It is well-known that during World War II many women took on jobs previously done by men, however, what is lesser publicised is the way opinions of women changed during the war.
Kenley had several good points, not least being female batmen – or is that batwomen? When he first went there, he awoke the first morning with what he thought must be an angel bending over him with a cup of tea, trying to waken him. As he reached up, she made a hasty retreat, having only entered the room as her knocking had failed to gain his attention.
A.H. Sager, Flight Lieutenant in 421 squadron RCAF at Kenley in 1943 recalls female batmen at Kenley. It is quite unusual that there were female batmen, this is the only reference we have found.
As women were considered as more delicate and fragile than men, they were not allowed to bear arms. This idea also raised concerns about how women would react to bombing raids or coming under attack. According to aircraftswoman, Peggy Jones, who was a fighter plotter at Kenley, these women were just fine:
Before the 18 August attack the men at Kenley did not know how we girls would cope if we came under fire. Some of them seemed to think that we would all fall about the place in hysterics. After the attack, when we had shown what we could do, the men’s attitudes changed completely, and they were wonderful to us.
And of course, women flew planes too! F/O George D. Aitken recalls his time at Kenley in 1943, and was taken by surprise:
On one occasion I had been left behind, I watched a perfect landing of an unmarked Spitfire. It did not head for dispersal, but further along the perimeter track a staff car seemed to be waiting for the pilot to shut down his engine. Before getting into the car, the pilot took off the helmet to reveal locks of blonde hair. She had flown in one of our replacement Spitfires – a lady member of the Air Transport Auxiliary.
For more about the Women of Kenley, check out the @CityCommons twitter feed #WomensHistoryMonth
‘Buck McNair Spitfire Ace’ by Norman Franks.
Alfred Price, The Hardest Day: The Battle of Britain 18 August 1940, p195