Interview with Hilary Robinson


Interview with Hilary Robinson


Hilary Robinson grew up in Yorkshire and volunteered for the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force. She trained as a driver and served at RAF Elsham Wolds and at 1 Group Headquarters at Bawtry Hall. She married and lived on a farm after the war.







00:51:30 audio recording


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DE: Right. This is an interview with Hilary Robinson. I am Dan Ellin. It is the 27th of May 2015 at just about half past twelve and we are in Elmfield Farm in Braithwell near Rotherham.
HR: That’s right.
DE: Right.
HR: Correct.
DE: Thank you. Hilary could just tell me a little bit about your early life? And we’ll start from there please.
HR: Well I had a very happy childhood. I had one brother who was older than I was. He was four years my senior. But we had a very happy childhood. Mother and father were very good to us. I don’t mean we had an elaborate childhood but we were encouraged to, you know, think up games and that sort of thing and to use our imagination which, very few people have an imagination today. It’s the television that’s killed it I’m afraid. But anyway I had a very vivid imagination which was a curse sometime because I sort of imagined sort of awful things in the night and things. However, we got over that. And so I went to school in Rotherham. And I used to walk to school in the morning and walk back again and then came the day when I had to do something a bit bigger and so I went to Bridlington High School as a boarder. Which was eventually a very happy period in my life but it was a very unhappy period when I started because I was very homesick. But I suppose if you’ve had a happy home it’s quite a wrench to be severed from that. But anyway I eventually liked it very much. And I played quite a good, although I shouldn’t say it but I played quite a good game of lacrosse which very few schools played in those days. Which was a netted thing on the end and you ran with your ball and things in that. And so I was in the team for that. I was also in the team for cricket in the summer time. I wasn’t a bad bowler actually. Anyway, I have to confess that I was very homesick when I first went but then I got used to it and I was very happy. And I stayed there until I was of an age to leave school. And then I came home and what was to be done with Hilary then? Because it was wartime by this time you see. And anyway my, my uncle was an estate agent in Sheffield. To do with one of the steel works and their properties. And so it was. I was destined to go there to work in the office and to go around rent collecting down the streets in the back of beyond in Sheffield. Which I am very grateful to that period of my life because I met some very interesting people and they were very kind. I wasn’t the most popular of visitors. Coming for the rent. But they were all very kind to me. And you know, ‘Come inside love. Have a cup of tea.’ And the mug was a bit mucky and, ‘I wonder what I’ll get from that,’ you know [laughs] I never did get anything. And then, anyway I enjoyed that period of my life and I met some very nice and very interesting people. And I’ve always been grateful for it because they were, you know, I saw how other people lived and I think that’s very important. For people to know that everybody doesn’t have the same opportunities that you’ve had. Not that I had a lot of opportunities but you know there’s a sort of, lot of difference —
DE: Yes.
HR: Between people. So I stayed there. And I really enjoyed that period of my life. And then of course the war came. And Uncle Fernie, who was my father’s brother, he ran the business. That was his business. And he thought he’d be able to keep me there but of course the powers that be thought that I was not important there. So I was politely told and went into the munition works and made bombs.
DE: Right.
HR: Which, I’d seen the sort of people who made bombs on the tractors when I walked, when I went to work, you see. And they were a bit, sort of, I mean they were very nice I’m sure but they were a bit on the sort of rough side. So I, Uncle Fernie thought he would be able to keep me there but the government thought differently and I that was not an important person.
DE: It wasn’t a reserved occupation you were in.
HR: No. So I was politely told that I went in and made bombs in the steelworks or I joined one of the forces. I would very much have liked to have gone in the navy but the navy was full of people. Everybody wanted to go in the navy.
DE: Yeah.
