Interview with Margaret Habberfield


Interview with Margaret Habberfield


Margaret Habberfield was born in 1923. At sixteen she joined the Royal Air Force after giving her age as eighteen. She began her six-week general training at Harrogate and was billeted with around 20 other girls. Margaret was then posted to RAF Upwood and RAF Stormy Down. She was a telephonist in signals and worked eight-hour shifts. Margaret was in charge of eight Women’s Auxiliary Air Force members; became corporal and eventually sergeant. Her social life included darts, physical training and attending dances in the town. She learned to play the bugle and joined a band when transferred to RAF Stormy Down in South Wales. After the war Margaret stayed in Wales and became a nurse.




Temporal Coverage




00:20:49 audio recording


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MH: I'll try and tell you.
AM: Right. So today is Thursday they 11th of January I had to think about that. Thursday the 11th of January. It’s 2018 and this is Annie Moody for International Bomber Command and today I'm with Margaret Habberfield in Melton Mowbray where Margaret lives and Margaret is going to tell me all about Bomber Command in the war. But before we start on that Margaret you were born in 1923 so tell me a little bit about your childhood. Where you were born and what your parents did.
MH: I didn't know my parents. I don't want to go into that part of it.
AM: Alright. No problem.
MH: It’s not nice.
AM: Ok.
MH: I don’t have, my parents died years and years ago.
AM: Ok. As a child though where did you live?
MH: I don’t want to say. Tell you that.
AM: Oh ok.
MH: Its rather personal. I haven’t mentioned that to anybody.
AM: Not, absolutely not a problem then. Where shall we start then? Shall we start with you going in the RAF?
MH: Yes. I went in when I was sixteen.
AM: Ok.
MH: I put my age up to eighteen but I was only sixteen.
AM: You told fibs.
MH: At the time.
AM: Right. So how did that come about? Why did you want to join the RAF?
MH: This is where I don’t want to be.
AM: Tell me about joining. So how did you —
MH: I joined up when I was sixteen.
AM: Right.
MH: And I said I was eighteen but I wasn’t but I just wanted to get away and get —
AM: Right. So that’s, that’s what —
MH: Yes.
AM: What made you join.
MH: Yes.
AM: So where did you join? Where did you start off?
MH: I think it was at Gloucester. The first training. Or, no, Harrogate.
AM: So if you were sixteen that would be 1939. So was it just before the war had started?
MH: Yeah. I was from 1941. 1941 to 1945.
AM: Right. Ok.
MH: I was in.
AM: Right. So, so what was it like then actually joining up?
MH: I thoroughly enjoyed every day.
AM: Yeah.
MH: I really did.
AM: What was the initial bit like? What, you know you’d be in digs with other girls and training.
MH: Oh, I was in a billet. It was massive, big billets until I got a rank. Then I had my own room.
AM: Right.
MH: You see. But I thoroughly enjoyed my life in the RAF.
AM: So, when you, tell me about the early days in the RAF. What was the training like?
MH: Well, it was, you had to go training every day in the first instance to get to know what the training was all about. What to do, what not to do and how to get on with it. And in your billet how to make your bed and this sort of thing which was inspected every day, every week. Things like that.
AM: How many —
MH: I got on with everybody.
AM: Yeah. How many of you were there?
MH: In the, in the one billet?
AM: Yeah.
MH: There was about forty. Twenty. Forty.
AM: So quite big.
MH: Yes, it was. Very very big.
AM: Yeah. What was it like living with all girls?
MH: Well, they were all different weren’t they? Everybody was different but I got on with every one of them. Great. We had the ablutions at the other end of the billet.
AM: So what was that like?
MH: It was fine.
AM: The ablutions.
MH: Well, you know.
AM: Describe them to me.
MH: We were all very young and you had to take your turn to get to a shower or a bath whichever you wanted and get yourself sorted, cleaned and so on and so forth. And then the next one took her turn and that’s how it went on. Then we went then to the mess to have breakfast and your meals of course which was rather nice. Meals were lovely. No faults at all there.
AM: Right.
