Interview with Betty Turner

Title

Interview with Betty Turner

Description

Betty Turner served in the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force with Bomber Command at 92 Group Headquarters, Winslow, and later at RAF Great Massingham, reaching the rank of leading aircraftswoman. She recounts living in chilly stables, being quite bored by Morse code, and the life-long bond that was forged between her and other Women’s Auxiliary Air Force members. She married an American whom she met during the war and they lived together in the United States for 24 years. After their divorce she settled close to her family in Aylesbury in the United Kingdom, where she had grown up. Betty Turner has been painting images from her days in the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force for twelve years because the memories of her service remain so vivid; some have been used for the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force Association annual Christmas card.

Creator

Publisher

IBCC Digital Archive

Date

2015-06-02

Contributor

Christina Brown
Heather Hughes

Rights

This content is available under a CC BY-NC 4.0 International license (Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0). It has been published ‘as is’ and may contain inaccuracies or culturally inappropriate references that do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the University of Lincoln or the International Bomber Command Centre. For more information, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0/ and https://ibccdigitalarchive.lincoln.ac.uk/omeka/legal.

Format

00:50:39 audio recording

Language

Type

Identifier

ATurnerB150602

Transcription

Other persons present: Betty Turner’s daughter, Shelley Marshall [SM]

HH: Ok. Here we are, my name is Heather Hughes, and I’m sitting with Betty Turner who was in the WAAFs during World War 2, in Betty’s home in Bierton and it is Tue, Wednesday? , Tuesday, Tuesday the 2nd of June, 2015. Thank you Betty, so much, for agreeing to do this interview today.
BT: You’re very [emphasis] welcome indeed.
HH: Betty I wonder if we could start by talking about where you were born and grew up?
BT: I was born in Aylesbury, I went to school in Aylesbury, and [pause], I went from here and signed up when the war was on - well, at first, of course, I was working at, um, a very – when I was fourteen we had to leave school in those days at fourteen, and I had a job in a very exclusive shoe shop. I always loved that shop, I was bound and determined I was going to get a job there, and I did, and –
HH: Do you remember the name of the shoe shop?
BT: Yes! It was Ivords [?] and we had customers like the Dimbleby boys, their father was away in the war of course when they would come in, and there would be the sister and the two brothers, and mom would come in with them, and I would wait on them for shoes, not realising how famous they [emphasis] were going to be. Anyway, that was my – and then, I decided – I had a boyfriend, who was shot down, over France, and killed, and the very next day I said I’m joining the, the WAAF. I was seventeen at the time, and, so my mother said ‘alright, I’ll take you to join up’ to High Wycombe – we had to go to High Wycombe – and my brother at the same time wanted to come with us, and he said ‘I’m going to join up too’, but he was only fifteen. Anyway [pause, deep breath] I joined up, and this was in December, December 6th I always remember – the date of the, that Caley was shot down – and I, um, went to Wycombe as I say, the next day, and that was about the 7th of December that I actually went to give my signature –
HH: Was that in nineteen - ?
BT: Forty-two.
HH: Forty-two.
BT: Forty-two. But I wasn’t called until January – first week, I believe, but it was January anyway when I actually went, and I left here, and went to [pause] Gloucester. I think it was Gloucester.
HH: And is that where you went for training?
BT: Ye – well… Yes, to sort you out I think in Gloucester, your uniforms, and what you ought to be and things like that you know. I said driver please [?] [laughs] and they killed themselves laughing, I’m only five foot, I wouldn’t reach the pedals on the trucks at all [laughs]. But I think everybody asked to be a driver when they first joined up. Anyway, at that point we went to Morecombe for square-bashing, and when we came back – I think it was Innsworth, I’m not sure, you know, the memory fades a bit doesn’t it? But there [emphasis] they gave us some, sort of, tests [emphasis] about different things and they needed wireless operators apparently, and everybody had to sit around with a paper and pencil, and they would give you, er, records – they would play a record, and they’d say ‘now you’re going to hear some dots and dashes. All