. It always saddens me that the women who served are usually tacked on as an afterthought, when discussing veterans. Today, on ANZAC Day (the equivalent of the U.S. “Veterans Day”), I think about the women, who had to fight, not just the enemy outside, but the enemy of sexism, within their ranks. Last year, I read the remarkable book “Spitfire Women”, by Giles Whittell. I have long been fascinated by the women of the Air Transport Auxiliary, and this wonderful work just deepened that fascination. These were women who flew up to eight different KINDS of plane in a day, without instrument training, in dreadful weather (this was how Amy Johnson was lost), and who, after the war, could not get work as commercial pilots. It breaks my heart.
‘So today, I write this poem for them. And for all the women over the centuries, whose talents and skills were oppressed, minimized, or completely ignored.
In the words of the awe-inspiring Vivian Bullwinkel, as she, and her nurses, were marched into the sea, knowing the Japanese soldiers behind them were about to open fire: “Chin up girls, I’m awfully proud of you”.
She moved to the slightest touch.
Submitted to absolute control.
She came with no instruction manual;no training
Instinct drove her through storm clouds
And around mountains.
Flying free of instruments.
Free of stoves and wash tubs and aprons.
Plunging into the thickest fog
On a wing and a whistle
Hair marcelled and lipstick in place.
A loop over the airfield, with a wave to the girls
Praying that the war never end.
The possibility of death more delicious than the certainty of tedium.
Standing in the queue, not waiting for sausages
But hoping for a Halifax; a Lancaster
Or the Queen of them all-
Such a darling little airplane.
A lovely woman’s plane.
So easy to handle.
Much more responsive, than a perambulator.