MH: They were nice. Everything was fine. And you had PT. That sort of thing. Which was in a hangar with all the other WAAFs. That was great because you had a good laugh over that.
AM: Who was, what were the instructors like? Were they men or women?
MH: Oh, very nice. No. They were, they were, they were ranked obviously.
AM: Yes.
MH: Sergeants most of them but PT probably. But they were fine. They were really fine. No problems. I had no problems with any of them.
AM: So, you really enjoyed it.
MH: I did. I think it’s a lovely life for them to join, for girls to join up now.
AM: Yeah. So how long was the training for? How long did that last for?
MH: About six weeks training and for me that was—
AM: And that was your general training.
MH: General.
AM: So —
MH: Ordinary training.
AM: Yeah.
MH: Yes.
AM: Marching and all the rest of it.
MH: Yes. Oh yes. You had that every day.
AM: And where were you? Did you say, Harrogate did you say?
MH: Harrogate and Gloucester. I think that was the first. It’s going back such a long time I can’t remember it all.
AM: So then once you’d done your six weeks training.
MH: Then you were posted to a station.
AM: Ok.
MH: A permanent. Which was RAF Upwood.
AM: Upwood.
MH: And I was there for a long long time.
AM: Right. So how did they decide where they were going to post you and what you were going to do?
MH: Well, it was up to you what you, what —
AM: Right.
MH: What trade you wanted to do. You were given an option as to which trade you wanted to do, what you wanted to be in and I wanted to be in signals and I stayed in signals.
AM: Right.
MH: Telephone. Telephonist.
AM: So what, why did you want to be in signals?
MH: I thought it was interesting. I found it, I didn’t want to go in the cookhouse or places like that.
AM: No.
MH: I wanted to get on and be different and I did.
AM: And you did.
MH: I did.
AM: So what was that? The training for that like then? No. Tell me about getting to RAF Upwood first of all then.
MH: We went straight to Upwood.
AM: So —
MH: And there I stayed. Back in to the billet with the rest of the WAAFs.
AM: Ok.
MH: Made friends with other WAAFs.
AM: What, what were the gradings? So, for the men it was LAC2 and then LAC1 and then corporal.
MH: Corporal. Sergeant.
AM: So what were the gradings for the for the girls?
MH: Well, they were the same.
AM: Were they?
MH: Exactly the same.
AM: So at this point what would you have been then when you —
MH: Well, an ordinary AC.
AM: Right.
MH: I was just an ordinary AC at the beginning because the others —
AM: So that was ordinary AC.
MH: That’s when we all joined up together and that’s when you were an AC. So Aircraft Woman.
AM: Aircraft Woman. Right.
AM: So as an Aircraft Woman now you’re off to RAF Upwood then. So whereabouts was that? [pause] I can look it up. It doesn’t matter.
MH: Isn’t it in Towcester?
AM: I don’t know. Gary will know.
MH: I think it is. Yeah. I think so. But it was a lovely camp. Everything was fine. No problems at all.
AM: So what, what was there? What was at RAF Upwood? Was it, was that a base? Were you all WAAFs or were you mixed? Was it a —
MH: Oh, no. Mixed.
AM: So it was a proper —
MH: Oh yes. Mixed.
AM: Ok.
MH: Aircraft.
AM: So, it was a bomber base.
MH: Yes.
AM: Right. And what year are we now in the war?
MH: ’41. ’42.
AM: About.
MH: I started at ’41 and I came out at ’45.
AM: Right. Ok. So in, so in 1941 you’ve done your basic training, you’re there in Upwood and you’re going to go in signals. So, what was that like? What was the training like and —
MH: Oh yes. We had to go through training obviously to get trained to use a switchboard. A massive switchboard. Not like they are today. Just plugging in.
AM: The ones that you see.
MH: Yeah. Yeah.
AM: Where there’s plugs all over the place.
MH: And I worked my way up. In the end I was in charge of eight WAAFs.
AM: Right.
MH: And I got on with everybody.
AM: When you started how long did the training last? Can you remember?
MH: About three, oh a month at least.
AM: A month.
MH: A month to five weeks.
