Interview with Eileen Widdowson

Title

Interview with Eileen Widdowson

Description

Born in Peterborough, Eileen Widdowson’s father died when she was quite young, which resulted in the family moving to Grantham. With the East Coast main railway line and also a munitions factory, Grantham was a regular target for the Luftwaffe. Eileen recalls life at school, describes being told to sit under desks or sitting in the cloakroom with her coat over her head during air raids. On one occasion she had been collected from school by her mother and they had become trapped in a street when a brewers dray horse had bolted, blocking their exit. She recalls looking up at the diving aircraft, and being close enough to be be able to see the pilot’s eyes through his goggles. Workers from all over the country came to work at the munitions factory, and Eileen remembers sleeping three to a bed, to allow workers to be billeted in the spare bedroom. She collected rose hips and watercress to be sold, with profits being donated to the Red Cross. Grantham was a social destination for the many nearby airfields, and although there was little trouble with personnel, she does recall how white and black Americans would often fight, her first experience of racial discrimination. Before marrying, her husband had enlisted in the Royal Engineers after the war and was stationed in Berlin during the Berlin Airlift, working on the airfields. Two of her daughters later joined the RAF. Eileen gives accounts of the experiences of all three, including one of her daughter’s rejoining the RAF after a change in legislation, initially being forced to leave when becoming pregnant.

Creator

Date

2018-07-31

Language

Type

Format

00:58:55 audio recording

Publisher

IBCC Digital Archive

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.

