Interview with Iris Done


Interview with Iris Done


Upon leaving school until her marriage, Iris worked for London County Council. After her marriage she joined the Women's Auxiliary Air Force. She reported to Bridgenorth in June 1942 to be sworn in. After that, she went to Morecambe where she learned to drill and also had various injections. As she was already a shorthand typist, she didn’t have to complete any trade training and therefore, upon completion of initial training, she was posted to Fighter Command at RAF Bentley Priory, Stanmore, where she stayed for the duration of the war. She worked in the Command Accounts Department. She was envious of the plotters, but accepted her job as a necessity. Iris describes her experiences working in central London before enlistment and afterwards when she visited her home in the south of the capital. With so many senior officers on site, entertainment at RAF Bentley Priory was first class, such as an open air concert by Glenn Miller. On the lead up to D-Day, she witnessed Field Marshall Montgomery, General Eisenhower and Arthur Tedder walking around the grounds in private discussions. Iris was billeted with civilians. She looks back with fondness and enjoyed the comradeship the forces provided. Demob came shortly after the end of the war, and with it the realities of financial hardship. This made Iris aware that she had been very lucky to serve in relative comfort.




Temporal Coverage




01:11:24 audio recording


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GC: Thank you very much for letting me do this. Tell me a bit about your life before the war.
ID: Um, well my life before the war I was working for the London County Council in County Hall, which of course doesn’t exist anymore as a, and eh I was I wasn’t reserved because my age didn’t reserve me, so that’s why I married in eh 14th of February 1942 and I had applied for call up because I thought that it was better, that having got married, to leave home in that way rather than go into a factory. I would have had to have done something you see. I couldn’t have stayed at County Hall, so that’s why I chose the WAAF and em I was, I was very pleased I did because I had some very happy times. It’s amazing the comradeship in the services.
GC: Yeah.
ID: Anyway, I, as I say, I married in forty, forty one, forty two, eh February forty two, and I was, I was called up in June forty two. I had to eh report to Bridgenorth, which seemed a long way to me but eh we moved around so much in those days. Anyway I arrived at, I think it was Euston Station and em wondering what the dickens I was going into really. Got on the train, of course, and it seemed such a long journey and interesting in a way because it was the first time I’d actually seen coal and coal mining equipment. Em, I’d seen it on the eh on the films and things like that but I’d never actually been anywhere where they’d had coal mines. Anyway, we arrived in Bridgenorth and eh it was better then because there was a lorry waiting to take us to the camp and consequently the people that had been on the train, who obviously didn’t know each other, so had had quite a lonely journey, we all met up and we started nattering wondering what the dickens we had let ourselves in for and eh we went to this, it was a large camp, I remember, and we were only there for, we were only due to stay there four days, which was to be sworn in and get our uniforms and various, you know, just get us used to the Services to some extent. So anyway we, we arrived there in, at supper time, and, and had the food was very good, very nice, I still remember. We had a very nice eh stew, but huh the jam, because we could have as much bread and marg as we liked, it was still on the plate, on the side of the plate which seemed rather strange. [chuckles] Anyway, after that we said, we were given our, what we called our irons, knife, fork and spoon and eh well when we came to wash it, we had to put the knife in the ground to clean it up, and there was this huge trough of ooh, quite brown looking water to wash the other things so it, it was all, all a little bit of a sham if you can imagine it. And anyway we, we, I think we were about eight to a hut and, and of course, it, it, life was so different and when we washed we had to wash in a public, another hut, which was sort of very public. But it’s like everything you soon get used to it because everybody’s in the same boat really. And um the four days went quite quickly, and then we were off to Morecambe. So that, that was another fortnight. You see I didn’t have to do any special training because I was a shorthand typist and anybody who had that, that kind of skill, they obviously didn’t want to train, it was expensive to train people, and we were already trained, so, and so, all, in the end we all more or le, similar people really on the whole. And em, anyway, we got to Morecambe and of course they have these em, what d’you call them, houses there, you know, boarding houses and, I don’t know if you know anything about the North, I didn’t know anything particularly, but the lady in the house is always the [emphasis] one, which leaves a poor little husband trotting along beside doing as he’s told. Anyway they made us quite comfortable but eh it was all very bit primitive then of course, but em and eh then we had drill. We had to do that on the front. By this time we, we had a, I think they called them passion killers [mumbles] [chuckles] whatever they are. They, they, just you know, ordinary, ordinary pants, that eh they were sort of Airforce colour and of course, because we, we didn’t have any