Alma Leedham's memoir

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Title

Alma Leedham's memoir

Description

Tells of early life in London, joining the Woman's Auxiliary Air Force in 1941 and training as a driver. Relates experiences at RAF Scampton and then with 57 Squadron as a tractor driver pulling bomb trolleys. Subsequently went to East Kirkby. Married Terence Leedham who was an armourer on 57 Squadron in late 1943. Left the Woman's Auxiliary Air Force on expecting her first child. Continues with family history at RAF Scampton and postings to the middle east and Singapore.

Creator

Publisher

IBCC Digital Archive

Contributor

Steve Baldwin

Rights

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

Format

Three page printed document

Language

Identifier

BLeedhamALeedhamAv1

Temporal Coverage

Transcription

Alma Leedham

I was born in Fulham, London on 26th June 1922. I am now 91 years old and trying to put into words some of the things that have happened during the years so far. I had no sisters and just one brother. Graham was two years younger than me and from the age of 6ys I was made responsible for his safety. London was a wonderful place in those days. We were allowed to wander off and visit Museums and anything that was ‘Free of charge’.
.We [sic] learnt to swim in the Thames and were constantly going over the bridge into Putney for the start of the Oxford & Cambridge boat race each year. When I was 11 years old the family moved to Kingston-on-Thames. Because I had been run over by a car when I was 9yrs old I did not go to school for several weeks (in those days it was not considered important for a girl to do well at school – she would grow up and get married). I was just 14yrs and 1 month when I left school and got a job as an apprentice dressmaker. I made tea, washed up and went out to buy buns for the ladies tea break during which time, I also had to take material to another shop where buttons and belt buckles were made to order. I was there for about 6 weeks, earning 5 shillings per week and I got the sack for sliding down the banisters.of [sic] the 3 storey workshop. Apart from getting another job on the way home, not a lot happened until War was declared in September 1939. By then I was 17yrs of age and working as a Progress Chaser at Hawker Aircraft where the Hurricanes were being built. I stayed with them until near the end of 1941 when I decided to join the RAF

Learning to drive at Blackpool was not easy. There were 3 girls to each car and, when 4 of our ”Teachers” were picked up on a smash-and-grab raid by the Police, we had to start from “scratch” in North Wales which, at that time of year, was really beautiful with all the many rhodedendrons [sic] in full bloom. Three weeks on cars followed by another 3 weeks on lorries found most of us having passed all tests. Our half days were spent on classroom work where we learnt all about what went on under the bonnet

Early in June 1942 I was posted to RAF Scampton in Lincolnshire where as WAAFs we were billeted in what had been originally, the married quarters. There were 3 of us to a room. Kath Williams (known as Bill), Vivian Winsome and myself. I think there were at least two more girls in the upstairs bedroom. (I little knew then that my second daughter would be born in the same house, No 18,. Some years later) Of course we only used the house for sleeping and our meals were served in the main cookhouse which also served as a cinema in the evenings. Driving all types of vehicles and meeting all sorts of people was soon part of the daily round. At that time Squadrons using the 4 hangers were 83 Sqdn who were in the process of changing from Wellingtons to Lancasters and 49 Sqdn who were flying Manchesters. Manchesters only had 2 engines and so, apparently, were not able to travel the required distances to Germany and were taken out of use. 83 Sqdn had been posted down south where I think they became part of the Pathfinders and, 57 Sqdn from Feltwell in Norfolk arrived as their replacement. It was then that I was transferred from a general driver in the MT Service area to 57 Sqdn as a tractor driver; taking the bombs from the Bomb Dump to the kites (as the planes were called in those days).. My house mate, Vivian, worked in the Bomb Dump and each morning she would have 6 bombed up trolleys (2 bomb loads) ready for me to take to the aircraft that would
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Be flying that night and I would leave for the dispersal points where the armourers would be waiting to take one 4,000 bomb and 2 loads of incendiaries for each aircraft. I soon got to know quite a few of the Ground Crews and to cut a long story short, among them was the man who was destined to become my future husband. Lofty Leedham (he was 6’2”) as he was known then was a Flight Sergeant in charge of the guns and turrets and the men who worked on them. Our boss was Warrant Officer Cook but, to tell you about him would make my story a great deal longer. It was quite a while before I discovered that Lofty’s Christian name was Terry. Our first date was on 6/06/43 and early in July Terry came down to Kingston-on-Thames to meet my Mum & Dad. In the August, only a month later 57 Sqdn was moved to East Kirkby where A Flight of 57 became part of the newly formed 630 Sqdn. We got married on 12th September from my parents home in Kingston-upon-Thames. Due to “rationing” and a shortage of everything, our wedding took place with me wearing a borrowed wedding dress but, we did manage with the help of neighbours, who gave us their food coupons, to have a small Wedding cake. Because the arrangements we had made for our honeymoon collapsed, we spent the next week living with my parents and going to London most evenings to see some of the shows. We did manage to see the Beverly Sisters and Danny Kaye before going back to East Kirkby where arrangements had been made for us to live “Off Camp”. the farm/pub where we slept was homely and was also very handy, as the bottom end of the farm was the boundary of the RAF perimeter and it was just a case of lifting our bikes over the railing and cycling round the Airfield to where we worked. It was then that I was put on night duty, so we were almost just passing each other, either to go to work or to come home each morning and evening. But that didn’t last for long when the discovery that I was !expecting! got me sent home to Mum & Dad. So I was no longer a member of the RAF. When in August of the following year our first daughter, Lesley, was born, we managed to find ‘Living Out’ accommodation in Lincoln which was some way from being ideal. Being back at RAF Scampton was like going home for us. We eventually were given the opportunity to taking over one of the Married Quarters with the provision that we clean it up and make it liveable. That was when we moved into No 18. and where our second daughter, Valerie was born, almost exactly 2 years after Lesley. (just 4 days difference). This was quite soon after we had found a nine month flatcoat (like a golden retriever only black). We called him “Nigger” after Guy Gibson’s dog. He was a birthday present for Lesley. In those days we didn’t have much money so we were very pleased when the local butcher gave him to us. His history was that he had been bought by a couple for their son who had unfortunately been killed in Germany and they were unwilling to keep the dog. Nigger spent many years with us but there were times when we had to leave him with my parents. For instance, when Terry was posted to the middle East and Singapore. I often had to wait a long time for a married quarter to become available but when I was able to take the girls to where ever Terry was serving I had to leave Nigger with my family and go. . . Nigger was always so pleased to see us each time we came home. The years passed and when we were living near Salisbury and the girls were starting to go to school there were no married quarters available, so we bought a caravan and got permission to live in the grounds of the nearby School of Chemical Warfare where Terry was in charge of “Working with Chemicals” . . Soon after we moved into the married quarter. I discovered that I was expecting another baby who arrived in the January and was our son, Richard. We now had three Children. . The next posting was Singapore and
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I waited 15months [sic] before getting a trip on the Asturius, (troopship) with the girls to join him. . The Suez Canal was not available for us in those years so, a trip round the bottom end of Africa lengthened our journey to Singapore. Terry met the ship on the harbour and took us to our new home in Serangoon Valley. (All this was written some time ago and I am now trying to make some sort of finish. (Terry died 25years [sic] ago and my memory is not quite what it was . . . . I am now 93 years old. .

Collection

Citation

A Leedham, “Alma Leedham's memoir,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed November 15, 2019, https://ibccdigitalarchive.lincoln.ac.uk/omeka/collections/document/18509.

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