HR: So my next choice was the air force. And I was accepted for that and so I went. I was sent off to Gloucester where you were, you know, put in [pause] well told how to march and told how to salute and told how to behave and one thing and another and drilled and so on. And then to be decided what I would like to do. What occupation I would like to do. Well I’ve always loved motor cars. Ever since I was a little girl and had a pedal car so I thought I would like to be a driver. So I was accepted for that and so I went to Blackpool of all places to learn to be taught to drive the way that the air force wanted me to drive. I didn’t drive the way they liked. So I went there and I had a nice time at Blackpool. I quite enjoyed that. I don’t think I’d ever been to Blackpool before. But all my fourteen shillings a week went on going on rides on the [laughs] on the dipper and so on. Which was quite a horrifying experience. So then it was to be decided what I wanted. What trade I wanted to follow. Well I’ve always loved motor cars and I wanted to be a driver so that’s what I volunteered for. So I was sent to driving school and I was taught to drive the way that the air force wanted me to drive. The way I drove they didn’t like.
DE: Could you already drive then?
HR: Pardon?
DE: Could you already drive?
HR: Yes. So I was taught to drive the way they wanted me to drive. And so I was on one of a light sort of van to start with but I drove everything up to a three ton lorry eventually. And after a period of time of learning to drill and march and sort of knocked into position and doing things they wanted me to do the way they wanted me to do I went to to driving school. Which was near Blackpool. Wheaton. A place called Wheaton. So I was sent there. And they taught you to drive. The way I drove the way they didn’t like at all.
DE: Yeah.
HR: It wasn’t acceptable.
DE: What was, what was the instructor like?
HR: Oh they were very fair and very nice. They were. I’ve no criticisms about them and it was a very thorough course. You had to learn to do your own maintenance. You had to go down in the pits and do all the greasing around and everything. And it was very, it was a very good course. I’ve no criticism about it. And I had a nice time at Blackpool because when I had any money I went in to the Fun City place and went on the big dipper and one things and another. I never had any money. We only got fourteen shillings a week I think. Father and mother were quite good — sort of subbing me a bit.
DE: Right.
HR: Anyway, I stopped there until I was as they wanted me to be. And then I was posted to RAF Elsham Wolds.
DE: Can we, can we —
HR: In Lincolnshire.
DE: Yes. Can we talk about that in a little bit? I’d like to talk a little bit more about, about your training in Blackpool.
HR: Oh yes. Well, I have to say that it was a very very good training. You were taught to maintain your vehicle and to go down in the pits and grease around and every day you had to look at the oil amount levels. You had to make sure you’d plenty of petrol in. You had to look at the tyre pressures. The water. And, you know if you ran out of anything during the day you were in terrible trouble immediately. And, anyway having done all that at Blackpool, I had quite a nice time in Blackpool, when I had any money to go on the dipper and things. And then —
DE: What was, what was the accommodation like in Blackpool?
HR: It was quite good. Everywhere I went we were quite adequately housed and there were baths. Bathing facilities and that kind of thing. And I met up with all sorts of nice people. And then I stopped there until I took my test — in Blackpool of all places.
DE: Were you in, were you in billets then in Blackpool?
HR: Yes. We had Nissen huts. So then I came, I was posted to a place called Elsham Wolds.
DE: Yes.
HR: Which was a bomber station with Lancaster bombers which I became very fond of. I admired them tremendously and I admired the men that flew them. Because it wasn’t a happy excursion going off with a load of bombs underneath you. But they were very very stoic. They were remarkable chaps. And so I stayed at Elsham Wolds all through the war really and I became acquainted with The Oswald [laughs] which —
DE: [laughs]Tthat was a peculiar face. What expression was—?
HR: The Oswald was in Scunthorpe.
DE: Right.
HR: And everybody went to the Oswald.
DE: This is a pub.
HR: And, yes, and there I learned to drink pints of beer. So I grew to an enormous side because it’s very fattening. If mother had known that I went there she wouldn’t have been best pleased but she didn’t know. So what she didn’t know she didn’t grieve about. So, but I had some very happy times in the Oswald and we sang and everybody was happy for a little while. And the aircrew used to go and sing and for a few short hours they were happy. But they were very very brave men to be shut in one of those things. Seven of them with all those bombs underneath them wasn’t a bundle of laughs.
DE: No.