special equipment, we did our drill on the front in these. Which of course the locals liked [chuckles] [unclear]. Anyway at eh every, every sort of coffee time, we went round and we stopped at various em hall, church halls mainly and there was normally a piano. Now if you had anybody who could play anything they, they really were the cats whiskers because we had a girl who could play “She’ll be coming round the mountains”, and [chuckles] and she played every time, she played the tune and we did the singing and I shall always remember that song. Anyway, we also of course had a lot of injections in case we went abroad or anything like that. So one weekend, we were feeling very sorry for ourselves, when we need injections, but other than that, we couldn’t move around, we weren’t allowed, we, we could look, look at you know, across at Sunderland, but we weren’t allowed to go there and, as I say, we only, we only stayed there a fortnight. And then we moved on and, and of course we were saying “I wonder where we’ll get posted?” And by this time we, we’d made friends and “Oh, I hope we go together,” and all this business. Anyway, I, I was told that I was going to Fighter Command and eh my friend Betty who, who I’d made friends with, she was also going to Fighter Command so that was rather nice. And em where is this Fighter Command? It’s in Stanmore in Middlesex. Which of course was quite good because I, we only lived in South London, so we knew that if we had a weekend or forty eight hours, as they say, we could get home. And so, we did this long, long, it did seem a long journey. We had to go to London and then from London down to Stanmore, which is the end of the Bakerloo line. So, so it’s em, it was quite convenient for travelling really. And eh and then we were taken to Fighter Command which actually is a beautiful house. It, it belonged, it belonged to the Hamiltons. Now, he, Lord Hamilton was em, oh I can never think of her name, Nelson’s girlfriend, I can never think of her name.
GC: Emma.
ID: Emma.
GC: I think it was Emma.
ID: [mumbles] So, it was, it was Lord Hamilton’s estate really of course, and we didn’t actually live in the big house, it was the Air Officer Commanding, and various officers, but there were some very high officers there, obviously, being in Command. And, but we were all in sheds in the grounds. Em, which is, is quite interesting. When I told the people at Stanmore, they said “Well I’m very glad. We wondered what those sheds were.” So, so [chuckles] that was quite, quite good. So, anyway, em we were, we were shown these sheds and really, I must say, it was only really like a civil service job. But, of course, with all the restrictions obviously of a, of being in the Services. And we still had to do drill and stuff, but em we were then taken to our billets. But of course, it’s a very nice residential district round there and we were, Betty and I were still together, which we were very pleased about, and then we came to this very lovely place, it was really a nice, lovely house, which was called Green Lane Cottage, in Green Lane, and, of course, they weren’t people who wanted to have people billeted with them, but they were made to take however many they thought they could. But eh, they were two very elderly gentlemen. I believe they’d been West End solicitors and eh and, and their sister, and two maids, so you can tell we didn’t have any cleaning to do [chuckles] so we were very lucky actually. Em anyway, that, that seemed very nice and it was very cosy, and it, it was a charming house, you know, and, and the old, old people, although they really didn’t want us, they were quite kind. Every so often they’d leave a basket of apples in the, in our room. Or, or if Mr Churchill was speaking, and I think he did once or twice while we were there, they’d knock on the door and say, “Mr. Churchill’s speaking. Would you like to hear him?” [chuckles] Which was nice of them. Anyway [chuckles] so, we sort of settled in to just ordinary office work really. Um, there was, now, it was Command, I was in Command Accounts and my friend was in Medical, but our, our two em huts were together, not working together but placed together. And so in the, in the office there were, I worked mainly for a Flight Lieutenant, em but we all had to do [unclear] the head of the department was an Air Commodore, then a Wing Commander, then a Squadron Leader, who was a regular. My, my officer who, who was only, who had joined up for the war, and eh and then the officer was in charge of civilians, so he was a civil servant. So em, that was, and we, you know it was a very nice atmosphere and he was a very nice officer I worked for. And of course in those, at that time everybody was referred to by their name, I mean, I was Mrs. Done, not Done. So it was, it was quite a, and eh as I say, the, I remember I used to get a newspaper in the morning and so did he and we used to exchange newspapers before we started, so it was quite, it was quite an easy thing in, in one way. The worst part of course, is in war you never know how long it’s going to last and your life’s come to a fully stop really, you know until war ends. But em you know, it was, we, we didn’t feel that Command Accounts was very glamorous, but eh, obviously it’s essential for people to have their money [chuckles] but em, of course, the glamour girls in eh, on the camp, which we didn’t have anything to do with were, of course, the plotters. The plotters were, were right down in the, I don’t know, tremendously deep into the ground. They’d made these, these offices and eh, and eh, you know, they, they always looked very glamorous