The fascinating life of the female fighter pilot who embraced Norfolk

Maureen Dunlop became a fighter pilot during the Second World War

Maureen Dunlop became a fighter pilot during the Second World War - Credit: SUPPLIED

From fighter pilot to introducing a new breed of horse to the UK, the life of Maureen Dunlop de Popp is an eye-opening account.

Born Maureen Adele Chase Dunlop on October 26, 1920, in the town of Quilmes near Argentina’s capital, Buenos Aires, she was the daughter of Australian citizen and farmer Eric Chase Dunlop and Jessimin May Williams, an English woman. Mr Dunlop had fought as a volunteer for the Royal Field Artillery during the First World War.  

When she was a child, her father worked for a British company as a farm manager, tending to 620,000 acres (250,000 hectares) of land in the South American region of Patagonia, a sheep-breeding area. 

Educated by a governess, she also attended St Hilda’s College in nearby Hurlingham, a town mostly inhabited by British citizens. During those years, she learned to love horses and became an experienced rider.  

During the holidays, she and her siblings - Joan and Eric – regularly visited England. In the summer of 1936, she took her first flying lesson, and on returning to Buenos Aires, she backdated her birth certificate to continue accumulating flight time at the Aero Club Argentino. 


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When the Second World War broke out in 1939, she joined more than 4,500 volunteers, including hundreds of women, and decided to fight against the Nazis. Although she always kept her Argentine citizenship, the UK became her second home.  

By 1942, she had accumulated 500 hours of flight time and with that background went to London where the Air Chief Marshall Trafford Leigh-Mallory said women should not be allowed to become fighter pilots. Instead, she joined the British civilian organisation Air Traffic Auxiliary (ATA) as a female pilot and was nicknamed Attagirl alongside other female pilots.  

Maureen Dunlop became a cover girl after being featured on the front page of Picture Post magazine in 1944

Maureen Dunlop became a cover girl after being pictured leaving the cockpit of a Fairey Barracuda aircraft - a shot that featured on the front page of Picture Post magazine in 1944 - Credit: PICTURE POST/SUPPLIED

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Before the end of the war, she had flown more than 800 hours piloting the principal combat aircrafts both De Havilland Mosquito, Supermarine Spitfire, North American Mustang, Hawker Typhoon, Tempests, and Bristol Blenheim, as well as Vickers Wellington bombers, in addition to other less famous planes, adding up to a total of 38 single and multi-engine aircraft.

She reached the rank of First Officer, an equivalent to Flight Lieutenant in the Royal Air Force (RAF). 

Her true personality was shown in 1943 when she became one of 166 women pilots that managed to receive the same pay as men of an equal rank in the ATA - the first time the British government had approved to pay the same salary to women and men within an organisation under its control.  

Maureen Dunlop became a fighter pilot during the Second World War

Maureen Dunlop became a fighter pilot during the Second World War - Credit: SUPPLIED

She once said: “I longed for flying in combat. I thought that it was the only fair thing. Why should the enemies only be killed by men?” 

When the hostilities concluded, the RAF Luton certified her as a flight instructor, a job that she carried out for a brief time.  

Returning to Argentina, where she stayed until 1969, she flew aircraft in the Argentine Air Force working as a flight instructor. She never received the badge for military pilot’s wings. During this time, she also instructed Aerolíneas Argentina’s pilots and worked as a commercial pilot for an air taxi company where she was a partner. 

In 1955, she married Serbian diplomat, Victor Popp. The couple had a son and two daughters who were raised on their stud farm, Milla Lauquen Stud. 

Then in 1973, the family moved to England and settled in Norfolk on another stud farm breeding pure-blood Arab horses. She had been a pioneer who introduced the creole horse in the UK. 

In 2003, she was awarded the Guild of Air Pilots and Air Navigators Master Air Pilot Award. 

After almost four decades in Norfolk, she died in Norwich on May 29, 2012.

  • Maureen Adele Chase Dunlop, pilot and horse breeder, born October 26, 1920; died May 29, 2012. 
  • To view all of our obituaries and tributes, you can now join the Facebook group Norfolk's Loved & Lost.

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