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Re-united with Spitfire ML407 at age 74 she flew it again

 

Jackie kept an aircraft recognition book in which she made personal comments on each aircraft type, good features and bad. Needless to say, the Spitfire was a clear winner in Jackie’s eyes. In all she flew 501 of them during her lifetime she always kept up her licence, the last when she was well and truly retired  at age 74 and was invited by Carolyn Grace to fly in her two seat Spitfire. In tracing the history of the Grace Spitfire, ML407, Carolyn Grace had become aware that Jackie had been the first person to fly ML407 when she had delivered it new from the factory to 485 New Zealand Sqn for D day, where it became the mount of Flying Officer Johnnie Houlton DFC. He then went on to be credited with shooting down the first enemy aircraft on D-Day over the Normandy Beachhead.  Jackie and Carolyn re-enacted that delivery 50 years later, to the day of the first flight. See the replica Aircraft Collection Chit (above) .  Johnnie was waiting at the aerodrome to receive it on  29th April 1994. Johnnie and Jackie were both the same age.

Knowing Jackie was a little nervous Carolyn said "Jackie I've dropped my map do you have control?"  My mother immediately answered "I have control" And she was flying her beloved Spitfire again age 74.  Carolyn said "Boy did she know how to fly it! Like riding a bike you never forget and Jackie certainly flew it faster and lower than I had ever dared."  

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On 29 April 1994 there Jackie was, standing beside ‘her’ aircraft that embodied so much history, looking wonderful in her ATA uniform which still fitted her perfectly.

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Candy had a go in ML407 when Carolyn kindly returned to scatter Jackies Ashes from the GRACE over Dunkeswell Aerodrome.  Candy always says the only plane she has flown is a Spitfire! What a lucky girl.

"It was with great sadness but immense honour that I scattered Jackie’s ashes from her Spitfire on 1 August 2004: an appropriate ending to an inspirational life."

    Carolyn Grace 2004

SPITFIRE PILOT.

by SIMON TRUMP.

WHEN the call sign ML407 crackles over the airwaves tomorrow (sun) it will be for clearance to take to the skies on what will be one of the most poignant missions in its own long and distinguished career.
For the Grace Spitfire will be carrying a very special cargo, the ashes of Jackie Moggridge,

one of Britain's most famous women pilots, whose last wish was to be scattered high above the Somerset countryside.

The plane rolled off the RAF production line at Lyneham, Wilts, on April 29, 1944, where a bright-eyed, young Jackie was waiting to deliver it to a front-line squadron in her role with the Air Transport Auxiliary.  Within weeks, the plane flew from its new base at 485 New Zealand Squadron at Selsey, in West Sussex, into the skies above Normandy during the D-Day landings recording the first kill on June 6th.  In a strange twist of fate, long after its wartime exploits were over, a historian researching the Spitfire's past for a TV documentary with Jackie noticed her name in its log book.  By then, the aircraft had been bought and lovingly restored by Nick Grace and it is his widow, Carolyn, with whom Jackie formed a long and close friendship.

In her early 20s, Jackie, from Taunton, in Somerset, was one of a just a handful of wartime female pilots and played a vital role delivering hundreds  of fighters to RAF squadrons all over the world.  Earlier this year, she died aged 81, and it is thanks to her daughter Candy - and Carolyn - that her passing will be marked by the scattering from Dunkeswell airfield, near Taunton.  After her own husband's tragic death in a car crash in 1988, Carolyn learnt to fly ML407 herself and continued to perform at air shows in memory of her beloved husband.

It was Carolyn who took Jackie, then aged 71, up for a spin while making the documentary Absolute Heaven - the veteran's own description of what it is like to be at the controls of the aircraft. 

Carolyn said: "Jackie didn't want to fly the plane but once we were in the air I suddenly said 'I've dropped my map, do you have control.' That is serious in a Spitfire because it has no floor and you cannot

pick it back up.

"Jackie knew this and immediately said "I have control" and flew it all the way to the Imperial War Museum's airfield at Duxford. She was so exuberant, always so full of life, it was the only way I ever knew her."  Candy said: "Because of their special bond, Carolyn kindly offered to carry out this weekend¹s touching tribute and we warmly accepted. We will not be sad about it.

