Pauline Gower – Queen of Aviation
Today is International Women’s Day which provides me a fitting opportunity to talk about a remarkable lady who was one of the leading pioneers of women in aviation.
Pauline Gower gained her pilots licence on 4th August 1930 after only fifteen hours of flying time. She had just turned twenty and had achieved this at a time when very few women were able to drive, let alone fly a plane. However, this wasn’t enough for Pauline, she wanted to earn a living from flying, which meant she needed to get a commercial licence – she enrolled at the London Aeroplane Club and was awarded her commercial (or B licence) on 13th July 1931. She was only the third woman in the world to earn a commercial pilots licence.
Shortly afterwards Pauline, along with fellow female aviator Dorothy Spicer, started the first all-female air taxi and joy ride service, based out of a field in Kent. During the early thirties, Britain was going crazy for air travel and the business boomed. She also performed at air shows up and down the country and was beginning to make a name for herself in aviation circles, although it was not always plain-sailing.
She was fined £222 in 1933, having taxied her Spartan into a stationary Moth at Cardiff while giving joy-rides in an air pageant (although she reckoned it had definitely moved since she checked where it was). Three years later, she was taken to hospital suffering from concussion and ‘lacerations of the scalp’ after she collided with another aeroplane on the ground, this time at Coventry airport.
During her air-taxi career, she was reckoned to have piloted more than 33,000 passengers.
Over the years, she became a sought after speaker and was invited to serve on numerous committees, one of which was concerned with air safety. In 1939 she was given a Commission in the Civil Air Guard.
By this time, it was obvious that war was practically inevitable. As the RAF started to ready itself it was also obvious that it needed more pilots. Women were not allowed to fly in the RAF at that time, but with more than 2000 flying hours under her belt, Gower was determined to try and help the war effort however she could. At the same time, Gerald d’Erlanger was busy forming the Air Transport Auxiliary, a service that would use pilots not eligible for RAF service but who could still be useful transporting mail, supplies and spare parts from factory to airfield. In an effort to recruit pilots for the ATA, letters were sent out to all civilian pilots with more than 250 hours flying experience. Pauline was asked to set the Women’s section of the ATA.
At the beginning of the war there were only nine female pilots in the ATA, however under her leadership and guidance as Commandant of the Women’s Section of the Air Transport Auxiliary that number grew steadily to more than 150 women, flying all kinds of machines from single seat trainers to massive heavy bombers such as the Lancaster.
In recognition for her service to the war effort she was awarded the MBE in 1942. The following year she was appointed a director of BOAC – probably the first woman in the world to be appointed to the board of any civilian airline.
Tragically she died in 1947 giving birth to her twin sons.
Some people believe women pilots to be a race apart, and born ‘fully fledged’. Women are not born with wings, neither are men for that matter. Wings are won by hard work, just as proficiency is won in any profession.
Pauline Gower in ‘A Harvest of Memories’, P.170 (Sept 1995)
This excerpt has been taken from my forthcoming book ‘Reaching For the Sky’ (Unicorn Press) available for pre-order on Amazon right now.