HR: Well, no aspect of war is a bundle of laughs really. But then I was posted there to this Elsham Wolds place in Lincolnshire. Which, I was very very happy at Elsham Wolds. And I met lots of nice people. Some of whom are still alive and I see occasionally. And the MT officer was a stickler for everything. You know, he drove out of the yard in the morning and there was this face at the office window and sort of, sometimes there was a beckoning and you thought, ‘Oh what have I done?’ You tottered in you see and you’d done something that wasn’t acceptable and you were told to put it right. It was a very good training. And Mr Barnes was a very fair officer I have to say and we all got along quite well. And we had to do all our own maintenance. You went down in the pits and did your greasing around and everything. And then I moved on to staff cars and I had to drive officers about and look after the staff cars that the officers used when they went out on their own without a driver. We had to make sure they had plenty of petrol and if anything sort of went wrong well, you were up the creek without a paddle you see. Straightaway. But anyway I enjoyed being at Elsham Wolds although there were a lot of sad times because we had Lancaster bombers there.
DE: Yes.
HR: And they went off nightly on their excursions. And they were only very young, a lot of those boys that went in there, and you know you could see they didn’t really much care for being shut in there with this load of bombs. And I admired them tremendously because they didn’t complain.
DE: Did you have a lot of contact with members of aircrew then?
HR: Well I drove, you see. I was on the, on that part of the MT section which served the planes. So I had to drive them out to, to get into their aeroplanes and then of course when they came back, or if they came back then I went and fetched them in again. When they came back. But sadly very often they didn’t come back. Which was very upsetting. But anyway they were happy days at Elsham Wolds on the side. And I became acquainted with this Oswald as I say. And I have often thought I would like to go back to the Oswald but I think it might be a mistake because it wouldn’t be the same you see. And we sang there. And I learned to drink pints of beer and I grew to an enormous size. And mother was very disapproving. She didn’t agree with women folk drinking. But anyway everybody did it and so but we had happy times and we sang and you couldn’t blame them for what happiness they could get there.
DE: No. No.
HR: These men that flew in those aeroplanes because it wasn’t a happy business at all.
DE: Did you, did you go to the Oswald with a particular group of people then?
HR: Well with the rest of the MT section, you see. Everybody went to the Oswald. I’ve often wondered, I’ve thought I’d like to go back and look what it’s like. But I think that would be a mistake because it wouldn’t be the same you see.
DE: No.
HR: It is still there. I’ve rung it up to see whether it was there.
DE: Right.
HR: But it wouldn’t be the same. We sang. And for a few short hours everybody was happy.
DE: Can you remember the sort of songs that you sang?
HR: Well those particular things that were sort of in vogue at that particular time. We sang cheery things and I, as I say, I could down several pints of beer which was not a good thing for me at all.
DE: No.
HR: Because it was very fattening you see. I grew to an enormous size. Anyway —
DE: Was, was there a piano in the pub then? Or were you singing unaccompanied?
HR: Pardon?
DE: Was there a piano in the pub?
HR: A plan?
DE: A piano in the —
HR: Oh piano. Yes. There was always a piano in the pubs. They played tunes and things for us to sing. And for a few short hours the aircrew were happy because it wasn’t, I used to drive them out to their aeroplanes which was not a pleasant duty because —
DE: No. Did you drive a particular crew to a particular aircraft? Or —
HR: No. It just so happened you were, the MT officer told you what duties you were on, and you – but I was on that duty for quite some time and they were different crews you took out. But you were always glad when you saw them back again because it wasn’t a happy thing —
DE: No.
HR: To be shut in one of those things. I’ve never forgotten how brave they were really.
DE: Quite right.
HR: Because it wasn’t a happy occupation. Well no aspect of war was a happy thing really.
DE: So did you drive them out to their aircraft in the evening?
HR: Yes.
DE: And picked them up when they came back. What did you do in between?
HR: Well you hang about. You hung about sort of thing.
DE: Throughout the night sometimes?
HR: Yes. Until such time as they came back. And then you went out and sometimes, very sadly they didn’t come back. And that was very sad.
DE: Yes.
HR: Indeed. And so there was a lot of sadness really. And then you had to do all your own maintenance on the thing. And Mr Barnes was a very strict MT officer and he was always in the window and [beckoning] and then you knew you’d done something wrong and you tottered into the office.