AM: And that was —
MH: Training.
AM: So that was you’ve learned the switchboard.
MH: We learned the switchboard. Then you were posted to this switchboard and there you stayed.
AM: Right. And that was the switchboard for the whole camp.
MH: That was the whole camp.
AM: Right.
MH: Outside calls. Incoming calls.
AM: So at first you were one of many girls on the —
MH: Oh yes. Yes.
AM: How many of you would there have been in the —
MH: Well, in my section it was, there was eight of us.
AM: Right. Because how big was the camp then?
MH: Oh, it was a big camp.
AM: How many —
MH: Upwood. Very big.
AM: So how, how many switchboards? One.
MH: Three in the one that I was in. There was three.
AM: Right. So three switchboards.
MH: Yeah.
AM: In and out.
MH: They had to be manned day and night.
AM: Right. So it was twenty four hours.
MH: Twenty four hours.
AM: Were you doing shift work or —
MH: Yes.
AM: Yeah. What was that like then? Working shifts.
MH: It was fine.
AM: Yeah.
MH: No problem.
AM: You enjoyed it.
MH: Yeah. Back to our beds and get up in the mornings and get on to your job.
AM: How long were the shifts? How many hours were the shifts?
MH: Eight hours.
AM: Eight. So eight. Eight hour shifts. And what did you do the rest of the time? What was the, what was the social life like?
MH: There was plenty to do. No. There was plenty to do, you know. Dances in the sergeant’s camp rooms. PT. Walking. Going into town. Things like that.
AM: Yeah.
MH: You know.
AM: And did you, did you meet and mix with the chaps?
MH: Yes. Yes. Yes.
AM: Yeah. So were the dances on the base?
MH: On the base. Oh yes.
AM: Right.
MH: Always on the base.
AM: Yeah.
MH: They were very nice too. We thoroughly enjoyed those.
AM: Did you get dressed up or were you all still in uniform?
MH: No. Still stayed in uniform.
AM: You were all in uniform. Right. And then you said you got made up. You worked your way up.
MH: I did. I worked my way up.
AM: So what were the different, what different grades did you work your way through? You started, you were Aircraft Woman.
MH: Yeah.
AM: Ordinary.
MH: Then corporal.
AM: Then a corporal.
MH: Then sergeant.
AM: Then a sergeant. So you ended up in charge of the girls on the switchboard.
MH: I did. Yes.
AM: Right. Did you enjoy, what was that like? Managing a load of girls.
MH: Great. They were fine.
AM: Yeah.
MH: I had no problems with any of them.
AM: And what about the chaps? Did they —
MH: They were, yeah, they were fine. I mean they’ve got them on here on the band.
AM: I’m going to ask you about the band in a minute.
MH: They were, they were, everybody was fine. The officers were fine. No problems at all. My signals officer he was next door to the telephone exchange. He was next door. Any problems I had to go to him to sort things out.
AM: Yeah. With regards to the, the chaps obviously flying off did you see, I don’t quite know how to ask the question. What involvement, if any did you have with the bombers going off on operations?
MH: Well, lots of phone calls obviously. And we’d see them going off. We got to know them. We were allowed to go and see but so far obviously. We weren’t allowed to go to near the aircraft. But they were there. We heard them going and coming back.
AM: Right.
MH: That sort of thing.
AM: Yeah.
MH: Get to speak to them. Get friendly with them. Meet them if we wanted to. Get to the NAAFI. Always in the NAAFI. Plenty to see and do in the NAAFI. That was fine.
AM: I bet there are a lot of stories isn’t there?
MH: Yeah.
AM: About fraternisation.
MH: Well, there was that. There was that.
AM: Yeah.
MH: You got friendly obviously.
AM: When you say lots of phone calls is this, what type of phone calls were they?
MH: All to do with the RAF.
AM: Right. But with regards so would family be phoning in.
MH: No family.
AM: No.
MH: No. No. No. No. No.
AM: No. So it was all operational stuff.
MH: ‘Put me through to sergeant — ’so and so or, ‘Put me through to —'
AM: Right.
MH: Officer so and so. That sort of thing.
