I’m delighted to see that the Spitfire girls, (the members of the Air Transport Auxiliary), are to get a special badge in recognition of their courage in transferring aircraft from factories to airfields and between RAF stations in Britain and France.
It’s been a long time coming, over 60 years, but better late than never and there are, thankfully, still some of these redoubtable ladies alive to receive the badge. There was a similar situation a couple of weeks ago with the Women’s Land Army and the Women’s Timber Corps, who have also been given a special badge.
With the land girls, it was decreed that the badge would only be available for those still living, and I suspect this one will be the same. Wouldn’t it have been a nice gesture to have given it to the families of deceased land girls and ATA pilots? After all, the cost wouldn’t be that great, and they all deserve recognition.
Medals and badges are a contentious subject. A few war veterans get seriously agitated at Bevin boys getting recognition, and aren’t even that keen on the National Service badge introduced a couple of years ago. And just how far do you take it. You could say that WWII housewives deserve a badge for scrimping and saving and making do and mend, for giving up their aluminium saucepans, queueing for meagre rations and serving up Woolton Pie to their families.
Those in the front line armed services, of course, must be the only ones to receive gallantry awards, such as the VC, MC, DSO, DFC. That is right and proper. And campaign medals are for taking part in particular campaigns.
But we can’t deny that, in a world war, lots of civilians made a huge contribution to the war effort, from the ARP and fire service to the munitions workers. In some cases people had little choice. Young men itching to become pilots or submariners were directed down the mines. It was one in ten, and if your number came up there was nothing you could do. Some girls anxious to repair fighters and bombers or work in RAF control rooms as WAAFS were directed into munitions factories because that was the need at the time. So they all missed the chance of campaign medals, however willing they would have been. A badge is different from a medal, and is a very suitable recognition of service given by “civilians” in time of war.
While we’re on the subject of medals, there is one group of servicemen who were disgracefully deprived of a campaign medal, and recent pressure for that wrong to be put right seems to be falling on deaf ears. That is, of course, the members of Bomber Command of the RAF. Despite the earlier exploits of brave young pilots like the Dambusters, by the end of the war public opinion had turned against the blanket bombing of Germany. Because of that, Marshal of the RAF Sir Arthur “Bomber” Harris, the war-time head of Bomber Command, always felt that Bomber Command had not received the recognition it deserved, unlike Fighter Command whose pilots were widely lauded. And there was no campaign medal for Bomber Command.
Back to the Spitfire girls – there were 164 of these ladies, delivering not just Spitfires, but Hurricanes, Lancasters, and other WWII aircraft. Between them they clocked up 415,000 flying hours, and delivered over 308,000 aircraft. Lord Beaverbrook, then Minister of Aircraft Production, said of the ATA pilots,
“They were soldiers fighting in the struggle just as completely as if …… engaged on the battlefront.”
One of the surviving pilots, 87-year-old Miss Margaret Frost, said
“You had to fly the Spitfire without any radio system, and the only way you knew you could land at an airbase was when someone stood on the runway with a green light rather than a red light.”
It is believed there are only about 15 of these ladies still alive. Hopefully a decision will be made, and a badge designed and issued while there are still some of them left.