Interview with Joyce Bell


Interview with Joyce Bell


Joyce Bell grew up in Hertfordshire and joined the Women's Auxiliary Air Force in 1940. She served as a clerk in 1 Group Bomber Command where she met her husband and she travelled with him to Canada where he was posted.




Temporal Coverage




00:35:25 audio recording

Conforms To


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JG: The date is the 27th November 2015 I'm James Greenhalgh from the University of Lincoln, I'm here with Mrs Joyce Bell at her home in Ranskill and she is going to us about some of her memories from World War Two.
JB: My name is Joyce Bell and I will be 94 on the 21st December 2015, I was born in Hoddesdon in Hertfordshire I was Joyce Langdon when I joined the WAAF in December 1940 aged nineteen I did my training at Harrogate the Grand Hotel and Pannal Ash College. My first posting was to Hucknall, Nottinghamshire in January 1941. No.1 Group Bomber Command, I worked in central registry and later in the transport department, my soon to be husband Oliver having a ride back from Aiden at the fall of France from the German Army was stationed in Lincolnshire No.1 Group Bomber Command when his friend was posted to Hucknall but having just married I asked Oliver if he would take the posting in his place which he did, on arrival at Hucknall I processed Oliver's documents and I noticed he was single and I told the clerks 'he's mine' [laughs]. During the summer of 1941 I accompanied several officers and went to assess Bawtry Hall near Doncaster South Yorkshire with a view to moving No.1 Group there I was deemed imminently suitable and the whole head quarters moved there after it was vacated by the Army. I worked in an office near the gatehouse at the side entrance of Harworth Road checking vehicles in and out, we were billeted in huts in a field near by and our commanding officer kept a donkey for his children in the area where our ablutions huts were cited, in the middle of the night in pitch black we would hear often the donkey bray and know that someone had bumped into him on their way to the facilities. Thursday nights were make do and mend nights we had to sit in and mend our clothes however we were allowed off camp occasionally I remember standing with three other WAAFs on Bawtry Road waiting for a bus to Doncaster to go to see a film at the cinema when a man driving a horsebox pulled up and asked if we would like a lift as he was on his way to Doncaster we gladly accepted his offer and with that he jumped out of the cab and went to the rear of the vehicle so to let the back door down, inside was a horse standing in a stall and we four girls jumped in beside the horse the driver dropped us off right outside the cinema where people were queuing the expression on their faces when the driver lowered that back door and four WAAFs jumped out was hilarious. I used to see Oliver each day for signing various documents and we started our courtship in September 1941 by December the 21st we were engaged and on May the 21st 1942 we married at Harworth church after one month of marriage Oliver was sent to Moncton New Brunswick Canada where soon after he was made a Warrant officer highest of the ranks I left the RAF on the 12th December 1942 as by now I was expecting our eldest daughter Josephine I went back to live with my parents in Stortford Road Hoddesdon Hertfordshire and Jo was born on the 18th March 1943, when Jo was three months old I went out to St George New Brunswick to join Oliver taking our new baby with me I travelled by ship on the Andes a fivesome banana boat leaving from Liverpool my parents travelling with me to see me go, by the end of that year Oliver took his commission and was a Pilot Officer the lowest rank of the officers he was then transferred to Middleton Nova Scotia in December 1943 where baby number two Maureen was born in June 1944. I recall meeting up with several airmen and sailors on that journey by train between New Brunswick and Nova Scotia who assisted me in getting a first class ticket and then helped looked after Jo while I went for a meal. Oliver and I lived in an apartment which belonged to Mr and Mrs Finney at the bottom of Mrs Finney's garden was a cemetery where RAF personnel were buried how I wish I could write to the relatives of these young men and say I had witnessed their burials. I would send food parcels back to my parents particularly dried fruit to make a Christmas cake as food was in short supply. I’ve got the right page short oh yes it's here in supply back in Britain. Oliver and I left Canada in December 1944 we separately but in a flotilla of sixty ships I had to pay £100 for this journey as by now I was an officer's wife for this amount I was given a cabin to myself and the children whereas I had shared a cabin with three other women and children on the way out. I remember the convoy being halted just off the coast of Ireland and depth charges being dropped as it was suspected that were submarines in the area. Oliver disembarked at Liverpool I left separately in the south where Oliver's father came to meet me he travelled with me back to London and I was taken to my own parents in Hoddesdon the following day. I spent the next few months with my parents we were highly amused by my toddler Jo's Canadian accent especially her words "liberty parties’ [in a Canadian accent]. Oliver was sent to RAF Binbrook where he was promoted to Flying officer he was then posted to Lindhome at the same time as one of my Aunt and Uncle's were due to leave the ROF bungalow at Mattersey Thorpe to return to Waltham Abbey . Oliver applied to the ROF to see if we would be allowed to move 10 Bader Rise Mattersey Thorpe which we were. It was close enough for Oliver to travel each day and life was wonderful . I moved up from Hoddesdon on the Friday and on the Monday Oliver was sent to Barrea in Italy September 1945, oh dear. Oliver was promoted to Flight Lieutenant whilst in Italy November 1945. After six months apart Oliver finally left the RAF in 1946 last day of service 13th of June 1946. Now neither Jo nor Maureen recognised this stranger bearing gifts when he returned home and Oliver had to win them over for a final time. Err do you want this other on here or just up to there?
