First Light And Spitfire Women

Jan Leeming

Shoreham 2007

Shoreham Airshow 2007
Me looking brave before taking to the air (and the wing) of the plane. Wow, it was cold !! But the whole experience was totally exhilarating.



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Jan's Blog

Computers and the internet are amazing things. One of my concerns with putting together this site was that it could remain current, yet with all my travelling I've often much to say, but little time to say it. Years ago when reading the news it would take me days on end to reply to the kind letters people sent. Now, with the magic of the modern age, I can keep you up to date with what I'm doing and other events in my life.


Date: 24th November 2010

FIRST LIGHT - Geoffrey Wellum


I've just finished reading First Light - and what a gripping and superb read it was. I missed the BBC Programme because in September I was temporarily homeless due to my Living Room Ceiling having to be replaced and was travelling round the UK catching up with and staying with old friends. On the evening of 14th September I was with my oldest friend Sue and she doesn't own a Television so there was no chance of seeing First Light. I do hope that the BBC release the programme on DVD along with others they've made this year to celebrate the 70th Anniversary of the Battle of Britain.

First Light is about a young man who joins the Airforce at the tender age of 18 and within a couple of years is a 'seasoned' fighter pilot. Like the Diaries of Rene Mouchotte, Geoffrey Wellum brings to the reader all the fear, tension, cold, and deprivation of being a fighter pilot in WWII. There are moments of humour and others of nail biting tension. In fact I was so engrossed in reading that I almost missed my station. We’d stopped at Ashford International and I was hardly aware of the train starting again. The next stop was mine and I only realised several moments after the train came to a halt. There was a mad scrabble for my belongings and I only just got off in time - I have never ever done that before.


SPITFIRE WOMEN - Giles Whittell

A few days later whilst visiting the National Trust shop at Dover Heights to buy a diary for an Australian friend, I saw another book called 'Spitfire Women' - the story of the ATA (Air Transport Auxiliary or as the men so cruelly mocked Always Terrified Airwomen - which they were not!) They had to fight very hard indeed to be allowed to fly fighter planes - to deliver them to Airfields all over the UK.
When I pick up a book I let it fall open at random and read a few paragraphs. If the book grabs me, then I buy it and Spitfire Women certainly caught me by the throat. It is superbly written by Giles Whittell who travelled far and wide to interview the few remaining Spitfire Women - and like the men who took part in WWII many of them were reluctant to talk about their experiences. Just a private feeling but, as is still the same today, they had to work so much harder to be accepted because they were women - but what women.
Again, like Rene Mouchotte, they came from titled and privileged backgrounds and could easily have sat out the war with little privation but they chose to 'do their bit' and how lucky we were to have people like that.

On my first visit to Capel Le Ferne in 2007 to attend the Battle of Britain Memorial Lunch I saw a diminutive woman in a very dark uniform being escorted to lay a wreath on the Memorial. She was Diana Barnato Walker - an aviatrix and horse rider and the first woman to break the Sound Barrier. She died the following April. I only wish I’d been able to shake her hand in 2007. She is mentioned often and there are a few photographs of her in Giles Whittell’s excellent book 'Spitfire Women'.

If I were younger and had the wherewithal, I'd love to fly - still I have been more fortunate than many in having flown in a Hunter, in several light aircraft, a few helicopters including a Chinook and, of course have flown in display with The Red Arrows and The Blades.

Au revoir. Jan


On the Internet you will  find photographs of Geoffrey Wellum and Diana Barnato Walker both as young people and in their more senior years.


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