'Spitfires were my favourite': Britain's last surviving female pilot from WWII shares her memories ahead of turning 101
Britain's last surviving female pilot from the Second World War has spoken of her memories of flying Hurricanes and Spitfires across England ahead of turning 101 next month.
Eleanor Wadsworth, who grew up in Nottingham but now lives in Bury St Edmunds, was one of 166 women who were accepted on to the Air Transport Auxiliary's (ATA) trainee pilot scheme after war broke out in 1939.
The then 25-year-old was training as an architect when she saw the notice recruiting people with no flying experience, who would be trained to transport planes and pilots to and from various airfields.
"I put my name down without thinking anything else about it and was accepted after passing all the medical checks. I was one of the first six people to start training on the course," she said.
Eleanor left Nottingham, her mother and her two younger siblings, Janet and George, and was sent to Haddenham Airfield in Buckinghamshire to start the first leg of her training.
"Before we got into an aircraft, we had to do meteorological training and learn all about internal combustion and the different engines," said Eleanor.
"Navigation was also really important because we never had any air to ground connection in those days. We couldn't phone or get in touch with anyone else. Once we were in the air we were on our own."
Eleanor spent the next few years posted at several of ATA's 14 ferry pools, earning her Class 3 licence which allowed her to fly light twin-engine aircrafts such as Oxfords and Ansons.
But it was the Spitfire, of which she flew 132, that was her favourite.
"People nearly always say Spitfire but it's because it was such a lovely piece of equipment with controls and responses like a beautiful sports car," she said.
"It had a lovely sound. It doesn't sound as loud when you're in the plane as when you see one go past. And it just looked as though it ought to be flying."
Despite no one in her family having ever flown and the obvious dangers involved in it, Eleanor took the thrill of the flight in her stride.
"It's a very new experience and everybody finds it difficult at first to think in three dimensions rather than two like when you're driving. So there are obviously apprehensive moments and times I probably should have been a bit more scared when I look back," she said.
"But it's the freedom that is just so enjoyable. In nice weather, you can see so far in all directions. When you're driving, you just don't have that opportunity to really appreciate what a lovely country England is."
At the end of the war in 1945, Eleanor's CV boasted 590 flying hours, 430 of which were flown solo, and 22 different types of aircraft, including Hurricanes, Tigermoths and Harvards.
That same year she married Bernard Wadsworth, a flight engineer, and the pair settled in Bury 11 years later with their two sons, George and Robert.
Eleanor also has five grandchildren and seven grandchildren, who will be joining her to celebrate her birthday on October 15.
And looking back over her 101 years, Eleanor's memories of her years as a pilot are still among her most treasured.
"Sometimes it gets a bit fuzzy and seems like so long ago," she said.
"But there are things that are always so clear and when I look at my log book and my pictures I remember little details about that time and it all comes back to me."