Obituary – WW2 ATA Pilot, Mary Ellis

Mary Ellis (née Wilkins; 1917 – 24 July 2018) was a British World War II Spitfire pilot, and one of the last surviving British women pilots from World War II.

Mary Ellis was born in 1917 and was a local girl from Leafield. She developed a fascination with aviation from a young age, as her family home was located near Royal Air Force bases at Bicester Airfield and Port Meadow. At the age of 11 her father paid for her to have a joy ride in a biplane at a flying circus, and she decided she wanted to learn to fly. When she was 16 she started having lessons at a flying club in Witney (the new Squadron Headquarters stands on the site of the aerodrome that Mary had learnt to fly at), successfully gained a private pilot’s licence and flew for pleasure up until the start of World War II in 1939, when all civilian flying was banned.

In October 1941 she joined the Air Transport Auxiliary, and was posted to a pool of women flyers based in Hamble in Hampshire. Over the course of the war she flew over 1,000 planes of 76 different types, including Harvards, Hurricanes, Spitfires and Wellington bombers. Some of her flights were to relocate planes from Royal Air Force airfields to the frontline, and others were to ferry new planes from factories (such as the De Havilland aerodrome in Witney) to airfields.

After the war, the Air Transport Auxiliary was disbanded, however Ellis was seconded to the Royal Air Force and continued to ferry aircraft. She was one of the first women to fly the Gloster Meteor, Britain’s first jet fighter. She later moved to the Isle of Wight. In 1950 she became the manager of Sandown Airport, and Europe’s first female air commandant.  Ellis managed Sandown for twenty years, during which time she also founded the Isle of Wight Aero Club.

In 2016, Ellis published her autobiography: A Spitfire Girl: One of the World’s Greatest Female ATA Ferry Pilots Tells Her Story.

Ellis died at her home on the Isle of Wight on 24 July, 2018.