I want you to do is to tell me whether they’re the same each time or different’, and so the record would start and we would have to say write it all down, and I apparently did fine, and they thought immediately well ‘she’s ok she could be a wireless operator’, and after I had done my square bashing – that was first – they read that I was coming to Winslow in Buckinghamshire, and I thought ‘ooh dear’ - I wanted to go somewhere exciting [laughs]. But I, there you go, I came home – quite close to home anyway, only ten miles actually away. It was okay, I had the best of both worlds really didn’t I? They said ‘you’re going to 92 Group Headquarters – Bomber Command’. So, I, that’s what I did! I came over to Winslow, and there didn’t seem to be a lot of RAF around but it was because everybody was on shift work, and the hours would be – I can’t remember all the hours but it’s in that, um, brochure I gave you, from like eight o’clock in the morning ‘til midnight, long hours it seemed. Some were shorter hours and then we would have a couple of days off.
HH: And what did you do with your days off?
BT: I’d come home. And my father would, usually, ask me if I was alright, and did I need any money, and sometimes leave me ten bobs [laughs], ten bob, at the side of my bed, and I’d wake up in the morning and I’d say ‘whoopee I’ve got some money!’ [laughs]. We never had any money, and we always seemed hungry. We were always ready to go into a restaurant and eat if we could find a place to do it, you know, because restaurants, things weren’t easy in the restaurants at that time. Anyway so that was fine. The work was just really [emphasis] quite boring, because that’s all you did was put your earphones on and you had a key, and you had, um, you had receiving and you had sending of Morse code constantly, and it was [emphasis] pretty boring.
HH: But very vital.
BT: But vital, I suppose – well I found that out later, but I didn’t know what I did, and it was just different, really. In the morning we would check with the, all the stations that we had, and they’re on their paper – I can’t remember the names of them all – but the different stations that were in that 92 Group then they would send Morse back to us and you know we would answer backwards and forwards. Not plain language, most of the time, it was certain, certain codes that we would send to them. Every half an hour we would have to send a very very powerful signal – I can still remember it today it was V3A – and then we would give them the time, and we’d go ‘dee dee, dee dee’ [making Morse code sounds] until the second hand went onto the twelve we would hit the key, down, and um, apparently it was for other aircraft and everybody to get their time right, you know, er, it was a very powerful signal and it could be heard many many thousands of miles away, but we never knew why we were doing it. We never asked questions. We signed the secrets thing and we never spoke about what we did. My dad asked me about what we did and ‘oh I just Morse code, you know’, but nobody knew. We didn’t know why we were doing it. And then another time we would fill pages of five letter groups, and five letter groups, and we had a pad, you know, a pad of paper that size and it was asking you questions on – you wrote down what you could hear in five letter groups, and then when your pad was full, you’d take all of the girls’, if they had them you’d collect them up and take them into the main room of the house, because we were in like a, like a Nissen type hut part that had been built on the front of the house, so that it was separate. But in the house we would go for other things like we would get - have our pay parade ever Friday, second Friday morning, and ‘quote your last three letters’ and ‘come to attention’ and they’d pay you, which was very nice, on every other week that would happen and um, that was in the house – we’d go in the house for that, and there was also a lot of RAF personnel in the house but we never actually saw the room that they were in, and outside, at night especially, we’d notice a motorbike – a guy with a motorbike, and we assumed that he must be doing something with what we were taking over to the house – we didn’t know of course. And it wasn’t until I went to Bletchley Park, many years later, and I could hear the Morse code going, and after looking at all the things and listening to the people that were leading us around, what we did, and I’m thinking ‘gosh! I remember that’ and ‘I remember this’, and ‘I remember that’, and it dawned on me what we were doing. But it was years afterwards, prior to that I had no knowledge of what we did, at all. Yeah there was a um – but when we were on, um, hours off, of course, that was very nice, we’d also have dances, at camp, we – the girls, were in the stables of the big house –