AM: So, tell me, I’m looking at a picture on your wall of the band. Tell me again about the band.
MH: Well, we had that was once a week we had that band.
AM: Ok.
MH: That was at Stormy Down. That’s in, near Bridgend, in South Wales.
AM: Right. So you moved.
MH: Moved from —
AM: You moved bases.
MH: That’s the base I moved from to there.
AM: Right. Ok.
MH: And that’s where we got a band up. It was just sort of automatically got up. Who wanted to join joined. And I joined.
AM: So what did you do in the band?
MH: The bugle I had.
AM: Right. Could you already play it or did you —
MH: Sorry?
AM: Could you already play a bugle?
MH: No.
AM: Right.
MH: I was taught to play it.
AM: Who taught you to play it then?
MH: A sergeant on the camp. There he is down there. He taught us.
AM: And what did, where did you play? Just on the base?
MH: On the base.
AM: Yeah.
MH: Yes. On the base. Or if they had any dos on the camp we would play.
AM: Right.
MH: Perhaps you’d march through the camp playing. But mostly in a, in a hangar. Once a week we had that and it was really, really there’s officers there. WAAF officers and RAF officers. It was really really lovely.
AM: I’m looking at the photo.
MH: Yes.
AM: It’s a complete mix isn’t it?
MH: Yes.
AM: Which one are you?
MH: You try and find me. At the back.
AM: Oh Margaret.
MH: I’ll give you an idea.
AM: Right. Let me have a look.
MH: At the back.
AM: Oh, that’s quite hard.
MH: The fourth one in.
AM: Do you know what, that one?
MH: Yeah.
AM: I was just going to say.
MH: Yeah.
AM: I’m looking at the shape of your face.
MH: Yes. That’s me. Of course, we’re standing obviously on a bench to get the right photograph.
AM: Yeah. Well yeah. Either that or you’re very tall. So in the band there’s quite, there’s a lot of you.
MH: There was a lot of us. They were lovely. We had a grand time.
AM: There’s twenty odd of you.
MH: Great time.
AM: Yeah. Who’s the dog? Who did the dog belong to?
MH: The corporal down at the bottom. He looked, he looked after her. Yeah. She was a beautiful dog.
AM: How come you had to changes bases? Was that —
MH: Well, they just posted you.
AM: Yeah. So how long were you on the second. What was the second base that you were on? You said.
MH: Stormy Down.
AM: Stormy Down. That’s right. And that was another bomber.
MH: Oh yes. Yeah.
AM: Another bomber base.
MH: We used to hear them going off and we used to worry about them coming back and, you know that was natural wasn’t it?
AM: Yeah.
MH: We got to know some of the navigators or pilots or whatever wondering had they all come back safe and sound. That sort of thing.
AM: What was it like when they didn’t?
MH: Well, it was not nice when you knew that they weren’t coming back or they didn’t coming back. It wasn’t. You know. You naturally worry don’t you if you know them that we’re talking about.
AM: Yeah. So any stories to tell me about fun things that you got up to?
MH: No. I got to know one or two of them and got friendly with them. Went out with them but that was it. You know, you had to be very very careful.
AM: Yes. As girls.
MH: It was taught to us, pumped in to us what to do, what not to do. What was so and so like. What was that meant to be. What’s that sort of thing. What you do. What you don’t do. Take care. Be careful.
AM: Yeah.
MH: Which we did.
AM: Be a good girl.
MH: Oh yes. Yeah.
AM: Well, yeah. I can’t imagine what it would be like on a huge base like that with, because there would be far less of you then there were of the boys.
MH: Oh yes.
AM: So I would imagine you were all in great demand for dances.
MH: Yeah.
AM: And things like that.
MH: Yes. Well, we had a nice time at the dances and used to go out with them and meet them and [pause] but that was it.
AM: Yeah. It does sound, I mean you sound as if you just enjoyed the whole experience.
MH: I did. Yes. I did. I liked it very much. I liked every minute of it.
AM: And you were in there for the whole of the war.
MH: I did.
AM: So you came out as a sergeant. You ended up as a sergeant.
MH: I did. Yes.