and seemed to be very glamorous but eh, as I say, we, we, we were very lucky really to have such a, such a, a nice billet really, because obviously, being a Command, we had very good entertainment. We had em, often had West End shows, not really for us, but mainly for the bigger boys and we, we also once I suppose this was really em was really amazing em [telephone ringing in background] the red letter day was when Glenn Miller and his band came to play in the grounds. That was, that was really quite exciting as you can imagine. But he was, well he’s always had, he always had a very good band and, so of course that was, we were always out and listened or very sure about it, but of course it wasn’t very long after that that he had a plane, took a plane to Paris and got killed. So em we had actually heard him, just before, you know just before he died really. But [coughs] because there weren’t many celebs in those days but there was one he, he was actually a newsreader called Alvar Lidell and of course, everybody was very thrilled because he was, he was called up was eh “Do you know who is here? Alvar Lidell.” [laughs] I don’t suppose he’d have made any, much of a hit these days, but anyway. So [pause] so I was, I was there for three and a half years, which sometimes seemed a very long time. You wondered if eh, you know, you really wondered if the war was ever going to end to be honest. And eh, and of course, very often you would see pilots who possibly had to come to report. Who obviously had been in a dog fight or something and terrible burns and things like that. But strangely enough we had no bombing there while I was there, but if you went out, South London and all round you know, there was the doodle bugs, but I don’t think I was ever in any of those but you, you could have been and the people were there. But why they missed Stanmore I never can understand, but anyway that was lucky that they did. And eh so really life, as I say, it was, you know, it was, quite, quite pleasant in a way because comradeship is very, very strong in the Services and there was Betty and I and she was, as I say, in Medical where, and I was in a little office and the other girl in the office we made friends with um she, we all used to go round together. They used to call us the three musketeers. But eh because you see all, most of the officers, I think all of the officers, without exception, they all lived out in houses, they, they didn’t, nobody lived on the camp. We had, we had army practicing and eh we would perhaps meet them for a, a, what I say a drink. We didn’t even get much drink in the NAAFI, you know, coffee really and because they, they were obviously practicing em for D-Day you see, everything was working up to D-Day when, because I wasn’t there for the Battle of Britain which of course was forty one. I came along after forty two, but of course there was an awful lot to prepare and one day walking in the grounds there was Tedder and Montgomery and Eisenhower, who’d obviously come down to talk about the eh, you know, the, the landings. So [chuckles] because they didn’t know we existed but [chuckles] that was quite a, that was quite exciting really. Em but eh other than that, as I say, we were near Watford, so we were able to go to the theatre there if we wanted to. Em it, it was, it was really quite a good life. I can’t really complain about it. It would have been worse I think before I joined up because, of course, being in South London and working in County Hall that was quite a journey and eh there was bombing. It could be at times when there was bombing, or, or the night before there had been bombing. I remember once going through Kensington and somebody saying, “Oh, yes, that shelter. Five hundred was killed last night.” You, you know, because all those places were very, very badly hit. And so really it was much, much more dangerous before I was in the Service and [mumbles] I wanted to go to India. But unfortunately, I was married and I had to get my husband’s permission [chuckles] and he wouldn’t give it [chuckles]. I’ve always wanted to go to India [chuckles] but eh I never got there. I only got as far as Stanmore [chuckles]. But em, but as I say, it [pauses] we had, we had good food. We, we were, no well we had to, you know, work reasonably hard em and eh I, I don’t know if Ken might have mentioned he, [chuckles] of course we being at Command we knew exactly where all the units would go, all the Fighter Command and one day he phoned from London all very secret and said, “I can’t tell you where I’m going, but I’m going abroad.” Huh, so I said, “Yes, I know you are.” Because we’d sent [chuckles] we’d sent papers for the, for the unit. But em, so I suppose I worked, we often said “Oh, I wish we were doing something more,” you know, “more glamorous.” I suppose really, but I, I mean presumably, as I say, people do need their money don’t they? And, and, and eh, you, you know, it was certainly, it was quite, quite a busy office and eh and eh how much [unclear] [pause] Yes, we, we, we had one Squadron Leader who was a regular and he was very kind. He had his family living somewhere near and occasionally he’d say to Pat and I, “My wife’s invited you to a meal.” Which was very nice and it did mean a lot, I must admit, to, to go to a family again. So that, that was very nice and eh but otherwise, as I say, the, the officers were very nice as bosses but we didn’t have much contact really with them after that. Except once we did have, we had a lovely em party, um I think it was, oh I can’t, I can’t remember, a fancy dress party actually. We, we, we had on the camp a chappie