HH: Was it kind of dormitory type accommodation?
BT: No, it was, strictly – you know what stables look like, with horses in them? Well, we were in those same things but we weren’t horses [laughing]. We had potbelly stoves to keep us warm, you know [laughing], and it had a gutter where the horses used to do their business and it would run down into the drain, but that was cleaned out [laughing] before we went in there. Oh dear, yes, and at times it would be very draughty.
HH: So did you each have your own stable then?
BT: Well, no, there were two of us in the one stable. Oh well, yes, two of us in each stable – pretty sure it was only two of us, yeah I think it was two, but of course, in the long building itself, there would be lots of, lots of stables. Eventually after I had been there about a – two years, I finally got to go in the house, but I’m sure that was servants’ quarters for the girls - some of the girls would go in there, and then any new girls coming along would go in the stables I suppose. Although, when war ended, when VE Day came along, it was very quickly destroyed, our cabin. Everything [emphasis] was destroyed very very quickly. And there was no more Morse code – nothing – it just stopped, and we were all posted to other places. Then [emphasis] I really enjoyed the work [laughs], I was posted to a place called Great Massingham – that’s up near the Wash, we decided, I’ve seen it on the map yes, up near the Wash – and it was, I was put in the Officers’ Mess, in the corner, with a telephone and a desk, and the calls would come in for the boys from their girlfriends or their wives, and I’d be the one to call out their name and say ‘you are wanted on the telephone’, and it was super [emphasis]. And in the morning, instead of going to the cook house like we used to do at Winslow, I would go and I would have a nice fried breakfast, the same as the officers would have. I’d have mine first though before I went on duty, then later on of course they would all come in and have their breakfast, it was very nice. That was a super job! And I actually saw the planes for a change, because we saw no planes on our camp at all, except the Wellingtons at, at um [pause] what is the – not Wing, not Wing, where - oh I can’t think of the name of the – but we used to have to go onto that field aerodrome when we were doing our experience flights which we didn’t enjoy very much really –
HH: What did that involve?
BT: It involved flying around with a pilot, and I think we were supposed to work the set I’m not quite sure [laughing] I can’t remember. It was to find out how difficult it is to keep on frequency so they wanted us to experience, you know, what it was like to fly – I only went up a couple of times though [pause] but it was – I would not volunteer to go. I did not [emphasis] enjoy it. Sometimes the pilots used to make fun of us, be heading for a barrage balloon and say ‘oh I don’t think I’m going to tell her’ [laughing]. They would tease us, in other words, they would tease us, and it wasn’t very nice really. But we did have fun when we were all off duty. We put on pantomime, well we put on one, and then there was a play. But unfortunately, just before I got to Winslow, there had been a Wellington come down and go into one of the houses and kill several people, and one of our sergeants managed to get some people out, and he got fairly [pause] badly burnt in a couple of places, and he got recommended for that. He really was quite a hero to the rest of them, they were all saying ‘what a great job you did’. But it was all over with when I got there – the rubble was there of course, they were cleaning up, but it was quite scary, really scary. [Pause] Our - we would try and get to work, or go down to – we would have bicycles a lot of us. I took my own bike to camp so that I could cycle home if I wanted to, although I preferred to take the bus – was easier.
HH: But did you use your bicycle around the camp?
BT: Yes. No, no we couldn’t cycle around our camp, we were at a big house, and all we had was a big driveway.
HH: Okay so you didn’t need to.
BT: We had… huts, the stables where we slept, and we had to come out and go to the bathrooms and bath huts and stuff there and then another hut was for our meals. Our canteen was at the other place, because we used to have to cycle through the village back to where we worked. The men were lucky, they were able to have lodgings and they had a landlady that would fix them meals and they would have lovely hot dinners when they got home at night and we had to go to the cook house. We had a cook house. But at the end of the war things began to happen a bit more – towards to end of the war, when the prisoners of war from Germany were coming back home we were, they, we were asked to go and volunteer to welcome the prisoners coming back, which was rather good.
