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Pauline Gower: Pioneering leader of the Spitfire women


Pauline Mary de Peauly Gower was born on 22 July 1910 at Sandown Court in Tunbridge Wells, the younger daughter of Robert and Dorothy Gower. It was an auspicious year for aviation pioneers: on 23 April Claude Grahame-White, who trained at Louis Bleriot’s flying school, had made the first night flight; Halley’s Comet made its closest approach to earth in May; C.S. Rolls made the first roundtrip flight over the English Channel on 2 June; and, on 9 July, Walter Brookins, flying a Wright biplane over Atlantic City, New Jersey, became the first person to fly to an altitude of one mile, reaching 6,175ft (1.169 miles).

Pauline Gower’s convent school years helped form her character, fuelling her drive and determination, and establishing her interests and future potential. Sir Robert Gower chose her school with the ‘same degree of determination’ he did most things. His daughter inherited this characteristic, revealed in her ability to push herself and others to achieve results, despite the challenges and obstacles along the way. She brought her ready smile to most situations, smoothing the path of resistance at just the right moment. Pauline also inherited a strong political awareness and drive from her father but brought her own skills and sensitivity to issues and circumstances as required. Robert Gower wanted both his daughters to have a solid education, unusual for the time, and chose Beechwood Sacred Heart School in Tunbridge Wells, Kent. Pauline climbed every tree in the grounds and made the most of all it had to offer. If she had felt constrained within the convent structure and stone walls at times, she found her own ways of quiet rebellion.

After leaving school and enduring a London season which ‘bored her to tears’, Pauline knew she wanted to direct her own future: 

‘I am still interested in mythology, photography, riding to hounds – in fact, in everything, but at 19 my thoughts turned to flying and I decided to do it seriously. I was convinced that aviation was a profession with a future and determined to earn my living and make my career a paying proposition.’

Pauline gave violin lessons to ‘unsuspecting’ pupils to pay for flying lessons and met Amy Johnson and Dorothy Spicer at Stag Lane Aero Club in north London – she and Dorothy soon formed a successful partnership, as pilot and ground-breaking engineer, and set up the first all-women taxi business. Six summers and 33,000 passengers later, as part of the Crimson Fleet, Campbell Black’s British Empire Air Display, British Hospitals’ Air Pageant show and their own Air Trips Ltd joy-riding business, Pauline had clocked up more than 2,000 hours. By 1939 and the looming prospect of war, she was the perfect person to lead the inaugural section of the Women’s Section of the Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA).

This then is her legacy during the Second World War and to women in aviation – she truly believed that every woman should learn to fly. Pauline Gower MBE certainly enabled the ATA women pilots to fly Anything to Anywhere, from Tiger Moths to Wellingtons, Hurricanes to their firm favourite, the Spitfire.

By Alison Hill

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