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Jaye "Pete" Edwards

Jaye Edwards was 23 years old and on a train to Manchester, England when she got news the Second World War had ended in Europe. She had just flown a plane to the battlefront to replace one lost in the war.

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The news brought her mixed feelings she says; relief that no more lives would be lost, but sadness that she had flown her last flight.

"In some ways I was sorry because I knew that was the end of flying," Edwards, now almost 102, remembers.

She was working as a nurse in January 1943 when she picked up a Sunday morning newspaper and saw an advertisement that would change the course of her life.

"I said to mother 'what would you think if I was going to fly?'"

The British government was looking for women to attend a small flight school called the National Air Women's Reserve which held classes on Sundays so those with Monday to Friday jobs could attend. Edwards says her mother was initially reluctant to let her join, but she was almost 21 and able to make her own decision. She grew up an adventurous girl in Kent, England, riding her bicycle and climbing trees. She says she always had a fascination with aviation.

"I said to mother 'what would you think if I was going to fly?'"

"She said 'Mmm we might have to think about that,'" Edwards remembers. "She didn't ever actually say no."

Edwards became one of 168 women who flew for Britain's Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA), which employed civilian pilots to support the British military. –They were nicknamed "the attagirls."

"We were trained to fly any plane"

Between 1943 and 1945 she flew hundreds of hours over the British and French countryside delivering 20 different types of aircraft - from bombers and supply planes to the legendary Spitfires, which were integral to the Allied assault on D-Day. The ATA was tasked with resupplying the Royal Air Force with planes after others were damaged or lost in service during the Second World War.

"We were trained to fly any plane," she said.

She still vividly remembers the feeling of taking flight.

"When you are solo and it's summertime and you went up into the air and the sun was shining and it would be a beautiful blue day and aahhh you never thought of being in a plane, it was just floating along," she explains.

Her assignments would begin at "The Met" - the meteorological office - where she would receive her route, a manual of the aircraft she would be operating and the detailed weather forecasts of where she was taking off and where she was landing.

"You didn't have to fly if it was miserable weather they let us make our own decisions," she said.

She flew solo, a manual strapped to the knee of her white flight suit, using maps with no names, navigating her way with roads, waterways and landmarks as her guides.

"There is a place in England (which pilots used to tell each other) where the water goes uphill," she said.

She flew with confidence in the machines and appreciation of the beauty of the landscapes but watched the weather closely. They were instructed to never fly higher than 2,000 feet. Her job was to safely deliver the plane, with no unnecessary risks.

"Planes are built to fly. I knew the planes I was flying were in good shape, they were being sent to be used," she said. "I truly never had fear."

If the weather changed quickly she looked for nearby airfield to land. She remembers seeing ice forming on her wing during one flight and changing her course to land in a nearby airfield. She never felt heroic, and there was never a grand reception when she touched down at an airfield.

"They were all busy, we were always welcome, but they didn't fuss over us. They were doing their job and we came with our job and they would see that we had a meal if it was lunchtime, but we weren't fussed, it was just as it went."

After the war, Edwards travelled to the South Pacific working as a Nanny for a friend's family. She continued to travel and look after children before settling in Vancouver, marrying, becoming a teacher and having a family of her own.

Her memories of the years she spent in the sky are still as clear as a blue sky day.

"I enjoyed it so much I didn't really think (about the war)."

In honour of the 75th anniversary the end of the Second World War, Jaye Edwards is this week's Faces of Freedom. You can also hear her story first hand by listening to her episode of our Faces of Freedom podcast.

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