Interview with June Pauline Brandon


Interview with June Pauline Brandon


June Brandon was born in India, returning to England when her father died. She joined the WAAF and went into the Photographic Section, loading cameras on Spitfires then carrying out development of the films. She served at several RAF stations, telling stories of conditions in various places as well as experiences she had in service and on leave.







00:30:18 audio recording


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JeB: This is an interview, is being carried out for the International Bomber Command Centre. The interviewer is Jennifer Barraclough, the interviewee is Mrs June Brandon. The interview is taking place at Mrs Brandon’s home near Warkworth, Auckland. The date is the 2nd of March 2018. Okay, Mrs Brandon could you tell us, thank you very much for taking part. Could you tell us a little about your early life and how you came to join the Air Force, please.
JuB: As my father was with the Ghurkhas I was born in India, in the Himalayas and we had a wonderful life out there, riding twice a day and father had to go up the North West Frontier at regular intervals, we just wanted to keep the Afghans north of the North West Frontier so they didn’t come down into India, and they took tours of duty. We got leave in England every three years and when I was nine, my, the Gurkhas themselves are only about five foot three. Wonderful, loyal, great fighters, but the Afghans pick off the big ones cause they know they’re the officers. Father was brought back from the Frontier wounded, unfortunately got another bout of malaria and died, so we had to pack up. I was nine, at the ten, time, my brother was seven. And so we packed up, came back to England with mother who was widowed at twenty nine. And I can remember coming up the Suez Canal, I hated the topees, which were cork hats, and mother said to us, “come on you can throw your topee into the sea, you won’t need it again.” And I stood at the rail, threw the topee over and burst into tears and mother said what’s the matter. I had a pet donkey in India, I adored her and we just had a lovely relationship and I said, “I’ll never see my father or my little donkey again.” We came back to England and I was sent to boarding school. It was a school for all permanent officers’ daughters in Bath. I loved it there, they were great people and when the war started, the Navy, because we were on a hill above Bath, took over the school because they wanted to signal ships in the Atlantic. So we were moved to a beautiful country house where they built classrooms. We used to sit on the stairs and have lectures with ancestral portraits peering down at us. We had science lessons in the stables and art lessons in the Orangery. And I was, took school certificate there and I left school at seventeen. I looked around for what I should do and thought of nursing, but it looked like too many bedpans, [chuckle] so we weren’t allowed to join the Air Force till we were eighteen, so I put my age up a year, went up to London with mother who had some business to do, and whilst she went, I went along to Kingsway House and enlisted. They asked me for my birth certificate and I said, “oh I was born in India.” She didn’t seem to know. Father would obviously have registered me at Somerset House, so I got away with it. [Laughter] Well the next thing I know I’m on the train with a crowd of girls and the Germans didn’t bomb, this was after Dunkirk. They didn’t bomb Morecombe or Blackpool cause they thought they’d be there themselves in a few weeks. So first of all it was Morecombe and this endless marching up and down for drill. I found the shoes awful, I think they had slabs of concrete on the bottom, and I got chilblains. It was very, very cold. Well one morning the sergeant said to us tomorrow morning put on your overshoes. These were a kind of a galosh thing that came up to your ankles and did up with two buttons. So that morning I was doing great, I was marker cause I was the tallest, and at the end of the parade the sergeant said now take off your shoe, your moccasins, for inspection. I took them off, and everybody burst out laughing! I was standing in the middle of the Morecombe parade with a pair of red moccasins on. The officer looked at me, she couldn’t charge me with not being dressed on parade cause I had been. She just shook her head and walked away. [Laughter] The next thing I knew, I was posted to the Photographic School because I told them I had played with photography at home. And it was a six month course, and we started, it was lovely because you suddenly realised the class system had gone. In the desk next to me was Rachael Tennyson, Lord Tennyson’s granddaughter. Next, the other side was little girl that had worked in a chemists shop. We were all in it together, didn’t matter what our background was. We started off with the properties of light, then we went on to different lenses on cameras. We had an exam every two weeks, if you failed an exam [whistle sound] you were off. They couldn’t waste time on you. There were eighteen of us, our only trouble was we were billeted in Blackpool and there were bed bugs in our. Some people were moved three times, luckily I was only moved once. Some of the landladies were lovely, others were awful. Well, we got through the course, and they decided we must have a passing out parade. Well there was wide driveway with a wall down one side and suddenly the officers decided they had to be elevated to take the salute so they got on top of the wall. I was glad I was marker and they couldn’t see me grinning cause we did eyes right to five pairs of black polished shoes, [interference] we couldn’t see anything else. Well after two weeks leave I was put on camera guns [/interference] and these would, guns, synchronised with the real guns and they took a photograph of anything the Spitfires would shoot at. I was sent up to Newcastle