same title.