Thought I’d post on International Women’s Day by featuring an image that I came across a few years ago of my late Great Aunt. Hilda passed away suddenly in hospital a few years ago at the age of 99. Found in her pocket at the time was a ticket for another solo trip away on holiday, which perhaps gives an idea of just how astonishingly active, vigorously alert and fiercely independent she was right up to the very end of her long life.
After the early death of her husband, she lived alone for many years until her death in late 2014 and when we took steps to clear her house, the photo shown below was discovered.
A small cross has been etched on the photo right in front of a lady sitting far left.
I now believe it shows Hilda with other employees at Boulton-Paul Aircraft Ltd in front of a large glider, possibly an Airspeed AS.51 Horsa, of the kind employed in Operations Overlord and Market Garden. From the diagram below, the similarity to the aircraft seen in Hilda’s photo is clear.
My mother informed me at the time that she knew Great Aunt Hilda was an inspector at a war time glider factory, and was sending the original photo to the Royal Air Force museum in London who had no photos of Melton Mowbray’s aircraft war work and were very pleased to add this to the collection.
Hilda’s side of my family are from Melton Mowbray. I found the following account from Melton resident Ray Lucas, a schoolboy during the war;
When I started work, I went to the Boulton and Paul works in the town [Melton Mowbray] as an apprentice carpenter. We were making the front end of Horsa gliders like the ones used in the D-Day landings. (From “A Boy in Melton Mowbray” by actexplorer).
It’s easy to overlook the huge and varied contribution of women to the war effort in WWII, from military roles (see my FEMbruary WRNS), to Land Girls (see Man of Tin’s FEMbruary figures) and munition or aircraft factory workers or inspectors like Hilda.
From this old photo, Hilda appears to be the only one looking away from the birdie, adjusting her shoe! Fiercely independent, at her funeral, Hilda was rightly described by my mother as a ‘proper lady’. On International Women’s Day this blog pays tribute to her, and others like her, who contributed so much to the war effort in the Second World War.
‘WW2 People’s War is an online archive of wartime memories contributed by members of the public and gathered by the BBC. The archive can be found at bbc.co.uk/ww2peopleswar‘