"It will be a release, a letting go, a chance to give mum her freedom again. Just think how many people fly to and fro over that airfield. It will be nice to see her back with her biggest love, the planes up

in the air."

A crowd of family and friends will gather at the airfield including Candy and husband Mark, her children Ashleigh, 11, and Lara, six, her sister Veronica and her husband Mike.

Born in Pretoria, South Africa in 1922, and christened Dolores Theresa Sorour, she took the name Jackie from a famous hockey player of the time - a sign of the individualist streak that ran through her life. Despite suffering from vertigo and airsickness Jackie was so desperate to fly she took a correspondence course before leaving for England and further professional training.

At the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939, she joined the Women¹s Auxiliary Air Force, but was considered too young to be an RAF pilot until a shortage of aircrew led to a posting as a ferry pilot.

She flew Hurricanes, Spitfires, Mosquitoes and Typhoons, and later Vampire and Meteor jet fighters, receiving the King's Commendation after the war for flying the most aircraft in the ATA.  Candy said: "It was a very dangerous job although mum always made light of it. They were not allowed to use radar to avoid being spotted by the enemy and if they were they couldn't fight back because they weren't armed."

After the war, Jackie joined the RAF Volunteer Reserve and finally won her 'wings' with five other female pilots in 1953, campaigning to become the first women to break the sound barrier.  She was also the first female commercial airline captain, flying for Channel Airways, but was banned from speaking over the radio to passengers because they would be frightened to hear a woman's voice.

"Those sort of attitudes seem so ridiculous now. Mum loved her family and friends but flying was probably the most exciting thing in her life," added Candy.

Jackie's wartime career also led to her meeting with her future husband Reginald Moggridge - who went on to become a Lieutenant Colonel in the Royal Engineers - in Essex in July 1940.  The couple were married in Taunton, his home town, in 1946, where it was that they brought up their family, where she ended her days and where she will take her final flight.


 

The Scattering of Jackie's  Ashes

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She was always hoping for women to be recognised and was thrilled when they allowed women Vicars.  Her obituary was on the same page as the announcement of the first woman Bishop and how thrilled would she have been to see today that the RAF have the first woman Air Vice Marshall  in  Sue Gray and first Navigator in Grp Capt Anne Marie Houghton the first Red Arrow in Kirsty More and the first Jet pilot Hon Group Captain Jo Salter. She would be so proud of you all.

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When she died in January 2004 her ashes were scattered over Dunkeswell Aerodrome near her home in Taunton.  I leave you with a couple of lines from her poem 

I miss the beauty of that world

above the earth and I behold

 a vision there of silver wings

 and listen to my heart it sings

 It is not I that feels that thrill

 though yet the memory lingers still

it is a younger one today  Who’s flying now, oer my skyway.

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"Dying must be an awfully big adventure" 

Peter Pan

Jackie Moggridge died peacefully on 7th January 2004. she was still driving her car, baby sitting her grandchildren and searching for new adventures.  Jill and Candy were surprised to see this amazing obituary in the Times they had no idea that she was so famous that the Times had an obituary ready for her.

She was on the News that evening with a beautiful tribute to her flying career and the ATA.

The Last Flight

 

When I must set the compass for my flight –

the last and all alone.

Which bearing is the best all through the night

to reach the great unknown?

 

Will wind allowance matter in the void

through which I have to go?

Or navigation error be allowed with faults?

I do not know.

 

How can I tell the distance and the time

or weather on the way?

Or estimate the height I have to climb

until I land some day?

 

Pray that the Master Pilot of us all will

check my course to steer

And not allow my wavering wings to stall

when I take off from here.

 

by Jackie Moggridge

 

Published in Fifty Ways to Fly (Rhythm & Muse, 2017), ed by Alison Hill

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Sold in support of the British Women Pilots’ Association – copies from www.alisonhillpoetry.com

I found The Last Flight written on the back of an ATA SNAG REPORT chit. Which was quite apt.

I should have read it at her funeral 2004 but I only found it in 2014! 

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