DE: Yes.
HR: ‘Yes. Yes sir.’ You know. Anyway, I stopped at Elsham Wolds and we had several satellite stations which we went to from time to time. You were posted out to serve on there. But I have some very happy memories of the friends I made and I have to say which mother wouldn’t have been at all pleased about the Oswald. I have a lot of happy memories. Mother didn’t agree with ladies going into Oswald’s and things.
DE: Yeah.
HR: But it was — well you couldn’t blame them for going drinking.
DE: No. Quite.
HR: Because they were very brave. Well, all the people were very brave that took part in war.
DE: So when when you were on duty and it was your job to drive crews to and from the aircraft what, what hours did you do? Did you work shifts?
HR: Yes. You were either on sort of late turns or early turns. Or whatever. You were told what you had to do. Mr Barnes drew a sort of plan up for you.
DE: Yeah. Was it a big section then? The MT section.
HR: Oh it was quite an appreciable size yes. Mr Barnes, well Flight Lieutenant Barnes to give him his full title. He was very fair but everything had to be right. And if it wasn’t right well there was a knocking on a window and a [beckoning] like that and your heart sank to your boots. And you tottered in to see what you’d done wrong. You know. But he was a very fair officer.
DE: Did you get into trouble then?
HR: Pardon?
DE: Did you get into trouble?
HR: Oh I got in to trouble yes. With various things but nothing serious.
DE: What sort of punishments did he give out if any?
HR: Well, sort of, you know you were confined to billets or something. You couldn’t go out and that sort of thing. But for the most part, I’m not blowing my own trumpet, but I didn’t. I didn’t really have any very — I was a bit too canny for them. I kept out of view.
DE: You kept your nose clean.
HR: Yes. But I shall always have the most tremendous regard for those boys that went off in those aeroplanes because it wasn’t a bundle of laughs.
DE: No.
HR: To get in there with a great big load of bombs. We had Lancaster bombers.
DE: Did you ever go in one?
HR: Yes. Illegally. But I did a lot of illegal things in those days.
DE: Oh tell me more about the illegal things. That’s interesting.
HR: No. Well we used to drive the crews out when they were doing you know maintenance work and they said, ‘Would you like to come up with us.’ And I used to say oh yes, please. You know. So I did have several illicit journeys. And so —
DE: What was that like?
HR: Oh, it was, it was wonderful but it must have been dreadful for them because there wasn’t a lot of room.
DE: No.
HR: For each person to sit. There was seven of them I think.
DE: So when when you were sneakily having a flight in a Lancaster where did you sit or stand?
HR: Sorry?
DE: When you were in, when you were having a flight in a Lancaster where did you sit or stand in?
HR: Oh I sat right in the front. Looking out. You know you could lie, lie on the front.
DE: Oh, in the bomb aimers position.
HR: Yes. And look out. And I have, shall always have tremendous respect and regard for people who flew them because it, well — whatever aspect of war it was not nice and, but to be sent off in one of those things with a load of bombs underneath you wasn’t a bundle of laughs I’m sure.
DE: No. Quite.
HR: But they were very brave and they, and as I say we sang and things. Everybody tried to be happy in the few short hours that were available to us.
DE: Did you go to dances or the cinema with people?
HR: We had, we had films on the camp sometimes. We had dances on the camp and that sort of thing. But if my mother had known the things I got up to she wouldn’t have been best pleased. But she didn’t know so I used to go to this Oswald.
DE: Yes.
HR: In Scunthorpe. And I thought the Oswald was marvellous. I mean my eyes used to come out like chapel hat pegs at what went on in there.
DE: Oh. What sort of things went on in the Oswald?
HR: Well I mean this singing and for a few short hours everyone was happy. And they sang songs. And I drank pints of beer and grew to an enormous size. It’s very, very fattening. Beer.
DE: It is. Yeah. It is.
HR: So anyway, I stayed at Elsham until the end of the war I think. And then I finished up at Bawtry which was Group Headquarters. Number 1 Group Bomber Command Headquarters.
