With an aircraft in her name and a tour around Britain being flown in her honour, Evie Saunders clearly was a remarkable lady, stretching the boundaries for female aviators of her time and inspiring the generations which are following.
Evie’s story, as told by Lorraine Richardson, her niece, is as follows:
‘Evie was born at Kingfield, near Working 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 the war in 1939. Evie’s other interests at that time included cycling, dancing and horseriding.
Before the war, Evie worked as a secretary/typist at Vickers Aviation, the aircraft manufacturers. Her job involved typing the flight reports for test pilots.
After the outbreak of the war, she joined the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (W.A.A.F) and had several postings. One was at Morecambe, Lancashire, where she was a 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. Later she joined one of the W.A.A.F. bands, playing side drums. Further postings took her to locations took her to locations near London where she was a member of barrage balloon teams. She transferred to Fighter Command Headquarters at Uxbridge where she worked as a secretary until she was demobilised.
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.
Throughout all her life she had a great interest and enthusiasm for aircraft and flying. But she was unable to “take to the air” until 1959 when she and her daughter Pamela went on a commercial flight (a Dakota) from Portsmouth to Jersey for a holiday. She 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. 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.
She didn’t stop at just being a private pilot, but obtained her night-rating, instrument-rating and twin-engine rating. This was celebrated by Evie piloting Pamela on a day trip to Jersey in a PA28 (Piper Warrior).
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.
When well over the age of 70 she entered a number of flying competitions against younger and experiences pilots, and won most of them. As a result, in 1992 she was awarded the prestigious Jean Lennox Bird Trophy for the most outstanding British woman pilot of the year.
She was an outstanding fundraiser for “The Blenheim Society” which Pamela has continued to support. Evie also belonged to The British Women’s Pilots Association (B.W.P.A), “The 99s” (a worldwide women pilots association started by Amelia Earhart), The Spitfire Society, The Hurricane Society, and others.
She 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.’
In 2003, Evie took ill and set out to purchase an aircraft for the benefit of helping young people to learn to fly, confiding only in her niece, Lorraine. Evie died in 2004 before she got to fly G-EVIE, the aircraft she had bought, although she was able to see it as it flew over her house in her last days.
Evie had the vision of her aircraft being used as a training aircraft for the next generation of pilots, but it was Lorraine who turned Evie’s dream into reality. In 2008, G-EVIE was donated to Tayside Aviation in Dundee, in order to run scholarships on behalf of the Air League Educational Trust.
Lorraine visited Tayside Aviation to present the keys of the G-EVIE, and watch the first Cadet, Emma, complete her scholarship in the aircraft. Emma is now a first officer with FlyBe which can only be proof that Evie’s dream of inspiring young people in the aviation profession is being realised. Over 260 flying scholarships have now been completed in the aircraft. It is in G-EVIE that we plan to circumnavigate Britain, keeping the spirit of Evie in the skies, and hoping to inspire others to realise their aviation aspirations.