Calendar tribute to Spitfire Girls takes flight

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The glamour and bravery of women who flew wartime aircraft has been put in the picture at Montrose Air Station.

The flying ladies of the Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA) piloted dozens of different types of war planes between factories, air bases and front line squadrons during the Second World War.

Some of the ladies who posed for the calendar are pictured with photographer Neil Werninck at Montrose Air Station Museum.

Some of the ladies who posed for the calendar are pictured with photographer Neil Werninck at Montrose Air Station Museum.

These ‘Spitfire Girls’ have been commemorated in a new calendar featuring 13 girls from the Montrose area dressed in the World War Two uniforms of the ATA ladies.

Sporting bright red lips and big, bouncy 1940s style up-dos, the models were photographed beside the replica Spitfire, The Red Lichtie, at the atmospheric surroundings of Montrose Air Station.

The 2016 calendar, which also commemorates the 80th anniversary of the first flight by a Spitfire and the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Britain, has been put together by local photographer and founder member of Montrose Air Station Heritage Centre, Neil Werninck.

He said: “I thought for a while I’d like to do a charity calendar for the museum and I came across the idea of the calendar we have when I saw a programme for the Air Transport Auxiliary women pilots from World War Two, a number of whom flew spitfires.

“Around about the same time, I’d either read or again seen on the television that March 1936 was the first flight of the Spitfire and then I had one of those moments where I thought here’s a perfect combination for a calendar.”

Drama student Charlotte Yates, who graces the cover of the calendar, said: “It feels like an honour to be on the front out of the 13 of us that were photographed for the calendar.

“I feel quite special being put on the front because I’ve never been on the front of a calendar before, so it’s quite an experience.”

Dr Dan Paton, curator of the heritage centre, explained the story of these ATA women is not one that is not always remembered and said he was happy the air station was helping to tell their tale.

He told the Review that they will be creating a new exhibition at the museum dedicated to the Spitfire Girls.

The calendar was launched at a special event at Montrose Air Station, which is the oldest military air base in the UK, and some of the 13 leading ladies from the calendar turned out all glammed up in evening dresses from the Jezabelle boutique in Murray Street.

Honorary President of the museum, Lord James Alexander Douglas-Hamilton, Baron Selkirk of Douglas, was at the launch of the calender, and the story of the Spitfire Girls has a particularly significant meaning for him as his aunt, Wendy Sale-Barker, was an ATA lady and one of the first women pilots in Britain.

Aunt Wendy was a pre-war daredevil skier and flier. An actress’s daughter who won a competition for flying lessons, she captained the British Ski Team in the infamous 1936 Olympics.

Lord James said: “It is quite an emotional experience for me being at the launch of the calendar as my aunt was one of the women to fly wartime planes.

“The ATA is often forgotten but what they did was enormously important.”

In 1932, Wendy and another female pilot, Joan Page, flew from London to Cape Town. On their way back, they crashed the Gipsy Moth they were flying.

“She crashed by Mount Kilimanjaro and was badly injured. She had a broken back and the other female pilot bad a broken leg.

“She wrote a message in lipstick saying she needed help and passed it to a Masai herdsman,” explained Lord James.

The note worked and, in spite of a broken back, Wendy lived to fly again and within a decade was flying Spitfires overBritain.

She was a close friend of famous ATA pilot Amy Johnson, who delivered twin engine Oxfords to Montrose Air Station.

Lord James said he commends the work done by the staff and volunteers at the museum for raising the attraction’s profile.

He added: “When I first came here to Montrose Air Station there was only around 100 visitors and now there are 6000 visitors each year.

“This is rapidly becoming a Scottish success story.”

The Spitfire Girls Calendar 2016 is available from Montrose Air Station Heritage Centre and costs £6.99.

It can also be ordered online at from the Montrose Air Station Heritage Centre website at a cost of £6.99, plus £2.99 post and packaging.

All the proceeds from the calendar sales go to Montrose Air Station Heritage Centre.