DE: Yeah.
HR: I didn’t like it there. I was sort of fastened in and couldn’t get out. And, well I had to behave nicely. Not that [laughs] anyway I was there until [pause] and then the war finished. And mother, my mother was very poorly and she had to have an operation and so I was given a compassionate leave and so I finished then. The war was over by that time. But I have very happy memories of —
DE: Yeah.
HR: Of Elsham. Happy and sad memories and I shall always admire those wonderful chaps that went up in those aeroplanes because it wouldn’t have been a bundle of laughs to go with all those bombs underneath you. But they were a very plucky lot. Well, all —
DE: Definitely. Yeah.
HR: Aspects of war — people had to be very plucky to do it.
DE: So there was a sort of difference in atmosphere was there? Between Elsham Wolds and Bawtry. Was it to do with—?
HR: Oh Bawtry Hall was.
DE: Bawtry yeah.
HR: Was the headquarters and it was all sort of, you know toffee nosed at Bawtry Hall [laughs]
DE: Right. So uniform had to be had to be right. And drill and that sort of thing. Was it?
HR: Yes. I didn’t like Bawtry Hall very much. And I couldn’t get out there you see. Used, I found a war memorial which was quite a convenient place and I could climb over the railings and get out. Until one evening I unfortunately slipped somehow or other. Caught my handle on one of the spikes on this thing and sort of cut it right down there.
DE: Oh dear.
HR: Oh it did bleed. I didn’t know what to do. I daren’t go anywhere, you see to say because they would say, ‘Where have you done this?’ So I bound it up and did — I was in a great deal of distress for some days really. But no I wasn’t a very well behaved WAAF. I was rather naughty I’m afraid.
DE: [laughs] Even though you managed to get to the rank of sergeant.
HR: Corporal.
DE: Corporal.
HR: Corporal was the best I’d been. Yes. But I’ve always enjoyed driving. Since I was a little girl and I had a pedal car. And I loved cars very much. So that was what I wanted to do and we were allowed to drive everything up to a three ton lorry with a gate change. You won’t know anything about gate changes.
DE: Tell me about a gate change then.
HR: Well you had to double de clutch in order to get the gears in without making that [noise] noise. And no, I have to say that the training we were given in the air force was very good. And I’ve always been grateful for it. It stood me in very good stead for many years. And my, one of my sort of pet likes of cars and that sort of thing. Driving. But I don’t do much now.
DE: No.
HR: Because it’s, well it’s not for the elderly I don’t think.
DE: So you had compassionate leave at the end of the war.
HR: Yes.
DE: And then were you properly demobbed then?
HR: Yes. I was demobbed then. And then I went home. Back to the office and rent collecting down the back streets of Sheffield which was also an eye opener. I used to like doing that actually. I was quite, I wasn’t a very popular person coming for the rent but —
DE: No.
HR: Anyway, they were all very kind to me and gave me a drink of coffee or something, you know and [pause] no. I in my little way I’ve had a reasonably happy life really, and have a lot to be very thankful for. Then of course the war finished, and I met Brian who was to be my husband and he had, he was going to be a farmer and was at Agricultural College. And we got married and eventually we came here to this house and the farm. And then Jean and Gerald — they’ve been wonderful support. They live over the wall and they still keep an eye on me. I’m a nuisance to them actually. And I’ve retired now.
DE: Yes.
HR: So I’m ninety something I think.
Other: Ninety one and three quarters.
HR: Pardon?
Other: Ninety one and three quarters.
HR: Ninety one.
Other: And three quarters.
HR: Anyway so I don’t do so badly, but Jean and Gerald are very very good, and their daughter is very good to me. They look after me. And of course my parents are both long since gone unfortunately. And I’ve still, I think [unclear] not here now is he?
Other: No.
HR: My brother’s gone now as well. He was in the forces. But I’m very happy in my little world really, and Jean and Gerald are ever so good to me. And they keep me stocked up with gin and everything [laughs] which Jean doesn’t approve of really because she doesn’t drink, quite rightly if she doesn’t want to.
DE: No.
