Molly Daphne Rose (née Marshall): b 26th November 1920: d 16th October 2016.
Molly Marshall was born in November 1920, the fifth of six daughters with an older brother, Arthur. Her father, David Marshall, founded a car maintenance, car rental and car dealership business in 1909 and with her brother a flying school and aircraft maintenance business in the 1920s.
In Molly’s own words: - “My brother, Arthur, who was seventeen years my senior, enjoyed his first flying lesson at Norwich in 1927, obtaining his Pilot’s Licence a year later. In 1929 he bought a new Gipsy Moth, and his first flights were based on flattened fields behind our home in Cambridge. These fields became part of what is now Cambridge Airport.
“I was a little girl when Arthur got his Gypsy Moth and, if I was hanging about, he didn’t mind taking up his little sister. He was very tolerant. I had some very cold flights because if your big brother is offering to take you flying, you don’t run in for a jumper; you nipped smartly into the front cockpit! It certainly didn’t put me off flying.
“In 1937, I started flying lessons, and a year later, I passed my Pilot’s Licence. When I finished school in the summer of 1938, my father agreed to allow me to do an engineering course at the aerodrome, which he founded, and so I worked as a ground engineer. The chaps were extremely kind to me, despite the fact I was the only female working there.
“With war declared in 1939, I married Bernard Rose in December of that year. He volunteered to serve in the army, and I returned to my ground engineering in 1940, working there until I was called up by the Air Transport Auxiliary in 1942.
In 1942, Bernard travelled to the Middle East to join a tank regiment, and in July, Molly’s father died suddenly. So, when an invitation came from the Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA) to join them as a pilot, she reacted: “My mother had died in 1930 when I was only ten years old, and the two men in my life were not there to be asked, I accepted. I also thought that if I were to go and get a jolly good photograph of me in the ATA uniform and send it to Bernard in north Africa, although he might be alarmed, he would be pleased to see me looking so smart!”
Although Molly had only just under 19 hours of flying solo, ATA was keen to employ anyone with a pilot’s Licence.
The ATA was formed in August 1939, just before war was declared, and given the task of ferrying from the aircraft manufacturers to the squadrons – because there was a shortage of RAF pilots and they needed to be focused on combat warfare.
ATA comprised male pilots who were not eligible to join the RAF and women who had gained their Pilot’s Licence but could not, in those days, enlist with the RAF. The male pilots were often people who had been turned down for employment in the RAF on the grounds of age or medical impairment. Molly would often remark: “The men were much braver than the women. They were generally older and had medical injuries. Compared with the women who were fit and generally very keen to contribute to the war efforts and fly!
The first group of women ATA pilots, eight of them, was formed in February 1940. It was rapidly proved that the women pilots could pilot aircraft just as successfully as their male counterparts.
Molly signed her agreement to join ATA on 16th September 1942, the employment number “W98”. She completed her induction and was flying solo by 25th September 1942!
Molly commented: “ATA had its own system of training because they recruited people with a variety of experiences and from all around the world. When you first joined, you were allocated your own instructor, and I had a lovely instructor called Joan Hughes. She was one of the original eight women pilots and was one of the youngest female pilots in Great Britain.”
The training system developed by ATA was truly magnificent. What has to be remembered is that fighter aircraft were single-seaters. Therefore, pilots in ATA were trained by type, and each type was organised into classes. (NB It is only in the past few years that Spitfires have been converted to become two-seaters!). The classes were
Over time Molly became qualified and licensed to fly classes 1 to 4 – and the largest she flew was a Wellington bomber (first of a dozen solo flights in October 1944) and the smallest a Tiger Moth!
An essential aid to all ATA pilots was a loose-leafed binder of about 12 x 15cms which had instructions for flying all aircraft and was strapped to the leg for use at take-off, flight and landing. It was called Ferry Pilot Notes. It included engine type and some details about the engine, throttle information, undercarriage, flaps, gills, tanks, cabin, take-off, climb, cruise and landing – to name but a few items!
For the Spitfire and ‘Supermarine Seafire’, the Ferry Pilot Notes covered both the Merlin and Griffon engines. For the Merlin engine, specifically Spitfire I, II, IV, V, VI, VIIPR, VIIF, VIII, IX, X, XI, XIII, XVI, and Seafire I, II and III. For the Griffon engine: Spitfire XII, XIV, XVIII, XIX, 21 and 22: Seafire: XV, XVII and 45. Thus there were 25 variants of the Spitfire.
The ‘Supermarine Seafire’ was a naval version of the Spitfire adapted for operation from aircraft carriers.