to a fighter station. And there was only one other photographer, a corporal, he was a lazy thing. So my job was, I was given a bicycle with yellow and black stripes, given a satchel with the magazines and I had to cycle round all the operative Spitfires and test the cameras every morning. Well, I was always very careful going across the end of the runway if they were using that runway cause the Spitfires used to come in very low and very fast and I realised they weren’t going to stop for me! So I got up to the squadron and a sergeant came out and said, “what are you here for?” and I said I have come to test the cameras. And the whole lot of them burst into laughter. They’ve sent a girl! They were slapping their knees and dancing about and I thought what a greeting! So I grabbed a wheel chock; they were big triangular shapes of wood, with a rope through them and they put them in front of the Spitfire wheels so they didn’t move. Now the Spitfire wing is quite high and I had to look down. So I gathered the chock, took it to the port wing between the canon and the fuselage, took a screwdriver out of my pocket, undid a little panel in the wing, checked that there was, and then I said to one of them, the mechanic, could you jump into the cockpit and just give a quick burst to the camera only button. So, being a bit surprised, he did that. Then I took the magazine out to make sure there was enough film, put it all back together [interference] again and went to the next aeroplane. Then I had to sign a Form 700 [/interference] which was everything was checked, every morning and I had to sign for the camera gun. Well, there was a bit of fighting up there and several times the Spitfires went out and I got a call one day: “One of the pilots is sure he hit something, come out and get the magazine.” I cycled out there, I couldn’t believe it. There they were, with the film like this, looking at it and I said you’ve just ruined the film, you’ve put it to the light. They wouldn’t believe me! So I said come with me back to the dark room and I’ll show you. And I wound it on a big frame and developed the film for them. And they saw it was black, cover to cover. I was surprised pilots didn’t know about that. Anyway, a little later on I got a terrible pain in my stomach and the sergeant was roaring at me to get out of bed and get going. And I said I just can’t move. A friend of mine came over, realised I had a temperature and went and got one of the medical staff: acute appendicitis. So I was put on a stretcher, loaded into an ambulance. They couldn’t find mother because she was driving an ambulance in London. And I was taken down to the hospital, bumping over the tram lines, which was extremely [emphasis] painful. We get to the hospital and the nurse that came with me was carsick, so in the middle of an air raid with all ack acks going off, she was taken in as the casualty leaving me lying outside. They at last realised they’d got the wrong people, came with a stretcher on a trolley, put me on it. As we were going in to the hospital I said to the orderlies, don’t hurry the pain’s gone. They immediately started to run, my appendix had burst. No penicillin in those days, I didn’t realise how sick I was till I came to and found mother sitting beside my bed, she’d come all the way up from London. Well, I recovered and got, all told, four weeks sick leave. It was beautiful. I went to some friends of ours in the country. They were so kind to me, and this beautiful countryside, and you could forget the war. Well, when I was told I was fit enough, I was sent to RAF station Benson. Now we only [emphasis] took photographs, that was the sole purpose of the place. There were two cameras loaded behind the Spitfire cockpits and we had some um, Mustangs, not Mustangs, it’ll come to me. They were all painted blue and, making it hard to see against the sky. And the cameras were placed so that there was always an overlap this way, cause they didn’t turn over fast enough and this camera overlapped that way so if there was a damaged negative you could make it up with the other two. They were lovely girls there and we had a common room and the men had a common room. We used to have to change the chemicals at regular intervals so they gave us - because the hypo rotted our shoes - they gave us clogs. They are the most uncomfortable thing I’ve ever worn. And we used to clatter about sounding like horses on a hollow bridge. Because you had to change the chemicals by buckets. You had to fill the bucket and go up the thing and change the, in these big machines we had. And I was always the one in the dark room. I don’t know why. You went through double doors into the dark room and there was a red pan light. You had a spool here with the film on it to be developed and it was threaded through the machine as just a spare piece of film, so you’d cut the film like this with a razor, pull out a piece of red tape, which always amused me, press it down and fold it over and cut it again with a razor blade, then you’d turn the machine on. And there were these rods that went down into the chemicals, and you slowly lowered them, there were two for water to get the film really wet, then it went into the developer. There were six, this was all in the dark, then there were two of water and two of neutraliser and then the film went through a little rubber letterbox, and was finished in the open. There were three of us in a crew working these machines. The one in the middle saw that everything was developing correctly and washing correctly. There was a viewing chamber as it went up onto the dryer, which was long fluorescent lighting with warm air being blown through it and it would go round this and someone at the end would see that it spooled up properly. Then it went through to the printers which had similar machines, but just printing, only. When that was finished all the films were bundled up and sent over to Intelligence