Interview with Violet Bishop


Interview with Violet Bishop


Violet Bishop’s two brothers both volunteered for the RAF. One trained as a bomb aimer and the other as ground crew. Both survived the war. They wrote to each other throughout the war. She was very proud when her brother accompanied her to a dance in his uniform.







00:17:09 audio recording


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GC: This interview is being conducted on behalf of the International Bomber Command Digital Archive. My name is Gemma Clapton. The interviewee today is Mrs Violet Bishop. And it’s being held at her home in Rayleigh in Essex on the 26th of September 2017. Thank you very much for letting me into your home. I know that your brothers both served in Bomber Command as crew and aircrew. Can you tell me a little bit about your brothers please?
VB: Yes. Well, they were quite young before the war. They both won scholarships to the local grammar school which was then the Grocer’s School. We were very very pleased with them. And eventually, when the war started they were seventeen and three months and eventually they both joined the Air Force. And the eldest one passed for aircrew and the second one was ground crew. And the eldest boy was trained in Lincoln and in Canada and he qualified for bomb aimer. And as far as I know he did quite a few trips. And between each [pause] I think it was a trip of seven weeks, something like that they had a weeks’ leave. And every week he came home we used to have a party.
GC: What was, what was your brother’s name?
VB: Jimmy. James William. Yeah. James William.
GC: He was the eldest?
VB: He was the eldest. Yeah. So, we used to have a little party. Only a little get together each time he came home on leave. We always pleased that he’d got home on leave and he did his job just as a matter of fact. Like anybody else, you know. And they went back from leave and continued doing their job. And fortunately he came home safely after the war.
GC: Did he tell you, when he came home did he tell you much about what he was actually doing?
VB: No. No. I asked him about his crash but he really didn’t want to elaborate on it.
GC: Could you tell us a little bit about what he did?
VB: Actually, it was a Sunday morning. Everything seemed to happen during the war on a Sunday morning. And we got the information that he had crashed. And we, my mother and sister went to see him. I said, ‘I can’t go. I can’t go to see. I don’t want to see him injured.’ So I couldn’t go. But they went up to Sheffield Hospital and they saw him. The funny thing was my sister went up to the wrong boy and kissed him because they were all bandaged. And so that made them laugh but it was quite sad really. But because they went to the hospital and they saw all the wounded and that was quite, quite a thing. But then fortunately he came home and got married, had a little family and went to Canada. Yeah.
GC: Did he fly again after the accident? In the —
VB: Oh yes. Yeah. He completed his service. Yes. He did.
GC: What kind of man was he? How do you remember your brother?
VB: Oh, he was lovely. He really was. He was very very good to me. Very protective because he was five years older. And, no he did. We used to write to each other during the war although I was only fifteen sixteen. And one little story. I used to work for WH Smith’s head office. And he came home in his uniform and, you know the order was an NCO. It was an officer’s uniform. And I asked him to come to the dance with me. They used to have a yearly dance. Which he did. At Covent Garden. And the next morning the girls said, ‘Who was that boy with you last night?’ I said, ‘It was my brother.’ ‘Oh, go on,’ they said, ‘It wasn’t your brother.’ So they were quite impressed with him. He was quite a nice looking boy. Yeah. So, yes that was a little story. But as I say he was very very nice and he married a nice girl. Had two little girls and nine months after they arrived in Canada had another little boy.
GC: So, when he was training he was in Canada. Did he write to you often?
VB: Oh yes.
GC: Did he tell you about life in Canada? Can you remember?
VB: And yes, although they didn’t have an awful lot of money he took it in turn my mother, my sister and I used to receive a box of chocolates from Eaton’s. Eaton. Eaton store Or Eaton Square or something it was. A big shopping centre. And oh, they were huge chocolates. Really loved that. I can remember those.
GC: That must have been a treat in the war.
VB: It was a treat. Yes. But we used to have it in turns. My mother, my sister and myself. Yes. So —
GC: Your other brother. Ernest.
VB: Yes. He was ground crew.
GC: He was ground crew.
VB: Yes.
GC: Can you tell me a bit about him please?
