Interview with Sydney Smith


Interview with Sydney Smith


Sydney’s father died when she was a baby. Her mother remarried and had another daughter and son. The son became ground crew in the Royal Air Force.
Sydney lived a few miles from London and attended Byron Court School in Webley. She was five when war broke out and eleven when it ended. She remembered the Battle of Britain and hundreds of aircraft taking off for Germany. A lot of Sydney’s school days were spent in the air raid shelters. From an early age she decided she wanted to work for the Air Force. Sydney started her nursing training in 1951 with the National Health Service and in 1956 she joined the Air Force for four years short commission. She recollects her posts at RAF Hospital Nocton Hall, Hook of Holland and then in Germany. When Sydney married she had to leave the Air Force, which she loved. Her husband worked for the Metropolitan Police. She donated her nurse’s uniform to Hendon museum.




Temporal Coverage




00:33:27 audio recording


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ASmithS180725, PSmithS1801


DK: Right. So I’ll, I’ll just introduce myself. So I’m David Kavanagh for the International Bomber Command Centre interviewing Mrs —
SS: Sydney.
DK: Sydney Smith at her home on the 25th of July 2018.
SS: Yeah.
DK: If I just put that down. Down there.
SS: That’s right.
DK: It’s that’ll pick you up. If I’m looking down —
SS: Yes.
DK: I’m just making sure it’s recording. Ok.
SS: If you look up behind me that’s a picture of me in the Air Force.
DK: Oh right. Can I take a closer look is that ok?
SS: Yes. Do.
DK: Oh right. So, you’re a nurse there. And was this your husband then?
SS: Yes. That’s right. I had to leave the Air Force to get married.
DK: And, and was he a policeman?
SS: He was a policeman in the Metropolitan Police.
DK: Oh wow. So, lovely photos aren’t they?
SS: Yes. I think I would have stayed on had I not met my husband.
DK: Really?
SS: Yes.
DK: Was that, was that the thing? Once you got married you had to leave.
SS: Oh yes.
DK: The nursing profession.
SS: In those days, yes. You did.
DK: Yeah.
SS: I mean it went to the European court and then they said that you know females can be married.
DK: Right. Yeah. And I’ll just ask you then do you have reminiscences or remember much about the war itself?
SS: Oh yes.
DK: And can you just tell us a little about —
SS: I was five. I was five when war broke out and I lived a few miles from London. About eight or ten miles from London. And the Battle of Britain was fought over my head. And I saw a plane shot down and I saw people come down in parachutes. And it made such an impression on me that these young men were willing to sacrifice their lives for my future that when I grow up I’m going to do something for the Air Force. I didn’t know what. And then when I finished my nurse training I decided I would join the Air Force and do my bit for them.
DK: So, so what years then were you doing the nursing training?
SS: I was 1951 I started.
DK: ‘51.
SS: The nursing training.
DK: Right.
SS: And nineteen fifty — oh I can’t remember. ’56 I joined the Air Force.
DK: Right.
SS: Yes.
DK: And just going back to you remembering the war time do you remember anything after the Battle of Britain? Between then and the end of the war.
SS: Oh yes. I mean being a school child and —
DK: But were you evacuated then? Or —
SS: No. I wasn’t evacuated.
DK: No.
SS: Because I was going to be evacuated to America. I’ve actually got a newspaper cutting about that. And my mother was ill and couldn’t take me to the Centre where we were meant to be. And so I was going to go on the next boat and the ship I was on was torpedoed.
DK: Oh.
SS: And I think there were about seventy children drowned.
DK: No. Oh dear.
SS: And she wouldn’t let me go after that.
DK: No. No.
SS: So I never was evacuated.
DK: No.
SS: So I spent my schooldays, a lot of my schooldays when the air raids were on during the day was spent in the shelters which were long iron things. Iron shelters with and because they rusted, the sides and were covered with earth.