Identifier

AWiddowsonFE180731, PWiddowsonFE1801

Transcription

DK: So, this is David Kavanagh for the International Bomber Command Centre interviewing Mrs Eileen Widdowson on the 31st of July 2018 at her home. It is 2018, isn’t it?
EW: It is 2018. Yes.
DK: I was going to stop. I was going to say nineteen. Anyway, I’ll leave that on there.
EW: On there. Ok. So I’ll just talk to you.
DK: Just talk normally.
EW: Yeah.
DK: It’s catching you there. So if I keep looking over I’m just making sure it’s —
EW: It’s still going.
DK: It’s still going. Yeah. So —
EW: Well, I was born —
DK: Yeah.
EW: In 1932. In Peterborough actually. I have a sister who is two years older than me which makes her eighty eight and we’re both still going strong at the moment.
DK: Good.
EW: And so of course living at Peterborough my father was, he died when I was seventeen months old.
DK: Oh no.
EW: And so my mother came to live in Grantham because she had an older brother here who had a shop and I think she, she didn’t get on with my aunt over there so I think she escaped really more than anything. And of course my grandmother had a bungalow at Snettisham. On the beach in Norfolk. On the day that the war was declared we were there and panic set in I think. I mean I wasn’t really aware what was going on then but in hindsight it was panic because I think everyone thought it’s going to start now.
DK: Yeah.
EW: You know. And so everybody packed up and we all came home and I can remember walking up our road and a lot of the people were out on the outside on the front. You know, talking about what was going to happen.
DK: Yeah.
EW: And all the rest of it. And I can remember people talking about bombs and things to my mother and I thought well I don’t know what a bomb is, you know so I suppose it’s nothing really. You know. It’s just something. And I just forgot about it. I don’t remember being scared or anything because obviously I didn’t know what a bomb was going to do.
DK: Yeah.
EW: However, we soon found out because my mother lived right almost one street away from the railway station here which is of course is the main line north to south. And so, and my school was at the top of our road which was, you went down some steps to the, to the station so it was very close to, to the station. And the first thing I can remember about going to school after the war was declared was that the teachers said we had to ask our parents if they had any net curtains. Old net curtains. And I thought well I wonder what they want old net curtains for. You know. But I soon found out because we had to cut them into squares and they pasted them on the windows.
DK: Yeah. Yeah.
EW: Of the school.
DK: Yeah.
EW: To stop the blast.
DK: Yeah.
EW: But of course then of course what happens to the kids when there’s a raid because there were no shelters. Nothing like that at the time. So when, the teacher said, ‘When the siren goes you will have to get under your desks.’ And we thought oh great. That’s really safe. You know. We never thought about how ridiculous it was.
DK: Yeah. Yeah.
EW: You know, you just didn’t.
DK: It was, did it seem looking back on it as a child a bit of an adventure then?
EW: Well, it did then.
DK: Yeah.
EW: Because we hadn’t really had any sign of bombing or anything in the first year because it was just you know —
DK: The Phoney War.
EW: Phoney War. Yes. And then she said that when the siren used to go and then you had time to get, hopefully to get to a shelter but then the three pips would go and that meant that the planes were overhead.
DK: Yeah.
EW: And you just had to hope that they weren’t going to hit you.
DK: Yeah.
EW: Because it was too late then to run for a shelter.
DK: Just for the recording can you remember the name of your school?
EW: Yes. It was Spitalgate School.
DK: Spitalgate School. Right.
EW: And it was up near St John’s Church, which —
DK: Ok.
EW: Is dead opposite, almost opposite the railway station.
DK: Yeah.
EW: You just went down some steps.
DK: Yeah.
EW: And the first sort of thing that I can remember about doing all this was that eventually the siren did go and unfortunately [laughs] it was a raid and so she said we all had to go into the cloakroom and put coats over our heads. And I mean it isn’t until you grow up when you realise how ridiculous these things were.
DK: Yeah. Yeah.
EW: Because all that you wouldn’t see was the bullets coming through the roof.
DK: Yeah.
EW: And he, so that was my first experience of what was going to happen. And fortunately they, they didn’t hit the school.
DK: Can you, do you remember seeing the aircraft themselves?
EW: Oh yes. Yes.
DK: Yeah.
EW: This was the story that I told this young lady. That’s why she —
DK: Yeah.
EW: She thought you’d like to know. Because of the raids, the severity of some of the raids because as you know Grantham was surrounded by airfields.
DK: Yes. Yes.
EW: And also we had a big munition factory at Marcos. British Marcos. And they were making ammunition and guns and all sorts of things.
DK: Yeah.
EW: And it, obviously it was a good place to get rid of, if you like.
DK: Yeah.
EW: As far as the Germans were concerned. But having said that we, the teachers had said to the parents if there is a raid and it’s a real, real one, you know.
DK: Yeah.
EW: Not just a make believe one. They said, ‘Would you come to the school and fetch your children if you live near enough to get there.’ Kind of before the three pips went, you know. Well, of course we lived, we had to come up my street here and go through another street called Fletcher Street and then turn and go up Norton Street to the school. But what had happened was that in the old days they used to deliver beer at the pubs on a horse and dray. Well, the horses were big shire horses and so what they used to do they used to tether the Shire horse at the back of the cart so it couldn’t bolt. But the horse was dancing around with the noise and pulled the cart across the street. So my mother in the meantime had come to fetch me and we were running down and that’s what scared me really. My mother never ran anywhere —
DK: Yeah.
EW: Because she was forty four before she had me so she was quite an elderly mother and I thought I wonder why she’s running. And of course then I turned around and I looked at this plane and it was dive bombing down Norton Street. And I could see him. I looked into his eyes. He’d got goggles and a leather helmet and it was one of the black planes with the white, you know.
DK: Swastikas.
EW: Thing on. Yeah.
DK: Yeah. The iron cross.
EW: Well. The iron cross. Yeah.
DK: Yeah. Yeah. The black cross.
EW: And I sort of looked up at him and I don’t, I can’t remember being terrified but I thought, I wonder why he’s coming down here you know. It was a child’s perception.
DK: Yes.
EW: Of not knowing what could happen to you. But in, after this.
DK: I don’t suppose you —
EW: I realised.
DK: I don’t suppose you realised at the time as a child the real danger you were in.
EW: No. No. Because afterwards, you know many years afterwards I heard that some of the more Nazi orientated pilots would shoot people running in —
DK: Yeah.
EW: Especially in London, to the, to the shelters. And so I suppose basically my mum and I were very lucky but it was, so he came dive bombing down and of course we couldn’t get through the small street that we had to go through to get home because this horse had pulled the cart across.
DK: Yeah.
EW: And so my mother pulled me up and she pushed me into a, as we, ginnels or what passageways to somebody’s house and she went and knocked on the door and this lady let us in.
DK: Yeah.
EW: But after that I’m not sure quite where he went but I think he had, he had machine gunned the school roof.
DK: Right.
EW: And why I don’t know because he could have seen there were playgrounds laid out. So why he didn’t shoot me and my mum I don’t know.
DK: Yeah.