called Carpenter. I remember his name he eh, he, he was entertainments officer and he managed to get all these costumes from one, one of the musicals, so we, you could either be an Austrian boy or an Austrian girl. [chuckles] Part of it and eh we eh, that was a, that was a, really a lovely, that was really a lovely do because, I suppose it was so unexpected, you know, and, and eh as I say, we, we certainly didn’t, didn’t have many drinks because the NAAFI I don’t think, I don’t know if they had beer, I suppose they did. But em mainly coffees, but em I know we had a very good time on, on eh, coffee and whatnot. But it was sort of quite memorable, you know. It was really quite good fun and eh and then of course I remember, I do remember once, we, everybody accepted lifts in those days and I remember once waiting at a bus stop and an officer drew up and it wasn’t that far to eh to the station, but he said [unclear] I think I was the only one and I got in. And he said, “I’ve just come back from Belsen.” He said, “It, I can’t describe it.” So he’d been in Belsen the day before. He said it was really, really terrible. So you did get pictures of the war like that, you know, it uh, but other than that we, we were very lucky really. But em, but, but it’s a wonderful experience to be, there’s so many different types that you’d never meet in the, well maybe more now, but certainly then you wouldn’t. It eh, you’d get, as I say, you’d get the Ops girl who were very Ops, if you know what I mean. And I remember one of them, not, not, nobody we really knew, just sort of the rumour went round. Obviously if you were, spent the night you, you had to get a pass, and apparently she hadn’t come back. And eh, I suppose she was hauled over the coals, obviously, and she said, “Well, I’m very sorry, but we were dining with the Halifaxes.” But that was Lord Halifax, I think he was the Foreign Minister or something. [chuckles] So they were that type if you know what I mean and eh, and, and then they would perhaps get cooks who did a marvellous job. They had to get up about three in the morning I think to light the fires in those days, but we, we were, had to spend a week in their hut at one time, for to do fire drill I think, and eh they, I think they rather resent, you see there was so much more class distinction in that, those days and I think they rather resented us and perhaps we resented them. Anyway, we were in their hut and one girl came in and said, “Oh, what a nice hut.” Or something to that effect and they didn’t actually [unclear] our huts [chuckles] We were scared stiff. [unclear] So you’ve got to, you see, you did mix with so many different types that eh. As I say, it doesn’t apply so much today but then it, there were divisions really and eh it was, it was so good to meet people from, not only different types, but different countries and, and eh, and of course, that was life you know, regulars generally rather, they, they, they like everything just so, where of course the volunteers were much easier. I must admit the boss I had was a much easier man than the Squadron Leader. But em they were all very, very nice to work for. I can’t eh, I, I can’t complain at all really. And eh so I was there for three and a half years. I think I was only at the billet for two, if I remember rightly because my, my friend, I think, I was, I think she was married at this time. Her husband, he’d been in Malta, during the, [mumbles] and he caught amoebic dysentery and he was really a very, very sick man and I think they sent him home and because he lived somewhere not too far away, I think she went to be with he and his mother. And fortunately I had a cousin, a well Ken’s cousin actually, who lived in Wembley. So after two years I went to em to stay with them and em they, they were quite an interesting family because Ken’s cousin was a really good ballet dancer. He worked for the Festival Ballet in the end. He was one of, one of the principals. But he was a trainee, he was a boy when I lived with them. So he would, he was quite an interesting person to be with, so even that last year I suppose it was, was quite interesting. I met a Canadian. I don’t know how or why, I can’t think. But we used to go to the pub once or twice. Well I’ve often, I’ve often wondered and thought, you know, the Dieppe raid, I wonder if he was in that because these were all ships that pass in the night really. And you often wonder, especially now, now I’m old, and can sit here, I often think “I wonder what happened to them?” And we, I knew a Sergeant in, you know, when we were on, in, in the camp and eh they used to say “Oh, I don’t know that they, they don’t seem to be doing much.” But of course, they were training them up for D-Day and you think “I wonder if he ever, if he ever got out of the war,” you know, which, possibly didn’t, if we, because it was so, so much, you know, it was so awful when it, when it, once it started. But, but as I say, I wouldn’t have missed the experience because it’s very good to meet all kinds of people isn’t it? And to, and to try to understand each other. I think this is the, this is an important thing, really. Because em we, I suppose we lived quite, you know, individual sort of lives at one time. But em, as I say, we often said, “Oh I wish we had a more glamorous job.” [background laughter] But eh, perhaps people received their weekly pay, which wasn’t very much [chuckles] were perhaps pleased we didn’t. Now I can’t think of anything else, dear to
GC: Can you remember D-Day?
ID: Sorry?
GC: Can you remember D-Day? What happened. Can you remember what happened on D-Day? Where you were?
