Monday, 29 June 2015

Monique Agazarian and her bulldog

Monique Agazarian and Spike, 1952
Among the images in the archives is a photograph of Monique Agazarian and her beloved bull terrier Spike, a dog who loved flying. Listening to a recording of Agazarian giving Croydon Airport Society a lecture a few years before her death in 1993 and reading about her in the archives, she was clearly a formidable and witty woman. In fact, I'm too awed to refer to her as "Aggy" as some of the archive material does.

Agazarian (1920-93) and her three brothers became obsessed with flying from the time their mother installed an old Sopwith Pup plane in their garden in 1923. Her brother Noel was in the RAF, fought in the Battle of Britain and was killed in the Middle East in 1941. (The Spitfire in which he fought is in the Imperial War Museum). Another brother Jack worked for the Special Operations Executive and was tortured and killed by the Nazi occupiers after being caught helping the Resistance in France. Her third brother Levon became a Typhoon pilot. 

In early World War Two Agazarian nursed aircrew patients who had suffered bad burns at the Queen Victoria hospital in East Grinstead and then at the RAF hospital in Uxbridge. She wanted to fly and, despite being too short in length, managed to bamboozle the doctor through her medical to join the Air Transport Auxillary (ATA) in 1943. In the ATA Agazarian flew Spitfires and Hurricanes across the UK, delivering aircraft where they were needed by the military.
Cutting from Evening News, October 1952.

After the war, Agazarian got her commercial pilot's licence and got a job with Island Air Services, which was soon based at Croydon Airport. She became Managing Director in 1948 and was in charge of charter flights and flying passengers over London to see the sights from air. These were popular family treats, costing 15s to £1.15s (roughly about £10 - £40 today), in small aircraft holding 6-8 passengers and flew from Heathrow as well as Croydon until 1959. It is thought that these flights 'probably did more to introduce the masses to flying than any organisation'.*

A letter in the archives from AG Halligey, a member of her freelance staff, recounts a story about Agazarian being timidly reminded by the Croydon airport manager, after her marriage to a fellow pilot Ray Rendell, that pilots were not supposed to fly while pregnant. Agazarian actually was pregnant and as she became visibly more so would hold her handbag in front of her as she crossed the booking hall and only unhitch her skirt out of sight of passengers once she'd got in the cockpit.  

Spike, her bulldog which went up in the aircraft with the passengers, was good for publicity as several newspaper cuttings illustrate. The photograph and cutting comes from the collection of one of her ground crew Clive Abbott, who would strap the passengers in the planes.

After Island Air Services closed, Agazarian continued to have a long career in aviation and was a pioneer in promoting flight simulation for training purposes until her death from cancer in 1993.

* Richard Riding, 'Aggie's Airline', Aeroplane Monthly, November 1987, 613-616.

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