Tributes as Britain's last surviving female Spitfire pilot dies, aged 103
- Credit: Archant
Britain's last surviving female Spitfire pilot, Suffolk resident Eleanor Wadsworth, has died aged 103.
Living in Bury St Edmunds, Mrs Wadsworth was well-known locally for the role she had played flying Spitfires as part of the Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA) during the Second World War.
The ATA's job was to deliver new and repaired aircraft to squadrons of the RAF and Royal Navy.
Mrs Wadsworth, originally from Nottingham, happened to see a notice looking for pilots after beginning her work with the ATA.
After just 12 hours of training, Mrs Wadsworth was up in the sky.
She went on to pilot more than 22 different types of aircraft during the war, including Hurricanes, Hellcats, a Mustang and most notably Spitfires.
Speaking to this newspaper in 2018, to mark her 101st birthday, Mrs Wadsworth said the Spitfire would always be her favourite of the planes she flew.
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“I think most people who have ever flown a Spitfire will say that it was a gem,” she said.
“It looked as thought it was meant to fly, you stood and looked at it and looked as though it was just ready to take off.
“I’ve never driven a real sports car but I should imagine that’s what it’s like, only far better because you’ve got an additional dimension. You’ve got up and down, as well as side to side.”
By the end of the war, the great-grandmother had clocked up 590 hours of flying - of which 430 were solo.
It was after the war, in 1945, that Mrs Wadsworth met her husband Bernard.
The couple moved to Bury in 1956, where they remained for the rest of their lives.
In 2019, Mrs Wadsworth's story was featured in a special pop-up museum in Bury which marked 100 years of women serving in the military.
Defence secretary Ben Wallace paid tribute to Mrs Wadsworth after her death on December 23.
He said: "Eleanor Wadsworth led the fullest of lives through her career, her family and her volunteering to serve in 1939.
"She did so in pioneering fashion, flying 600 hours in 22 aircraft.
"It was ordinary people doing extraordinary things that defeated fascism and we should never forget Eleanor's example and achievements."