W.25 Senior Commander 

Pauline Mary de Peauly Gower MBE 

Mrs Fahie

flag england b. 22 Jul 1910, Tunbridge Wells  1 Dec-39 to Oct-45 

  RAeC 1930  pauline gower 1940 ATA    

 

ata pauline gower 1940

5 feet 5 in height, in case you wondered.

"In England you can count on one hand the women who are making a living directly from flying. Probably foremost among them are the two girl flyers, Pauline Gower and Dorothy Spicer, who work in partnership at joy-riding. Miss Gower is the pilot and Miss Spicer the mechanic."

Amy Mollison, writing in 1934

"Pauline Gower, one of the few women who has already achieved a successful commercial flying career, did joyriding last year in 185 different towns with a travelling air circus."

Mary Bertha de Bunsen

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.

She owned:

a 1929 Simmonds Spartan, G-AAGO, (the one which she wrote off in the taxying accident in Cardiff in August 1933), and then

a 1931 Spartan Three Seater, G-ABKK, the one which she wrote off in the taxying accident at Coventry in May 1936.

During her air-taxi career, she was reckoned to have piloted more than 33,000 passengers.

In 1937 she, Amy Johnson and Dorothy Spicer invited "all women pilots interested in the idea of a central meeting-place for women aviators in London" to write to them, but I don't think it ever happened.


 1942 caricature by 'Sammy' Clayton

 

Founder and first Commandant of the Women's Section of the Air Transport Auxiliary in 1940; from 1943, a board member of BOAC. She had a narrow escape in August 1943 when 'Fortuna', an old Imperial Airways airliner, with her and 7 other BOAC officers aboard, made a forced landing near Shannon and was written off.

 ATA Silver Salver HoM

Silver salver presented to Pauline on her wedding day on 2 June 1945, signed by over 90 of the women ATA pilots.  (Lois Butler signed twice, though)     Click to enlarge.


Married Wing Commander William Cusack Fahie in June 1945, but died of a heart attack in March 1947 giving birth to twin boys, one of whom, Michael, later published 'A Harvest of Memories' about her.


Pauline Gower and Dorothy Spicer - In Memory

claudia parsons

by Claudia Parsons

 from "The Woman Engineer", Spring 1948

It is grimly ironical that Mrs Fahie, M.B.E., and Mrs Richard Pearse, better known as Pauline Gower and Dorothy Spicer, after the risks of their early youth and of the war, should meet death, the one through the age-old hazard of child-birth, the other as a passenger in an air liner flying to South America. It is also grimly tragic that these partners who risked, endured and enjoyed so much together should die within a year of each other. Though neither got further than the middle thirties they filled the brief interval between attaining majority and leaving life with a record of hard work, pioneering experience and fine achievement that was as gallant as it was short lived.

Yet in using that word 'gallant' one hesitates, not questioning its truth but out of consideration for the two who achieved this record, whose aim was never more than to pursue a private ambition and to do it well. The word 'gallant' would have been held by them in derision.

I feel honoured to write the appreciation of these two fellow members of The Women's Engineering Society, whose careers I always followed with particular interest since first meeting them on a tour of the Ford works at Dagenham, organised by the W.E.S. Mere babes they then seemed, the one very round of face the other with fairest hair, and it was only in the course of this visit that I learnt their names and remembered having read that Sir Robert Gower, M.P., had given his daughter an aeroplane as a twenty-first birthday present and that now, with Dorothy Spicer as her ground engineer, she was using the plane to give people joy-rides and for aerial taxi service.

In the following years as I watched these two soar ever higher, in the metaphorical rather than the literal sense, I used to ponder this parental gesture which, so early as 1931, might have seemed to many to be rash and courting trouble, and reflected how often really enterprising acts were well rewarded and that here was one that had laid the foundation stone of two successful careers. In this I was not altogether accurate; this was the coping rather than the foundation stone. The gesture was indeed the greatest assistance but in no means were Pauline or Dorothy ever financed or given much moral support in their early ambition, which at first was viewed as a joke by their contemporaries. Like Madame Curie, and others of set purpose, before embarking on their careers they had to find the money with which to train, and in this interest Dorothy spent a year in a London store and Pauline gave violin lessons and lectures at schools. This was while still in their teens and before joining forces, in their twenties, at Stag Lane aerodrome where they decided to go into partnership. Already therefore, in 1931, in spite of opposition and setback, Pauline had her A and B Flying Licences and Dorothy had an A Pilot's Licence and Engineer's Licence, and one rather gathers, reading the pages of Women with Wings - the book the two of them later published - that the hand of Sir Robert Gower was forced rather then held out eagerly with the gift of a two-seater Spartan plane. The gift was advanced only in the face of the inevitable, and as a safety measure, Pauline so often coming home late for meals with harrowing tales of forced landings with hired machines. (The forced landings were not always the fault of the machine.)

