Marion Wilberforce - Ladies of the ATA

Marion Wilberforce

Following the lead of her two brothers; Marion too up flying and gained her private pilot’s licence in 1930. In 1937 she used money made as a child on the stock exchange to buy her first aircraft; for tax reasons, her planes were classified as farm implements and kept in a barn, they were used to ferry poultry and Dexter cattle, which were bred specifically by Marion as they were small enough to fit into her plane!

Marion joined the ATA in December 1939 as one of the original eight women pilots. On one occasion, she arrived at a factory to discover that there was a strike and that the aircraft she had come to collect could not be released. She went to the workers’ canteen and gave a rousing speech about the war effort; the plane was duly released!

After initial prejudice from male colleagues meant that women could only fly non-operational aircraft, Marion was soon flying Spitfires and Hurricanes, Mosquitos, and Wellington bombers, among a whole range of other aircraft. She was one of only eleven women pilots to fly the Lancaster bomber, and ended the war having flown most of the 130 aircraft flown by the ATA.

Marion actually refused to install a radio in her aeroplane until required to do so by law, as she disliked the noise. If she wanted to land at an airfield, she would wave her wings and wait for someone to flag her to indicate that she could do so. If she was lost, she would simply land in a suitable field and ask directions or read a local road signpost.

A modest woman, she refused requests for interviews about her wartime exploits and turned down an invitation to stand for Parliament and declined an MBE at the end of the war.

She finally gave up flying at the age of eighty.

Comments about this page

  • My grandad as an ex child migrant stayed at Marion Wilberforce’s house many times when free from Australia Fairbridge. I have their letters.

    By Wendy Booth (01/11/2021)

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