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MYSTERY MYSTERY OF THE OF THE SPITFIRE SPITFIRE HEROINE HEROINE.

Byline: Paul Cole paul.cole@sundaymercury.net

HE is the wartime beauty who flew Spitfires.

s. Helen Kerly was hailed a heroine after safely landing one of the fearless fighters after a technical failure.

She managed to guide the stricken Castle Bromwich plane to a small field, avoiding civilian casualties.

But the rest is a mystery - because little else is known about her.

Museum bosses setting up a major new Spitfire gallery at the city's Think-Thinktank were intrigued when they came across Helen's goggles and helmet.

"It's a mystery," said Caroline Durbin, PR manager for Birmingham Museums.

"When we were putting together objects for the new gallery, we came across the goggles and helmet. We only have limited information about her, and would love to locate her relatives.

"What we do know is that she was christened Ruth Helen Kerly but was known just as Helen Kerly in aviation circles - Third Officer Helen Kerly in the ATA."

The Air Transport Auxiliary was a civilian organisation which delivered planes, flying them between factory and airfields.

It made an enormous contribution to the war by relieving service pilots of the task of ferrying RAF and Royal Navy warplanes from factories to maintenance units and frontline squadrons.

"The helmet and goggles were given by Helen's daughter to an ATA pilot named Alec Matthews back in 1994," adds Caroline.

"They were subsequently donated to the city, along with a photo and certificates.

"We have the certificate of service which was given to every ATA pilot at the end of the war, and we have a certificate of commendation.

"She was one of only two women to receive this during the war, and the citation reads: "In spite of limited experience, on June 25, 1944, under the most adverse circumstances caused by technical failure, she landed her aircraft in a small field with minimum damage".

"It was issued in November 1945.

All the memorabilia will be going on display in the new Spitfire gallery opening at Thinktank next April.

"But Alec, who was from Sutton Coldfield, was the only contact we had to Helen's family but sadly he died in 2009, so there the trail ends."

A trawl through ATA online forums has uncovered the heroine's birthdate - she was born in January 6, 1916, and died in 1992. She married in 1947 and became Mrs Clark.

"We would love to put a call out for any Birmingham people who knew, or are related to, Helen," said Caroline.

Families can find out the real stories of people involved in making and flying the iconic Spitfire at the new gallery at Thinktank Birmingham Science Museum. By exploring the different features of the aircraft, the gallery will allow visitors of all ages to discover the science of flying.

Through displays of objects, specially created hands-on exhibits, and stories from local people, visitors can explore the history of the Spitfire and the story of the aviation industry in the West Midlands.

Development of the Spitfire gallery has been made possible thanks to support from Heritage Lottery Fund, DCMS Wolfson and the Clive and Sylvia Richards Charity, but fundraising for the final PS10,000 continues via the "Spitfire Club".

JOIN THE SPITFIRE CLUB | For a single donation |of PS75 or more, you will become an 'oppo' of the Spitfire Club.

You will receive an |exclusive invitation for you and a guest to see the completed gallery before it opens to the public, a certificate of membership and three updates from the Thinktank Science and Industry Curator.

You will also be | acknowledged online as an 'oppo' of the gallery.

If you donate to the "Spitfire Club". before Christmas, your donation will be matched pound for pound by a private donor Clive Richards OBE DL, making your contribution doubly valued.

Clive comments: "The |military aircraft industry emerged out of the prewar car industry featuring both the legendary Spitfire and Hurricane fighter planes.

"Besides many land-|based achievements it is hugely important that we remember the part the Birmingham industry played in this aerial theatre of the Second World War."

Make cheques out to "Birmingham Museums Trust" and post to Development Office, Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, Chamberlain Square, Birmingham, B3 3DH

It's a real mystery. We only have limited information about her and would love to locate her relatives.

CAPTION(S):

Third Officer |Helen Kerly in the Air Transport Auxiliary delivered planes, including Spitfires, like the one pictured, to airfields, with inset, her goggles and helmet
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Publication:Sunday Mercury (Birmingham, England)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Dec 7, 2014
Words:744
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