The Bower & Collier Family History

Research by Colin Bower

Joan Hughes - WWII Woman Aviator

Extracts from the book, A Spitfire Girl

In her book, as told to Melody Foreman, Mary Ellis makes the following references to Joan Hughes, another of the pilots in the ATA, Air Transport Auxiliary:

Joan Hughes

Miscellaneous References

"I got to know Flight Captain Joan Hughes MBE who said the first eight women were like experiments, as the RAF just did not expect women to be able to fly aeroplanes.

The First Eight


In the Summer of 1941, and after much hard work, Pauline (Gower) achieved another significant breakthrough. She had pursuaded ATA Commodore d'Erlanger to permit ATA women to fly figher aircraft including then Hurricane and Spitfire. Can you imagine?

.....That first Hurricane had been flown from ATA headquarters at White Waltham to Hatfield on 19 July 1941. Standing ready to fly it, by turn, were: Winnie Crossley, Margaret Fairweather, Joan Hughes and Rosemary Rees. ....they...were checked out on that day on the Hurricane, and from that moment the Women's Section of the ATA began to take its place alongside that of the men pilots and share fully their work.

The Class V was the licence to fly four-engine aircraft including Lancasters, Stirlings and the Halifax. Among the few ATA women who qualified to fly the four-engine bombers were ....Joan Hughes.  

1943 the August of 1943 I had been posted to White Waltham for training on heavy twins, including the Wellington...I may well have received some instruction from the wonderful Joan Hughes who, early on in her ATA career, had progressed to all types of bomber aircraft, including Short Sterlings and Avro Lancasters.


So it marked a time when so many of us went off to find our lives again in a variety of directions. On 31 Decemeber 1945, only six ATA women pilots were still delivering aircraft - there was .....Flight Captain Joan Hughes.


For so many years the men and women of the ATA had been largely forgotten ... the Maidenhead Heritage Centre set up a small museum in honour of our war Maidenhead...the nearest town town to nWhite Waltham - the headquarters of our wartime ferrying operation. ...One ot two of the volunteers at the Museum actually remember some of us from our ATA flying days too. One of the first eight women in the ATA was Joan Hughes and she stayed on at White Waltham for some years after the war as an instructor. Today she is remerbered with foindness by one chap who volunteers at the museum as she had taught him to fly.

Main Reference in the Book

When she was at Hatfield, and like may ATA newbies, including myself, Mary de Bunsen was placed under the watchful eye of one of the first eight ATA women, the 23-year-old Joan Hughes. I remember Joan - a diminutive pretty woman, who helped us polish up our flying and instil confidence. This was very important for us to know we were equally as capable as the men when it came to flying aircraft. Joan was such a natural pilot and taught us all so much in a calm and friendly manner.

My ATA friend the late Molly Rose also recalled what a pleasant person Joan always was and how the famous photogrpah of tiny Joan standing beside the huge wheel of a Short Stirling four-engine bomber is a legendary marker of women's aviation achievements during the Second World War.

Joan with the Stirling

After the was Joan Hughes MBE, who could "fly anything", was lucky to continue her aviation career. By the 1960s she was based at the ATA's former headquarters at White Waltham, Berkshire, as an instructor with Airways Aero Association.

In 1964 I watched her fly a replica Santos-Dumont Demoiselle monoplane from 1909 in the film Those Magnificant Men in Their Flying Machines and then in 1966 she was hired by a film company to fly a replica aircraft in a First World War epic The Blue Max. Two years later and Joan was impressing her former ATA colleagues again with her aerobatics in a Tiger Moth for the Thunderbirds 6 film!

Joan, who never married, moved to Devon in later life and spent her days looking after her horse. Molly believed Joan had a fiance and was left heartbroken when he was killed during the war. Many of us were sad to hear of Joan's death in 1993. She was 75-years-old. When a service was held for Joan in Maidenhaed the church was crowded. Joan was a wonderful person and a delight to know. Unsurprisingly, she is fondly remembered today by those many, many people still piloting aircraft thanks to her exceptional flying instructioin courses.

Colin Bower
3 February 2019

Joan Hughes Index

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