EW: But he could have done if he’d wanted to. And it was, it was all sort of over in a flash, you know and he went up to bomb Marcos I think as well because he did drop a bomb in the station goods yard. The Germans never actually hit the target here.
DK: Right.
EW: They always missed. Fortunately for some people but unfortunate for others. And once he’d gone my mum waited until they’d untethered this horse because I think I’d rather face a German plane than a horse’s hoof like that size.
DK: No.
EW: Because they’re very, very big.
DK: Yeah.
EW: Those horses. And anyhow, we managed to get home and afterwards you know I’ve thought about it so many times and I’ve thought well at least I was lucky that I’m still here.
DK: Yeah.
EW: And I said to all my children if it hadn’t have been that that pilot had probably got a conscience I wouldn’t have been here and neither would any of my children.
DK: Could you hear his guns firing at all? Or —
EW: We heard them in the school when we were in school.
DK: Yeah.
EW: But you see my mother came to fetch me.
DK: Yeah. But not during this incident then.
EW: Not. No.
DK: No.
EW: Because he was dive bombing down the street. It all happened in a moment really.
DK: In a flash. Yeah.
EW: And I just turned. I don’t know whether it’s because I looked at him I don’t know.
DK: He just didn’t. Didn’t fire.
EW: He just didn’t and so he went up to Marcos. Now, I can’t —
DK: So Marcos is the armaments —
EW: Marcos is the armaments factory.
DK: Do you know whereabouts that was?
EW: Yes. It’s on Springfield Road.
Dk: Springfield Road, right.
EW: But it’s all be knocked down now.
DK: Ok.
EW: It’s a housing estate.
DK: Right. Ok.
EW: As all. But it was strange because you always knew when they were testing the guns they’d made.
DK: Right.
EW: Because they had gun tunnels.
DK: Oh right.
EW: Underneath the ground. And every day you could hear this rat a tat, rat a tat and they were testing the guns under there.
DK: Right.
EW: Now, whether the underground things are still there I don’t know but it’s definitely all gone.
DK: Yeah. A housing estate now.
EW: Yes. It’s all gone. Well, the reason it’s gone is because Steel World took it, which was a Swedish firm.
DK: Right.
EW: And unfortunately when we had the Argentinian War for the Falklands.
DK: Yeah.
EW: They found out that that firm had been selling arms to Argentina.
DK: Argentina. Right.
EW: So it was our guns made in Grantham that was killing our soldiers. Our people. Yes.
DK: The Argentines were using — yes.
EW: So that was closed down and you know finished. So that was the end of that sort of thing.
DK: So the housing estate then is, is fairly recent. Since the eighties.
EW: Yes. Yes. Oh absolutely.
DK: Yes.
EW: Yes. Very. I should think the houses there are about eight or nine years old.
DK: Oh right. Right. So, fairly recent.
EW: Yeah. They’re not. Yes, fairly recent.
DK: Yeah.
EW: And, because Marcos was a place where all the women met their husbands.
DK: Right.
EW: Because there was a huge dance hall there and everybody, all the kids went from here. The youngsters you know they met their husbands and a lot of the girls married in to the American side of things.
DK: Yeah.
EW: When they came over.
DK: So Marcos then was a big employer here.
EW: Yes.
DK: Yeah.
EW: Absolutely.
DK: Yeah.
EW: Yes. And Dennis Kendall who was a member of parliament he owned it but as I say he sold it. Well, he left and of course after the war it was sold but it was just sad that these guns were killing our RAF lads.
DK: Yeah.
EW: But as I say that was one incident and —
DK: Just going back to that incident then with this plane flying down the street.
EW: Yeah.
DK: Can you remember anything that your mother said when you got home? Was it, was there anything?
EW: Well —
DK: Was she a bit shaken?
EW: Very shaken. But my mother was a Victorian lady. She was born in 1888 believe it or not.
DK: Right.
EW: And she was always I didn’t realise she was an old lady until I grew a bit older and I realised that you know my mother wasn’t the same age as the mum’s meeting the children from the school at the same time.
EW: Right.
DK: But having said that you know she, but she did have a really bad nervous breakdown after the war ended.
DK: Really.
EW: Because, partly because you if you had a spare bedroom or you could all bunk in to one bed you had to let the room go because they were bringing people in.
DK: Yeah.
EW: To the munition factory from all over the country. To work in the munition factory at Marcos. And of course auxiliary firemen. They were brought in as well to, you know. And so because my mother had to, we all had to sleep three of us to a bed because she had to give up her front bedroom.
DK: Yeah.
EW: For, and we had two or three girls came from up north. Newcastle way. They were working at British Marcos. And then after they left we had a gentleman from Nottingham. He was in the Auxiliary Fire Service.
DK: Right.
EW: And then he got posted somewhere else. And then we had two soldiers billeted for a short time. One was a Scottish lad and the other one was for Newcastle. And I don’t know what health and safety would have felt about all this because as children they had to muster at St Johns Church Hall which was at the top of the steps down to the railway station just where our school was. And that’s where they had to muster. And of course they all had guns and things. They were going off to France or somewhere.
DK: Yeah.
EW: And they used to let us carry their guns for them [laughs] I can, I can always remember trudging up the road with this gun on my shoulder, you know. And I think, you know health and safety would have a fit now wouldn’t they?
DK: They probably would.
EW: And they gave us sixpence each you see.
DK: Yeah.
EW: For carrying the guns.
DK: Yeah. Yeah.
EW: But sadly, after the war ended Mac, who was the chappie from Newcastle he became a long distance lorry driver and he called in on us one day to tell us that Mac, not Mac the other lad. I can’t remember his name.
DK: Yeah. Yeah.
EW: But he didn’t make it.
DK: Oh.
EW: He never came back so —
DK: He was killed in Europe then.
EW: Yes.
DK: Yeah.
EW: Yes. And so that was one thing. But another point was that we used to go out collecting ‘hips. Rosehips. Picking rosehips because you could take them to a central point and they’d give you so much a pint for these. And they used to make rosehip syrup for the babies.
DK: Right.
EW: Because orange juice was unobtainable and of course they needed vitamin C.
DK: Right.
EW: So that was the only way they could do it. So we used to collect those and we also, my sister and I it’s hard to believe now because I don’t think there are any streams around here that are healthy.
DK: Yeah.
EW: But there was one that was kind of. It was up Harlaxton Road which is on the road to Melton Mowbray. And they, there was a stream there and there was watercress growing in it. And my sister and I used to go and pick it and bunch it and sell it for the Red Cross.
DK: Right.
EW: And of course we were all saving for aeroplanes and all sorts. You know. There were big target things on the Guildhall with the picture of a Spitfire. You know, you were making money to buy them.
DK: This was the Spitfire Fund.
EW: Yeah.
DK: The Spitfire Fund. Yeah.
EW: And so those sort of things we did. And collect newspapers. And another thing I remember, I think the worst thing I remember about saving stuff was that we had pigswill bins at the top of the street.
DK: Right.
EW: Well, the stench sometimes was disgusting and they used to come and collect it about every other day you know. And all this waste food went off. I felt sorry for the pigs actually. But I suppose they boiled it down.
DK: Yeah.
EW: But that, that and when the pig swill lorry had been oh God it’s, the smell lingered forever you know in the street. And they did, when the war first started they came around collecting any old aluminium saucepans you’d got or —
DK: Yeah. Yeah.