HH: And where was that?
BT: That was at Wing I believe – I’m sure it was Wing although no place ever had a sign on it so we never knew where we were really. I think, from what I could work out, that it was Wing, and they were [pause] quite, quite a sad looking lot coming home but so thrilled to be coming home. And I always remember this one boy asked our girl that was our telephonist – one of our telephonist girls – if, um, he would call – if she would call his mother on this number and he gave her, and she said ‘yes I’ll do that for you’, so, when we got back to camp, she was doing some work there, and she phoned this number, and it was the mother that answered the phone, and she said ‘John would be seeing you in a couple of days’, and it was just the noise and um, a man came on then, and this man said ‘who is this?’ and she said ‘well I’m LACW’ so-and-so, what her name was, ‘I’m just telling you that your son will be home in a couple of days, probably, they have to go to a, a centre first for certain things’ - he said ‘well I hope you know what you’re talking about, because we’ve already been told that our son is missing, believed dead – believe killed’, and he was – well, we all cried. I think about it now and I cry a little bit. Yeah, so, um -
HH: That’s one story that at least had that happy ending.
BT: Yes, I know – I won a book once for writing that story out because I said I’ll never forget it. I said a lot of things I do forget, and a lot of things I think I imagine, ‘oh I couldn’t have done that, surely I couldn’t have done that’ sort of thing, ‘I wouldn’t tell anybody that I’m not going to say’ – and, but, I know that was true, because it, it caused such a – the rest of us in, at the cook house – we were all sitting around the table then when she was telling us about it, and we were all [emphasis] practically in tears. But I wonder how many times that happened, you know, I’m sure it must have happened lots of times, I’ve heard of it since actually happening. On this, “Next Generation”, or that “Last Generation”, the programmes that they’ve had – I’ve loved that series I’ve been watching it and I think ‘good on you!’ [laughs] you know, and they’re still going strong, it’s lovely.
HH: Betty what rank did you attain -
BT: LACW
HH: - in the WAAFs?
BT: Leading Aircraftwoman. So I started off as an AC2 and then an AC1, and then an LACW. Yeah. But um, I don’t know that I deserved it – maybe I did [laughs]
HH: I’m sure you did.
BT: I don’t know. I have my pay book still, and it said I was a keen and willing wireless operator, ‘very efficient’ it says [laughter] so –
HH: Well done.
BT: But it wasn’t any good trying to get a job after the war because [laughs] nobody wanted a wireless operator [laughs], a wireless operator.
HH: It would be good to talk about after the war. I just want to go back and ask you what kind of, what kind of [pause] relationships did you have with other WAAFs? I mean did you form quite a strong bond together?
BT: Oh we did yes, um, and it we were going on leave, one or two of us would go together. In fact, when I went on leave with my friend, she said to me, ‘where shall we go for our leave? When’s yours coming up?’, I said ‘mine is coming up on so-and-so’ – ‘so is mine’ she said, ‘let’s go a long way away’, because we would have a free travel warrant, so, I said ‘ok, well where will we go?’, she said ‘let’s go to Edinburgh’, I said ‘that’s a good idea, let’s go to Edinburgh, and we got on the train, and we had a wonderful journey. It was all the forces in the train, and she was a comedian anyway, and she had the place in stiches, it was hilarious [laughs] that whole trip was funny. And we went to the YMCA, YWCA I should say, and booked in, and we put our money in their safe, as they have, and when you go out you just take a certain amount of money with you. This parti – the f – second night I believe we were there, we decided to go to the Cavendish Ballroom, we were going to go to a dance, okay, so we bought our tickets to go in but when we got inside we realised we hadn’t taken enough – to buy our tea, that, or drink or whatever we wanted, and I said well it’s not far from where we’re, you know where we’re staying, ‘I’ll get the trolley, car’ or whatever it was at that time, and ‘I’ll go back and I’ll get us some more money’. ‘Okay’ says my friend, and when I got back to the Cavendish ballroom, there she was, sitting with a couple of Americans. And I said ‘oh, hi’, she said ‘this is so-and-so and this is so-and-so – I told him you like to dance because he likes to dance too’ [laughs], so I said ‘oh alright, I’ll dance with him’, and we not only danced with them, we spent, um, our days, because they were on furlough as well, and we were on furlough, or ‘leave’ as we call it, ‘furlough’ as they call it. And that whole week we spent going to pictures, but Sunday was a very miserable sort of day in Scotland –