DK: Earth. Yeah.
SS: Yeah.
DK: And did you have those in your school then?
SS: Yes.
DK: Yeah.
SS: In my school.
DK: And can you remember which schools you attended?
SS: Yes. I attended Byron Court School. The whole of my time at Byron Court School was at that, and that was in Wembley.
DK: In Wembley. Right.
SS: Yes.
DK: So, so you’d have had a good view of the Battle of Britain then from Wembley.
SS: Oh yes. That’s why I said.
DK: Yeah.
SS: I remember the Battle of Britain especially.
DK: Yeah.
SS: But we, nights when the bombings and that sort of thing my mother would sit up with me and my brother and she, she said, ‘Don’t worry. Jesus will look after us.’ And he always did. And that’s what I remember. But my parents they first of all got an Anderson shelter. But Wembley has got a very high water table.
DK: Right.
SS: So it was always half full of water.
DK: Yeah.
SS: So my stepfather and my step sister used to go down in the shelter but my mother said, ‘No. We’ll be alright.’
DK: And can you remember the damage in the area? The bombings.
SS: Oh yes. I can remember those. I remember going out with my mother once with the baby in the pram with a big baby gas mask.
DK: Yeah.
SS: And strapped to the pram. And me with my, wearing my gas mask on the [unclear] and it was pouring with rain and there was an air raid. Daylight air raid. And they were dropping incendiary bombs all around. And every time we heard something come, you know the babies pram hood was up and my mother and I crouched by the pram and just hoped for the best. But we got through.
DK: So how many was in your family then? There was —
SS: Well, there was my father died when I was a baby.
DK: Right.
SS: So there was my stepfather and my, I had a step sister. I had a step brother in the Air Force.
DK: Right.
SS: He was already in the Air Force before the war started.
DK: So your step brother was quite a little bit older than you then.
SS: Yes.
DK: Yeah.
SS: That’s right. Yes. He was older than my mother too.
DK: Oh right.
SS: Yes. So anyhow my, no my stepbrother was fourteen years older than me.
DK: Right.
SS: My step sister was four years older.
DK: Right.
SS: And then they had two children and they were wartime babies.
DK: Right. Right.
SS: Yeah.
DK: And what did your step brother do in the Air Force? Do you know what he was?
SS: No. My stepbrother.
DK: Yes. Your step brother. What did your step brother do in the Air Force?
SS: He was ground crew.
DK: Right.
SS: Yes. But he did occasionally go up with, as a gunner.
DK: Right.
SS: In the planes. But he was in Aden quite a bit.
DK: Right.
SS: And he brought, he came home on leave and brought a banana and it was at the bottom of his kit bag and it was black. But we shared it between the five of us.
DK: So was that the first time you’d seen a banana?
SS: Well, since I was a little toddler.
DK: Yeah. So do you remember the, I mean you were very young at the time but were you, can you remember being scared or was it a real excitement?
SS: Oh, the first, the first time there was an air raid was near Christmas time and the sound of the ack ack guns it frightened me.
DK: Yeah.
SS: It really did frighten me.
DK: And that’s some, that fear you can still remember.
SS: Oh, I can. Yes.
DK: So did, did you see aircraft actually shot down?
SS: I did.
DK: Yeah.
SS: I saw one shot down. Actually shot down. Coming down the —
DK: Coming down.
SS: And I used to have nightmares afterwards.
DK: Really.
SS: And I said to my mother, ‘Did I see an aircraft shot down?’ She said, ‘Yes. You did.’ And I did see parachutists come out of a plane. But I didn’t see, actually see the plane come down.
DK: Yeah.
SS: And as children we used to collect all, you could go around after the runway and look at the bomb damage and that sort of thing. All these houses. These houses, and all exposed. You know all their private things exposed and all that sort of thing. And we used to collect shrapnel.
DK: Yeah.
SS: Oh, you know. Big. Especially the boys used to collect shrapnel.