HR: But —
DE: So when did you get involved in Elsham Wolds Association?
HR: Oh, almost at the start of it, sort of beginning I think and I mean I must say that I had in-between times, I had a happy time in the services because you made a lot of good friends, and there were a lot of happy times as well as very sad times.
DE: Yeah.
HR: And so I‘ve kept in touch but it’s all fizzled out now of course because well most of us have died off or something. There isn’t the –
DE: But you used to go to, to reunions. Do you still, still go?
HR: Oh yes. Well I don’t think I go much now. But I don’t think they have very many reunions do they?
Other: No, your daughter usually comes and takes you doesn’t she?
HR: Sorry?
Other: Rosamund usually comes and takes you doesn’t she?
HR: Yes, Rosamund who is my elder daughter. I have two daughters, Rosamund and Caroline, both of whom are married and live elsewhere. They don’t live close to me. But Jean and Gerald are very, very good to me. They look after me and Jean keeps an eye on me over the wall and sees that I don’t get drunk too often sort of [laughs]
DE: Marvellous. I could do with someone looking after me like that.
HR: Yes.
DE: Did you have a particular close friend at Elsham Wolds?
HR: Yes, I had Margaret.
Other: And Rose.
HR: And Rose. And both of whom I kept in touch with but I think sadly they’re both gone now.
Other: No. Margaret’s still alive.
HR: Margaret’s still alive.
Other: Joe’s dead.
HR: Rose has died.
Other: And Joe.
HR: And Joe, yeah.
Other: Margaret’s husband.
HR: But I don’t get about much now.
DE: Were Margaret and Rose in the MT section?
HR: Yes. And Mr Barnes was our MT officer.
DE: Yes.
HR: Flight Lieutenant Barnes, who tapped on the window and you knew you’d done something horrible.
DE: You mentioned you cut your hand when you were at 1 Group Headquarters. Did you ever have to see the medical officer at Esham Wolds?
HR: I think so. I think I had to have a stitch or something in it. I can’t really remember now, it’s a long time ago but. No, Elsham Wolds was, I mean it was a sad place but it was a happy place as well really. As long as you behaved yourself and you did what you were supposed to do — well you were, you were alright. We had to do all our own maintenance on our own vehicle. To go in the pits and everything. And if you ran out of anything like the oil or anything, you were up a creek without a paddle. But Mr Barnes the MT officer was a very fair man I have to say. You know he never punished you if you hadn’t done anything wrong. And so I had a happy time at Elsham Wolds really.
DE: Smashing.
HR: And I landed up at this Oswald in Scunthorpe. I mean to go to look at it, still, I think it is still there. I’ve rung up once or twice but there’s no one of a like mind now to go with you see.
DE: No. Can I just go, go back in, and ask you a little bit more about when you joined the WAAF. You said that you really wanted to join the Navy.
HR: Yes I did.
DE: Why, why was, why was that?
HR: Well it was fully booked up. Everybody wanted to go in the Navy and there weren’t any places at my particular time, they were full.
DE: But why did you, why did you prefer the, the WRENS over the WAAFs at that time?
HR: I don’t know. I think probably the uniform and boats. I’ve always been rather fond of boats. See, I went to school in Bridlington, boarding school.
DE: Yes.
HR: And so I became rather addicted to the sea and I quite felt I would quite like to do that. But that was all fully booked up. Everybody wanted to do that.
DE: So, so the WAAF was your second choice?
HR: I’ve always loved aeroplanes. I was very happy to go in the WAAF and I really had an – well it’s a terrible thing to say that you had an enjoyable time. I mean there were a lot of terribly sad times but the camaraderie was wonderful really. And I made some very good friends. A lot of them are dead aren’t they now? They’ve passed on. But I keep batting, at the moment. But I’m – [coughs] how much longer that’s going — Jean keeps me batting.
DE: Excellent.
HR: She comes round every morning and beats me up to [laughs]
DE: So, you joined the WAAF. Did you say that it was Gloucester that you went to first?
HR: Gloucester. Yes you —
DE: What was that like?
