Holmers House resident gets ATA veterans badge

Holmers House resident gets ATA veterans badge

The ATA (Air Transport Auxiliary) was a civilian organisation based at White Waltham which took over the responsibility for ferrying RAF and RN warplanes between the factories, maintenance units and front line units during WW2. The organisation was important because it freed up the service pilots for front line duty.

The majority of the pilots flying the aircraft to their destinations were women; initially they were British but eventually pilots from 25 countries around the world were fulfilling this extremely important role. It was also a highly hazardous occupation as the pilots, although they knew how to fly a plane, often had to fly planes they had never seen before; they would have had no instrument flying instruction, only some brief written notes. In addition, there was no radio and none of the modern navigational aids such as radar.  Many paid the ultimate price for their dangerous role; in total 173 ATA aircrew died in service, including the famous pilot Amy Johnson.

The base at White Waltham had its own canteen and one of the residents of Holmers House, Dorothy Haire, worked there as a Canteen Assistant. She enjoyed her time at the base and wrote that, “I have very fond memories of working for the RAF in White Waltham. I used to look after a commanding officer who was extremely handsome. I was picked for the officers mess and used to wait on the officers. I was very pretty and rather cheeky which the officers loved. They nicknamed me ‘Blondie’.” Dorothy worked at the base from 16th January 1941 to 9th October 1945 and was its second longest serving employee. She even served the King and Queen during her time at the base and got to meet many of the female pilots.

The importance of the ATA’s contribution to the war effort was recognised in 2008 when Veterans Badges were awarded to pilots, ground crew and support personnel by the then prime minister, Gordon Brown. Unfortunately, Dorothy was not a member of the ATA Association and so did not receive an invitation to get her badge. However, earlier this year her son saw a programme called Spitfire Women which highlighted the work of the ATA. He then did some research and found out that his mother would be entitled to an award. He contacted the  Secretary of the ATA, John Webster, who arranged to come and present Dorothy with her badge and certificate on 23rd September. On the day, John came along with his wife Maria and they discussed her time at the ATA which brought back many fond memories for Dorothy who really enjoyed her day.