DK: Yeah.
SS: And the bigger collection the better. And all the drawings of course were planes dropping bombs.
DK: Really?
SS: Yes. That’s all the drawings the children did.
DK: So it was having quite an impression on them as children.
SS: Oh. Oh it was.
DK: Yeah.
SS: And we had no care or anything like that. No counselling.
DK: No.
SS: No.
DK: That’s, that’s a more recent thing isn’t it?
SS: It is, isn’t it? Yeah. No. We were meant to get on with it.
DK: Yeah.
SS: And cod liver oil and orange juice. That used to keep us going. Cod liver oil was horrible.
DK: So you can remember the rationing then?
SS: Oh, I can.
DK: Yeah.
SS: Oh yes. And how, when anybody was getting get married we all sort of put all our points together to make a wedding feast and that sort of thing. When my birthday parties my mother used to get some plaster of Paris or whatever and ice a cake tin. And we saved up our sweet ration, put it under the cake tin and the iced cake tin was my birthday cake.
DK: Oh right.
SS: Yes. And the school lessons were sometimes in the shelters and —
DK: So you can, so it was quite a big shelter.
SS: Oh yes.
DK: In the school grounds then.
SS: It took two classes.
DK: Right.
SS: So there must have been about sixty or so children in.
DK: So an air raid could have been going on and you were still having your lessons.
SS: Oh yes.
DK: In the air raid shelter.
SS: Oh yes. And if there was an air raid warning during school time they used to ring the bell six times.
DK: Right.
SS: And if it rung six times. Beep. Beep. Beep. That was meant we had to line up at the door and then walk down. No running. No running. No talking. Into the air raid shelter. And one class would be one side.
DK: Right.
SS: Or one half of the shelter. And the other class would be in the other half.
DK: Yeah.
SS: And the teachers at the door.
DK: So after the bombing of London and the Battle of Britain do you remember much about the war after that period?
SS: Oh yes. I mean, it was, it was my, our life. I mean it was just growing up.
DK: Yeah.
SS: And our life. We accepted it as war.
DK: Yeah.
SS: We didn’t, we didn’t know why but —
DK: Can you recall seeing our planes flying out to Germany?
SS: Oh, yes. Oh, yes. Lots of them. And we used to be aircraft recognition. I was quite good at it then.
DK: Yes.
SS: But I couldn’t remember now.
DK: Yeah.
SS: But oh, the Spit, or the bombers going over.
DK: Yeah.
SS: And the Spit, and the Spitfires, you know.
DK: Yeah.
SS: Or whatever accompanied. The Hurricanes or whatever accompanying them out anyhow. I don’t know how they went but —
DK: And was it quite a sight to see then?
SS: Oh was it? Was it, yes.
DK: The planes going over.
SS: Yes. Well, hundreds of them just going over and over and over and I thought oh, you know, those men.
DK: So, and can you remember the war ending and how you felt about that? I know you’d have only been a child but —
SS: That was wonderful because we had street shelters in those days. They built these street shelters. My mother wouldn’t go in to the them.
DK: Yeah.
SS: But, and I wasn’t, and all the children were most of the children anyhow used to love to go up lamp posts and on to the top of the shelters. I wasn’t allowed to. But VE Day. I, well first of all let’s do the landing.
DK: The D-Day.
SS: At D-Day.
DK: D-Day. Yes. I’m jumping ahead a bit, aren’t I?
SS: Yes.
DK: Yeah.
SS: I came home. We used to come home for lunch you see.
DK: Right.
SS: School dinners were only just coming in and we used to have to eat them in the classroom if we, so I came home to dinner and walked home. And my mother came and greeted me at the door. She said, ‘We’ve landed in France. We’ve landed in France.’
DK: Yeah.
SS: VE day. She was so pleased. So excited about it.
DK: So how would she have known? Would she have heard that on the radio then?
SS: She heard it on the radio.
DK: Yeah.