EW: And they, I mean St Wulfram’s Church, the big church you know that was all railings all around it and of course they cut all those down. Everybody’s metal gates went.
DK: Yes. Yeah.
EW: All the fences. Everything was melted down, you know.
DK: Yeah.
EW: Because really —
DK: Allegedly.
EW: We were totally, yes. Supposedly.
DK: Because they said it was the wrong type of metal apparently. So —
EW: Oh. Did they?
DK: Allegedly, it’s gone, it’s down a mine in Wales.
EW: Oh, is it. Oh, my God.
DK: All the saucepans and things.
EW: What a shame.
DK: Tell the story again.
EW: Yeah. Well, I don’t know about that, I suppose that’s —
DK: I don’t know if it’s true or not.
EW: Well, lots don’t know a lot of things happen like that because they didn’t really know.
DK: Yeah. It was a propaganda thing, wasn’t it?
EW: Yes.
DK: To make you feel involved.
EW: That’s right. Yeah.
DK: Yeah.
EW: I can remember the man coming around and teaching you how to work at a stirrup pump.
DK: Right.
EW: You know they used to put one end in the bucket of water.
DK: Yeah.
EW: And you sort of pump this thing up and down and it was supposed to, I don’t think it would have put anything out but —
DK: No. Can you remember much of the damage around Grantham?
EW: Oh, I can, I’ve got a book actually.
DK: Yeah.
EW: Which you can see.
DK: Oh right. That’s Grantham’s war years.
EW: It’s very difficult to get it now. It’s out of print.
DK: So, just for the recording it’s, “Grantham. The War Years. 1939 -45.”
EW: That’s right.
DK: “A pictorial insight.” by Malcolm G Knapp.
EW: Yes.
DK: Right.
EW: If I see another one I’ll buy one and —
DK: Yeah.
EW: Donate it to them. Yeah.
DK: I’d like a copy of that. I’ll look out for it myself.
EW: Yes.
DK: See if I can get a hold, get a hold of a copy.
EW: You mostly find them in charity shops.
DK: Yeah.
EW: Because when people die, people take all their belongings in.
DK: Yeah.
EW: And that’s [pause] but as I say oh and I can, another thing I remember is Gracie Fields came —
DK: Oh yeah.
EW: To Grantham. And she was, there was on the High Street we had a huge water tank which was a reserve water tank in case they hit the water mains and that was on one side of the town green and we, I used to have to go that way to go to school.
DK: Yeah.
EW: Well, my friend and I we knew that she was coming and she, she put her head out of a hairdresser’s window across the road from the Guildhall and she was singing out of the window. And of course my friend and I, we were enthralled you know because Gracie Field was famous then you know. And we stopped and listened and of course when we got to school we were very late so we got detention. But it was worth it. And also —
DK: So there’s a Wings for Victory.
EW: That’s the one. Yes. Yes. That’s —
DK: Yeah [a picture there] Yes.
EW: Yes. That’s and that’s the Guildhall there. Yeah.
DK: So there’s quite, quite a few pictures of the damage here, isn’t there?
EW: Oh yes.
DK: The railway line in particular.
EW: Yes. Now that was another thing. The railway line. When this bomb, this plane dropped a bomb he was trying to hit the railway lines but he missed and hit the station goods yard. The bomb didn’t go off. Which is probably as well for our school otherwise —
DK: Yeah.
EW: I think it would have been very badly damaged. And needless to say they moved the school out later on. Somewhere a bit more safe.
DK: Yeah. Horses there.
EW: Yes. Yeah. Yeah. I know. Yes. They used to deliver everything with horse and dray.
DK: Yeah. Sorry. You were saying.
EW: Yes. When he dropped the bomb in this good yard as I say it didn’t go off and the next day at school, oh the chappie went in. That’s right. The chappie went in to, bomb disposal chappie went in to detonate, you know to take the —
DK: To defuse it.
EW: Defuse it.
DK: Yeah. Yeah.
EW: And sadly it did go off and killed him. And so of course the next time around at school in the playground the boys had all got, you know the little match boxes you used to get? The Bryant and May match boxes. They cut a hole through the bottom and the tray and they put a piece of cotton wool inside it and they pricked their finger to get some blood. And then they would put their finger, their thumb through this hole in to this cotton wool.
DK: Right.
EW: And then they were going around the playground saying, ‘Do you want to have a look what we found?’ You know. And it was pretty grim but I mean that’s what we did.
DK: A thumb.
EW: And I said, you know, ‘Where did you find that?’ ‘Oh, in the station goods yard.’ You know. And I mean it was a bit macabre but that’s how you lived. I mean —
DK: Yeah.
EW: As you got older, as I got older I got I was more scared because I knew what was happening. And sadly they tried to bomb St Vincent’s. I expect you’ve heard of St Vincent’s.
DK: Yes. The 5 Group Headquarters.
EW: Yes. That’s right. Well, they, they missed. Which is perhaps a good thing for for that but they hit Stuart Street and they brought most of Stuart Street down.
DK: Right.
EW: And also they hit a shelter dead on and all of the people in the shelter were killed.
DK: Oh dear.
EW: That was awful.
DK: Can you remember, you mentioned that Grantham was a centre of the RAF bases. Can you remember much about that RAF activity over and around Grantham?
EW: Yes. The RAF have always sort of been a bit more special I always think because people respect the RAF.
DK: Yeah.
EW: Quite a lot. Because it’s difficult even now to get into the Royal Air Force. You’ve got to be a bit more intelligent than most.
DK: Yeah.
EW: But having said that it was basically more the Americans that caused the bother.
DK: Right. Right.
EW: Than, than the RAF. I mean we used to see a lot of the RAF but they were never around for that long because they were on airfields outside of Grantham.
DK: Yeah. Yeah.
EW: You know.
DK: Yeah.
EW: But having said that I think the Americans did cause a lot of trouble, because they came over here and they still had this apartheid attitude.
DK: Yes.
EW: To the black Americans.
DK: Yeah.
EW: And I’m afraid a lot of the pubs in Grantham had masses of fights and things going on between the black and the white Americans.
DK: Really?
EW: Yeah. And the white Americans were horrible to them.
DK: Yeah.
EW: Even in a war they were horrible to them. And I mean if a girl in Grantham went out with a black American well it was terrible you know. These, the white Americans called them sluts and all sorts.
DK: Oh dear.
EW: But quite a lot of, of Grantham girls married American.
DK: Yeah.
EW: Airmen and soldiers.
DK: Did you personally know any that married Americans?
EW: I didn’t know them. No.
DK: No.
EW: Because I was too, really too young —
DK: Too young. Yeah.
EW: To fraternise with them.
DK: Yeah.
EW: You know.
DK: You didn’t have any neighbours that that were —
EW: Oh yeah. There was a lady. A girl, a girl called, I think her name was Eileen Dawson. She married a GI.
DK: Right.
EW: And went to America.
DK: And went to America. As a GI bride.
EW: Yes, and another, well another friend of mine, her, she was, she was, she was slightly older than me and what used to happen with some of the young girls in Grantham the young eighteen, nineteen, twenty, they had, laid buses on to take them on a Saturday night to Alconbury which was an American air base.
DK: Yes.
EW: And so this friend of mine, Jean she married a GI chappie. Well, I didn’t know at the time that he was a native Indian.
DK: Oh right.
EW: And she had a daughter with him and afterwards when the war was over she went over there to live. Presumably to live with him and when she got over to America he lived on a Reservation.
DK: Oh.
EW: And of course you can imagine that life on a Reservation was not very good.
DK: Yes. That must have been a bit of a cultural shock.
EW: Absolutely.
DK: Yeah.
EW: So of course she came back again and they were divorced. And her daughter was born stone deaf.
DK: Right.
EW: And, but she looks exactly like an Indian squaw. She does honestly. She’s a lovely girl but she does look exactly like an Indian squaw. But having said that —