JG: Please continue.
JB: I can not remember children having identity cards but of course you did need ration books for food, food was scarce but we didn't starve people swapped rations with each other. I would swap tea for margarine etcetera. So we never had bananas only home produced fruit, couldn't cook chips, wait a minute, we couldn’t cook chips , we had no fat. I kept Bantams for eggs as rations were one egg per week but it was difficult to find hen food. Rationing was worst after the war for about five years also fuel was scarce hence me always out collecting wood. Oliver left the Wimbledon Century school aged sixteen and joined the RAF he was sent to Cranwell Lincolnshire for training date of enlisting 12th of the first 1932 failed his Pilot's training because he was colourblind did a gunners course in 1936, he was a wireless electrical mechanic by trade after training at Cranwell he was sent to Aden 4th of the tenth '35', 12th Squadron where he flew in a Scopwick Camel aircraft as a gunner he came back to England 1939 and was on one of the last boat loads to leave France when the German invasion was imminent, his brother Ken was at home when Oliver walked in minus his cap and sleeve and jacket ripped but Oliver never said how it happened after four years away his mother said 'hello when are you going back?' [laughter]. Oliver finally left the RAF in 1946 to begin a new life working as a post office engineer based at Gainsborough, we never returned to the south of the country but spent many happy years in North Nottinghamshire and went on to have a family of five. That’s it.
JG: Marvellous.
JB: What you say, you have heard enough? Don't say anymore!
JG: No I was just wondering what you did when you were in the WAAF?
JB: Well I was clerical, I was er...everybody that came to the camp had to report to me first because I used to have to take all the particulars, where they came from where they were going to, what they were doing, so that’s what I did.
JG: And, what are your best memories of the WAAF then?
JB: Happy days, they were happy days we all enjoyed each other you know, it was very good not nice that the war was on but there you are we made the best of it.
JG: And what sort of things did you do for fun? You mentioned going to see...going to the pictures and things.
JB: Well, that was about it we didn't do a lot we used to have a camp dance once a week, of which I don't dance so I used to sit there like nothing so anyway my husband took a chance on me and he said would you care to dance and i said ' Well I'd love to but I don't.' He said 'Well neither do I so that makes two of us.' So off we went jogging round [laughs] oh dear. Yes.
JG : So what did Oliver do? Obviously he was on the planes, but what specifically did he do?
JB: Come on help me....
Daughter: Was he a Wireless operator mum?
JB: Yes, yes, ummm and then just trying to think when he took his commission what he was still doing electrical, well he was an Electrical mechanical engineer in the RAF that's what he was.
JG: And can you remember what sort of planes he flew, what sort of missions he did? Can you remember any of that?
JB: He flew, he used to fly on what they call the Sopwith Camel aircraft
Daughter: And, there was another one I think .
JB: Of course I didn't know him then
Daughter: Hawker Hart?
JG: Oh yes..
Daughter: I think that's what it means it says Hart.
JG: Yes, it certainly looks like it doesn't it.
Daughter: We have got photographs of him on the plane
JG: Right, so what were his duties then when he was in Canada, what did he do while he was in
New Brunswick do we know?
Daughter: I don't know , I don't know.
JB: No, he was, I don't know what he did out there, I think he was just sort of putting his knowledge generally to help the flying community out there.
JG: Ok, so was he responsible for training and things like that?
JB: Yes I think he was up to a point, he did a bit of that he used to teach the young apprentices you know.
Daughter: I don't know whether any of that tells you anything?
JG: Ok so this was his logbook, oh I see this will be some really useful stuff to have a look at for the guys who do the scanning. Oh wow.
Daughter: You'll see on the back it says he's 'the handsome young man on the wing'.
JB: : 'except to his mother' [laughs]
JG: That's marvellous, modest as well.
Daughter: Yes, and there you are it said 'Oliver Bell flew in this aircraft in Aden 1938.
Jg: Oh yeah. Wow this is something .
JB: Was that the old Sopwith Camel as they called it?