SS: Yes. And then VJ Day. Well, we sort of knew it was coming. We knew it was coming but we didn’t know when.
DK: And after D-Day do you remember the Doodlebugs? And the —
SS: Oh yes.
DK: Yeah.
SS: And the V-1s.
DK: V-2s.
SS: V-2s
DK: Yeah. Rockets.
SS: My mother reckoned she saw a V-2. She was opening the curtains in the morning and she saw this thing come down like that. Ever so fast and then this loud bang.
DK: Yeah.
SS: And she reckoned she saw it.
DK: She saw it. Yeah. And do you remember the Doodlebugs as well?
SS: Oh, do I? Yeah.
DK: The noise they made.
SS: Frightening. That was frightening.
DK: Yeah.
SS: Because when it stopped you didn’t know where it was going to land.
DK: And did any land near to your house at all?
SS: Not to my house. No.
DK: Right.
SS: But over the railway. There was a railway line in between. Over the railway line there was. And oh that silence. Oh. We were so frightened. It was the silence that really frightened us. It wasn’t the Doodlebug. The noise of the Doodlebug.
DK: Yeah. Yeah.
SS: It was really frightening.
DK: Just waiting for the explosion.
SS: Yes.
DK: Yeah.
SS: Yeah. So VJ Day was a wonderful day. It really was.
DK: Or VE Day.
SS: VE Day. Yeah.
DK: VE Day. Yeah. Yeah.
SS: VE Day. And I remember VJ Day too.
DK: Oh, right. Ok.
SS: Well, VE Day I was allowed on top of the shelter. My mother let me go up. And we, the children were allowed to stay up and play and then the next day all the ration points were collected and then we, we had them all and we had the street party in our street.
DK: Right. Yeah.
SS: And all that sort of thing. And it was really, really exciting.
DK: And can —
SS: And my step sister, she was then seventeen. She went up to London to join in all the celebrations.
DK: Oh right.
SS: And she fell pregnant.
DK: Oh [laugh] oh dear. Whoops.
SS: So there was a shot gun marriage later on.
DK: Right. [laughs] Ok. Ok. These things happen.
SS: They do. Yes.
DK: Obviously celebrating too much.
SS: But as a child I would go out to play in the summer holidays and things like that and nobody worried about me. And we’d all come home to dinner and I mean the Americans and everything but we didn’t worry about strange men or anything like that.
DK: No.
SS: It never occurred to anybody.
DK: So even though there was this potential danger as a child of bombs and everything you did have more —
SS: Yes. Well, if there was an air raid we’d run home.
DK: Yeah.
SS: And that’s it.
DK: But despite that you think you had more freedoms then.
SS: Oh, we had more freedom, yes. Well, there wasn’t, no cars on the road hardly or anything like that because petrol was rationed.
DK: Yeah. So do you remember the Americans then?
SS: Oh yes. I remember the Yanks.
DK: And what did you think of them?
SS: Oh, well they were over here.
DK: Yeah.
SS: Yes, and yes if you got friendly with a Yank you could get chewing gum and my step sister got nylons and things like that.
DK: Right.
SS: That’s how, I think that’s how she got pregnant.
DK: [laughs] Was he an American then, was he? Or —
SS: I think so, yes.
DK: Yeah. Right. Ok.
SS: Yeah.
DK: Yeah. Ok. So, so the wars ended then and how old would you have been in 1945?
SS: Ten.
DK: Ten. Ok.
SS: Ten going on, just going on to eleven.
DK: Right. So, you’ve, you’ve experienced and you say that that then drove you then to the nursing side of things. Is that what you wanted to do?
SS: Yes. With the Air Force.
DK: Yeah.
SS: I was going to do something for the Air Force.
DK: Right.
SS: When I grew up.
DK: Right.
SS: And I carried that all the way through my childhood, adolescence and that sort of thing.
DK: So you qualified as a nurse first.
SS: I qualified as a nurse.