HH: Still is in Scotland!
BT: [laughs] we had so many cups of tea, we were, we, we just floated, and we went to the zoo, and we went to, oh I don’t - I can’t remember where we went, but we went to the dancing again, we went, and when I got home back to camp, my friend that I had met in Scotland phoned me and asked me to meet him in London when I was next off. So I said ‘alright’ and we met a few times, and I brought him home to meet mum and dad, and he was in the Eighth Airforce – the American Eighth Airforce –
HH: Eighth in the East!
BT: And, um, we met quite a few times, and then one night the phone rang, I answered it, and – no, I was told, there’s a - you’re wanted on the phone, so I answered it and it was Fred and he said ‘hi Betty, we’re gonna go home, we’ve gotta get ready for the Far East’ because the Japanese were still fighting, of course, and he said ‘but, I want you to marry me before I go – will you marry me?’, and there was a – this is - I don’t like to say this because it makes me feel so stupid – there was an ITMA show on, and the saying was ‘ee, I’ll ‘ave to ask me dad’ in a Northern accent [laughing] and I thought he was kidding me, and that’s what I said [laughing]. Well he didn’t listen to our shows of course, he’d be listening to Jack Benny or Bob Hope or something, and he said ‘well okay then’ [laughing] ‘okay Betty, you ask your dad’ [laughing] ‘if he says, if he says yes’ [laughing]. So anyway I asked my dad and he said ‘no I don’t think that’s a good idea, I think you should just get engaged’, so the next night when Fred called me I said ‘no dad says I can’t get married, but we could get engaged’. ‘No’ he said, ‘I don’t wanna leave this country ‘til I’m – ‘til you’re with me, and you’re married to me’, so [laughing] I said ‘oh alright then, where – ‘ [laughing] how silly now I think about [laughing] so silly, and I, so I said ‘oh well alright then, when?’. Well this was just after VE Day, he said ‘June the 9th’ [pause] I said ‘gosh that’s, that’s awfully quickly, I don’t know if I can do that, because’ I said ‘you do a lot of investigating of girls and I’d have to go through that and that takes a long time’. ‘No’ he said, ‘it’s alright because my, my commanding officer is a, married to a WAAF and he knows what to do and he can just go straight through to your WAAF officer and he will know exactly your character’ etcetera, etcetera, and, um, ‘there’ll be no problem’. So I said ‘ohh, okay, June the 9th it is’, he said ‘besides it’s my birthday and [laughing, unclear] on my birthday’, so, that’s what happened.
HH: So where did you get married?
BT: In Saint Mary’s church, in the local church in, in Aylesbury, and we had neighbours helping us, and my c-, my warrant officer, he, uh, booked a hotel in London for a couple of nights, and we had all sorts of volunteers for sandwiches because it was very difficult [emphasis] to get things, and the girl across the road, was a Belgian girl married to a British tommy, and she had come over and she was the same size as me. She still had her, her wedding gown, and she said ‘you can borrow my wedding dress’, I said ‘well I want to be married in uniform’ – my father wouldn’t let me, but I wanted to be married, but he said ‘no you’re not, you only get married once and I want you to be married in white’ so –
HH: You were married in white.
BT: - I was married in white, yup. And we had a nice, quite a nice wedding and reception at mummy’s house. We were squashed but it was alright, we had fun. But then, we went on the train, to London to the hotel that my warrant officer had booked for us. As a matter of fact he sat in the same carriage as us, and my husband said he was quite upset, he kept staring at me like, staring at him, like ‘you’d better look after that girl’ [laughs]. Oh well, yes.
HH: And then did he depart soon after that for the Far East?
BT: Yes, yes, about, about two weeks. No - I don’t know that it was two weeks, it could have been – it could have been less, I don’t know, but it was a quick, quick time. I know I met him a couple of times in Norwich because he was going, and I went up there quickly to see him before, before he left, and that was it and I didn’t see him again until the following February.
HH: And what happened then?
