Attagirls Book Reviews
History of War magazine - August 2021 issue
by Olivia Smith
“It’s about ability, not whether one is a man or a woman; it’s the most competent person for the job”.
When I read this quote on Page 83 I felt it summarised the book perfectly. Attagirls is a story about women in the Second World War but is also about equality. Yes, there is resentment, shock and disbelief to women having an active role in the war effort, but the book isn’t structured around that. Paul Olavesen-Stabb’s writing transports us back to 1940s Britain and brings the ATA Girls war story to prominence with the familiarity of camaraderie as shown in Band of Brothers and the emotion displayed in Testament of Youth.
The RAF, Spitfires, Hurricanes, and Lancasters are emblematic of the Second World War. Popular memory transports us to stories of the Battle of Britain or dog fights across the country. Never do we think of women as the pilot of these iconic planes. Paul opens by eloquently setting the scene in early 1940s Easy Anglia where we meet the protagonist Molly. The whole book is supported by a cast of leading ladies. As all the women epitomise moxy. The power of Paul’s writing is what makes Molly’s story captivating. It isn’t written in a traditional academic historical style, to me, it read like fiction, igniting every element of my imagination.
Every step of Molly’s journey into the Air Transport Auxillary is covered in-depth, from understanding her love for flying, the interview, uniform, training and flourishing as a pilot- with this being a new topic to me, I did not feel at any point I did not understand her journey. Even in this modern-day, you empathise with the girls as they face struggles of being a woman in a male-dominated world, yet this doesn’t stop them. If anything, it empowers them.
Of course, there is drama, it’s war! That is the strength of Paul’s writing, the dramatic events catch you off guard and found me gasping, cheering and crying. What I enjoyed was the story not being structured by years or dates, but Paul threaded in touchpoints, so the reader contextually knew what part of the war the story was taking place.
In essence, this is a book about being (to quote the Attagirls) “eager for the air”. It’s about relationships - with family and lovers, friends old and new, and life-changing experiences that we relate to today.
I am thankful to Paul for sharing the story of the Attagirls, one that has faded from popular memory, but through this book, I hope they become renowned figures of the Second World War.