Tuesday, 28 September 2021

Woman, 93, proud to be honoured for war service

THE mother of a former Henley mayor has been honoured for her service during the Second World War.

THE mother of a former Henley mayor has been honoured for her service during the Second World War.

Kathleen FitzGerald, whose daughter Janine chaired the town council in 1992-3, was presented with the Air Transport Auxiliary veterans’ badge at the Thamesfield nursing home in Wargrave Road, Henley, where she lives.

The 93-year-old, who grew up in Wellingborough, Northamptonshire, was 18 when she joined up in 1941.

She initially intended to join the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force but the recruitment office was closed so she wrote to the ATA and was offered an interview.

She was then offered a job as a secretary, for which she was trained, and worked at the auxiliary’s headquarters at White Waltham airfield, near Maidenhead, for three years. The civilian organisation was set up in 1940 to fly new, damaged and repaired aircraft between bases, factories and other important locations.

It also flew service personnel in emergencies and carried out some air ambulance work before it was disbanded in 1945.

Mrs FitzGerald, née Head,  became friends with a pilot called Derek FitzGerald, who introduced her to his brother Nigel.

The pair married in 1944 and  had two children, Janine and Niall. They were living in Hampshire when Mr FitzGerald died in 2004 and a year later Mrs FitzGerald moved to Henley to be nearer her daughter. She lived at Bowling Court, off Fair Mile, and was an active member of Phyllis Court Club before moving to Thamesfield two years ago.

She discovered she was eligible for the badge, which any former member can claim, while visiting the auxiliary’s heritage centre and museum in Maidenhead.

The accolade was introduced by the Government in 2008 but many people did not receive it as the records were incomplete.

The presentation on Monday was attended by her two children, the Air Transport Auxiliary Association’s commodore Peter Garrod and its secretary John Webster.

Mrs FitzGerald said: “It shows that I served, albeit in a lower capacity. Most of the women who were pilots had been wealthy during the pre-war years. I enjoyed my time in the ATA very much because of the people I met.” Her daughter, who lives in Vicarage Road and was mayor under her married name Voss, said: “Niall and I are delighted that this is being formally recognised.

“The badge will be a precious memento not just for us but for mum’s grandchildren and great grandchildren. It’s really important that we and future generations acknowledge what our relatives accomplished during that period.

“I will always be eternally grateful to anyone who served in either of the world wars.”

Mr Webster said: “A lot of attention has been focused on the ATA’s air crew but the ground staff were equally important. Everyone played their part.

“We’re always glad to find people like Kathleen so that we can give them the recognition they deserve.”

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