NANCY-BIRD WALTON, AO, OBE
(16 OCTOBER 1915 - 13 JANUARY 2009)
COMMANDANT WOMEN'S AIR TRAINING CORPS
IN AUSTRALIA DURING WWII

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Nancy Bird Walton

After hearing about the Great England - Australian Air Race of 1919, Nancy Bird, aged 4 years old, would jump off fences pretending to being an aeroplane  At the age of eight, she was on the spot when a WWI aircraft made a forced landing at Dee Why Beach. She was born in Kew in northern NSW and moved to Collaroy when she was about 5 - 6 years old.

Smitten by the aviation bug, at the age of 13 years she she rode in her father's dairy truck to an Air Show at Wingham where she had a joy flight in a Gypsy Moth. She left school at 14 years to work in her father's General Store near Taree in NSW. After saving enough money she purchased a book on flying and a leather helmet and a set of goggles.

She saved some more money and aged 17 years she enrolled with Charles Kingsford Smith's flying school for the princely sum of 200 Pounds. She became one of Kingsford Smith's first pupils and due to her short height she had to sit on two cushions in the aircraft. After two years she became the first women in Australia to receive a Commercial Pilot's Licence.

With some financial assistance from her father and a great aunt, Nancy Bird bought a Gypsy Moth and took it across New South Wales selling Joy Rides for 10 Shillings a ride.

She was hired by Reverend Stanley Drummond at the age of 19 to set up an air ambulance service in NSW know as the Far West Children's Health Scheme. She was a participant in the Adelaide to Brisbane air race in 1936 and won the Ladies Trophy. Two years later she studied International Aviation in Europe but returned to Australia just after the outbreak of WWII. On the ship back to Australia, she met Charles Walton whom she married when she was 24 years old.

Nancy-Bird was a founding member of the Australian Women's Flying Corps (AWFC) which was formed in Sydney on 6 July 1938 and went on to eventually become Australian Women's Flying Club (AWFC) after a few other name changes. Nancy-Bird Walton was the New South Wales (NSW) and Australian Commandant, of the Women's Air Training Corps (WATC) from 25 July 1942 to 1 November 1944.

 


Photo:- Ian Jenkins

WATC Australian Commandant Epaulette

 


From Ian Jenkins Collection

AWFC metal Badge with gilded outspread wings which doubled as a hat
badge for the forage cap and as pilot's wings worn above left breast pocket

 

Nancy-Bird founded the Australian Women's Pilot's Association and served as its President for 40 years. She took part in the Powder Puff Derby all-women's cross country air races in the USA in the 1950's and 1960's. With well known Australian aviator Dick Smith she took part in a trans-Australia air flight.

 


Photo:- Ian Jenkins

WATC General Hat Badge - Worn on the beret
and forage cap by all squadrons other than Victoria.

 

Nancy-Bird founded the Australian Women's Pilots' Association in 1950 and  was its president until 1990. She started to fly again in 1958 after not having flown for about 20 years.

Nancy-Bird Walton was pronounced an Australian Living National Treasure in 1997 by the National Trust of Australia. Nancy-Bird was awarded an OBE in 1966 and 31 years later she became a Dame of the Knights of Malta in 1997. She was also awarded an Order of Australia (OA) in 1990.

In August 2008 Qantas's first A380 aircraft landed in Australia with the name "Nancy-Bird Walton" emblazoned on its side.

 

REFERENCES

Courier Mail Obituary of 14 January 2009

Nancy Bird Walton Wikipedia

 

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This page first produced 15 January 2009

This page last updated 17 January 2009