The female WW2 pilot who has inspired a new novel

Retired journalist Shirley Mann, of Wirksworth, tells how meeting a female centenarian who flew lots of planes in World War Two inspired her latest, fascinating novel.

IT was when I arrived, drenched, on the doorstep of the 101-year old Air Transport Auxiliary pilot to only a slightly raised eyebrow that I recognised the same sang-froid that had allowed Mary Ellis to fly everything from a Spitfire to a huge, four-engined bomber during the Second World War. Whereas I had failed to follow Google maps and got lost in a downpour, she had navigated the country many times using just a ruler and protractor. I was in awe. Mary Ellis died just a few weeks after my visit, but the afternoon I spent listening to her matter-of-fact rendition of hair-raising experiences, punishing deadlines and constant danger has now become my benchmark for dealing with everything that life has been throwing at us through the pandemic. And she did all that flying without radar, or even a radio, and with only a small bar of chocolate to sustain her during long flights…

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