The ‘Little Spitfire’ who saved her best for the biggest war
From antiquity, nations at war have relied on a varied and engaged fighting force. That includes female warriors. In large and powerful countries, there has not always been a need for women in the fighting ranks. In smaller countries, surrounded at times by several mortal enemies, women have played a pivotal role. And, even when they don’t see combat, their contributions to the war effort are critical, even existential. Enter Jackie Moggridge, a real “spitfire” if there ever was one!
The perky brunette found herself swept up into history when World War II began, Moggridge was already accomplished as a pilot. She was the youngest female pilot ever in South Africa, she flew Israeli Spitfires to Burma, and she broke the sound barrier in a Sabre jet.
Born Dolores Teresa Sorour in March, 1920, the gangly “sissy” (as her brothers so indelicately put it) was out to prove her detractors wrong. Especially in those days, women were facing an uphill climb if they wanted to compete in a “man’s world.” In fact, the future flyer chose for herself the name “Jackie” while a teenager and, in a nod to her quiet defiance, she refused to answer to anything else!
The South African dreamer took an aviation course via a correspondence school in America and at 15, her mother bought her two trips on a plane. That fixed her destiny as a flyer. In fact, she once wrote:
“In the most complete solitude I have ever experienced I joined the sky. Looking down at the earth receding into a blur of green and brown I sang and handled the aircraft carelessly.”
At 5’2”, Jackie defied convention and embarked on one of the more remarkable and varied flying careers in history. With a passing resemblance to film star Clara Bow, Jackie took her first parachute jump at 17. She moved to England at 18 in order to attend the Aeronautical College in Oxford. During the pivotal summer of 1940, when England was under dire threat from the Nazi Luftwaffe, Jackie Moggridge helped audition various types of aircraft. It would be until 1953 before she earned her wings in the RAF, but by then, she was a known force in aviation.
An example of her indispensable help to the war effort, she ferried Spitfires before D-Day. In fact, one very specially equipped version was delivered by the diminutive Moggridge to the NZ Squadron at Sussex. Spitfires were known to be somewhat difficult to fly, but Jackie, determined to do her part in freeing other pilots up to take on the Germans, had a different take.
For her, flying a Spitfire was: “Like a Tiger Moth, very easy and delicate - a lady's aeroplane really…” The remarkable (but self-effacing) flyer dismissed the acclaim she found. She remembered later, “I got out and I kissed that Spitfire on the nose as I was terrified but, as I say, I prayed hard and God flies it for me.”
By the way, 50 years after ferrying that Spitfire, she flew the same machine at age 71!
Churchill acknowledged, in a big way, the contributions of female flyers like Moggridge. Their willingness to ferry Spitfires to various airfields around England freed-up men that were completely wrapped-up in dogfights with Nazis.
Just before the war ended in 1945, Jackie married Lt. Col. Reginald Moggridge. They had two children.
Post-war, she became a commercial pilot, ferrying Spitfires from Cyprus to Rangoon.
By the time she died, Jackie Moggridge had packed lifetimes of living into her singular story. It is sublime to think that a woman of great courage once took it upon herself to do her part in beating-back Herman Goering’s vaunted Luftwaffe.
On January 7, 2004, Jackie took her final flight, this time toward the light above. I like to think God flew it for her.