DK: And is she still alive?
EW: Yes.
DK: Still here?
EW: Yes. She’s still alive. Yeah. They’re both still alive. Yes.
DK: And still living in Grantham, are they?
EW: Yes.
DK: Oh right.
EW: Well, they live, I think they lived in Gonerby which is just a little village at the top of the hill.
DK: Yes. Yeah.
EW: It’s not far away and, but do you remember when Cilla Black used to do that, “Surprise. Surprise” show.
DK: Yeah. Yeah.
EW: Well, this girl this daughter was on it.
DK: Oh right.
EW: And they arranged for her because she’d never met her father, you see. She arranged, they arranged for her to go to America to meet her father.
DK: Right.
EW: However, she only stayed about a week instead of a fortnight because she didn’t like him.
DK: Yeah.
EW: And she didn’t like the, she didn’t like where he lived.
DK: Yeah.
EW: So she came back again to Grantham but that was a shame really because you know they thought they were doing a really good thing sending her there.
DK: It’s often the way though isn’t it?
EW: It is. Very often. Yes.
DK: No doubt she had a picture of her father and it just wasn’t the same.
EW: Absolutely. And it wasn’t the same.
DK: Yeah.
EW: Well, of course it was a few years afterwards because she was, she must have been in her twenties when she went over.
DK: Right.
EW: But I don’t think she’s ever married. The girl. The daughter. But yes, I mean, and a lot and another girl who lived up near to my school she married a GI. But not all of them found it what it, what they, I mean because the lads used to embroider stories about they came from this, you know.
DK: Yeah.
EW: And they had that, and their parents were rich. And when they got their it was a different story. So a lot of them did come back but I mean some of them couldn’t afford to come back.
DK: Yeah.
EW: Because obviously they went very cheaply over there and, you know once they were married they used to get married here but a lot of the American lads used to spend time with Sheardowns, the farmers. They are sort of, well Peter Sheardown, they had a big farm sort of around the Bottesford area and they used to have, entertain these Americans and give them Sunday lunches and things you know. And even when, sometimes even now some of the American soldiers, oh they’re getting scarce now.
DK: Yeah.
EW: Because they’re all dying off but the ones that can come over and they visit them. Because I work for Cancer Research, I have done for thirty years and Mrs Sheardown works with me. So you know she was telling me all about the, her mother in law used to have all these Americans there.
DK: Yeah. Yeah.
EW: And feed them up because a lot of them were lonely obviously and they sort of came to England. It must have been a culture shock for some of them.
DK: Yeah.
EW: Because England didn’t have what they’d got. And we were short of food.
DK: Yes.
EW: Yeah.
DK: Yes.
EW: But I know sort of talking about food I, before the war I used to love pineapples. Pineapple chunks. And of course you couldn’t get them because they were bombing the, or submarining you know torpedoing the ships. And I went to this birthday party and I saw on the table this bowl which I thought was pineapple chunks. And so I took a really big bowl full because I thought oh I haven’t seen any pineapple chunks for years. And I took this big lot. Well, it was disgusting. She’d cut a marrow into cubes and put yellow colouring and pineapple flavouring in it.
DK: Oh dear. Oh dear.
EW: And it was absolutely ghastly. And that taught me a lesson I’ll tell you. Not to, not to be deceived about what you were eating in the war. It was very difficult because things weren’t quite what they seemed.
DK: Yeah.
EW: And it I had to eat it because I daren’t leave it because I’d been so greedy. Served me right. Taught me a lesson. Just check what you’re eating. But —
DK: Can you remember, going back to the Air Force again about the bombing raids of our planes going out on —
EW: Oh yes. I, I because we used to go to bed obviously and in the middle of the night mostly the siren would go and my mum used get us to go in the shelter because they built all the brick shelters down the side of, one side of the road.
DK: Yeah.
EW: And they went because our street was a hill.
DK: Right.
EW: And so they went down in you know rotation. One a bit higher than the other. And they all smelled of wet concrete and whatever else.
DK: Yeah.
EW: Somebody had been in there. And they weren’t, and they weren’t very pleasant. But I don’t know why looking back now and knowing what happened to that other shelter with all the people in it I think you were safer staying in your own house really.
DK: Yeah. Yeah. And can you remember our planes at all when they were flying out to Germany?
EW: Oh yes. Oh definitely.
DK: Yeah.
EW: And we always recognised the German planes.
DK: Right.
EW: Because I, they used to, they didn’t sound like our planes.
DK: Right.
EW: They used to chug chug chug.
DK: Yeah.
EW: That was the sort of noise they made. And you always knew when it was a German plane and when they were our planes, and I, we used to watch them sometimes going over and you’d sort of, ‘Please go over. Please don’t turn around and come back,’ you know, because you knew they were one a, they had a specific target.
DK: Target. Yeah. Yeah.
EW: You know. To hit.
DK: Yeah.
EW: But there was another story that I was told. My cousin lived in London and next door to her was a Jewish couple. And when my two oldest girl were little I used to go and stay with my cousin and the children used to go around and see who they used to call Auntie Ackerman. And her name, her husband’s name was Ackerman.
DK: Yeah.
EW: And he was obviously a Jewish man. But he was with I don’t know whether it was MI6 or MI5. Something.
DK: Oh right.
EW: The ones that used to do the spy catching.
DK: Yeah.
EW: And he said that he caught loads of spies in Grantham.
DK: Really?
EW: Because there was so much going on here with all the airfields and they knew that that raid was being planned at St Vincent’s.
DK: Yeah.
EW: So that’s how they tried. You know, they tried but unfortunately they missed. Well, fortunately for the pilots.
DK: Yeah.
EW: They missed St Vincent’s and hit Stuart Street and brought it down. It was dreadful. And killed all the people in the shelter.
DK: Yeah.
EW: And as I say they never managed to hit the railway lines.
DK: Yeah.
EW: Although they tried. But of course after this particular incident in the school, the school was moved to I think they went to a sort of an old house that was a big house.
DK: Right.
EW: That was —
DK: Requisitioned.
EW: Yes. Requisitioned for them in Grantham. But when, after we had, one night we had a terrible raid and we didn’t have time to get into the shelter because the three pips had gone. And my mother lived in a terraced house on Grantley Street which is as I say was near the station. And we used to, it was before the days when, ordinary people didn’t have refrigerators.
DK: Yeah. Yeah.
EW: And she used to have a cellar and on the, as you walked down the steps of the cellar there was a long slab. A cold slab.
DK: Yes.
EW: As they used to call it. But it was solid brick until you got to the bottom and then there was a kind of alcove like that taken out of the wall and my mum used to keep the saucepans in there originally. And so she put some blankets in there and some pillows and she shoved us in there. And when I think about it now I think we could have been a sandwich of bricks.
DK: Yeah. Yeah.
EW: But you don’t think about that until afterwards, you know.
DK: So just moving on then can you remember the war coming to an end and —
EW: Yes.
DK: And the big changes around that.
EW: Absolutely.
DK: Yeah.
EW: Yes. I was hoping that the war was going to end on the 4th of May because that was my birthday.
DK: Right.
EW: But it didn’t. It didn’t end until the 8th I think it was, wasn’t it?
