Air pioneer's bequest in memory of sweetheart

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The Independent Online
A pensioner who was one of the first women ever to fly and lived alone in a council flat, left pounds 2m when she died.

Included in Margaret Gill's will was a bequest for pounds 400,000 to the Norfolk lifeboat station which had searched for her wartime sweetheart after heditched his plane in the North Sea.

Miss Gill, aged 87, never married. The search by the lifeboat crew at Wells-next-the-Sea, north Norfolk, proved fruitless, but before she died, Miss Gill told friends and neighbours in Walton-on-the-Hill, near Reigate, Surrey, that she would repay the lifeboat station for its efforts.

She left her entire fortune, which she had inherited, to charity.

A close friend, Mary Bush, said the spinster never got over losing her sweetheart: "She told me once that she would love to have had children but it was not to be. She said something about how the young man who might have fulfilled that was lost at sea."

Mrs Bush that she had never seen any evidence of the pensioner's huge fortune: "There's no way you could have called her extravagant. Her towels, sheets and blankets all had holes in them. She lived in a council flat and it's no wonder she did not get a reduction in rent".

Miss Gill's god-daughter Carol Murphy said: "During the war she flew bombers from manufacturers around the world to airbases. She knew people in the Air Force. I was told she left money to the RNLI because there was a man who she was fond of who was killed in the war.

"He was a pilot and I think his plane may have ditched in the sea. According to stories in the family she had been totally deaf since childhood and learned to fly to help build up her morale. Her doctor told her that to build courage she should try something that no woman had tried before.

"Amy Johnson had flown to Australia solo in one direction and I think that Margaret flew the other way, although she was fiercely private about it and never wanted publicity."

The lifeboat station at Wells-next-the-Sea has been there since 1869 and money from Miss Gill's bequest is expected to be spent on its upkeep.

In one crash, in 1942, a Lancaster bomber crashed off the coast of Norfolk and a crew from Wells-next-the-Sea was launched. The pilot was pulled from the wreckage but died, despite vain attempts by the crew to save his life.

Miss Gill, a minister's daughter, worked as an auxiliary nurse at the Chailey Heritage Hospital for crippled children during the early 1930s.

She then set her heart on becoming a pilot - an extraordinary ambition at a time when women motorists were rare.After flying lessons at Gatwick, she moved to India, where she managed to continue her flying with friends in Madras. On her return to England, in 1935, she decided to pass all of her flying tests before approaching the Air Ministry for her licence.