Molly Rose was a pilot in the wartime Air Transport Auxiliary and became one of the “Spitfire Women” when she delivered 273 of the fighters from aircraft factories to RAF units.
Already a qualified pilot, she joined the ATA in September 1942, flying light aircraft such as the Tiger Moth before advancing to more powerful single-engine aircraft. As she became more experienced, she started flying the Hurricane fighter and then the Spitfire (“a thrilling moment”). For much of her service she flew from Hamble airfield, an all-female unit near Southampton.
On some days she flew three or four different types of aircraft. Before flying a new type the pilots read aircraft notes and used a detailed checklist before starting up. They flew without radios, and many airfields were camouflaged and difficult to find.
She also delivered twin-engine aircraft such as the Anson and the Hudson, before she started flying the Wellington bomber, and she mastered the Beaufighter and Mosquito, aircraft which many pilots found a handful. As the war progressed she transferred to the more advanced Spitfire variants, the Typhoon and the powerful Tempest fighter-bomber.
While at Hamble she saw the forces assembling for the forthcoming invasion of Europe in June 1944. Her husband Bernard, a captain in the 4th City of London Yeomanry (Sharpshooters), was embarked in a tank landing craft and a week later it was reported that he had been killed in action. But she continued with her flying duties and six weeks later learned that he had survived and was a POW.
That was her busiest year and during it she delivered 253 aircraft. She added a further 94 the following year, which included the Mustang, before leaving the ATA in May 1945 as a first officer. Altogether she delivered 486 aircraft and flew 38 different types. She never flew again as a pilot.
The daughter of David Marshall, the founder of Marshall Aviation of Cambridge, Molly was born on November 26 1920 and educated at a school near Cambridge before spending a year at a finishing school in Paris. In 1937 she joined the family business as an apprentice engineer. Her older brother kept a Tiger Moth in a field behind the family home and she persuaded him to teach her to fly. She gained her pilot’s licence aged 17; the same year she got her driving licence, and in 1939 she married Bernard Rose.
In 1942, just after her husband had left for North Africa with his regiment, she received a call inviting her to join the ATA. She travelled to London in her new uniform to have a photograph taken and sent a copy to her husband with a note: “I hope you don’t mind darling, I’ve just joined up!”
After training she was based at Luton before moving to the ferry pool at White Waltham and then, in September 1943, to Hamble.
Post-war she settled in Oxford where her husband became a lecturer in music at Queen’s College; he was later appointed Informator Choristarum and fellow in music at Magdalen.
Molly Rose sat as a magistrate for the Bullingdon circuit and was later the chairman of the bench. She was a dedicated charity fund-raiser and was appointed a Deputy Lieutenant for Oxfordshire in 1983, and, in 1990, OBE. She was for many years a parish councillor for Appleton-with-Eaton.
Molly Rose was a generous hostess and many music scholars and choristers enjoyed tea and dinner parties at their home. After the death of her husband in 1996 she continued to lead a busy social life and on September 11 this year former musical protégés were invited to celebrate what would have been her husband’s 100th birthday. After lunch and a tea, a concert of Bernard Rose’s music, conducted by one of their sons, was performed to a full St Mary’s Church, Bampton.
In 2008 the service of the “Forgotten Pilots” of the ATA was finally formally recognized and Molly attended a ceremony at 10 Downing Street, where the prime minister, Gordon Brown, presented her and other survivors with the ATA Veteran’s Badge.
In 2014 she was one of the veteran guest judges at The Great British Menu: the D-Day Banquet on BBC television.
She is survived by her three sons.
Molly Rose was born on Nov. 26 1920 and died on Oct. 16 2016.
She was a godmother to Pauline Huska, a longtime resident of Williams Lake.