British Air Transport Auxiliary
Dorothy Furey Bragg Beatty Hewitt
I first became interested in learning to fly when I was working for a small weekly newspaper. It was 1936 and Hitler occupied the Rhineland. I was a girl Friday and did everything from writing articles and editorials and helping the Editor put the paper to bed on Fridays. It was at this time that I wrote an editorial of which was:
The failure of the European Powers to stop Hitler from occupying the Rhineland has set the stage for World War II, which is now inevitable, and the United States for all its isolationism will inexorably be sucked into the whirlpool.
I felt this would probably be the only justifiable war in my lifetime, so I began to think of ways in which I could be useful. I pondered about this for several years before finally settling on flying. I didn't envision flying combat but thought women would be useful in transporting the wounded to hospitals and in general helping to transport planes wherever they were needed. Around 1940, I drove out to the airport and located a sign, which read "MAYNARD SCHOOL OF AVIATION." I went in, found Mr. Maynard, and introduced myself. I told him I was anxious to fly but didn't have any money (it was the depths of depression). He spotted my beaten up old Ford outside and asked if it was mine. I said yes and that it was free and clear. He then said, "Well, you give me your car and I will teach you how to fly." Two years later, I had my Commercial License and Instructor's Rating. Just at that moment Roosevelt announced his Student Training program, which permitted any university student to get fifty hours of instruction free. This created an enormous demand for instructors, so I went to work teaching people my own age how to fly. By August I had taught two lots of young men and one girl to fly; in the end they all received their Private Pilots License.
At that time I met two English Army Officers who had been sent over to observe the War Games staged in Louisiana. They told me that in about two weeks there would be a man in Montreal who was there to recruit women to go to England and transport Military planes wherever they were needed. That was all I needed to hear. I asked them what their plans were, and they told me they would be in Washington D.C. for about ten days before heading to Montreal. I asked them if I would be able to meet them in Washington so we could all travel together, which they thought would be splendid. By that time I had been able to buy myself a snappy little Studebaker. So I picked them up in Washington, and we drove to New York City where we spent a few days, also visiting Harlem, which was charming. We were very welcome and had some of the best fried chicken I have ever tasted. We wandered up toward Montreal taking out time and stopping at some of the charming little villages we encountered. When we arrived I found myself a small flat and within a week had been introduced to a gentleman I cam to know as Smitty. I produced my log books, which showed my Commercial License and Instructor's Rating which also showed I had spent around 400 hours teaching. He was delighted with that and said I only had to pass a flight test on a Harvard trainer.
I passed the test with flying colors and was immediately told I would go with the first contingent. I became the first American female to be hired by the British ATA. For some reason or other they did not want to send me alone, so I had to cool my heels in Montreal until Ms. Cochran found some other girls. She took her time and I spent my time getting a Canadian Commercial License. Finally they arrived and we set sail from St. John's, New Brunswick. The convoy just before had lost 6 out of the 9 of its ships. We were three weeks crossing and were met in Liverpool by Pauline Gower. I spent about two years and nine months flying. My favorite plan was the Spitfire, although I nearly lost my life when I lost almost all power on the take-off. I throttled back and opened gently and got some power, however I had to make a wide flat turn. I continued flying and flew all sorts of planes, single engine, twin engine, and trimoter.
Sometime in 1944 I became seriously ill and had to resign. I enjoyed
my time in the ATA, but I was not impassioned by flying, which I think
most of the other young women were. Many of them are still meeting,
and most of them devoted their lives to it, most especially Diana Barnato
and Ann Wood-Kelly. For me it was an interesting interlude, but I have
had a very varied and interesting life. I took up scuba diving at the
age of 77 and have continued to dive to this date. I bore five sons,
farmed a 550 acre farm, and became a thoroughbred racing owner, breeder,
and yearling seller. I also have raised beef on one of my farms and
have traveled widely. Just last year I was in Uzbekistan, which is in
the news just now. I send my greetings to all those I knew who are still
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