VB: Yeah. Well, I didn’t really know where he was stationed. He must have been stationed in Lincolnshire. One of them. But he got engaged and when he came home on leave he got married and he went to live with his then wife. Yeah. And they lived in London. And they had a little girl. Yes. So they, yeah they had a little girl and then they — I can’t think where they went from there. Yeah. Oh, they went up to London to one, one house and then they moved back to Essex. Yes.
GC: So, what was, what was what was Ernest like as a brother?
VB: Oh, he was very good. He won a scholarship so they were quite all good. And he worked for a shipping company. So he, they were both accountants. Actually, my father was quite good with figures but in those days they, I mean they didn’t have the money to do anything. We didn’t have a lot of money but they had even less didn’t they? So, yeah. One of his brothers it was he won a scholarship to the Blue Coat Boys. Yeah. But they couldn’t afford it. But, no, they were all good at figures. They all liked. And I like figures too. Yeah. But —
GC: So what did they actually tell you about life away? Did they actually discuss it in letters or was it just in general?
VB: They didn’t used to tell us anything about the war. They used to just tell us where they were going or what they were doing but they weren’t allowed to were they? They weren’t allowed to tell us too much. But no, but, but there you are as I said previously he didn’t say much about the war.
GC: Yeah.
VB: And my father didn’t tell us much about the First World War. But when I think about it the First World War was dreadful. He used to say they used to throw the bombs into the trenches. And that made him a very, very bad tempered man. He had a very bad temper. And I just put it, you know down to the war really. Because he was only seventeen and he put his age up to go with his other older brother. Yeah. Yeah.
GC: Do you remember what it was — you say you had a party every time he came, what it was like?
VB: Pardon?
GC: When you had a party every time they came home.
VB: Oh yes.
GC: What was it like as a family to have, to have them home?
VB: My mother and my eldest brother and myself didn’t have a piano lesson. We just used to play by ear sort of thing. And the party consisted of just a sort of a few bottles of beer and a bottle of sherry. That was the party.
GC: Didn’t have much on rations.
VB: No [laughs]
GC: So, how long was he home for?
VB: I think it was weekend leave. They used to have weekend leave. Yeah.
GC: Did they ever come home at the same time? Or —
VB: Yes. Yeah. Oh, yes. Yeah. They used to. Yeah.
GC: Do you remember the day peace broke because you would have known your brothers were coming home? Can you remember that?
VB: When — ?
GC: When peace broke out. The war in Europe.
VB: Oh. No. I can’t remember that actually because I was at work then. Yeah. And they were involved with their girlfriends and their wives then. Yeah. So they would have gone home to their wives by then. Yeah. But I can remember VE day.
GC: Yeah.
VB: I can’t remember who the boy was now but he asked my father if he could take me up to the West End. And how old would I have been? About —
GC: 1928.
VB: Seventeen, I think. Something like that. Could he take me up to see the celebrations? So, he said, ’Yes,’ he said, ‘If you look after her.’ And I can remember standing opposite Buckingham Palace. Yeah.
GC: That must have been quite something.
VB: And everybody was happy but do you know I can’t remember that boy’s name.
GC: Do you remember what it was like after the war? Sort of coming back to normal life. Did it, was it an easy transition or —
VB: I think we just, we just did it, you know. But I can remember we were on, still on rations because when I got married in 1950 my mother in law used to say to me, ‘If you give the butcher sixpence he won’t mark your book.’ [laughs] So, everybody did it.
GC: Dear oh dear. I mean, you was, I’m trying to work my maths out. You was how old when war broke out?
VB: Eleven.
GC: Eleven. So, as a child, as a young girl what do you remember about war? Do you remember war breaking out? Do you remember that?
VB: I was evacuated two days before the war broke out.
GC: Ok.
VB: 1st of September we were evacuated. And, and it started on the 3rd didn’t it?
GC: Yes.
VB: Then we came back to London because we weren’t very happy at Northampton. And then we went back to Wiltshire which we were extremely lucky. We really were. We had a beautiful house. We lived in a house that my mother and father would never ever have been able to afford. It was absolutely gorgeous. We were so lucky.
GC: So, as, as an evacuee from the city to the countryside what are your memories of living in the countryside?
VB: Well, living in the countryside was completely new but it made me love the countryside. And when we got married this is why I wanted to move out of London. Yeah. I love London. I still love it but it’s not the London that I remember.
GC: No.
VB: No.
GC: Do you have any, can you remember any sort of funny stories? Any anecdotes. Because that must have been quite a shock to your senses.
VB: Oh, yeah. When we, when we were evacuated.