ID: Oh. Not really, not really to make it clear. No I can’t. But I can only, I can remember all these planes going over. I can remember that. But of course, it wouldn’t have actually affected us because anybody that was on the camp, we, we were sort of stationary there, and anybody like the soldiers who, who were training on, they would have gone, I think, before. So, but I, that’s the only thing I can remember and I can’t remember em [pause] what was the, what was the first one? Em, we got em, [pause] we em. You know when the war over, the war in Europe was over I can’t, I think I was still working there then, but I can’t, I can’t remember anything clearly about that either.
GC: So you can’t remember VE day?
ID: Not, only, only as much as, of course, reading it in the paper and eh, as I say, I can, I can still hear these, all these planes going over. So that must have been the beginning of it all. I think I, I think I can remember us looking forward say “Thank God it’s started,” because we would say, every day, “When’s it going to begin?” Because it can’t stop until it begins. And so I do remember that, but I don’t remember any, anything else, not, not clearly. But I presume we would have just carried on doing our work in the office. And eh I can’t think we would have got, we wouldn’t have got any spare em any time off or anything like that. And we wouldn’t, of course, it was a very secret thing so you wouldn’t really know too much about it, you know, even, even in the Command you, they, they liked to keep their secrets obviously. But em, but as I say, it eh, it wasn’t a very exciting life really I led in the Services, but em I certainly, well enjoyed it, as much as you can enjoy anything in war time, you know, because you’ve always got that at the back of your mind. You pick up the paper and one day perhaps a battle ship has gone down or, or there’s been fighting and thousands of people have gone, so obviously you, you’ve got all that and you eh you know, it did affect you. There wasn’t so much emotion as there is now. There’s an awful lot of emotion these days, isn’t there, about everything? There wasn’t. Because I think eh if there had been all that emotion, I don’t think we could’ve coped, to be honest. You had to, well, you know, keep, keep calm and carry on sort of thing. Which is always said to us. But of course then you’ve obviously got people who, friends, we, I mean, I had a friend and her husband was a pilot and we heard that he was killed and eh, as I say, my cousin’s husband was killed. You know, all those things were, they, they did affect you very much. But I got just a nice little, little, well it was nice for me, to show how friendship really means something. I, as I tell you, I was billeted with Betty and we, we used to just catch the bus in the morning to go to the camp and there was a little shop there. I suppose it, I don’t know whether it sold antiques or, funny little shop it was really. And in the front of this shop, there was this little corkscrew. I think it was possibly Cornish, you know, you get the Cornish pixie, and it was lying there, and of course this shop was always closed and why I took such a fancy to it, I don’t know because I hadn’t got any bottles to open. But every morning I’d look at it and say, “Oh, I do like that. Oh, oh, it’s still there.” And one day I said, “Oh Betty, somebody’s bought it,” so she, so she said, you know, I think a few days after, it was my birthday and when, on my birthday, she said, “Here’s a little present for you.” And I’ve still got it. It’s a corkscrew with a little pixie. But as I say, why I took such a fancy to it, I can’t think. [chuckles] But it, you know, every day I checked it and, of course, I could never get in and buy it, you see, cos it was always closed and so she must have put in a lot of effort, she must have gone one lunchtime to buy it when the shop was open. But I’ve always thought about that every time I, I see it, I think of Betty. Because we were very, very good friends and then, of course, you drift away eventually, don’t you? But em, two or three friends I kept for many years, really, until, you know, until they died actually. But em, but I always think of that little incident, and it meant so much to me. [chuckles] Strange, isn’t it? [chuckles] But em other than that I, I’m really, as I say, I didn’t have a very exciting time.
GC: Did you go home a lot?
ID: Em quite, quite a bit. Yes, we used to have forty eight hours, I think. We, I suppose, I suppose about once a month, really, possibly. And eh, we lived, I don’t know if you know the Crystal Palace area, do you know Buelah Hill? You might not know Buelah Hill. It, it sort of goes em, it goes from, well from Knights Hill it comes up to Buelah Hill. It’s a long, long road actually. And we didn’t have so much bombing there but, while I was, while I was there one, one night em well we thought the house was coming down it shook. I can’t explain how it shook. And we had quite a longish garden, I suppose, to that tree there, you know, and then there was another road, and there was, about there was a house. And I think it was only a five hundred pounder fortunately, but it fell on that house and killed two people. So that’s the nearest, nearest I’ve, well the nearest I’ve been to a bomb so I, I mean, it’s very lucky really isn’t it? But, but I remember another occasion. I used to sometimes go, when I worked at County Hall, go to Ken up at Chelsea, he worked at Chelsea in those days, and one evening the siren had obviously gone and the, I couldn’t get in the front of the Town Hall because it was closed and I had to go round the back because there was this bomb warning and just as I got to the door I looked up and I could see this face on the roundel on his, on the plane and that’s the nearest I’ve been to a German plane. By the time I’d got in he’d dropped his bombs. Well I mean you know they can travel quite a way. [chuckles] That’s the nearest I’ve been. [chuckles]
GC: I mean, were you aware of what was happening in London with the bombing and like Coventry and Liverpool?