DK: Yeah. So how many years did that take?
SS: Well, that took, well I did two years orthopaedic nursing.
DK: Right.
SS: And I was an orthopaedic trained nurse. And then I went and did two years general training. But I didn’t do the midwifery part of it.
DK: Right.
SS: I joined the Air Force. I thought I’d join the Air Force.
DK: And your training. Was that under the NHS?
SS: Yes.
DK: So you’d have been one of the very early nurses.
SS: Yes.
DK: In the NHS then.
SS: Yes.
DK: So what year are we talking about now? Roughly.
SS: We’re talking of ‘51 I joined the nursing.
DK: 1951. So, not, not —
SS: As a nurse. As —
DK: Not long after. Not long after the —
SS: That’s when I did my training. Started my training.
DK: Right.
SS: ’51.
DK: And do you, you joined the Air Force in nineteen fifty —
SS: ’56.
DK: ’56. Right. And how many years were you in the Air Force then?
SS: Four years. Four years short term commission.
DK: Right. So can you just say a little bit about what you did as a nurse in the Air Force then?
SS: Yes, well —
DK: What your duties were.
SS: Well, first of all I went to Halton. Oh, it was a lovely place Halton then. It was countryside and it was lovely. And there we learned the basics of the Air Force. We learned how to march. That was a laugh to see. The poor flight sergeant trying to teach us how to march. And then, then on the wards we, the matron was [pause] I can’t remember her name now. Sorry. I can’t remember them. I’m not good at remembering now.
DK: Would her name be down in your recollection there?
SS: No. Not the names. No.
DK: No. No.
SS: No. Because you see since I’ve come here I’ve had sepsis and it affected my memory.
DK: Ok.
SS: So it is a shame really.
DK: Yeah.
SS: But it wasn’t.
DK: What was, what was the matron like then? Were they quite stern ladies?
SS: Yes. Well, they were group. Group officers.
DK: Right.
SS: And they were. They were quite nice. It was the CO’s inspections that I remember especially.
DK: So you actually held a rank in the RAF.
SS: I did. I was, I was a flying officer.
DK: Flying officer. Right. Ok.
SS: Yes.
DK: And, and were all the nurses flying officers then?
SS: Those that joined. But further then you became a flight officer.
DK: Right.
SS: And then you became a group officer.
DK: Right.
SS: And now it’s Group captain. You see.
DK: Because presumably then was it the Women’s Royal Air Force then or the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force?
SS: Princess Mary’s Royal Air Force Nursing Service.
DK: Right. Ok. Ok. So, it’s like slightly different.
DK: Right.
SS: And anyhow, Halton was lovely where we did our basic training. And then I was posted to Nocton Hall. Nocton Hall was lovely. It had been a Royal, an American Air Force base hospital.
DK: Right.
SS: And it was all hutted wards and things like that.
DK: Right.
SS: And it was, Nocton Hall I did enjoy. At Nocton Hall I used to nurse. And one of the patients I nursed was Bobby Moore.
DK: Oh right.
SS: He was SAC Bobby Moore.
DK: Yeah.
SS: Robert Moore. And he’d hurt his knee playing football.
DK: Oh dear. It didn’t end his career though, did it?
SS: No. It didn’t, did it? [laughs] No.
DK: So do you remember much about him then do you?
SS: Not an awful lot.
DK: No.
SS: Except he was a very nice cheerful chappie.
DK: Yeah.
SS: In fact it was great fun nursing with the Air Force because they were all young men you see.
DK: Yeah.
SS: And they were all fit apart from knees or strains or something.
DK: Did you deal with any injured aircrew at all?
SS: Oh, yes. Yes.
DK: Do you know what they had?
SS: And one man he baled out at, I don’t know at a thousand feet. Something. More. And his parachute didn’t open. And he was alive with practically every bone broken.
DK: Oh,
SS: But he died soon after admission.
DK: Oh dear.