AM: Yeah. Which is quite high up for a WAAF isn’t it? That’s good. And when did you come out Margaret, of the —?
MH: Well, at —
AM: At the end of the war.
MH: Yes.
AM: So what did you do then?
MH: My demob number came up so I just came out.
AM: Right. So what, what —
MH: But I stayed in Wales.
AM: Right.
MH: And I met my husband.
AM: Where did you meet him?
MH: In Neath.
AM: Right.
MH: This, that side of Swansea.
AM: Yes. I can, I can visualise where that is. And he was in the Navy I think you said.
MH: He was Navy.
AM: Where did you meet him? At a dance?
MH: The pub.
AM: In a pub.
MH: Yeah.
AM: So what —
MH: He used to come back and forth. We used to meet up and that was the end of that. Got married and had her.
AM: And had your daughter. The, in the between bit from being demobbed and meeting your husband and getting married did you, what work did you do?
MH: I started nursing.
AM: Oh, you did. You were a nurse.
MH: I went into nursing.
AM: Right.
MH: That was what I took up.
AM: And did you do the full training?
MH: I did.
AM: And become a nurse. Because that’s, how long was the training for that? That’s about three years?
MH: It was very very hard. Very hard. But I enjoyed that too. I got on with everybody.
AM: Yeah.
MH: I liked it.
AM: So how long did you work as a nurse for?
MH: Oh gosh. Up until I had Stephanie.
AM: Right —
MH: And then —
AM: And that —
MH: I had to see to her then.
AM: And you lived in Wales. Did your husband stay in the Navy?
MH: No. He came out as well. So we got married, set up house. We had a house.
AM: Right. And what did he do?
MH: He was in the South Wales Electricity Board. He ended —
AM: Oh right.
MH: He ended up a manager.
AM: Right. So you lived up happily ever after.
MH: We did.
AM: But you obviously think back fondly.
MH: Oh, I do.
AM: To your time as a WAAF.
MH: Yes, I do. I do.
AM: Yeah. And here you are in an RAF home.
MH: Here I am. My husband died of cancer and my daughter kept on saying, ‘You can’t stay in the bungalow,’ Which was my own bungalow, ‘On your own.’ Because they were over, she was over here. She wanted me to get nearer so that she could —
AM: And you were still in Wales at this time.
MH: I was in Wales at the time. To keep an eye on me.
AM: Right.
MH: So I came over here. In Oakham then, of course.
AM: Right.
MH: Went straight to where they are. And I stayed in Oakham and they wanted to make sure that I was taken care of, looked after and here I am.
AM: And here you are.
MH: And I applied here.
AM: I’m looking at a picture of your daughter and son in law. Both in the RAF.
MH: They are both.
AM: So what rank is your daughter in the RAF?
MH: She’s also a sergeant.
AM: She’s a sergeant.
MH: Yes.
AM: As well.
MH: She’s in, she’s in air traffic control.
AM: Is she? Right.
MH: And he’s a chief technician.
AM: And you said that they’re both based at Wittering.
MH: Yes. But they travel every day from Oakham to Wittering.
AM: Yeah. Well, it sounds like you’ve had a really interesting life.
MH: I did. Yes. I did. I’ve had some nice WAAF friends. I used to go to their homes on leave or we’d go up to London. Have a weekend up in London on leave. That sort of thing.
AM: Yeah. So that, so this was in the middle of the war. So, what did you do in London?
MH: Well, we used to go to a show or walk around. Go to the shops. Have a look around and that sort of thing.
AM: Just for the day or the —
MH: For the day.
AM: Oh, you went just for the day.
MH: Or a forty eight hour pass we had.
AM: So, stay in digs or —?
MH: Oh yes. We had to stay in digs.
AM: Yeah.
MH: B&B mostly.
AM: Right.
MH: We couldn’t afford these expensive hotels.
AM: It sounds brilliant. There’s a war going on all around you but you are enjoying every minute of it.
MH: Yes.
AM: Why would you not? I’ll switch off.


Annie Moody, “Interview with Margaret Habberfield,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed May 21, 2024,

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