ID: Oh, very much so because, very much in London, because, you see, working at County Hall em what happened in County Hall was when it first, you know, when the war first started, it was all very quiet for a few months, and so they sent everybody to different places em because our nearest one was Tooting. We went to a fire station in Tooting and, of course, that was, that was quite, there was no work to do. It was terribly, terribly boring. But of course you would watch the firemen practicing and things like that. And we must have stayed there for, I can’t remember how long, but quite a time. But then everybody said, “Oh, what’s the point?, so everybody came back and did their normal job, in the normal places. Well, of course, being in County Hall which is just opposite Saint Thomas’s as you know, well of course, it’s a hotel now, it’s not open. But em consequently, of course, every night, and because Mother and I were the only ones, there wasn’t a man in the house, we had to take our, I think a man came with us, but we did have to do fire watching. So we, you know, we did take them two till, two till four or one till three or something. Anyway we had to take it, obviously cos everybody was expected to take their part and that wasn’t very pleasant really [unclear] you knew it was shell cases or something falling and of course when, when, where you lived, as you say, all them fires, we could see them from, from where we lived. Well, well, when I say see them, we could see that glow in the sky and and, as I say, we travelled, you see, to London every, every day and eh I, I can, as I say, I can remember passing through Pennington, Brixton which got an awful lot and em and of course eh all round there really it was eh and, and you know, some of the girls would come in who lived in different parts and say “Oh, it’s been terrible tonight.” I didn’t know the girl very well, but she was a lovely girl, I remember that worked in County Hall and one lady in Fern Hill and I remember one night her whole family went. [pause] Anyway this bomb just hit their house. So, as I say, even though some people were, well I consider we were very lucky, but even so, you never knew what was going to happen to you, you know, but em, that’s why I’m so sorry for these people now, you know, in that burnt out building, but I do think their milking it a lot, you know. Because, when, when you think of it during the war you might get, I don’t, ten incidents like that in a night.
GC: Was it easy to keep in touch with Ken while he was away and you was in Middlesex? Did you write a lot?
ID: Oh, well, well, he’d got, he’d got leave and I think we went away once to somebody, who knew somebody who was in Weymouth or somewhere like that. And em and we had one or two weekends, but it wasn’t very easy when once, of course, when once he went abroad. He was there for a fair time I suppose really. I’m sure he was. And of course I got, I, I didn’t have a, I suppose I got out of the Services three or four months or perhaps more before he did because you, you know, I don’t think it took all that long after the war for, for people like, you know, doing our job particularly and I know Ken had to go to, I think he went somewhere near Bournemouth for a time. They, they just sort of sent you to different places, you know, whereas, whereas, em with us they just, you know, said em “That’s it. Thank you very much.” But now of course the em it’s a museum now, Fighter Command. Yes, as I understand it, Barratts bought it. I don’t know how to, I, I did read that there were very expensive houses put on it. And Barratts also used the top of the house, you know, the big house. But I haven’t been myself so I don’t know. But I do know the big house is used now and they’ve got it, they’ve got a plotters’ room and I think it’s quite interesting em and various things. And of course the Air Officer Commanding’s office, you know. While I was there that was Leigh-Mallory. He, he was, he’d been very well known in twelve group. He was a Wing Commander then I think. Then he came to Stanmore and he, he was posted abroad somewhere and he, he bought it, as they used to say, and em and then we had another one called Park, I remember. I remember that. But of course Leigh-Mallory was quite well known, you know, anybody who was more or less [unclear] would know because, as I say, I think he planned a lot of wings, you know, he was very good at that kind of thing. But I’m not sure because obviously we didn’t see much of any of those people at all. But em, I know, another interesting thing I suppose is, my other friend, who I worked in the office with, was, had a billet on Stanmore Hill, and that was David em Selznick, [?] you know, the, well you see in the war we were very near the Elstree and all those. So she was there and she, she was so miserable. She would buy herself one thing. Then she said “I’ve got a little cell-like place . Nobody ever speaks to me.” [chuckles] And eh, and so eventually she said “I can’t stand this anymore,“ she said, “I’m going to desert.” [chuckles] I remember she got her big case and we said “Oh, we’ll come down to the station with you,” and of course we were walking through the grounds of the em Fighter Command and of course we felt so, we thought we were doing something so very dreadful and were worried in case somebody would discover us sort of helping Pat to desert. [chuckles] I don’t believe anybody, well she, she did get a doctor’s certificate. She