SS: Fancy getting [pause] it was awful.
DK: Yeah.
SS: And but mostly it was either flu or something. We had the bad flu epidemic when I was at Nocton Hall.
DK: Right.
SS: It was a very bad one. And we had one young man. Airman. He was flown in from Scotland to us and they tried to keep him alive and I was on night duty and his wife was on the way with, and she’d got a two year old and he died ten minutes before she arrived.
DK: Oh dear. Yeah.
SS: Yes. That sort of thing.
DK: Yeah.
SS: But mostly I mean we, I nursed some Australians. ANZACs and things like that.
DK: Did, did you get posted abroad at all?
SS: Yes. Then after Nocton Hall. Oh, I must tell you about the fire escape because Nocton Hall has burned down, hasn’t it?
DK: Right ok.
SS: It has.
DK: Yeah. Yeah.
SS: And it was a lovely. We were in the actual hall which Ann Boleyn apparently had had and we shared rooms and there was just one big main staircase so fire escapes. And the fire escape that I should have had would have been in the bathroom with a rope. I had to let myself down on a rope [laughs] so I’m glad about that. I must have a drink.
DK: So you never had to use it then.
SS: No.
DK: So did you get on well with your fellow nurses then? Was it —
SS: Oh yes.
DK: Was there a lot of comeraderie?
SS: Yes. And the officers because we messed with the officers but we had our own separate quarters.
DK: Right. And what did you do in your time off? Where did you sort of socialise and —
SS: Oh yes. That sort of thing. Yes.
DK: Where did you go in your time off?
SS: Well, I mean we used to go to the, officers used to take us to Cranwell for certain events and things like that, or we went to Glyndebourne.
DK: Yeah.
SS: Oh, you know it was very nice. I was once the library officer.
DK: Right.
SS: I think it was Nocton Hall that I was at and I was library, in charge of the library in the mess and I introduced them to Ian Fleming.
DK: Oh yes.
SS: And 007.
DK: Yeah. Yeah.
SS: They were just coming out. Those books.
DK: Oh right.
SS: And they were very, I really enjoyed that.
DK: So about this time then you you’ve met your husband then.
SS: No. No.
DK: Oh.
SS: I didn’t meet him until I was in Germany.
DK: Ah right. Can you say a little about what happened while you were in Germany then?
SS: Yes. Well, we went over on a troop ship to the continent and the troop ship was fogbound and so it didn’t dock. We were supposed to have breakfast on the train you see. So lunchtime came and we hadn’t had anything to eat. And so they had to open the emergency rations.
DK: Yeah.
SS: And we had hardtack and bully beef. And then it was later on in the afternoon when it finally had docked.
DK: Yeah. Can you remember where you docked now then?
SS: Yeah. Hook of Holland.
DK: Right. Ok. And where abouts were you based in Germany?
SS: Wegberg. I don’t know if you, well first of all I went to Rostrup.
DK: Right.
SS: Rostrup was, I don’t know it seemed to be a new hospital to me. But we had to close it, and all the things that couldn’t be transported were bulldozed.
DK: Oh right.
SS: And there was Germany bombed to the ground. In need of things.
DK: Yeah.
SS: And surgical things and all that sort of things and houses.
DK: Yeah. Yeah.
SS: So all the married quarters were bulldozed.
DK: Yeah.
SS: But because they were our, still our enemy.
DK: Yeah.
SS: We did —
DK: Did, did you get to meet many Germans while you were out there?
SS: Yes.
DK: And —
SS: And German, we used to have German civilian patients sometimes.
DK: And what were your feelings then because you’d not long gone through a war and now your meeting them presumably for the first time. Was there any bitterness? Or —
SS: Not with us nurses.
DK: No.
SS: No.
DK: Did you feel any bitterness towards them at all or —
SS: No.
DK: No.
SS: We used to think it was most unfair because we were still on ration and there were these fat Deutsch fraus in these [laughs] in these cake shops eating cake with cream on. Cream cakes with extra cream on.
