As we remember those who lost their lives in conflict, Prestwick air traffic controller Angela Henderson tells us about the incredible story of her pioneering war time grandparents. Douglas and Margaret Fairweather are among the very few married couples to rest together in a Commonwealth War Grave and here, Angela reflects on their courageous acts….
Angela’s grandparents final resting place in Dunure, South Ayrshire acts as a reminder of their selfless efforts and dedication during the Second World War. Douglas was a chain-smoking rule breaker, who was known for flying any mission in any weather, while Margaret was the first woman to fly a Supermarine Spitfire. She was part of the Air Transport Axillary (ATA) and ferried all types of aircraft across the UK for the war effort.
Meeting later in life, they married and embarked on an “adventure honeymoon”, flying to Germany while the Third Reich was re-arming. They travelled with a purpose and sought out hidden airfields, plotting the coordinates and relaying them in coded travel letters. On their return, Margaret interpreted the code and fed that back to the War Office. This type of information was vital as Britain kept a watchful eye on the beginnings of a sinister regime.
As war broke out, there was a need for experienced pilots. Even with their skill and experience, there was no way they could enlist for active service. Margaret was a woman and it would be another five decades before the first female RAF combat pilot flew – Flight Lieutenant Jo Slater in 1994. Douglas had different problems; he was a large man, and the RAF standard flying harness did not make it round his middle. So, they joined the ATA and in September 1939, Margaret became one of the original eight female flyers, ferrying planes from factories to operational airfields.
During this time, Margaret became pregnant but, even during her pregnancy, such was her importance to the war effort, her duties continued. Also, not one to shy away from weather, on 3 April 1944, Douglas volunteered to go to Prestwick to collect a Canadian casualty requiring special treatment. In appalling weather, somewhere over the Irish Sea, his plane came down. 17 days later, just weeks after Margaret gave birth to their daughter – Angela’s mum Elizabeth – his body was found washed up on the shore.
Pushing grief to one side, courageous Margaret was back in the pilot’s seat just two months after giving birth and continued the vital work of ferrying planes to active airfields. Tragically, just weeks later, on 4 August 1944, Margaret’s plane had to make a forced landing and the plane cartwheeled. She was rushed to hospital but later died from her injuries.
“It’s an amazing, emotional love story and I’m so proud of them. As I reflect on their courageous acts, I also feel proud to be carrying on the aviation tradition in the family, working as an air traffic controller in Prestwick”. Angela Henderson, Prestwick ATCO.
The annual two minutes of silence on Remembrance Sunday is a hugely important part of our national remembrance and as such, helping ensure these periods of silence are as complete as possible is a responsibility NATS always takes seriously.
Working together with airports and airlines, we put in place some operating restrictions immediately before and during, the silences, both as a mark of our respect and to minimise the risk of noise disturbing the many commemorations being held up and down the country.
Find out more about the work that goes into helping the nation remember here.
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