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Attagirl! Celebrating the life of one of WWII's pioneering female pilots

30 September 2022

Attagirl! Celebrating the life of one of WWII's pioneering female pilots

Stella 'Jaye' Edwards, one of the last remaining female pilots from the Second World War, passed away in August and at we felt it was right to reflect on the life of the self-proclaimed 'renegade' and how she helped with the British war effort.

Initially inspired by the romance and adventure involved with flying, Edwards took her first flying lesson when she was 21 years old and learnt how to fly in a deHavilland Tiger Moth. She finally received her civilian flying licence on 4th September 1939 – the day after Great Britain officially declared war on Germany.

Having first signed up as a nurse due to there being no roles for female pilots, Edwards eventually found an opportunity to get up in the sky when the Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA) advertised for roles in transporting new or repaired planes around Britain.

Edwards was one of 168 female pilots employed by ATA, with her main role involving flying planes from various factories to airfields and active service squadrons across the country where needed. Dubbed the 'attagirls', Edwards and the rest of the female pilots formed a vital supply function for the Royal Airforce throughout the war effort.

During the war, Edwards flew up to 20 different planes ranging from Spitfire single engine fighter planes through to twin-engine bombers like the Avro Anson. She openly favoured the Hawker Hurricane, mainly due to its reliability and easy handling style.

What is most remarkable about the attagirls was that if they had no experience of flying a particular plane, then they would have had a manual strapped to their leg for them to refer to during their flight. Following D-Day, Edwards started transporting planes across the English Channel, having to rely on physical landmarks alone, as her maps had no names on in case they fell into enemy hands.

When looking back on her flying days, Edwards once stated: 'It was just fun... I was doing something that no one in the family did. And that was the chief aim of my life – doing my own thing.'

At the end of the war, the ATA was disbanded with her exit debrief stating that she was a better pilot than she thought she was. Giving up the pilot's life, Edwards then travelled the world before settling down for a more serene life in North Vancouver, Canada.

She married, had a family and became a teacher, living a long and peaceful life until her passing on August 15 at the age of 103 – only ever stepping back into the cockpit in her 80s for a brief flight over White Rock in Vancouver.

At we offer the opportunity to fly the same plane Edwards learnt in as part of our Vintage Flying Experiences. You can also feel like you were part of the Battle of Britain with our exclusive Spitfire Flight Experiences, available to purchase through our open Gift Vouchers.

IMAGE CREDIT: Legion Magazine
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