Memorial held for WW2 Spitfire pilot Mary Ellis

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Media captionMary Ellis said she had flown “about 1,000 aeroplanes” during the war

More than 350 people have attended a memorial service for one of the last female World War Two pilots.

Mary Ellis, who died in July aged 101, was a member of the Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA) and delivered Spitfires and bombers to front line airfields.

She said she had flown “about 1,000 aeroplanes” during the war, before moving to the Isle of Wight in 1950 to run Sandown Airport.

RAF dignitaries were among those to attend the event in Cowes.

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Mary Ellis continued to attend events linked to the RAF

Mrs Ellis flew more than 70 different types of plane during the war as one of the 168 women in the ATA.

Among the tributes paid during the service, Group Captain Anne Marie Houghton, of the RAF, described her as an “exceptional aviator”.

“We are merely following in the footsteps of Mary and the fantastic ladies of the ATA,” she added.

“They had answered the call and were not found wanting.”

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Reverend Andrew Poppe described Mary Ellis’ contribution as “immense”

After the war, Mrs Ellis had gone on to manage Sandown Airport, and her goddaughter Clare Mosdell told the service how she had pioneered tourist flights to the island as well as training other female aviators.

She was a “brave and wonderful woman”, she said.

The service included a recording of a spitfire engine, and of Mrs Ellis, who described flying the fighters as “playing in the clouds”.

“It was terribly exciting… one had to know what you were doing,” she continued.

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The memorial service is taking place at St Mary’s Church in Cowes

Her niece Rose Marie Martin said: “She would have been astonished – she was a very modest person and wouldn’t have believed this was happening for her.”

“Mary was never frightened and did just get on with things.

“She felt she could bring to the attention of everyone the amazing sacrifice members of the ATA did give in the war. She did lose friends and had to carry on.”

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St Mary’s Church was packed for the memorial service

Reverend Andrew Poppe, who conducted the service at St Mary’s Church, said her contribution had been “immense”.

“Her place in the history of the nation and the knowledge of what she did in those heady days of World War Two have brought her to the forefront,” he added.

“She became an icon for those looking to their own futures and adventures.

“She came out of World War Two having done things women never did – she was a beacon of what women can do.”

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Mary Ellis died in July aged 101

Mary Ellis, then Mary Wilkins, joined the ATA in 1941 after hearing an advertisement for women pilots on BBC radio.

She later recalled flying “fast and furious aeroplanes and bombers all over the country”, during the war as aircraft production and casualties rose.

The work was “exhilarating and sometimes very dangerous”, she said. Pilots often flew unfamiliar aircraft, guided by the “Ferry Pilots notes”, which gave landing instructions.

She married Don Ellis, a fellow pilot, in 1961, and continued to live in their marital home beside the runway at Sandown after his death in 2009.

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After the service, people watched a Spitfire flypast in tribute to Mary Ellis

Among those who paid tribute after she died at her home in July, ATA secretary John Webster described Mrs Ellis as an “amazing” person.

Former RAF navigator John Nichol said Mrs Ellis was a “truly remarkable lady”.

He added: “Another giant leaves us to join her heroic friends in the blue skies.”

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Mary Ellis

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Mary Ellis served from 1941 until the end of the war

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