DK: So they didn’t have any rationing then? Or —
SS: Didn’t seem to have. I don’t know whether they had but [laughs]
DK: So the only bitterness was the fact they were getting cake and you weren’t [laughs]
SS: No [laughs]
DK: Ok.
SS: [laughs] Yes.
DK: So —
SS: But it was the time then of the Berlin blockade.
DK: Right.
SS: They were, I mean they were even by air transporting coal to Germans.
DK: Yeah.
SS: The West Germans.
DK: Did you get to Berlin at all? Or —
SS: Yes. I did.
DK: Right. So —
SS: Once. I went with a friend in her car.
DK: Right.
SS: We had to get special. All sorts of special permissions and things like that.
DK: Yeah.
SS: And we had to drive through West, East Berlin to —
DK: Yeah. East Germany.
SS: East Germany.
DK: Yeah.
SS: To get to Berlin.
DK: Yeah. The Soviet area.
SS: Without stopping.
DK: Oh right.
SS: If we’d stopped we would have been arrested.
DK: Right.
SS: So we had to go without stopping. And when we got there it was wintertime and there was forty, forty degrees of frost one day and everything was frozen.
DK: Yeah. So what was Berlin like in the, this would be the mid-1950s, wasn’t it?
SS: Yes. That’s right.
DK: Was it, was it being rebuilt then or —
SS: Oh yeah.
DK: Was there still a lot of damage there or —
SS: There was quite a bit of damage.
DK: Yeah.
SS: But we, I didn’t go on the U-bahn trains because I hadn’t got a pass into, behind the Berlin Wall.
DK: Right. Yeah.
SS: So we had to go, you know stay our side of it.
DK: Yes. Yeah.
SS: Yes.
DK: So how long were you in Germany for then?
SS: Two years.
DK: Right.
SS: And then I went. Wegberg was lovely because it was from, from Rostrup we went to Wegberg. And Wegberg was lovely because it was near the Second Tactical Air Force Headquarters.
DK: Oh right.
SS: And the Americans.
DK: Yeah.
SS: You know what Americans are like. They had a cinema. They had a swimming pool.
DK: Yeah.
SS: And they had all sorts of dos and that sort of thing which we were allowed to go to.
DK: Right.
SS: I was allowed to swim in the swimming pool and that’s where I got that little trophy. That little one on the side there [pause] That little dish. No.
DK: Oh that. Oh that one. Sorry.
SS: Yeah.
DK: Yeah. Oh. Oh right. So it’s RAF Germany 1959. Women’s Royal Air Force Relay.
SS: Yes. And I did the backstroke. And when I got back to the mess —
DK: That is a swimming, swimming trophy then.
SS: Yes. All these WAAF. Strapping WAAFs we were and three of us nurses, and we got that.
DK: So just for the recording then it’s a —
SS: Yes.
DK: Brass swimming trophy.
SS: Yes.
DK: And it’s got —
SS: Yes.
DK: The crest of the Second Tactical Air Force on it.
SS: Yes. Of course they were this —
DK: 1959.
SS: The nurses and that were listening on the radio. On the radio. Local radio. Their radio. RAF radio about this swimming gala you know. And when I got back over my door in the mess was this lavatory paper and it said, ‘Backstroke Syd, Wonder kid.’ [laughs] That was the sort of friendship we had, you see.
DK: Yeah. Yeah.
SS: Yeah.
DK: And at this point you’d met your husband then have you or —
SS: Yes. He was corresponding with me.
DK: Right. Ok. And he was in the police force at this time.
SS: Yes, that’s right. Yes.
DK: So, he was in the Metropolitan Police.