BT: Well, what happened then? I went over on the Queen Mary, I went down to um, what was the name of the place… was it Innsworth? Think it was Innsworth, for about four or five days, waiting to go on the boat, and they did an FFI (Free From Infection, as you know) with everybody, and those of us who were in the We- couldn’t give a darn about that we were used to that monthly you know, but some of these poor girls had never had anything like that done to them and, they didn’t like it at all, and some of them had babies. But, um, we got on the Queen Mary and so many days later we arrived in New York, and I had said to my husband, ‘if you’re not in New York to meet me, I’m not going to get – I’m going to get a boat back, I’ve got enough money, I’m going to get a boat back’, and he said ‘well I’ve been called up to go to spring training down to Texas because he was with, being picked for the Dodgers, Pat Derry [?] had signed him up for spring training to see, along with many others, I might add – because he played baseball here with the American Air Force, and he said ‘so I don’t know if I can’, I said ‘well if you’re not there I’m not, I’m going, going home’, so anyway he said he would be there no matter what. So I wasn’t ever really sure. And then they were calling over the tannoy ‘would Betty Ethel Turner please come to dockside’, well my name isn’t Betty Ethel Turner, it’s Betty May Turner, and we were in alphabetical order in this cabin – we even had a Major Turnipseed’s [?] wife, in there [unclear, laughs], anyway, um, we all helped Betty Ethel Turner get things in her case, but she wasn’t expecting to go, they were going to take the girls that weren’t being met to their own organisations, and anyway - so I, and I was a bit disappointed when Betty Ethel went, but anyway about ten minutes later they called out ‘will Betty May [emphasis] Turner please report to dockside’ and everybody helps me get all my stuff together. So I’m walking down the gangplank, and here’s poor Betty Ethel Turner coming back with her bag – ‘they tried to give me to your husband’ [laughing], I can’t tell you how he said [pause] but he said ‘that is not my wife!’ and he [unclear, laughing, possibly ‘worried him to death’].
HH: So you were reunited – you were reunited?
BT: So he was very relieved when I came down the pla – in fact he jumped the barrier, he shouldn’t have done of course but he did. And they all looked so different, they were in zoot suits and those fedora type hats, you know, so [emphasis] different. Yes.
HH: And how long did you spend in the States then?
BT: Twenty-four years.
HH: Where were you living?
BT: Detroit, Michigan.
HH: And how did, how did you feel about leaving and going to live in the States?
BT: I didn’t – I was unhappy leaving my family of course, but really it was excitement for me and if you’ve been away from home living since you were seventeen, I, by that time, well I spent my 21st birthday in the mid-Atlantic, on the Queen Mary, that was my 21st birthday. That’s why I was glad my dad said yes I could get married - well, they didn’t really agree but they agreed to in the end, because they could stop me up to twenty-one, they could have stopped me, if they’d really wanted to. But, I had a good life out there, but he didn’t make, he didn’t make the baseball team and he came back four weeks later, so I, when I went I was totally alone with strangers, and it was, it was strange, but, you know, after, after he came back we lived with his parents while [emphasis] we built our own house in the next block. And then of course I had my girls, and I belonged to the Daughters of the British Empire out there, which is an organisation as, as you probably know, and um, and then it all sort of went – mmm, after twenty four years I suppose it would have been, I, in nine- in the year before I bought him a set of golf clubs for Christmas [laughs], which I never should have done I suppose really, I never saw him again he was on the golf course – well that’s just a, a, you know , a thumbnail story.
HH: So you just came back, you just decided to come back?
BT: Well Donna had come back here, my oldest daughter, we sent her over to see nan and grandad as a, as a graduation present when she was eighteen, now she was older than I was when I left home, oh, when I left home the first time, and so it seemed ok but I did miss her terribly. And then of course this one was going, and one thing and another and I thought [sighs] ‘can’t be doing with this’, and um he, more or less agreed to it of course. He didn’t remarry, I didn’t remarry, I did have a partner for many years, here, but um, after I’d been here a while.
HH: But you’ve done this amazing thing to reassemble your family near Aylesbury.