DK: Yeah.
EW: When it had finished.
DK: VE Day.
EW: And I can remember sort of being out in the street with friends and we were all excited but we didn’t really know what was going to happen next because obviously they were still fighting in Japan.
DK: Yes. Yeah.
EW: And it was [pause] I was of course thirteen. Well, with my mum being quite a Victorian lady I wasn’t allowed to go with all the girls.
DK: No.
EW: To have a knees up in town, you know. But that’s what happened. Everybody went barmy because all the lights came on and —
DK: Yeah.
EW: People hadn’t, I mean children who were born before, when the war started had never seen lights in the street.
DK: Yeah. Yeah.
EW: And, and what have you but it was I think everybody went barmy really.
DK: Yeah.
EW: I think it was such a relief but thinking back I think I must have been a bit of a child who was, who looked at what was happening to other people.
DK: Yes.
EW: Not the people that were enjoying themselves but those people that had lost sons and husbands that were never going to come back.
DK: Yeah.
EW: And I can remember feeling sadness because they weren’t. They wouldn’t be able to go out and celebrate.
DK: They couldn’t join. Join the celebrations. No. No.
EW: Join. No. And as I say it was, it was a time when everybody stuck together. Everybody helped everybody else.
DK: Yeah.
EW: And its, it doesn’t happen anymore. Not, not most of the time. I mean, no, no way in that period of the war time would anybody be lying dead in a house and nobody notice.
DK: No. No.
EW: Which is what happens today.
DK: It does unfortunately, doesn’t it?
EW: So I think, but living through a war like that taught you to appreciate everything you had after that because it was a deprived time. And I mean the dentist is quite happy because I’ve still got my own teeth. And I said, ‘Well, that was because we didn’t have any sweets,’ because —
DK: Right.
EW: You know, sweets were on ration.
DK: Yeah.
EW: And when I went to school we used to go to the little shop next to the school and buy penny carrots and the lady used to peel them for us and we used to eat those instead of sweets. Yeah. And we did have another visitor, quite an important visitor to Grantham and we all had to go out in the street with flags and things and it was General Montgomery.
DK: Oh right.
EW: He came here.
DK: Do you remember seeing him?
EW: Yes. Oh yes. He came up the street in his, you know he had sort of like a vehicle that was specific to him.
DK: Right.
EW: I’ve see that vehicle. It was in a caravan show in the NEC once.
DK: Yeah. it’s a big green thing.
EW: A green van.
DK: Yes. I think —
EW: Yeah.
DK: Yes. I think I know what you mean.
EW: Yeah.
DK: Yeah.
EW: And I can remember we were all waving like mad because Monty was really a hero in a way.
DK: Yeah.
EW: Because he was a very, he didn’t please everybody.
DK: No.
EW: Especially the old generals that were making a mess of everything. He was, he was a man who knew what he wanted to do. And I think him and Rommel respected each other.
DK: Yes. Yeah.
EW: In a way.
DK: Yeah.
EW: So, but Grantham really was in the midst of it because of all the airfields.
DK: Yeah.
EW: And —
DK: Do you, do you remember, did you visit any of the airfields at all or do you remember going past them?
EW: Well, we’d go past them.
DK: Going past them.
EW: Yeah. Because you weren’t allowed on.
DK: Yeah.
EW: Civilians weren’t allowed to go on but Spitalgate was, we used to, it sounds daft really because Spitalgate Aerodrome is on Somerby Hill.
DK: Yes. Yes.
EW: And Spitalgate Hill is the other one next door.
DK: Yeah. Yeah.
EW: So we, my mum used to take us because we did go for walks in those days, and we went up there and we used to pass the aerodrome and we used to see all the planes and everything but it was just —
DK: Yeah.
EW: Normal for us to see all this stuff, you know.
DK: It’s just an army barracks now, isn’t it?
EW: Yes. But it’s closing down.
DK: Closing down. And going to be another housing estate.
EW: Yeah. Absolutely. Yeah. Absolutely disgusting, isn’t it?
DK: Yeah.
EW: And I mean that place was, it was for the RAF to start with.
DK: Yeah.
EW: Then it was, went to the WAAFs. The WAAFs were there because that’s where I went as a Guider.
DK: Right.
EW: To see Lady Baden Powell.
DK: Yeah. Yeah.
EW: On that airfield. And then of course it turned into [pause] I can’t remember what the people are that’s there now? It’s the —
DK: It’s the Duke of Gloucester barracks now isn’t it? I think.
EW: Yes. It is. Yeah. Prince William of Gloucester.
DK: Oh, Prince William of Gloucester, is it? Yeah.
EW: Yes. Yeah.
DK: But not for much longer. As you say there’s a —
EW: No. It’s going.
DK: Going to be a housing estate.
EW: Yeah. So that’s sad.
DK: More houses.
EW: Its, oh I can’t remember what they call it. It’, it’s s got a name now.
DK: Yeah.
EW: It’s for a specific kind of soldier. I don’t know quite —
DK: It’s not the Engineers is it?
EW: No. No. My husband was in the Royal Engineers.
DK: Right.
EW: And he, he was, he went in for his National Service just after the war finished. But of course then he had to stay much longer because as an engineer, a Royal Engineer, he was on the Berlin Airlift.
DK: Oh right. Ok.
EW: Because the Russians had blockaded.
DK: Yeah. Berlin. Yeah.
EW: Berlin. And they wanted the lot and everybody said you’re not having it, you know. And so of course he was, as an engineer he was helping with the airlift but he was also digging up the airfields in Berlin to stop the Russian planes landing.
DK: Right.
EW: You see, that’s what they had to do. They decimated a lot of —
DK: Yeah.
EW: The runways.
DK: Make it, make it difficult.
EW: To make it difficult for them to come. Yes.
DK: If the Russians had invaded.
EW: Yes. Absolutely and —
DK: So was he out there for the whole of the Berlin Airlift then?
EW: Yes.
DK: Yeah.
EW: Yes. So he had to stay in longer because they used to do two years or something like that.
DK: Yeah.
EW: And he got, had to stay longer until it was all finished.
DK: Yeah.
EW: Because the people were starving. I mean, they had nothing. Nothing could get in so we were dropping it from here which we —
DK: Yeah.
EW: We hadn’t got that much.
DK: Yeah.
EW: But we were giving what we could and other countries the same. And they were bringing them in by plane and dropping them in to Berlin because I know that the Germans started the war but they were like the civilians were like us. They just had to put up with what was happening.
DK: The enemy now was the Soviet Union, wasn’t it?
EW: Absolutely.
DK: That was the point. Yeah.
EW: That’s when all this Cold War started.
DK: The Cold War started.
EW: And strangely enough when my husband and I went over to East Germany —
DK: Right.
EW: After they’d just, they brought, I think they started taking the Wall down in November and we went in April. And I bought a piece of the Berlin Wall.
DK: Oh right.
EW: And I had the last one of the last leaflet stamp for Checkpoint Charlie.
DK: Right. So that was ‘89 1990 was it?
EW: ’90. Yes.
DK: ’89. ’90.
EW: Yeah 1990.
DK: 1990.
EW: My husband was stationed in Germany. He was stationed in Hamelin because that’s where the Royal Engineers base was.
DK: Right. Right.
EW: And when we went over in 1990 it was still there. The Royal Engineers were still there.
DK: Yeah.
EW: Because of course there was such a lot of work to do. I mean, you saw when I was in East Germany it was horrible. It was. Especially I went to a place called, I think it was called Erfurt. Erfurt or something like that.
DK: Yes. Yeah.
EW: And that’s where all of these horrible prisons were where they tortured people. And they still had the Kaiser’s train.
DK: Right.
EW: With his initials on it and everything.
DK: Yeah.
EW: And Hitler had made people plant fruit trees all along the grass verges so that when his troops marched through they could have something to eat. And, and they were still there.
DK: Yeah.
