Interview with Joan Ilma Massey


Interview with Joan Ilma Massey


Joan Ilma Massey was born in India where her father served with the British Army. She joined the WAAF in 1940 at the age of seventeen. She did her initial training at West Drayton and worked in Whitehall for a time. After she was demobbed she went to New Zealand, travelling on the RMS Rangitata. She worked as a domestic in Wanganui, located on the North Island, for six months and then went on to work in a drawing office. She then came back to England for a couple of years before moving on to Canada. She stayed in Regina and worked for Shell Oil. She also lived with her brother and his wife on their rubber plantation in Malacca, Malaysia.




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00:17:53 audio recording

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DB: Joan would you like to tell me a little bit about your RAF history and your life?
JIL: Well as you know my daddy was army and we were, I was born in India in the Hyderabad [unclear] in the military hospital where my grandmother who was a cousin of my mother’s was a matron and we all grew up in India. There was four brothers and us three girls. My brothers have departed this world and my elder sister lives in Scotland in Campbeltown. Em, she’s a widow now and she has three boys and my younger sister lives in Camberley Mercia [?] with her son and we get on in a family you know as usual. But I prefer to live my own life and I think I joined the WAAF in 1940 when the war had been about six months and still half way there and it was at West Drayton where they were recruiting and can I give a laugh because we had to – the tailor went down and telling us what size uniforms we had to wear [emphasis] and he told me I had a size twelve and he came along and he looked at me and looked at my feet. Oh my! My skirt [laughs] was on my ankles [laughs] and because I was only seventeen. It was 1940 and I was up em Aldwych. That’s where they had the Air Force office there or something at Aldwych and I was with my mother. I don’t know what we were doing, just wandering around I think and I said ‘Shall I join Mum?’ and she said ‘Yes.’ So I joined [emphasis] and I think you know I fill in the form, and they called me to West Drayton and there was all us girls in civvy dresses and shivering like no-body’s business. I had a beautiful red blouse on and I think at the time and we were all lined up and the tailor came around and was telling us what size uniform we had to wear and he said to me a number twelve which was the smallest and then he said ‘Oh my’ so I looked down. Oh my, my skirt was round my ankles [laughs] not on [laughs] and they had to take it in to an eighteen inch waist. But we did two weeks jankers at West Drayton and a guardsman from the Grenadier Guards was teaching us how to march. Left, right. And the girls were putting the wrong arm up and the right arm up and this arm up and, but we all got there. I think we had biscuits, what they call biscuits on the bed in the, in the, in the [hesitates] where we had it. And I was fortunate they had the heaters. My bed was just opposite it so I, everybody used to congregate, in the winter months, on my bed and to – before they all went to sleep. But I think I enjoyed it and what, what do we come to? Em what do we come to? From Harrogate I went to New Market and spent some time there with a civilian. Then they called me up about ooh I don’t know how long just before when the war ended. But we used – we were surrounded by the air like New Zealand, Australians and the air bases and things like that and we used to go to their dances and whatnot and in a lorry as per usual and eh but eh when they declared war was over, I’m not quite sure. Now where was I? Windsor. I was punting on the punt with two other WAAFs. One fell in the river. We had to fish her out and eh. Because we were in civilian houses those days we, they sort of [unclear] and I used to have breakfast. My hostess used to give me breakfast and then I had to go to the canteen and eat and of course Joan never liked what they used to dish up and I’d walk past. ‘Massey! [shouts] Come back here.’ [laughs] So I had to take my plate of meat which I didn’t like and the soup. And we had a Scots boy from Glasgow and he was as thin as a rail, but could he eat! From his head to his toes he never got fat so everybody would push and he’d eat their meals if they didn’t want it. You know? After that I think the last eighteen months were left, I lived at home at 89 in Kew Gardens with my granny because the money they paid me to live out helped my grandmother, you see, with the food and whatnot. But we never went short. I wont say anything about that. [chuckles] Em. As I said, I was demobbed. I wandered around doing nothing very much and then I said I was going to New Zealand and I travelled out to New Zealand. It was wartime conditions still on the sh, boat. It was the Rangitata, I think. A very small ship and I had a lady with a baby in the bunk above me. I was in the bottom bunk and we fought like cat and dog because she kept on having the baby on my bed and, but I joined all the other youngsters and we’d sit up on the deck. They were going to send me down to the bottom of New Zealand on the second island. What was it called? And I said ‘No way. I’m not getting on another ship.’ So they sent me to Wanganui, Wanganui and I worked there as a domestic sort of thing, cooking and whatnot. And enjoying it. Then I left that after six months and my boss [pause] [unclear] somebody I knew had a drawing office so I went in to the drawing office and we were busy drawing little houses and putting the, I always put them in the wrong way. I put the train going east instead of going west [laughs] ‘cause we were on a slope or anything like that. But I, and then I think I came home. Stayed a couple of years at Maltlake Avenue and went to Canada. And I went to Regina and worked for Shell Oil. Well I told them to keep the job but they gave it to me and I stayed a couple of years with em Shell Oil and took off for Malacca, ‘cause my second brother was a rubber plantation and I stayed with Pam and Hugh and eh the girl and we lived on a rubber plantation. Oh God that was dreadful because we were surrounded by barbed wire and everything. Pam and I came home with the girl and Hugh followed us afterwards. I worked in Whitehall. I don’t know what I was doing. Don’t ask me. And watching all the parades and everything and from the windows and I took off for Canada [laughs]. I worked in Regina where I told them they could keep the job but they gave it to me. And we had a sort of a cousin there, a distant cousin, and em I enjoyed it. I enjoyed it very much. They were – they always called me a pommy [pause] Oh what was it the Canadians called you? The New Zealanders called you a pommy and I said, I kept on saying ‘I’m not a pommy ‘cause I wasn’t born in England’ [emphasis]. And they couldn’t get the connection when I said I wasn’t born in England. I was born in India. They still kept calling me a pommy. Let them get on with it. I didn’t mind so much. [laughs] I turned round one day and called one of them a very rude word, [laughs] unfortunately. They shut up after that and then I came home. Stayed a couple of years and went to Canada. I worked for Shell Oil in Regina. I took off for Malacca after some time and we had to travel across France. The French railways I think have improved since and we got home. Oh what was I doing? We went to – lived at Mortlake with granny and granny died didn’t she about that time, after a little while. I can remember her saying ‘It’s your mother’s birthday’ and promptly doing that. So I was left to do everything because my brother and Ailsa my older sister didn’t want to know. So I had to do all the arrangements and got – and then I took off for Canada. [background noise] use of those telephones because we could phone home, you see, to our family or anything like that and say ‘Hello, how are you?’ And my mother, we were living in Maltlake, and she’d be outside the house and the bloody bombs, pardon me, going overhead and you could hear it all coming down and everything and one time the Yanks were at the back of us. They had a Yank unit there and they got hit. You should have heard the commotion going on [laughs]. We had a dog called Fang and a scottie and Fang always knew when the bombers were coming over because he’d go straight to the basement one hour beforehand and we’d say ‘The bombers are coming. Get down granny.’ We’d take my grandmother down into the cellar and things like that. And, well, that was it really and truly. How they bombed the Yanks and of course we lost all our windows. They all came in and my eldest brother was in the house at the time. There he was walking around without his shoes on [laughs] and granny doing the same thing. [laughs] And me yelling at them. Ah well. Harris he went to South Africa. He emigrated to South Africa after the war. Bomber Harris. And he always rode that big white horse and as I said every time we saw that thing we all turned tail [laughs]. Yeah. He emigrated after the war to South Africa, Bomber Harris. He was okay I think. I think. But we never bothered too much really because we were only, as I used to say, we were only erks. Really and true. The lowest of the low. That’s it. In 1945 I was demobbed. I think I stayed about a year at Kew and I took off for New Zealand then.



Denise Boneham, “Interview with Joan Ilma Massey,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed July 20, 2024,

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