BT: Well, part of it, yes. But it w – my mother was dead against divorce, they thought it was terrible my getting a divorce, but my mother was ill for a while and I would go over every day, take her a – do the house cleaning and, and look after her, and when she went into hospital she didn’t come out again – she was ninety-odd mind you, ninety, ‘bout ninety-four actually I figured. And um, then my father, and she said to me ‘everything happens for the best you know, because’ she said ‘what would we have done’. And then of course dad became ill, and I had him here for two years before he went to hospital for only just a few days and died, and he was ninety-seven when he died.
HH: So you’ve got longevity in your family.
BT: Well, I, I don’t know I don’t think so – well, so far it’s been long, but, I do have, um, I do have cancer. So I, you know, you never know do you? No.
HH: But it’s been in more recent years, Betty, that you have taken to producing these really very beautiful artworks about your memories of the WAAF – tell us about that.
BT: Well, well, when you’re alone more than anything – because I really didn’t start, um, well, Terry wa – did I do it while Terry was alive?
SM: Not so much.
BT: Not a lot, did I? I would – I know, it was a Christmas, he said ‘what d’you want for Christmas?’ and I said ‘I really would love some watercolours for Christmas’, and I’ve got a box of watercolours that he bought me for Christmas, with brushes, and I started, and I didn’t do very much at first, not at first, and then I – he was poorly, and I nursed him for about six years before he died, and all that time that he was poorly, I was able to sit and do my painting and stuff. And I did a lot of it then, quite a lot of it, and then after he died, and he’s been gone six years – so it’s been about twelve years that I’ve done the painting.
HH: And now, you could’ve chosen all kinds of subjects to paint, but you chose something quite specific, why?
BT: I chose, because I could see them. I could see the girls that I’ve painted. I would get, I would get a book and look at some, one or two, that I’ve painted with a plane in it possibly I’ve had to copy, because I wasn’t on an aerodrome, and they were, and I wanted to recognise them as well, you know, but others I’ve just remembered when we were, for instance, cleaning our, cleaning our irons in the dirty – everybody says we had lovely hot water, we never [emphasis] had lovely hot water, by the re- time the rest of us were coming out of the cook house that water would be ho-, warm, lukewarm and greasy, the grease would be floating on the top, but we still had to rinse them you know. What else would we do? Well we had, nowhere to, nowhere to wash the [unclear], anyway – and so that’s where I’ve done most of my art. Or if somebody call– once or twice somebody’s called up ‘Betty would you do one with so-and-so’, um, ‘I’d like one, I’d like a birthday card for my, for my mother, she’s going to be ninety’ or something ‘and I want - and she was in the WAAF and I want you to do a postcard or a birthday card for her’, so I would do one, one of those, and te- and Shelley my daughter, bless her, she copies them, well not copies them, yes she’s got a copier, and I, so I try and keep the originals and the copies, and the copies go. And that’s what the Association does when I do a card, I send them a copy and they keep it.
HH: In your view, do you think that the WAAFs have received the recognition that they deserve in the years since World War 2, for what they did?
BT: Absolutely not, no, that’s a - that’s a real sore point with me. I could go into the town for Memorial Day and the men, the - ‘come on, come on, let’s line up’, and then I’m there, and I even have my tie and my blue shirt and my blazer with a, with my medal even, but they w-, they wouldn’t bring me to the front. The men come to the front, and you, you know, sort of thing, but it’s like that all the time. And the memorial in London, well. Those coats on a hook. I haven’t seen it, I’ve seen it in a photograph, but I haven’t – I don’t go up to London, I’m not in a fit state to go up to London really, I s’pose I could go, I could persevere and go, make up my mind I’m going, I would love to see the Bomber Command memorial thing up there, I think that must be wonderful – but it’s just the bomber boys isn’t it, the boys that flew, who were absolutely wonderful I think, but everybody else behind those boys were wonderful too, weren’t they?
Other: Indeed.
BT: And everybody - I go to museums and it’s all planes and where are the WAAF? They were there. But you don’t get any recognition at all. Very seldom anyway. The films – you see films of the boys and the planes, but very few WAAF. It might be a love story so they have to put a WAAF in it.
HH: I was going to say -
BT: And she’s an officer’s [unclear] –
HH: - it seems to me that that seems, you know, if you look at, films and things since the war that’s been the way in which WAAFs have tended to be portrayed is as partners or as the love interest rather than as, you know, serious participants in the war effort.