Daughter: One was the Hawker Hart....yours truly in the rear cockpit
JB: Oh just his hair...[laughter]
JG: Oh that's brilliant
JB: Those were the days before I knew his of course.
JG: Sure, yes is he wearing a Pith helmet? He looks like he's got a pith helmet on oh wow. Right actually I had no idea there was so much stuff actually, if you take that for me so we don't get them mixed up so I'm going to potentially have to get someone to take a look at it so we can get some of this scanned in so I'll have a word with Pete about that. So I'm just interested you talked about rationing and I just wondered if you had anything more to say about rationing? You said about you didn't have bananas but I'm quite interested in it.
JB: Well everything was rationed, you didn't put any of that on here did you?
Daughter: No.
JB: One egg per week if you were lucky.
Daughter: Oranges? Were there any oranges mum?
JB; No, no oranges but it was worse after the war the rationing. It was just a bit of margarine, no butter a bit of margarine you had to make do, you know we were starved half the time to be perfectly honest yes so.
JG: So did it stay, did it stay...when you said it was worse after the war did it stay bad for a long time after the war?
JB: Do you know, I can't remember about five years I think, umm as I can recall yes we had a ration of one egg per week so of course you talk about you couldn't even do a bit of baking cause you needed eggs and oh it was dreadful yes.
JG: And what sort of things did you make then, what sort of stuff could you have then? I'm fascinated by it.
JB: [Laughs] Oh dear, I'd hoped I'd put it all out of my mind. Oh I don't know.
Daughter: Did you grow things in the garden Mum?
JB: Oh yes we grew our own, we did have a garden and we did grow vegetables which helped alot yes we certainly did but as we've got here the rationing was worse after the war than when the war was on and fuel of course was very scarce. You got one bag of fuel to last you you goodness knows how long donkeys years you know.
JG: So when you were at home then and you were sort of like trying to keep warm did you do things differently? What did you do differently?
JB: Well I used to go collecting wood.
Jg; Right.
JB: Of course we lived in Mattersey so the woods were near, I used to go everyday with a big bag and collect all the big chunky bits of wood I could find that's what we used to do to you know keep us going I tell you.
JG: And even though you were not in one of the big cities did you still have to blackout?
JB: Oh yes, oh yes, oh yes you daren't show a crack of curtain they'd be down on you rattling on your door 'lights showing' you know [laughs] yes it wasn't fun times really although we made what we could of it.
JG: So if you were, when you were blacking out did you have...what sort of things did you have in the home? What sort of things kept yourself entertained?
JB: Well there was always something when you’ve got children.
Daughter: You had a radio though
JB; Oh yes we had a radio, yes.
Daughter: You used to listen to plays on the radio….
JB: Yes.
Daughter: I remember that.
JB: But as soon as it was getting dusk we had to put the blackout curtains up and not be a light if they saw a light one of the wardens walking round would be rattling on your door and tell you you have a so and so light shining oh it was murder.
Daughter: You used to bath...I was born in 1951 I was number three daughter and was we always bathed in a tin bath in front of an open fire weren't we?
JB: Yes, oh yes you were.
Daughter: When we were little all the rest of the house was freezing cold frost on the inside of the windows and everything.
JB: Yes those were the days [laughs].
JG: I'm just fascinated, I'm actually fascinated by what it was like living with things like the blackout and the rationing
JB: That's right, well like I say we had a garden so we used to try and grow as much as you could to help you know, I mean it was ...
Daughter: What about the days Mum when you were on the poultry farm? Didn't you go in one morning and find that all the poultry….
JB: Oh yes a bomb had fallen out, they were all in cages battery type in these big sheds and I used to work there . I went one morning and i could see this huge shed it was on a skew-whiff as they call it and thought what on earth's wrong here and when I looked the chickens were creating and there was the biggest hole right near the chicken shed it must have frightened those chickens to death they were squawking their heads off. Anyway I used to use it for cleaning them out and filling it up but honestly it was so I suppose from the air to a foreign thing it was a long building you know have ago at bombing that.
JG: So do you you remember bombing raid?
JB: Oh yes, yes yes.
Daughter: What about back in Hoddesdon Mum when you were at home with your Mum when you could see across to London?
JG: Oh yes that used to be dreadful when there was a raid on London, oh we used to stand at my mother's back door you could see the flames used to light the sky up the sirens used to go on, we said 'there's a raid on London' poor people it used to be shocking it was like one huge big fire you know you used to stand and watch poor people. You were half starved ‘cause you didn't have much to eat and then you had to put up with things like that. Oh it was dreadful.
Daughter: Where did you used to hide Mum? Where did you used to hide?
JB: Oh in the cupboard under the stairs [laughs] it was as safe a place as any my Mum was a real panicker with anything you know and as soon as the siren went 'come on come in here' you know so.