GC: When you were. Yeah.
VB: And the lady that looked after us she was extremely — she used to make all our clothes. She used to. You’d never believe. They talk about make do and mend. She used to unpick grown up’s coats. Unpick them. Make us a coat. Yeah. Absolutely lovely. Yeah.
GC: Were there a lot of children there or was it just you and your sister?
VB: I was lucky really because I’d just started what they called [unclear] Central School in London but I had to come back to the local school to be evacuated. But when we went to Melksham, West Kensington Central School was there so I was allowed to go to their school. Yeah.
GC: So, was it, was it easy being away from family?
VB: Well, they used to send me parcels which I thought was wonderful. They used to send parcels now and again but as I say this couple were so good to us we weren’t lonely or, you know we weren’t sort of unhappy at all. No. But no, they were very very good.
GC: I know you’d be happy to go home but did you miss kind of —
VB: Well, I’ll tell you a story. My father was very tall. Very tall. And he always wore a bowler hat. And he was coming down to see us on this Sunday. We had to go to the town centre to meet him. And I was saying to my, nudging my sister, ‘Fancy wearing a bowler hat to the country.’ I always remember that. But little did we know the night before he had been out in the Blitz and he used to cut all the gas off. He belonged to the Gas Company and he used to make everywhere safe from gas explosions.
GC: So, how did your parents cope? You’ve got two sons serving and two daughters evacuated.
VB: And they didn’t have anybody.
GC: No.
VB: Just the two of them really. Yeah. It was sad really because all their family was taken away from them. Wasn’t it, really?
GC: So, so your dad was gas.
VB: Yeah.
GC: Did you —
VB: And my mum was a machinist. She did work.
GC: Yeah.
VB: Yeah.
GC: What kind of machinist?
VB: Everything. She tried. Yes. In fact, she worked for when we were little she worked for a pyjama factory and all the off cuts she used to make us dresses.
GC: So, it was a close family.
VB: Oh yeah. Yeah.
GC: A good family.
VB: It was a very nice family. Yeah.
GC: So, can you remember, sort of — tell me. Tell me a little bit of life after the war for your brothers and for yourself because —
VB: Well, the two brothers were married by then so they went off with their — oh, my sister was married ‘cause she got married when she was seventeen. But her husband promised my mum that they wouldn’t have any children until he came home when he kept his promise. Yes. Because she was seventeen. She was married during the war. And, no I just went to work. I went to WH Smith’s. As I say the Doodlebugs were about then. And I got, I met John and we were we met in March, engaged in May and married in July. And people used to say whoo, you know. Well, I wasn’t pregnant [laughs] everybody thought oh, you know but I wasn’t. Unfortunately, we didn’t have any children. But —
GC: So what are your memories? Real memories of the war era. That age.
VB: Very happy really. Because we, I wasn’t really in the war.
GC: No.
VB: The only thing was one day, they had a park in Melksham, a cricket pitch. And the siren went and all the teachers said to all of us, ‘Run home.’ Didn’t tell us to hide anywhere or anything [laughs] So, we had to run all the way home. But it was nothing. It was just a siren. I don’t think we were in danger of anything.
GC: It must have seemed weird because that’s quite a way from London.
VB: Oh yes. It was. Yeah. It was —
GC: Did it, was that the only time it really affected you was for the siren to go off.
VB: It was unknown really. And we were so lucky that we didn’t get parted, because some people only wanted one evacuee.
GC: Yeah.
VB: And then this lady had one big house and the top part she used to use as a storage. Not far away was an Air Force depot there and she said, ‘You’ll have to,’ she said, ‘You’ll have to put some boards up there,’ she said, ‘Because we don’t want them to know there’s rooms up there, she said. ‘We don’t want any young men billeted on us with these two young girls.’ She was very very protective.
GC: Very good.
VB: It was really lovely. Yeah. As I say we were so lucky. Yeah. So, that’s about all I can remember of the war really.
GC: It’s a, it’s a shame we can’t [pause] we haven’t got more memories of your brother because you know —
VB: I wish you could trace that mark. Yeah. Yeah.
GC: We’re going to have a look [pause] I’m going to, I’m going to pause now and say thank for you very much.
VB: Yeah. Thank you.
GC: [unclear]
VB: Yeah. Well, I hope, you know can find something but no, I didn’t keep any of the letters otherwise I would have had his number on that wouldn’t I?
GC: Yeah.
VB: That I sent him. But —
GC: Let’s pause.



Gemma Clapton, “Interview with Violet Bishop,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed April 23, 2024,

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