HR: Well you learned to drill and learned all your rules and regulations and to clean your buttons and your cap badge and everything. And then from there you decided what you wanted to, what trade you wanted to follow. Well I’ve always loved motor cars.
DE: Yes.
HR: So that was my obvious choice.
DE: Did they — did you do any tests to choose your trade? Or were you given a choice?
HR: Well you, you were given a choice of what you, provided it wasn’t full up.
DE: Right.
HR: It depended. Some things were more popular than others you see. But anyway, when I chose the driving I got in there alright. And I went to Wheaton which is near Blackpool.
DE: Yes.
HR: And I have to say that we had a very comprehensive driving course and you had to do all your own maintenance.
DE: Yes.
HR: To go down in the pits and do everything. So it stood me in very good stead for the rest of my life and I was doing something that I enjoyed doing.
DE: Yes.
HR: And from there I went, well I went to Wheaton for the driving school to learn, because I didn’t drive the way they wanted me to drive, you know. Didn’t do the hand signals and one thing and another.
DE: You said when you were in Blackpool you were in, in billets. What was the accommodation at Gloucester?
HR: I think, I think they were sort of air force things, I think. We were in there, sort of. It’s such a long time ago I can’t really remember.
DE: What about the accommodation at Elsham Wolds?
HR: Oh well that was very nice. I liked it at Elsham Wolds. We lived on the WAAF site which was away from the bomber station. And there was a bus, well it wasn’t a proper bus, but it was a crew bus that fetched us up and down from. Or you could have your cycle if you wanted to. And you went up in the morning, depending what shift you were on and then you stayed up at camp all day. Then you came down again at night.
DE: Yes.
HR: You see. Mr Barnes the MT officer was — he was a stickler for everything being right, quite rightly so. And as long as you did what you were supposed to do, you didn’t fall foul of him. But you had to do all your own maintenance.
DE: Yeah. The, the huts that you lived in at Elsham Wolds — was that a mix of trades in there? Or were they all MT people in there, in—?
HR: Well there were mostly MT people. There were twelve of us I think in a Nissen hut, and six down either side. Then we had a sort of little toilet thing at the end that you could use in the night if you got taken short. But then you went into the woods in the morning to have your shower or a bath or whatever you went to do. To use the proper toilet. So, it was all very well run I have to say. I have no criticism of anything that they provided for us.
DE: And, and the food was alright. What was — was it?
HR: Oh the food was quite good. And fortunately I had a mother who insisted that we ate everything. She couldn’t be doing with people, ‘Well I don’t like that.’ ‘I can’t eat that.’ She said, ‘You will eat it.’ And so as a result of that, I had a father who was very faddy and I think mother had had enough of it sort of thing. She insisted. I don’t think she was successful with my brother, she didn’t make much of him, but she certainly — there are very, very few things that I don’t — dislike. That I do dislike I should say, so I can eat most things, somethings obviously I like more than others. But there are one or two things people give me, the more I eat them and that’s it.
DE: So did you eat in the mess, or did you go somewhere else for food?
HR: Oh you ate in the mess but sometimes we went, as I say to, into Scunthorpe and had food in the pub you see.
DE: I wonder was, was there a NAAFI on Elsham Wolds?
HR: Oh, we had a NAAFI. Yes. We had a NAAFI. And they were very good, I have to say. The looked after us very well, they were a wonderful band of people. They really were. My time at Elsham Wolds was, you know it was very sad with people not coming back from operations and that sort of thing. But my time at Elsham Wolds was reasonably happy and Mr Barnes the MT officer who was a bit of a so and so but he was very fair. And as long as you towed the line you didn’t get into trouble. My days at Elsham Wolds were very happy really. And as I say we frequented the Oswald in Scunthorpe. I think it’s still there. But I don’t think I shall ever go again because it wouldn’t be the same, you see and my memories of it would be shattered.
DE: Have you, have you gone back to Elsham Wolds very often?
HR: Oh I go back. We have a reunion every so often. But I mean the bomber station’s not — I mean it’s all gone back to farming now sort of thing. But I have one or two colleagues still left.
DE: Yeah.