EW: But it was a terribly black. Everything was black and polluted.
DK: Yeah.
EW: It was awful.
DK: Yeah.
EW: And those silly little cars they used to have.
DK: Oh, the Trabants.
EW: That’s it. They used to have them on poles with advertisements on.
DK: Yeah. Yes. I’ve seen them in Berlin. Yes.
EW: Yeah. And of course you see in the Potsdamer Platz which is the centre of Berlin where all the big embassies used to be that was flat. Absolutely flat.
DK: Yeah. Yeah.
EW: But I think they have rebuilt since.
DK: Yeah.
EW: And —
DK: Berlin is a lovely city now.
EW: It is. Yes.
DK: Yeah. Yeah.
EW: I’m sure. I’ve not been back since. And my husband had never seen the other side of the Brandenburg Gate.
DK: Right.
EW: And so —
DK: You can just walk straight through now.
EW: Absolutely.
DK: Yes. Yes.
EW: And but it was very, very badly polluted. Everything had been neglected and they had no paint. They couldn’t paint their windows or anything so they had to keep, as they rotted they had to take them out and make a new window frame. But they could never buy any paint.
DK: Paint. Yeah.
EW: To paint it with. And we stayed at a hotel which was where the Eastern Bloc leader used to stay.
DK: Yes.
EW: And it was supposed to be a five star.
DK: Eric. Eric Honecker.
EW: That’s it. Honecker. Yeah.
DK: Yeah.
EW: But no way was it. No way was it a five star. But you had to accept the fact that it was only just, the Wall had only just come down and in fact all of it wasn’t down.
DK: Yeah.
EW: And we walked along it on the eastern side and some of the slogans and the paintings were very provocative. It’s a wonder they didn’t all get shot. You know. But you know that’s how it was.
DK: Yeah.
EW: But it was sad because you’d walk up a street and there would have been a bridge. A railway bridge across the street.
DK: Yes.
EW: And they just chopped them off.
DK: Yeah.
EW: And no man’s land, you know.
DK: Yeah.
EW: And people’s houses that happened to be on the borderline. They had to have all their windows blocked up.
DK: Yeah. Because you could get through to the other side.
EW: Yeah. Yeah. It was awful.
DK: I’ve seen film. There’s film. People escaping, isn’t it? They’re climbing out the window.
EW: That’s right.
DK: Because they’re pointing to the west.
EW: Yeah. That’s right.
DK: Yeah.
EW: And of course as soon as they found out what people were doing.
DK: They bricked the windows up.
EW: They put the windows up. Yeah. But it must have been a horrible place to live because we did a little tour of, of Germany and they said. ‘Oh, this is the place where a little, a boy a young boy was trying to escape and he got tangled in the barbed wire.’
DK: Yeah.
EW: And they killed him.
DK: Yeah.
EW: And then they showed us the place where the officers who tried to shoot Hitler or blow him up.
DK: Yes. Yeah.
EW: They were executed.
DK: Yeah.
EW: And they showed us the place where that was done. You know.
DK: It’s an interesting city. Berlin.
EW: It is.
DK: It’s got so much history.
EW: And of course while, when we were there in that Potsdamer Platz we said, the man said to us, ‘Oh, that is the bunker over there.
DK: Yeah.
EW: Where Hitler was. So I said, ‘What, what will you to do with it? I said, ‘I hope you don’t leave it there.’ He said, ‘No. We won’t.’ He said, ‘It’s going to be destroyed.’
DK: Yeah.
EW: ‘Because,’ he said, ‘We still got a lot of neo-Nazis in Germany.’
DK: There’s the Jewish Memorial on top of it now.
EW: Is there?
DK: On the site. Yes. Yeah.
EW: Oh, well that’s wonderful.
DK: Yes.
EW: Yeah. That’s wonderful. Yeah. We had a chappie came to talk us at Chapel Guild not long ago and he was, he was a Polish man and he was a Polish Jew. And him and his mother and his brother and sisters all got dragged out of their beds in the middle of the night and put on a train. A cattle wagon.
DK: Yeah.
EW: And his father he never saw again ever. And his mother survived and he survived but the rest of his family were —
DK: All killed.
EW: Yeah. And they just walked out of their house. They had to leave everything.
DK: Yeah.
EW: They were allowed to pack one small suitcase about like that.
DK: Yeah.
EW: And I mean he’s, he wrote a book about it.
DK: Right.
EW: And he, a wonderful man you know. Doesn’t, he doesn’t look for sympathy.
DK: No. No. No.
EW: At all.
DK: It’s just but it’s important he’s, he’s telling this story isn’t it?
EW: Absolutely. That’s why, yeah. That’s why we had him.
DK: Some people don’t believe it, do they?
EW: No. Well, they don’t choose to believe it.
DK: Yeah. Exactly. Yes. Yes.
EW: Yeah. But as I say, I mean I can remember. I can always remember saying to my mother when the siren went in the middle of the night, ‘I hate that Hitler.’ You know.
DK: Yes.
EW: Because I hated getting out of bed because it was —
DK: Yeah. It becomes quite personal then, doesn’t it?
EW: Oh absolutely.
DK: You’ve got a figure of hatred then. Yes.
EW: That’s right. Yeah. Well we used to, we used to draw derogatory pictures of him and all sorts you know. I mean if ever they we would have to have got rid of them otherwise we would all be shot. You know. And the sad thing was that one of my aunties had the name of Cohen and of course that is a Jewish name.
DK: Yes. Yeah.
EW: Now why she had that name I don’t know because we’ve never gone back into her history. But I think we’d all have got the chop straightaway because we were related to her.
DK: Yeah.
EW: And —
DK: Just going on to your daughters. You said both of your daughters joined the Air Force then.
EW: Yes. Yes. They did.
DK: Was that anything to do, do you think with the stories you told them when they were younger or is it a choice they made?
EW: It’s the choice they made. I think basically they’ve always, the girls have always been, they’ve always known what they wanted to do. My eldest daughter she was, went to college and did business studies.
DK: Right.
EW: And things like that and she’s been working for Grantham Council for years and years because she’s sixty two now. My eldest daughter. And my second daughter, Karen she’s a state registered nurse and she wanted to go in the RAF.
DK: Right.
EW: But if she’d have gone in the RAF she would have gone in as an officer because she was state registered.
DK: Right. Yes.
EW: And David her husband he was in the RAF but at that time he was only a corporal.
DK: Oh, right. Yeah.
EW: And you couldn’t marry.
DK: Yeah.
EW: Beneath your rank. I think it’s changed now.
DK: Yes. Yeah.
EW: Yeah. But at that time. So she didn’t go in because obviously she wanted to marry David so he went in the RAF and he’s, he’s been all over the place and he was with Number 1 Fighter Squadron to start with.
DK: Right. Right.
EW: But as I say he, he’s out now but he’s working for this firm of surveillance.
DK: Yeah. Yeah.
EW: And he’s got people going all over the world you know and sometimes they have a bit of a rough ride, you know. If somebody doesn’t like the look of them they take their passport and say there’s something not right in it and —
DK: Yeah.
EW: They have to sort it out otherwise those folks would be incarcerated forever, you know.
DK: So your two daughters that did join the RAF.
EW: Yes.
DK: What did they, what were they doing?
EW: Well, my that daughter there. That’s Louise. She’s number three daughter I call her.
DK: Yeah. Yeah.
EW: She went into the dental trade.
DK: Oh ok.
EW: And she ran dental units in the places that she —
DK: Right.
EW: Was posted to.
DK: And the picture there is her in the Falklands then.
EW: Yes.
DK: Yeah.
EW: Yeah. That’s she getting an award. And so, but she loved it. I mean I thought they’d chuck her out after the first week because she’s terribly untidy. And when I spoke to one of the officers in, she was, she was based in Cyprus for three years.
DK: Right. Right.
EW: At Akrotiri. And I said to this officer, I said, ‘I thought you might have thrown her out by now.’ She said, ‘No way,’ she said, ‘She’s brilliant at her job.’
DK: Yeah.
