First Officer

4-engine (Class 5) pilot

 Ethel 'Ruth' Lambton

nee Nicholson; Mrs Ballard

flag england

b. 5 Jun 1913, Shepperton 25 Jun-40 to Jan-45 

  ethel nicholson 1930     RAeC 1930    ATA (with thanks to Dana MacDuff)    


Her parents were Capt William Henry Nicholson and Sybil Wigham.

Educated at Roedean, got her 'matric', and went into welding research as an engineer, working for Arc Manufacturing Co. in Shepherd's Bush.

She married John Lambton in March 1934, and they had one son, Peter. **

In 1937, she and the Hon. Ruth Cokayne took a 'light-hearted summer tour' to Budapest (via Brussels, Cologne, Munich, and Salzburg) in a Gipsy Moth; a trip which they reckoned cost them about £55 each in total.

ruths cokayne and lambton 1934 Ruth C (l) and Ruth L (r) ('Flight')

They muddled along in a breathless, schoolgirlish sort of way. In Frankfurt, all their possessions were confiscated but then 'we found ourselves in the officers' mess, where the entire squadron shook our hands with the utmost solemnity, clicked heels, Heiled Hitler and gave us lunch! Another round of handshakes, our belongings were duly returned to us, and we Heiled Hitler gratefully ourselves as we took off'.

She was an early recruit to the Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA) in 1940, starting on the 25th June as W.20 - the 20th woman employed by the ATA. (Ruth Cokayne also joined the ATA, as W.40, in April 1941).

They admitted that she 'flew very well indeed and was exceedingly keen', but pretty soon, she had her first accident. In November 1940, she landed a Fairey Battle and ran into an unmarked drainage ditch. The problem was, she wasn't cleared to fly the Battle at all, it being 'out of her class', and she was suspended for 5 days with loss of flying pay.

Her husband John was killed on active service in Gibraltar in 1941, and she then met and married an American, First Officer Edwin Dana Ballard, also of the ATA, in 1942.

Things were going better (for a while); in June 1942 she was considered a 'good steady pilot, handling the larger types of aircraft excellently'. However, she was actually demoted to Second Officer (for three months) in August 1942, for landing a Mustang in dangerously bad weather conditions.

She was suspended (again) for a week in February 1943, for taking off in a Spitfire with the hood open. Her instructor said she was 'a very high spirited officer who finds discipline somewhat irksome, and as a result is subject to occasional outbreaks. However, if handled with a little extra understanding & consideration these outbreaks are at no time serious or to the detriment of her work. As a pilot her keenness and desire to get work done are exceptional'.

The following month, March 1943, she taxied a Tiger Moth into an oil bowser, and was held responsible: 'taxying without due care'.

Nevertheless, in mid-1943 she was put on the conversion course to fly 4-engine (Class 5) aircraft; unfortunately, her training ws suspended after 3 days as 'it was considered that the Stirling was proving too much for her to tackle under emergency or adverse conditions.'

In 1944, another instructor (presumably less understanding & considerate than the previous one) agreed that she was 'an excellent pilot who works hard and efficiently' but 'her sense of discipline is poor and she is uncooperative and frequently obstructive'.

She tried again in May 1944 for Class 5 and this time was successful, eventually flying Halifaxes for a total of 9hrs, Lancasters 31hrs and Stirlings 5hrs. She was one of only 11 ATA women cleared to fly 4-engine aircraft.

She made it right through until 1945, but then pushed her luck too far. In January, she and Edwin were hauled before a disciplinary court for 'drinking during an unauthorised period in spite of a warning by a senior officer' and 'insubordination'.

The Court was inclined Not to Overlook the Offences. "After considering the evidence, and after hearing verbal evidence given by Commander Whitehurst and Captain Rome the Court reached the conclusion that the charges were fully substantiated, and after reviewing the record of both these officers, who as pilots have undoubtedly done a good job, the Court nevertheless came to the conclusion that their disciplinary record throughout, as disclosed by the History Cards, has left a great deal to be desired, despite repeated warnings, and that this incident is so bad as to warrant their instant dismissal".

She and Edwin were duly dismissed, on the 23rd January 1945. They moved to the USA (to Edwin's home town of Hadley, MA), had 2 more children and then moved to Nassau, Bahamas.

ATA women in Nassau 1957 

l to r Ann Wood-Kelly, Lettice Curtis, Ruth and Winnie Fair, Nassau 1957 (ELC)

She died 25 July 2003; both hers and Edwin's log books are now in the Maidenhead ATA Heritage Centre.


And her 1930 MG M-Type, which she acquired at the age of 16, still exists!

** Her son Peter joined up with ex-ATA pilot Austin Young in 1959, in a CIA plot to overthrow Castro. They went to Cuba, but were captured almost immediately, and Peter was sentenced to 25 years jail.

ata austin young and peter lambton 1959 Austin Young and Peter Lambton, awaiting trial

When released in 1963, he declared flatly that the charges against him were true; "I tried and failed to help destroy Castro and I have no regrets." 

 Download ATA Pilot Personal Record (.zip file):download grey


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