HR: That I keep in touch with. I would like to go back to the Oswald once more but nobody is willing to take me so I don’t think I shall be going [laughs]
DE: So after the war you became a farmer?
HR: No, after the war I went back to doing what I was at this — with my uncle with the estate agency thing. Then I met up with Brian and we got engaged and subsequently married and he was at Agricultural College learning farming. And then eventually he passed out as a farmer and we came here. Well, I am very happy here. And I did run the farm with Jean and Gerald’s great help after Brian died. But I’ve packed up now.
Other: Yes.
HR: I’m old and decrepit. I’m ninety something I think.
Other: Ninety one and three quarters.
HR: Ninety one.
DE: Yeah.
HR: Yes. So but I still live here very kindly Jean and Gerald see to me and see I don’t get into any mischief or anything. Don’t do anything naughty you know.
DE: Yes.
HR: So, anyway.
DE: Ah that’s smashing. One last question I think. What How do you feel about the history of, of Bomber Command and how it’s been remembered?
HR: Sorry?
DE: What, what are your feelings on how Bomber Command has been remembered?
HR: Well I don’t think it’s been sufficiently remembered personally if I’m honest about it. But I think it’s very difficult because it’s a changing age and I mean most of the people that took part in the war are either very, very old or have passed on. You can’t expect these younger people to be interested really in what was given up for them. But as I say I go, go up one. I go once a year don’t I?
Other: Twice a year.
HR: Twice a year to Elsham. And we, we have a service and things round the —
Other: Memorial Service.
HR: The Cenotaph. Cenotaph thing. And, but I would like to go back to the Oswald but nobody’s prepared to take me so I can’t go by myself so. I don’t know, but, no I made a lot of good friends, but many of them have passed on now. I think I’ve not got many left have I?
Other: You’ve got Margaret left.
HR: Margaret, yes. But they still keep in touch and so, anyway then I came back to going to the office and doing the rent collecting again down the back streets of Sheffield. Which was a very interesting job and I met some very interesting people. I wasn’t the most popular of visitors coming for the rent. But they were all very kind to me I have to say now. ‘Come inside love and have a cup of tea or a cup coffee or something.’ And so I’ve always — I think I’ve had a , in a way, an interesting, to me — life. Don’t think it’s very interesting to anybody else but I’ve enjoyed life and I enjoyed my days in the WAAF. Certainly I enjoyed going to the Oswald and singing and things, but —
DE: Yes.
DE: One last question. Before I pressed record you were telling me about your pedal car.
HR: Yes.
DE: Can you tell me a bit more about the pedal car?
HR: Well I don’t know why, I’ve no idea why but I really always have loved cars. I mean my first question to anybody to whom I was introduced, ‘Have you got a car?’ And if the had a car well, they were my friend forever. I don’t know why I’ve loved cars so much but anyway I did. And then, we didn’t have a car when we were growing up, my brother and I but then it was mother. Mother was the sort of go-getter in our family. Father was, you know, he drifted along in the slow lane. He was ever such a nice person and had a wonderful sense of humour but mother was the sort of go-getter. Eventually it was decided we would have a car and she moved hell and high water to get this car. And I can remember its number. It was BWB 773 and it was a Wolseley, and, oh it was ever such a nice car. It had leather upholstered seats inside. Cars in those days were really nice. And so, of course, I wasn’t old enough to drive then but my brother learned to drive. He was four years older than me. And then eventually I learned to drive. I was in the seventh heaven then. Mind you it’s not as nice now as it used to be because it’s so busy everywhere. People are so rude and they don’t want to give way and one thing and another so I don’t do very much now because I think I’m beyond it, and it’s rather foolish if I don’t have the opportunity to do it regularly. I think you lose touch with things, and at my age it’s not sensible.
DE: No.
HR: So, anyway.
DE: Lovely. That’s, that’s marvellous. Thank you very much.
HR: Well thank you for coming and talking to me. I’m very grateful. I’m sure it hasn’t of been of great interest to you.
DE: I’m sure, I’m sure it will, thank you.
HR: Right.



Dan Ellin, “Interview with Hilary Robinson,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed March 5, 2024,

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