Indeed, in those early days of gaining experience, Pauline on a cross-country flight often came down to ask the way; there were narrow margins between forced landings and the petrol running dry; there was the occasion of flying the Channel at 250 feet and of making a forced landing at Brussels and finding it was Liege. Yes, there were many harrowing moments whose memory later made thri blood run cold, but there was also the exuberance and confidence of youth and a very decided will to conquer. It was perhaps typical that in her night flying test for the B Pilot's Licence, after two hours in the air, cut off from the earth by a ground fog that had formed, Pauline, determined not to become panic-stricken, suddenly remembered an old friend - her mouth organ - on which she played 'Show me the way to go home'. And she was shown.

If these two started with a light-hearted attitude towards flying, their subsequent experiences in joy-riding, in joining up with Air Pageants and Air Circuses and in working in all weathers and cvonditions, gave them a far higher sense of respinsibility. They formed themselves into a Limited Liability Company - Air Trips, Ltd. - and worked for two seasons from a field near Hunstanton where they themselves camped beside their plane in a caravan. B~y the time she had carried 3,000 passengers Pauline was foremost among women air pilots in skill and reliability and had added to her A and B Licences a Navigator's Licence and a G.P.O. Wireless Operator's Certificate. Meanwhile Dorothy had had wide experience of servicing machines and in the winter, during enforced flying activity, had studied for her Engineer's Licences, the first woman ever to attain the A, B, C and D Engineering Licences. Pauline often stressed how much the safety of herself and her passengers depended on Dorothy's efficient care of the machine; her praise was equally divided between Dorothy's engineering ability and, on those long periods of camping, her excellent cooking.

It is scarcely necessary to to remind fellow members of the later achievements of these two pioneers. With such experience behind them it is not surprising that they gave valuable service to their country both during the war and in the years preceeding it when they played a leading part in making the public air-minded. Members of the WES will remember papers read by each of them at the September Conference in 1937. In 1938 Dorothy joined the staff of the Air Registration Board and added to her qualifications a No 1 Glider's (Engineering) Licence. Later in this year, and with Pauline as her bridesmaid, she was married to Squadron Leader Richard Pearse who, when the war broke out, was in the RAF Coastal Command. Just before the war Patricia Mary was born and later Dorothy took up war work with the Ministry of Aircraft Production on research in connection with engines in flight. With her husband posted to her Flight, she had the unique opprtunity of working in war-time together with her husband. It was after the war, in December, 1946, and retired from their war activities, that Wing Commander and Mrs Pearse lost their lives in the air liner that crashed near Rio de Janeiro. Their daughter Patricia survives them.

In the meantime Pauline, who in 1938, had obtained an Air Ministry's Instructor's Licence, had been appointed to serve on the Committee investigating the position of civil aviation in this country, and later was made District Commissioner for the London area of the Civil Air Guard. Of her activities in building up the Women's branch of the A.T.A., members of the WES heard her oqn account when, in 1946, she gave us an interesting talk on this subject, accompanied now by her husband, Wing Commander Fahie, RAFVR, to whom she was married in 1945.

When invited to be Commandant of the women pilots in the A.T.A., Pauline stipulated that she must have a free hand in order to do this, a condition for which, interestingly, another great woman pioneer stipulated when asked to take over the hospital service in the Crimea. The fine achievement of the women serving in the A.T.A., their record, and the fact that some of them were finally ferrying heavy four-engined bombers, is a proof of how well Pauline used her powers. In 1943 she was appointed a member of the board of the British Overseas Airways Corporation. Pauline died on March 2nd, 1947, her twin sons surviving her.

That is the record of what they did; a bleak summary of achievements is unavailing, however, unless some mention is also made of what they were. Impressive as their qualifications, achievbements and later honours might be, it was the human side that interested most people, it was their pleasant unaffected charm that everyone noticed. One can pay no higher tribute to Dorothy than to recall Pauline's description of her, referring to their partnership, as one whose 'business' reliability proved always as unfailing as her friendship. There is also the tribute paid by Amy Johnson, who was their friend of long standing and who finally worked under Pauline for the A.T.A. In the foreword she wrote for Women with Wings she refers to staying at Pauline's home at Tunbridge Wells and listening to her and Dorothy singing to the banjulele, and winds up: "I played the part of spectator, admiring the utterly unspoiled character of two girls who have done more than their bit in making aviation history."

They owed their leading position in the field of aviation to hard work and often severe discomfort; they never set out on record-breaking or otherwise spectacular flights; they did what they did because they enjoyed it and it was the thing they had chosen and wanted to master. There was no intention of ending life swiftly and heroically; they had every hope of seeing this precarious century to its final chapter and Pauline in her book prophesied a time when she and Dorothy would be old ladies still flying an antiquated machine and the passengers in a rocket would lean out and say, "Look at those old girls in that pre-historic bus!" Alas, this is no longer a possibility but to what extent air transport has been influenced by the two who will never be old ladies, and whose memory will always be associated with youth, is impossible to measure.


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