Ace Of Clubs: The Matchless Pamela Barton

Born in Barnes on 4th March 1917, Pamela Barton, Pam for short, showed an astonishing golfing prowess from early childhood. At the age of 17, Barton won the French International Ladies Golf Championship and two years later, was awarded the British Ladies Amateur, which was swiftly followed by her winning the American Ladies Amateur at the Canoe Brook Country Club in Summit, New Jersey where she defeated the American champion Maureen Orcutt in a record-breaking victory,  becoming the first player to hold both titles at once for almost  thirty years.

By the mid-1930s, Barton’s sporting career was going from strength to strength; she was on the British Curtis Cup team from 1934 to 1935 and in semi-finals of the 1935 British Ladies Amateur, she beat her younger sister, Mervyn Barton. Their mother Ethel, also a keen golfer, won the 1935 Mothers and Daughters Foursomes Tournament with her eldest daughter.

Barton was again selected as a member of the 1936 Curtis Cup team, and then travelled to New Jersey to compete in the American Ladies Amateur for the second time; she left victorious, and Mervyn, who had gone to support her sister, recalled that ‘Pam was thrilled, she was over the moon.’ A book authored by Barton and entitled, A Stroke a Hole, was published in 1937.

Above: Pam Barton wins the American Ladies Amateur Golf Championship (1936)

In 1939, Barton reclaimed her title at the British Ladies Amateur champion, but was beaten in the third round of the American Ladies Amateur by Charlotte Glutting. Soon afterwards Britain declared war on Germany and Barton signed up for the London Ambulance Services; she would drive through the capital during The Blitz, tending to the wounded. Due to the conflict, golf championships were put on hold, nevertheless, Barton took part in several charity matches to raise funds for the war effort.

Joining the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force at the beginning of 1941, Barton received a commission in August that year, gaining the rank of Flight Officer. Barton was stationed at RAF Manston in Kent, where she became popular with the pilots for giving them golf lessons, and it was there that she met Flight Lieutenant Angus Ruffhead, known as ‘Ruffy’ to his squadron, in October 1943. They quickly fell in love and made plans to marry when the war was over.

On the evening of 12th November 1943, Barton’s dashing beau flew her in a de Havilland DH.82 Tiger Moth, to RAF Detling, also in Kent, where the couple had been invited to a dinner-dance. It had not been the best of conditions for flying, but as Barton was scheduled for duty at RAF Manston the next morning, they decided to return by plane that night. Moments after take-off the aircraft collided with a fuel tank, which caused it to burst into flames. Flight Lieutenant Ruffhead escaped from the debris with only minor injuries; however, Barton was not so fortunate.

Barton’s funeral took place at St John’s Cemetery in Margate on 16th November 1943; she was buried with military honours and it was reported by the press that ‘her coffin, draped in the Union Flag, was borne by six RAF Sergeants with RAF Officers as pallbearers,’ in attendance were ‘200 WAAF on one side and on the other, 200 men from the different national Air Forces serving in Britain.’

Nearly two months after the crash that killed his sweetheart, Flight Lieutenant Ruffhead was on operations in France. As he led a mission on 6th January 1944, his plane was shot down and crashed into the sand dunes around the beaches of Le Touquet. This time, fate did not spare him. Ruffy was laid to rest in the Boulogne Eastern Cemetery.

Described as the ‘greatest woman golfer Britain has known’ by an obituary in the Daily Express, since Barton’s death few female golfers have been able to match her achievements. In recognition of these achievements, The Ladies Golf Union named the British Ladies Amateur trophy the Pam Barton Memorial Salver, inscribing it with the words ‘In Affectionate Memory of Pam Barton,’ a fitting tribute to a determined young woman who fought valiantly for both her championship titles, and her country.

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