Spitfire Dance reveals fascinating lives of female aviators

Female pilots played a significant role during the Second World War. (Photo courtesy of Spitfire Productions)

For 50 years, Clint Ward has led a double life. A pilot since his 20s, he started flying with the Royal Canadian Air Force and spent decades with Air Canada and Corporate Aviation. He has also nurtured his involvement in community theatre, directing, among other works, the entire Gilbert and Sullivan operetta repertoire.

At 82, Ward is gearing up to present Spitfire Dance, which he wrote, produced, and directed. He described it as “a dramatic music entertainment,” He wrote, produced and directed it. The two-act show, with conductor and pianist, Brian Jackson, will premiere at the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa and then move to Hudson Village Theatre November 5.

The Spitfire, the high-performance British single-seat fighter aircraft used by Allied countries during WWII, evokes the beauty and bravery of youth, with images of young pilots spinning their aircrafts in the air.

Often overlooked is that many of these young pilots were women. “I’ve been fascinated by women who pioneered in aviation,” Ward says. “There are some interesting stories there and I wanted to give back.”

Ward says he sees a problem looming. “There is a shortage of pilots and only six per cent of pilots in North America are female.” His play has a strong message: “Women should go into aviation. It is a choice, a possible career not presented to many young women.”

The play begins with three entertainers preparing for a Remembrance Day concert. A woman who has been taking flying lessons suggests they tell stories and recall flashbacks of pioneer female aviators right up to WWII. In 1943, 33.3 per cent of the aviation workforce were women.

“They flew everything from fighters to bombers, from Spitfires to Lancasters,” Ward said.

Women have had a long and honourable history in aviation. On the website, spitfireproductions.ca/facts there is a chronology of achievements by women in flight. The first woman in the air was Elisabeth Thible in 1784, who rode in a hot-air balloon. While most have heard of Amelia Earhart, the first woman to fly across the Atlantic, few would recognize the name of Amy Johnson. “That’s because we live on this side of the Atlantic,” Ward said. In 1930, Johnson flew solo on a 19-day journey from England to Australia.

With many familiar songs from WWII, the play tells some of these yet-to-be-discovered stories.

Spitfire Dance plays at Hudson Village Theatre November 5 to 9. Tickets: 1-800-555-5621 Local 5, or 450-458-5361. Click here for the Spitfire Dance website.

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