for a quick look at what we’d got. It was nearly awaysl of bombing raids to see the damage we’d done or not done. Then it was sent to Medmenham, which was the Central Intelligence Unit, for final analysis. We used to have in the hall a huge what we called the Sortie Board, which listed the sortie number and its ETA so that we had an idea and when it arrived it was put down as arrived, when it went into the developing, when it went into the printing and when it was finished was all noted down. The sadness comes if someone came down and drew a line right through it. Plane was missing. Sometimes they landed at another airfield, sometimes: the inevitable. I always admired those pilots because they had to fly with no guns because the cameras were so heavy. They had to get to the target, fly up and down, taking photos, then scoot for home, and they knew that the Germans gave their pilots a bonus if they shot down a reconnaissance plane. We used to get a lot of requests for shipping movements, troop movements, where things were. We found in one stage the Tirpitz in a Norwegian Fjord and they got her when she came out. We also found the Bismark, took photographs of the Scharnhorst and Gneisenau that were bombed. And all together it was an extremely interesting but stressful job because you couldn’t make mistakes. The girls were lovely, I never had any argument, none of us did, and when there was no flying we’d all sit in the common room and do beautiful needlework or knitting or something. We were in a separate hut, the photographers. Well, one night the sirens went and it was freezing, I was a corporal then, and I said to the girls, do you want to go down the shelter, which was what we were meant to do. No. So I said stay here, these shelters were very nice concrete but there’s steps going down and water run down and when you got to the shelter you were sitting ankle deep in ice cold water! So we stayed where we were, suddenly after a lot of running round in the thing, the door burst open and a sergeant covered in mud started to curse us. “Who’s in charge here?” And I said me. “You’re on a charge for disobeying an order!” Cause they’d opened up the shelter and found nothing. So next morning I was in front of the CO, so he said to me – after the usual charging - why didn’t you go down there, and I said I had a feeling. So he caught on and put it down to women’s intuition. Actually, my only feeling was it was too damn cold” So I got off. [Laugh] So, well I was there for about four years I think it was, and then I was sent to Medmenham. That was all enlargement work and specialised work, but there were no aeroplanes, I really didn’t enjoy it. So I got a commission and I was sent to the usual training. By this time the Americans were in the thing and you know what we thought of them. You’ve heard the saying [chuckles] and I was disgusted when were sent on a talk to learn how to public speak, and the Americans just took us as, for popsies that they could pick up! Me and my friend were asked were we staying the night? We said certainly not, we’re going back to camp. They turned their back on us and went and talked to the others because we weren’t going to sleep with the devils! So that was fine. And then, I can’t remember why, I was on Windermere station and a train came in, doors flew open, this was near the end of the war, and a troop of soldiers jumped out carrying rifles and they lined up all the way down to outside the gate where there was a staff car. Two more carriages opened and two officers jumped out with their hand guns in their hand. Next thing you know the middle door opens, Rundstedt walked out. We’d captured him. He looked magnificent [emphasis] with that red general stripe down his trousers. I noticed that her wore the Iron Cross, but no [emphasis] swastikas. They put him on an island in the middle of Windermere Lake, as a prisoner. I can’t remember what happened to him in the trials afterwards. Well. Can we stop this? During the bombing, when I was in London, you think it was never, ever going to stop, just noise, noise, noise and you didn’t know what was going to happen. I used, if possible, to curl myself into a ball and recite poetry which I loved. I was always terrified of getting an arm or leg blown off and they’d feel sorry for me. Usually the bombers went home about three o’clock in the morning. And then we had the start of the doodlebugs. I was at home one day on forty eight hour leave in mother’s flat in London and the sirens had gone nine times. You forgot whether it was all clear or what, and mother always used to go into the hall of the flat cause there were no glass. I had a very interesting radio programme on – National Velvet about a horse. And she was shouting at me to come and a doodlebug went past the window. We were only on the fourth floor. There was a bit of a silence and then a great big explosion and mother said come on, we’d better go and see if we can help. We went round to a little square that was near us, all built by people that had escaped the French Revolution and it was all built in that lovely French style. The doodlebug had gone straight through one block house right down into the cellar. The house was completely gone, but standing on a landing on the top, with absolutely nothing underneath her, was a woman screaming her head off. Luckily the firemen came along with a long ladder and rescued her. And then we had the V2s coming and it was very, very difficult to find where they were coming from. And we kept taking photographs round Holland and round the coast and finally one of the intelligence girls found it at Peenemunde and she got the MBE for that, and we bombed that, which stopped quite a lot of the V2s. And then the war did end.


Jennifer Barraclough, “Interview with June Pauline Brandon,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed July 13, 2024,

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