EW: And I thought they were talking about somebody else. And of course —
DK: How many years was she in for then?
EW: Twenty two.
DK: Right.
EW: Yeah. And she’s out now but she’s running a big dental unit in Nottingham which is a seven dentist practice. I think there’s going to be more now because they’ve just built a big extension. And it deals with the students at the university.
DK: Oh ok.
EW: So she’s, she runs that. She’s the dental manager there.
DK: So daughter four. She was also in the air force as well then was she?
EW: Yes.
DK: Yeah. And what —
EW: She was my youngest one.
DK: Right. And her name was?
EW: Helena.
DK: Helen. Right.
EW: Helena.
DK: Helena.
EW: And that was Louise.
DK: Right. And what was she doing then?
EW: Well, she went down. Now, where did she go first? I can remember where Louise went first. She went to RAF Valley.
DK: Right.
EW: Because the girls in her flight gave her some cardboard sheet with cotton wool because they said all you’ve got down in Anglesey is sheep.
DK: Yes.
EW: But we did go down quite a lot to see her.
DK: Yeah.
EW: They had a big air show down there.
DK: Right.
EW: And then she, where did Helen, Louise go next? I think they wanted somebody to go to the, to the Shetland islands.
DK: Oh.
EW: And so she offered to go because nobody wanted to go there.
DK: No.
EW: Because it’s a bit sort of bleak and however it was all changed and she ended up in Cyprus for three years.
DK: Right. Very nice.
EW: Yes. And then her husband came back and said that, ‘We haven’t had a holiday for ages.’ I said, ‘You’ve just had a three year holiday on the government,’ you know.
DK: Yeah.
EW: But they don’t look at it like that.
DK: No. So daughter number four then. What did she, she wasn’t a dentist?
EW: No. She went in as, she was going to go in, they wanted her to go in as air traffic control.
DK: Right. Ok.
EW: And when she was at the Grantham and Kesteven Girl’s High School they used to send the girls in sixth year down to do you know whatever they wanted to do they could go and see what was involved.
DK: Yeah.
EW: Well, they sent Helena down to Chivenor.
DK: Right.
EW: I don’t know whether you’ve heard of Chivenor but it was a —
DK: It’s Devon isn’t it?
EW: It’s a training area.
DK: Yeah.
EW: For air traffic control.
DK: I think it’s Devon. Isn’t it?
EW: I don’t know. I’m not sure where she went.
DK: I think it’s that way.
EW: I can’t remember. But I think it sounds like.
DK: Yeah.
EW: You know. So, anyway she went down there and she came back and she said, ‘Mum, I cannot do that job.’ She said, ‘You’re stuck in this little room and it’s dark and you’ve got all these blips on the screen.’
DK: Yeah.
EW: She said, ‘It would drive me mad.’ So anyway in the end she went in as a medic.
DK: Oh right.
EW: And she, she did the, she was in the department at Biggin Hill where these pilots used to go down for their medical.
DK: Right.
EW: Before they had the interview at Cranwell.
DK: Right. Yeah.
EW: Which is why they decided a long time after that it would be cheaper if they had the medical unit.
DK: In Cranwell.
EW: In Cranwell, you know.
DK: Yeah.
EW: It’s a bit like —
DK: Save all the trouble then.
EW: Shutting the stable door after the horse has gone you know. And so anyway that’s what happened. They made a unit in, in so of course she came down and of course she was living quite close to home but she, she did get married and she had a married quarter there.
DK: Right.
EW: But this one. She, well where was she? Where’s that? There’s a hospital somewhere. An RAF hospital. Where’s? I’m trying to think where it was.
DK: Yeah.
EW: This is the trouble when you get old. Your memory goes, you know. Over things that happened recently. I can remember what happened years ago.
DK: Yeah. Yeah.
EW: But she had to come out of the RAF because she got married and she was expecting a baby.
DK: Right.
EW: And of course they wouldn’t have married women then in the RAF with children.
DK: Oh right. Ok.
EW: So after about, I don’t know how many years she was in but she came out. She had to come out. Well, you’ve heard of the Underwood brothers have you.
DK: Yeah
EW: Yeah. They were big rugby players.
DK: Oh yes. Yeah. Yeah.
EW: Well, Rory Underwood was a pilot.
DK: Yes. Yes.
EW: And his wife was an officer in the RAF. Well, they chucked her out as well because she’d got a child. So she took the case to —
DK: Court.
EW: Court.
DK: Yeah.
EW: I presume it was the European Court.
DK: Yeah.
EW: And they said that the RAF had no right.
DK: Oh right.
EW: To throw out women when they’d got children because all they had to do was build a creche.
DK: Yeah.
EW: And the mothers would pay for the children to go in the creche. And of course there were schools for English children because in Cyprus Louise’s children went to school there.
DK: Yeah.
EW: But as I say, so of course after, she had another child after that when she was still out.
DK: Yeah.
EW: And eventually Rory Underwood’s wife took as I say took them to the court.
DK: Court. Yeah. Yeah.
EW: And it was ruled that they couldn’t chuck women out. So she went back in.
DK: Oh right.
EW: And she had to do another seven weeks basic training which was a bit of a shock and of course since then they’d moved the WAAFs down to Halton.
DK: Yeah.
EW: So she went down to Halton because she was at Swinderby the first time.
DK: Yeah.
EW: But of course they closed that down now. That’s all gone.
DK: Yeah. Yeah.
EW: Both of my girls passed out at Swinderby.
DK: Right.
EW: And then of course she had to come back and she had to pass out at Honington but they did get the flight award and there was an older chappie in there as well and he was called dad and because she’d been in before these young girls called her mum. So they had a mum and dad in their flight.
DK: Yeah. Dear.
EW: So we went to see her pass out again.
DK: So she did twenty two years then.
EW: Yes.
DK: And your other daughter. How many years did she do?
EW: She did nine.
DK: Nine.
EW: She did nine really because she got married and her husband was training as a structural engineer and of course he couldn’t move.
DK: Right.
EW: Because he was doing his chartership.
DK: Right.
EW: And so she said to them, ‘Can you, can I be based in Lincolnshire?’
DK: Yeah.
EW: And of course you know what the RAF’s like. You know, if you ask for something they send you the furthest away.
DK: The exact opposite. Yeah.
EW: Yeah. So they said no. So she said , ‘Well, I have to come out then because,’ she said, ‘My husband is, he can’t move.’
DK: Yeah.
EW: And I’m not moving without him. So that was it. so she said well I’m coming out because she had to decide because she was, she was getting promoted and once your promotion comes in you’ve got to be posted.
DK: Yeah.
EW: And so of course it was either or. And I mean she could have been sent to Lossiemouth or anywhere miles away.
DK: Yeah. Yeah.
EW: And so she came out but since then she’s worked in a bank and she’s now working for, well she runs a business that they look into the debt, people’s —
DK: Yeah.
EW: Bank accounts if they’re letting houses.
DK: Right.
EW: You know. The rents. To make sure that they’ve got enough money to pay. She’s doing that now but I think she regretted coming out.
DK: Yeah.
EW: But she really didn’t have a choice because —
DK: No.
EW: But funnily enough those two girls married two brothers.
DK: Oh right.
EW: So we have two brothers and two sisters married. Yeah. But —
DK: Ok then. That’s, that’s an hour been recording here so we’ve moved on a bit from the wartime years.
EW: Yes. We have.
DK: I’ll stop it there.
EW: Yes.
DK: But thanks very much for your, your contribution there. I’ll —

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Citation

David Kavanagh, “Interview with Eileen Widdowson,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed September 27, 2021, https://ibccdigitalarchive.lincoln.ac.uk/omeka/collections/document/11770.

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