Having joined ATA as a Cadet in September 1942, Molly rose through the ranks to become First Officer Rose. The ranks were Cadet, Third, Second and First Officer. She was, by all reports, a highly competent and reliable pilot.
“I flew with ATA from 1942 to 1945 and was stationed at Hamble, which was one of the two “all women” ferry pools in the country. As the majority of aircraft we handled at Hamble were of the fighter variety, we were responsible for delivering aircraft to all the fighter squadrons in the south of England,” said Molly.
And this is where the Spitfire came into Molly’s life. Hamble was well-positioned to collect Spitfires from factories that were based in the south of England. Molly’s first Spitfire flight was on 2nd September 1943 and was from Cosford to Cranfield. Her last flight in a Spitfire was on 23rd April 1945 and from Lyneham to Lasham. In all, Molly delivered 273 Spitfires.
Molly’s words: “The most dangerous part of flying was flying in bad weather. We often didn’t have radios in those days, and even if one was fitted, it was strictly for use in combat situations. Once you were up in the air, you were on your own and had to use a compass and maps, and in bad weather, this was a challenge.” ATA pilots were instructed to fly below cloud cover – which is why there is a reference to maps. Often, they would follow a road route for parts of their journeys.
Like many of her colleagues at Hamble, Molly would describe the Spitfire as a lady’s plane in that it was so responsive to its controls. A typical comment was: “It was a beautiful aircraft and great to handle”. They were in awe of the Spitfire designer, RJ Mitchell, who sadly died of cancer in 1937.
The only crash Molly experienced was while delivering a ‘Fairey Swordfish III’ (NF 262) on 13th May 1944 from High Ercall. Experiencing engine failure whilst flying over the Wrekin (near Shifnal), she was ‘forced to land in a field, after severe engine failure and the aircraft was severely damaged. This quote is from the Findings of the Accident Report. Under “Responsibility”, it states: “The pilot is held not responsible for this accident”.
*The Fairey Swordfish was a biplane torpedo bomber designed by the Fairey Aviation Company.
Molly’s description of what happened was that experiencing engine failure, she looked around for somewhere safe to make an emergency landing. She could see a man ploughing a field, and she managed to avoid him. However: what made the crash more of an experience was that she miscalculated the contours and angles. So, the nose dug into the earth, and the plane turned upside down. She was left dangling from the cockpit still in her harness, and the farmer had to come to her assistance. Knowing the aircraft had been adapted with some highly secret equipment, Molly instructed the farmer to guard the plane while she contacted the local RAF station. Molly suffered no physical damage: all that was damaged was her pride! Luckily based at nearby RAF Cosford was a brother-in-law who collected and gave her dinner in the mess.
When ATA pilots were not delivering aircraft, they were often performing a taxi service for their colleagues. With the speed of delivery the essence, pilots would be flown to collect the aircraft from factories and then collected from wherever they had delivered aircraft – “Maintenance Units” where equipment was fitted for combat for onward delivery to RAF stations. A typical day’s flying! On 9th September 1945, Molly had 7 flights, of which 4 were delivering Spitfires, and 3 were flying in a Fairchild, taking her to various destinations.
Molly’s flying career was:
•First solo flight in a Tiger Moth on 13th April 1938 from Cambridge to Cambridge. •Last solo flight in a *Walrus on 24th April 1945 from Cowes to Wroughton. •With ATA, Molly delivered 486 aircraft flying a total of 705 hours. •1,364 Flights in ATA, of which over 860 were solo.
The ‘Supermarine Walrus’ (originally known as the ‘Supermarine Seagull V’) was a British single-engine amphibious biplane reconnaissance aircraft designed by R. J. Mitchell and manufactured by the British aircraft company Supermarine.
With the war ended, Molly said: “My husband was a prisoner of war for the last eleven months of the war. He had landed on D-day at Arromanches les Baines and was taken prisoner seven days later at the Battle of Villers BocaLes He was to spend the rest of the war as a prisoner of war in the German Brunswick Camp (Oflag 79), and when the war in Europe ended, he came home. I was 26 when I came out of ATA and had flown 36 different types of aircraft.”
During World War Two, the Air Transport Auxiliary employed 1,077 men and 168 women from 25 countries ferried over 309,000 aircraft of 147 different types, without radios, with no instrument flying instruction and at the mercy of the British weather. Sadly 173 men and women were to die in the service of ATA. A remarkable story!
Graham Rose is the eldest son of Molly and Bernard Rose and is currently chairman of the Air Transport Auxiliary Association.