SS: Yes. He was. Yes. And you see, my brother, my young brother he was a policeman. He was a training policeman and his, this sergeant, he said you know he hadn’t got a girlfriend. He pricked up his ears and he said, ‘Well, my sister’s in Germany. She said she’d like a penfriend. Would you be a friend? A pen friend.’ And that’s how we got. He started writing and then, and we corresponded and when I came home on leave he said, you know we became quite good friends. I went back again and [pause] yes. He proposed before I went back.
DK: Right. Ok.
SS: He said would I marry him? And I said, ‘Well, I’ll see.’ I couldn’t make up my mind because I didn’t really want to leave the Air Force.
DK: No.
SS: But —
DK: And before I put the recording on your said that once you married you had to leave the Air Force then.
SS: Yes.
DK: Yeah
SS: That was the end of my time in the Air Force.
DK: Yeah. So, so you had to make a choice then of whether you got married.
SS: Yes. That’s right.
DK: Or stayed in the Air Force.
SS: Yes.
DK: And as you say you would have like to stayed in the Air Force then.
SS: Oh yes. I would. Yes.
DK: That’s —
SS: Yeah.
DK: Very unfortunate. That wouldn’t happen now though would it?
SS: Oh, no. We had to go to the European Court for them to get it.
DK: Yeah. Yeah. No. It seems, seems —
SS: And it, I walked, I go to the Aircrew Association because —
DK: Right.
SS: I did one casevac. I did a casevac.
DK: Oh right. Ok.
SS: Yes. It was a child and he’d had his tonsils out but he was still complaining of pain and his tonsils regrew. He had cancer of the tonsils.
DK: Oh.
SS: And we flew him out.
DK: Yeah.
SS: And we went in an Anson.
DK: Right.
SS: And there was thunderstorms all over Europe and we went up and it was lovely to go up in the plane and see these lovely clouds and that sort of thing all shining.
DK: So, he was, he was evacuated out of Germany was he?
SS: Yes.
DK: And where did you fly to then?
SS: We fly to, oh we fly to Northolt.
DK: Oh, ok. So he was evacuated.
SS: Yes. We went to a London hospital.
DK: Right.
SS: Yeah.
DK: So he was German was he? The child.
SS: No. No. The child was families.
DK: Oh right.
SS: Yes.
DK: So he was a British child in Wegberg.
SS: Yes
DK: A service family then.
SS: Yes.
DK: And you flew in an Anson to Northolt.
SS: Yes.
DK: Oh right. Was that the only emergency flight you had to do?
SS: I did one other but that was only a short flight.
DK: Right.
SS: Yes.
DK: So in the Air Force then did you get much opportunity to actually fly apart from those two?
SS: No. I didn’t.
DK: No.
SS: No. No. No. So, but I did enjoy it in the Air Force.
DK: So looking back then did you stay in touch with some of your nurse colleagues?
SS: I did for a time.
DK: Yeah.
SS: But I mean over the years.
DK: Yeah.
SS: Sixty, well nearly sixty years ago.
DK: And how do you look back on your time in the Air Force?
SS: Oh, I loved it.
DK: Yeah.
SS: I loved it. And do you know occasionally I do dream and I dream that I’ve been called back again but I haven’t got my uniform because I gave my unform to the Hendon Museum.
DK: Oh. Ok.
SS: The museum. They hadn’t got a nurses uniform.
DK: Oh right.
SS: So, I gave them my uniform.
DK: Do you know if it’s on display there at all?
SS: It was on display. I saw it years ago.
DK: Oh right.
SS: Whether it’s still there or not.
DK: Well, the next time I’m there I’ll see if it’s, if it’s there.
SS: Yes. Well, they’ve still got it anyhow.
DK: Yeah.
SS: Yes.
DK: Ok then. That’s marvellous. Thanks for your time. As we got to the end of your Air Force career I think that’s probably the best time.
SS: Yes.
DK: To stop the recording if that’s ok. But thanks very much for that. That’s been very interesting.
SS: Well, it was interesting —



David Kavanagh, “Interview with Sydney Smith,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed March 2, 2024,

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