really, she, some people aren’t suited to that kind of life, I think, and to be fair, I mean, Betty and I were together which makes so much difference, doesn’t it? And, and of course, in our billet, as I say, the only people that really didn’t care for us very much were the two servants. They got called up and we had a, such a lovely lady, who, because the old lady I think had dementia, they got her this lady as a housekeeper and she, she really sort of, well mothered us more or less in a way. And the em she, she had a daughter and a son, who was a pilot and after a while she came one day and she’d lost him. You know, that kind of thing you never forget. I can see her now, you know, it must have been so dreadful for her. But em, so there were those sad, very sad, really bad, you know, awful things happening. But em, but personally, you know, it’s like everything, it’s the luck of the draw, isn’t it, really. And all our family were lucky, in that, that respect apart from my cousin, who lost her husband, but she was the only one I think. But, you know, everybody, I mean, I had another cousin who was in the Merchant Navy and that, that was dreadful. They really did suffer in the Merchant. But he, I don’t know, he must have had a charmed time. He was, he really was a funny chap. He, he tickled, he always tickled me, cos he was always seemed to be [unclear] He was going to get married. So his mother said, “Well, you must get yourself a new suit.” So he went to Burtons or somebody, you see. So he said, “I want, I want a suit.” You know. “Well sir, what can I do?” “I want a suit,” he said. Em “Oh yes sir,” he said. “I know. We’ve got a fine Director’s suit.” [chuckles] So he said, “Why? Doesn’t it fit him?” [chuckles] I can always, I can just see him saying it. I don’t think he was, he was so harmless, you know, he didn’t [chuckles] [unclear] poor man, cos he was actually shaking when he, when he said that. But em, no it, I think now when I’m very old and can’t move very much, I do think quite a lot about the war years, really.
GC: Do you remember after the war? Coming back into civilian life?
ID: Yes. That wasn’t easy.
GC: No?
ID: No. Not easy because in some ways, it certainly wasn’t easy for the men either, because although, unless you’d had a terrible injury or something, em you had a certain freedom I mean, you see, we were married, but when I say freedom, we didn’t go mad, but I mean we, if we, if we met somebody as a friend, you know, and went dancing, you, you can’t sort of say, “Oh no, you don’t want to do that,” because you’ve got to live you life, haven’t you, when you’re there. But afterwards, of course, em money was very tight for most people. You see, Ken had only been, he’d be only about twenty when, you see, he didn’t, although he worked for the Town Hall, he was only on the bottom rung, so there wasn’t much climbing up really. And then after, you see, I was twenty seven when I came out, no twenty two, no about twenty six, I suppose. Well then you want to start a family, so we had Sue and of course, you know, with money being tight and having had quite an easy, you didn’t have to, you didn’t have to think about whether you, where the food came from. It was all, you know, it was easy in some ways and no I don’t think it was too easy for people at the beginning until, and of course housing was very difficult. We were lucky to get a little house in Putney, because our friends, he, he was a pacifist actually, but he did work for the Forestry Commission, and after, after the war he got a job teaching in the Sudan, so we bought their little house in Putney and of course, there was a lot to do. It hadn’t been, it hadn’t been decorated for years and what I did do, was eh, because she’d done it, because Ron had been a university student, she’d taken university people, you know, to help with the money, and so when we, she said, “Well you’ll find I’ve got Lucy who’s an Indian. She’s got another three months.” She was doing her PhD. She said, “Would you consider taking her?” Said, “Oh, yes. Fine.” So we had that, that was an experience too. Because she was a lovely woman and we got on so well and she was a Christian Indian, and it was just the end of her, you know, she’d done all her exams. Just waiting to go back to India really. And she met a Hindu, and they, I don’t know, they went for six weeks on the Continent. Anyway, when she came back, I don’t, I don’t know anything what actually happened. She’d got this message once that he’d, he’d, I don’t know where he’d gone, or he was married or something. And because, being an Indian, you know how they, they sort of [unclear] you know. I mean she was terrible really, she was terribly upset. But of course Sue was a little girl of about eighteen months. And she thought this was great fun, so, poor old Lucy was going [unclear] and [chuckles] Sue was, Sue was doing the same thing. But I often wonder, well we got on so well, and I, she said, you know, she promised to write. I didn’t know her address in India, so I couldn’t write to her. And after a while cos her PhD degree came through and somebody phoned and said “We’d like”, “Would you please bring her degree to,” em, oh it was a long way, London University, which is a long way. Cos I had Sue as a little tiny girl. Well I, I said yes, so I, anyway, got on the bus and these two men. So I, you know, as soon as I, “Ooh, how’s Lucy?” Really we had, really got on well. She was a lovely person. She was about forty, she wasn’t a young