BT: Yes. That’s right, yes, yes. That’s right.
SM: Can I say something here? The one thing that I notice going to the WAAF reunions is the amazing variety of jobs that they had, that the WAAF had during the war. The engine fitters, the plane deliverers, there are so many other things that they did that were men’s jobs, and these little ladies who looked as though they couldn’t blow a feather away, were just fantastic. I was just full of admiration for them, and that isn’t recognised enough.
BT: That’s right. That one woman that we were talking – one lady that sat next to you – what did she do, Shelley?
SM: She was a Stirling engine fitter.
BT: A Stirling engine fitter.
Shelly: And she was four-foot-nothing.
BT: [laughing] Now she’s a four-foot-nothing.
HH: Do you think that that started during the war though? In the sense that there was a certain ambiguity to the role that women were playing, I mean, it was obviously a necessary role to release um, men to take part in front line duty, and especially in Bomber Command with the attrition rate being quite high, um, but there was still nevertheless an ambivalence as to whether women should be playing that role.
BT: Oh yes, oh yes.
HH: Did you feel that, that at the time?
BT: Where I was stationed, not so much, because there were quite a few WAAF there and the men, they would not be on the set as much as we would be, but they would be charging the batteries and all sorts of things like that you know, and you – the men that were there a lot of times were photographers and guards, that – we would be teased, as WAAF, I mean they would say ‘go fetch something’ and it wasn’t there or it- ‘what the heck do you want’ you know, no, you got used to that sort of thing. Or if they had a joke, oh, ‘tell Betty, she’ll laugh’, you know, and I’d laugh but I wouldn’t know what they were talking about sometimes, hadn’t a clue [laughs], very innocent, sort of, you know, but um, it was – but I’ve noticed it a lot more since the last, oh I don’t know, I don’t think when I was in the states that it ever came up, because they didn’t know what WAAF were in the – I did have some friends that were in the WAAF though that married Americans, ‘cause we had this club where quite a few English girls and quite a few of them were in the WAAF, or several of them were in the WAAF anyway, because they were working with Americans some of them, on camp, and they, they were closely working with them and became friendly, very friendly, some of them. But on the whole it was since I’ve been here I notice the, the, sort of - Oh, if I told people, and I don’t do it very often, I’ve done it more lately than I ever have in my life, I’ve said I was in the WAAF and they say ‘oh were you? What did you do?’ and I’d tell them, ‘oooh’, you know, the minute you mention Bletchley Park that’s the only way you’ll get any notice, because that’s had publicity, and, you know, that sort of thing. I don’t know. But I do wish we had – on one of my friends, as a matter of fact my best friend, Jane, she thought that we’ve got to have a memorial up at the Arboretum, we’ve got to have something, and she started, and she planned it, and it was taken out of her hands by a few people in the Association, and her village, and it was built not the way she wanted it to be built, and she was warned that it wouldn’t last this particular way these people were going to do it, and it just broke her heart and even now we’ve got to spend a lot of money now getting it cleaned up and straightened up the way – actually, it would be better to take it down and start all over again, the way Jane wanted it done, it’s been so sad and we’re spending too much money on it, keeping it clean. And one thing and another, and that’s the only one we’ve got, that I know of, there, and that’s at the Arboretum, up your way, isn’t it?
HH: It’s Staffordshire isn’t it? Alrewas.
BT: Yeah. It’s quite a lovely place, but terribly disappointing that particular – so it’s good to have something, isn’t it?
HH: And I hope, very much, that you will approve of what we plan to do in terms of commemorating the WAAFs’ contribution in the new Bomber Command centre.
BT: I hope so. And I wish you the very best of luck in getting it done. I know that I won’t be alive to see it, but I shall hope that my family will go and see it.
HH: Well Betty thank you very much for that interview [telephone rings]
BT: Oh sorry, I’ll turn it -

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Citation

Heather Hughes, “Interview with Betty Turner,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed December 6, 2019, https://ibccdigitalarchive.lincoln.ac.uk/omeka/collections/document/11.

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