Baroness Pratt of Writtle passed away this month. I met her only the once but I recall this vividly. At the time, it would have been 20 years ago, I was a Visitng Professor of Middlesex Unversity and on their management board. I was invited to a dinner there and sat opposite the chancellor Baroness Writtle. I thought she was some local government worthy – which was not entirely wrong as she rose through the ranks of Essex local government – but as I was to discover there was much more to the lady than this.
It transpired that she was an engineering student at Girton College, University of Cambridge, before World War Two. She was seconded to Hawker Siddeley. The first interesting thing she told me was the boss of Hawker Siddeley, John Sidddley, a titan of the early motor industry, was so certain that war was coming that he maintained a level of aircraft production well beyond their contractual obligation to the government. This meant that in the Battle of Britain we could match the Luftwaffe though short on pilots. It was remarkable foresight as if there was no war the company might well have gone bankrupt.
Conversation turned to the Hurricane. I had more interest than knowledge of this fighter plane but I ventured that the Spitfire had the greater fame because of Leslie Mitchell literally killing himself to finish his work on the plane. His role was immortalised in the film First of the Few and that marvellous line of one pilot “They can’t take the Spit”. Baroness Writtle worked on the Hurricane production and informed me that, because it was not metal plated like the Spitfire but had tarpaulin cladding, any damage could be quickly repaired and it could be sent back into battle the quicker. The Hurricane went on to fight in more theatres of war than any other plane and shot down the most Luftwaffe aircraft .
A remarkable woman who took 30 years off to look after her family then rose through local Essex government to be appointed head of the Equal Opportunties Commission, she served this country well.
See here for here obituary in the DAILY TELEGRAPH