girl. And they hardly answered me and I never heard from Lucy again and I often wonder what happened to her. I mean, it’s quite a sad thing really because she, she was so clever, obviously, to get a PhD and I, I don’t know. So, so in that res, that was another way of life, it was quite interesting really, but you know, because, then we had a medical student who was at Saint Thomas’s and after that we had a girl who was doing Geography and [chuckles] I can well imagine she was a teacher because I can remember once going into her room and she had a go at me, “This is dusty.” [chuckles] And, and the houses, because it was [mumbles] Victorian houses, you see, and you had to go in the back, you had to walk through the kitchen and eh, or you could just go round because it was the last one and there was a space between and she had a friend, and I remember, she did, I suppose she knocked on the door and she said em, “Yes, come through. It’s quite alright. Come through.” [chuckles] So you, it’s amazing the difference in people that um, you know, that’s interesting really. I wouldn’t have missed that really because it was very, very interesting to meet different eh types. And we had two Polish fellows next door, who, who’d, well I’d say, you know, of course, Poland’s had a dreadful time, but em, and of course, we were all decorate. This old place and the wallpaper had been on for ages and ages. And of course, we were all young, you see, we were twenty sevenish and so you know they would come in, “Can we help you?” So we’d have, you know, that was really quite fun and I’ve em I’ve [unclear] the other day at least. I like these little Victorian houses. They’re now selling for eight hundred thousand [chuckles] Of course, it was just round the corner from the, from the river.
GC: Yeah.
ID: They’re only, you know, they were very old, well they were Victorian. But, yes, you know, it, everything, everything is an experience isn’t it?
GC: Mmm.
ID: [unclear] Mustn’t make you. I can make him [unclear] because I find now Ken can’t hear very well. Consequently, you know you’re watching something, you know, you make a little casual remark which it doesn’t really matter if it’s answered or not and Ken just maybe, as I get, “Now, what is it now?” [chuckles] And the time, then I repeat some silly thing, “I don’t like the look of her hair,” or something, but I now have said it four times, but it really doesn’t matter. So I really, I know I natter an awful lot.
GC: I was, I was actually going to ask, is there anything else you can remember, from the war, that stands out in your memory?
ID: Well, well, as I say, only that bombing was eh I can remember. I can remember that. I don’t think, you see, we weren’t evacuated or anything like that. We were, well we were evacuated as I tell you with the em, I’m just trying to think really. Em [pause] of course, I mean, we moved house, my mother moved house . Everything was very, you know, a lot of the things that you treasured. I remember mother had a lovely lot of letters from her father, who used to write to the family every week. And, of course, you’d put those, and then perhaps you moved and they’re gone and you don’t, you don’t eh, you know, you don’t see them anymore, those kind of things. But, you see, we weren’t bombed out fortunately. And eh, and as I say, travelling wasn’t funny at all. It was very difficult and you had to wait a long time, but em, I can’t, I know one night we were very worried. Ken went to meet his cousin. His cousin would insist on going to a party and I think that was when the bomb, the eh, the docks were bomb, well not bombed, well they were bombed, but, you know, they had the fire things first didn’t they and eh you could see all this red in the sky and obviously she was, I think, she was in Dulwich, which was another place that had a lot of bombing and obviously, you know, we worried about things like that. And, as I say, fire watching wasn’t particularly pleasant really you know getting up in the middle of the night and, but I can’t say, you know, I, I [unclear] fortunately I never had many real, real experiences in anything.
GC: Well, well, in that case, I am going to say thank you very much.
ID: Well I hope it, you see, I knew, I don’t know anything about Bomber Command unfortunately. So and as I say em my em my WAAF days weren’t, weren’t, were not terribly interesting to anybody else I don’t think. You know, not as, because they weren’t, weren’t too much different from my ordinary life, if you know what I mean. You see, that’s the thing but em that’s, I think that’s all I can remember.
GC: Well, as I said, I will say thank you very much on behalf of the Archive. I’m gonna apologise for the background noise. There is a main road and a fair [?] next door to us. But thank you very much, it’s been a pleasure to spend the afternoon.
ID: Oh, that’s alright dear. You know, I don’t know if you can use it. It seems not that all that interesting to me, but em that’s as much, well, as I say, I think I can remember pretty clearly, you know, I think I’m lucky in that respect because some people are, well I think you do remember when you’re old don’t you. Well they say that you, you know, your long memory is better than your short memory. So I possibly couldn’t remember what I said two minutes ago. [chuckles]



Gemma Clapton, “Interview with Iris Done,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed April 18, 2024,

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