Saturday, 17 October 2009
Vi's party photos
Saturday was another milestone in the life if Vi Milstead Warren as she celebrated her 90th birthday at Colborne United Church with a crowd of relatives and wellwishers.
Young women today owe Vi Warren and others like her a great debt.
A pioneer in aviation, Vi cleared the way for women behind her to take up flying as a vocation.
Back in 1939 when flight was a novelty and a men's domain, 20-year-old Vi was in the air. Vi worked in her mother's wool shop to pay for her flying lessons. Within two years she was a qualified instructor and over time taught many men an women to fly, including author June Callwood.
The onset of WW II brought fuel rationing. In 1942, Vi, with 1,000 hours of flying experience, followed her love and joined the Air transport Auxiliary with the late Marion Orr, ferrying planes of all kinds around Britain.
As "unofficial" wartime personnel, the ATA pilots were not privy to military manoeuvres and briefings. In fact, it was nothing for Vi - all 115 pounds of her - to climb into a bare-bones aircraft and head out alone to deliver it half-way across the country. Often, she flew with no radio contact, relying on map reading and sight of the ground.
ATA pilots often flew quite low by today's standards. Dangers included rising terrain in marginal British weather, industrial smog and barrage balloons installed to deter enemy aircraft. There was also the possibility of enemy aircraft skulking above, looking for targets. Navigating around Britain using its maze of railway tracks and roads, none straight, presented another challenge. Few planes had radios and even if they did, pilots were required to maintain radio silence and not attract enemy attention.
By 1945, "it was quite obvious", the Allied War effort was doing well - and building to a climax. And in the months following D-Day June 6, 1944, there was still lots of ATA action, closing pools, consolidating others. The small Cosford pool where Vi was stationed closed. She was reassigned to headquarters at White Waltham, closer to London.
Several months after D-Day June 6, 1944, Vi made her decision. "I felt I would resign and go home." She cleared Canadian Immigration in Halifax in August 26, 1945.
She had flown 47 different types of airplanes - including one of only 40 Welkin - and she was 26 years old.
The next spring, she was back at Barker Fields, teaching flying. Vi met her future husband, Arnold Warren, at Leavens Brothers Air Services. Arnold had been discharged from the Canadian Air Force after five years' service the spring before Vi. He, too, was an ardent pilot and accomplished trainer and instructor. They married in 1947 and moved north to Sudbury to fly for Nickel Belt Airways.
Vi was the first woman to fly Fairchild Huskies on charter from Lake Ramsey throughout the area - Canada's first woman bush pilot.
In 1950, Vi and Arnold moved to Windsor where they re-established the Windsor Flying Club (1950-52).
In 1952, Arnold was recruited by International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) to be the Chief Flight Instructor at the Indonesian Aviation Academy in Djakarta, Java.
In 1954, they returned to Canada, employed in the aviation industry. They continued to fly for recreation, owning a PA-12, then a Mooney to commute to their Magdallen Islands home in Quebec. Both retired in 1973.
Five years ago, at age 85, Vi was awarded the highest honour in Canada for her lifelong service to aviation. She received the Order of Canada from Governor General Adrienne Clarkson in 2004.
Vi was nominated by her biographer, companion and fellow flier, Marilyn Dickson.
Last year, Vi added another honour to the list when she was awarded a British badge of honour for her wartime efforts.
In 2008, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown announced all surviving pilots and other men and women who served with the British civilian Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA) would be awarded a badge of honour for their work during World War II. British Transport Secretary Ruth Kelly said, "This badge will be a fitting honour to commemorate the bravery of all men and women of the ATA and to ensure that those who served are remembered and given the recognition they deserve."
At the time of the award there were five known Canadian surviving ATA pilots, including the only woman, Vi Milstead.
Vi's party photos
Posted by Cramahe Now at 23:12