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Freydis Sharland
Freydis Sharland
Women of the ATA – Freydis Mary Sharland

Women of the Air Transport Auxiliary - Freydis Mary Sharland

Thanks to RAF Benson for providing us with this article

No 1 Ferry Pool, ATA, White Waltham, 1945

No 1 Ferry Pool, ATA, White Waltham, 1945

Between 1939 and 1945, more than 1,300 ATA pilots delivered warplanes between factories, facilities and bases across Britain, and, later, into mainland Europe and the Mediterranean. In January 1940, the ATA's first eight female pilots were recruited, and, based at what had been the De Havilland airfield at Hatfield in Hertfordshire, began delivery of unglamorous, 100mph Gipsy Moth training aircraft.

Following the outbreak of war, Freydis became a Red Cross nurse in Colchester, Essex. She fulfilled her ambition to join the ATA in 1942, starting out on Magister trainers and graduating to twin-engined Ansons.

Then she progressed to the frontline fighters, Hurricanes and Spitfires. She was at first based in Hamble, near the Supermarine Spitfire factory in Southampton. Her other stations included Sherburn-in-Elmet in Yorkshire, Prestwick in Scotland and White Waltham, the ATA's headquarters in Berkshire.

Freydis flew a range of British and American aircraft. There were twin-engine bombers such as the Vickers Wellington, the Lockheed Hudson and the ultra-fast, and tricky, De Havilland Mosquito – and there were the fighters.

Freydis Sharland

Freydis Sharland

The Spitfire was her favourite,

"It was so light, I fitted into it so well, it was such a nice little cockpit,"

She told an interviewer from the Second World War Experience Centre in 2008, later joking that,

"Fortunately, I never had to shoot down a German. There wasn't one available at the time."

Her flying career was far from over when the war ended though, she flew a Hawker Tempest V 4000 miles from England to Pakistan in 1953 to deliver the plane to the Pakistan Air Force. Her longest flight, and the first outside of the UK.

Her aeroplane was one of the biggest, and fastest, of its generation of pistone-engine RAF fighters, reaching speeds of 430mph. Her trip saw her stop off in Nicosia, Baghdad, Bahrain, and finally Karachi - capital of Pakistan's Sindh province.

Despite all this, she still found herself denied access to the officer's mess on the grounds that she was a woman. She rarely complained about sexist behaviour - although men were on the look-out for their errors, women had no difficulty doing the job. Thanks to the efforts of her fellow women flyers, and those of Sir Stafford Cripps, wartime minister of aircraft production, the ATA had already pioneered on equal pay.

She was also active in the Women's Junior Air Corps and the Girls Venture Corps. In 1954, she became British air racing champion, in a competition against 16 men. The following year, she founded the British Women Pilots Association.

Women of the ATA - Doing a Man's Job

Women of the ATA - 'Doing a Man's Job'

A regular feature of the Soldiers of Oxfordshire Museum blog has been the stories of the 'Men Behind the Medals', but this time we're glad to be able to tell the story of the 'Woman Behind the Medals'. Freydis was awarded an ATA service medal by Gordon Brown, then Prime Minister.

She lived in Brook Street, Benson until her death in 2014.

She was President of the Benson Women’s Institute and President of The Bensington Society for a number of years.

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