The Evelyn Saunders Memorial Cup: A Feature On Evelyn

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The Air League awards each year the Evelyn Saunders Memorial Cup to the ‘Most Outstanding Female Scholar’, presented at the Scholarship Awards Reception. But who was Evelyn? Read an anecdote below to learn more about Evie and her accomplishments. 

Evie was born at Kingfield, near Woking Surrey, the eldest of four children.

Evie was an accomplished sportswoman. She was a member of the Weybridge Rifle Club and an excellent shot and represented the club in competitions including prestige tournaments at Bisley. She took up sculling at the Weybridge Ladies Rowing Club and reached such an outstanding level that she was selected to be a member of the rowing team to represent England in the Empire Games. Unfortunately these games had to be cancelled because of the outbreak of war in 1939. Evie’s other interests at that time included cycling, dancing and horse riding.

Evie grew up with flying as her father worked for Vickers and used to go home and talk about aircraft. Evie went to Vickers Christmas parties which were held in an aircraft hanger. It was so exciting. When Evie was 14 she cycled to Brooklands Flying Club with her brother Stanley and told them they wanted to learn to fly. They were shown over a Tiger Moth and all the instruments were explained to them. Evie memorised everything she could. When Evie left school shortly afterwards she went for a job at Vickers wanting to go into the drawing office and learn aircraft design but her father made her do shorthand and typing. However she was still determined to fly. Each time she typed a letter and particularly the flight test reports for Jeffrey Quill, she gleaned every bit of information she could. She really loved it. Evie read the Aeroplane magazine monthly from cover to cover, but there was no money for flying lessons.

After the outbreak of war she joined the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (W.A.A.F) hoping to be near aeroplanes and had several postings. One was at Morecambe, Lancashire where she was an administrator and Physical Training Instructor with the rank of Corporal. At the same time she was in charge of the billeting arrangements for new intakes of recruits. Evie taught drill along Morecombe’s promenade. A vivid memory she had was of marching a flight up the busy high street. She was bawling “left, right, left right” when there was a sudden breaking of the ranks in the last squadron. To her surprise, a W A A F’s ‘passion killers’ had fallen to her ankles. Traffic lights were coming up and it was imperative to halt the flight as the lights changed red. Evie’s sense of humour had almost got the better of her, but somehow she found enough strength of voice to call ‘flight halt’. She sent the girl to a nearby billet to hitch them up, but Evie asked her escort if she had managed it she said “No, she has got them in her pocket.” Evie also had to inspect the billets where the girls stayed. Blankets had to be accounted for, beds properly made etc. At meal times she had to go around for ‘any complaints’. Landladies did not like this procedure, but it was the rules. One day a lot of blankets could not be accounted for and was told to find them. Eventually it was found that because clothes were on coupons, the landladies had made coats from the lovely wool blankets and had also dyed them different colours. Evie joined the W.A.A.F. band, playing drums.

Further postings took her to Pucklechurch, Uxbridge where she was a member of barrage balloon teams & RAF Chessington, where she was secretary to the CO and also PT Instructor, she typed all the personnel reports, minutes of meetings, lists of rations, and every occurrence on the station – births, marriages and deaths. She had to know exactly what was going on and precisely how many people were on the station in order to make sure the right amount of food was ordered.. She transferred to Fighter Command Headquarters at Uxbridge where she worked as a secretary until she was demobilised.

At the end of the war Evie had a brief marriage and her daughter Pamela was born.

For some years she was the goalkeeper for the Guildford Ladies Hockey Team, and for a time she was the secretary of the local Amateur Radio Club in Guildford. She also enjoyed writing poetry.

Life was a real struggle, and we had to scrimp and save. However difficult things were she never forgot her flying dream.

When Pamela was 14, they took a cheap flight from Portsmouth to Jersey on a DC3. It wasn’t just Pamela’s first-ever plane trip it was the first time Evie had actually been on a plane. Despite being in the W A A F throughout the War, she was never out of an office doing secretarial work and was never near a plane. To be able to afford the flight, we had to live on sandwiches for a while, but it was worth it. The trip was lovely.

Evie was thrilled by the experience, and it helped her on her path which led to her secret ambition: – to learn to fly and to be a pilot.

Later, Pamela went on an exchange holiday, and as a follow on from that Evie began to arrange holiday exchanges, eventually setting up her own business with Pamela’s support.

For the first time in her life Evie had a little money and flew out to visit her mother and brothers who had emigrated to Canada.

Evie also put away as much as she could towards her dream of learning to fly. But however hard she saved, there never seemed to be enough for flying lessons. After several years of hard work she saved up enough money to make a start. So in 1985 at the age of 64 she commenced studying the various subjects needed to become a pilot. Later she began practical flying by taking lessons and, after passing all the requirements, finally received her Pilot’s Licence in 1989 at the age of 68, and a grandmother three times over! She thoroughly enjoyed her lessons in a Piper Warrior. It took her about a year to get her pilot’s licence, which she did at her first attempt. Evie also got the rating which enabled her to fly on instruments above the clouds and also her rating for night flying. As a result, on a wonderful day nearly 30 years after that first flight with Pamela, we relived our memories when Evie flew her to Jersey from Fairoaks and back.

Evie decided to go to the United States for more lessons and was able to fly twin-engined planes.

She visited the United States several times and flew many hours there. She took and passed the equivalent ratings and thus became fully licensed in each category in the United States as well as the UK.

Once she had to take off from Miami, and found herself lined up with 14 Jumbo jets, waiting for clearance. She was told to be ready for an immediate take-off. She had a few adventures, like an alternator failure in Florida. None of the electrics were working. She told traffic control that she was returning to land and she managed to get back to the airfield and landed on the runway – though the engine stopped and she had to be towed away.

Evie belonged to the British Women’s Pilots Association (B.W.P.A.) who in 1993 awarded Evie the Jean Lennox Bird Trophy, for Noteworthy Performance in Aviation.

When well over the age of 70 she entered a number of flying competitions against younger and experienced pilots, and won most of them.

She was an outstanding fundraiser for “The Blenheim Society” which Pamela has continued to support. Evie also belonged to “The 99s” (a world-wide women pilots association started by Amelia Earhart), The Spitfire Society, The Hurricane Society, and others.

Evie has been featured in various journals – aviation and non-aviation – and has been affectionately called ‘The flying great-Grandma’. Everyone has marvelled at her courage, endeavour and skill as a pilot. She has demonstrated what can be done, and has been a great role-model.

Evie still inspires women in aviation today by leaving a bequest to purchase an aircraft to be used to train young pilots. The aircraft G-EVIE was given to The Air League and based at Tayside Aviation in Dundee to be used primarily to benefit the Air League Educational Trust and has been refurbished by the Air League and Tayside Aviation. Following the closure of Tayside Aviation the aircraft is now owned by Janet Patton.

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