JG: So did you always shelter underneath the stairs or they had hadn't given you a Anderson or an Morrison shelter or anything like that ?
JB: No, no no no we didn't have you see London people did more but I suppose living in the country they won't bother you know people in the country so we make do our own safety devices
Daughter: Did you not shelter under the table the kitchen table?
J: Oh yes, my eldest daughter that lives in Australia was i remember about two years old at the time and we used to say you know when the siren went, she used to know really that we were going under the table and when we used to get under she used to 'shhh don't make a sound’ [laughs] I don't know if she thought the pilots could here us .
JG: And where did any of the ...obviously the chickens shed got hit but did they ever accidently bomb near you when you were living near London?
JB: When I was what?
JG: When you were living near London?
JB: Yes
JG: Did you get any bombers that came close?
JB: Oh yes yes we used to hear them and see them going over you know, and you could always tell because they had a different sound to the engine from the English you could always tell a German bomber from a English one .
Daughter: I think Grandad mentioned walking along the new river and somewhere had been bombed one of the houses or something didn't he?
JB: Yes
Daughter: And there was all stuff up in the trees, clothes in the trees I think Grandad spoke about that.
JB: Yes, they weren't fun times not at all, let's hope we never have anymore wars
JG: Yes absolutely, crikey
JB: Well I'm not saying you know, I enjoyed it apart from it being what it was I enjoyed my days in the WAAF you know it was quite nice to mix to get out with people i'd been an only child I quite enjoyed the company.
JG: So what had you done before the war then?
JB; Well I worked on this poultry farm
Daughter: You also worked in the Home and Colonial
JB: Oh yes to start with I worked in a shop the Home and Colonial shop .
JG: Oh right
JB: It wasn't my cup of tea I never wanted to but you had to have a job and that was it and then someone said about this farm this chicken farm and I said that’d suit me be err and I went to see and I got the job I enjoyed it, not everyone would have liked it but I did ,yes.
JG: So I was er I was also going to ask er hang on I've completely lost my train of thought
JB: Oh it's alright I'm taken you back have I?
Daughter: Were you going to ask about the ROF bungalow ?
JG: Oh yes it's one of the things I've got written down here.
Daughter: I thought you were the Royal Ordnance Factory it belonged to the Royal Ordnance factory
JG: Ah right
Daughter: And my Uncle who had come from the south was sent, he was sent up here to work at this local Royal Ordnance factory at Torworth.
JG: Right
Daughter: And at the same time that he was being sent back down home which was about two years after he came that’s when mum and dad were looking to find a place up here so they asked if they could take on the bungalow that auntie and Uncle had lived in and the ROF agreed because Dad belonged to the RAF and they said yes he could have it.
JG: So er I'm also interested in you talked about sailing to and from Canada and I'm just wondering what that was like really?
JB: Well...
Daughter: How did you cope for nappies Mum for the babies ?
JB: Oh I saved up before i went all the material, cotton wool and I cut up sheets and all sorts and make do you know and when I got to Canada belive me it was a different world from what I'd left oh it was lovely to be in a bit of peace gorgeous out of London and it was lovely yes it wasn't fun days believe me, ye.s
Daughter: You got a very modern pram in Canada didn't you for your babies?
JB: Oh yes, absolutely.
Daughter: A bit different to back at home.
JB: Yes
Daughter: Just looking for those photographs? I don't know what we did with those....
Jg: Oh nice picture.
JB: Oh[laughs].
JG: When's that...oh 1942?
Daughter: Yes the year they got married.
JG: Oh apparently that’s the week after you got married.
Daughter: Yes yes that was 1935 that Dad's friend sent that.
JG: Oh i see ye.s
Daughter: Right these are the ones in Canada, so they had a fairly modern pram there.
JG: Oh nice [laughter][ it looks cold
JB: It was cold but it was lovely not the cold we get here it was nice and crisp you know not that sort of wet cold that we get here.
JG: Yeah, oh look at the pines yeah,. lovely to look at yeah
Daughter: That says St.George New Brunswick on the back.
JB: Oh yeah St George New Brunswick .
Daughter: So that gives you some idea...oh this was oh that was part you can see the house in the background.
Jg: Oh that is nice.
JB: Lovely veranda all around, ooh the houses out there they cater for cold and hot weather you know in the summer i remember .you can sit out on the veranda and oh lovely
Daughter: They were kind of centrally heating weren't they mum in Canada.
JB: Yes sort of underground, underfloor heating yes.
JG: And you presumably hadn't had central heating at home had you not?
JB: No no
JG: Very few houses had...
JB: No get up on frosty mornings scrape the snow ice off the window [laughs].
Daughter:That was a street party at the end of the war in Hoddesdon in Hertfordshire.
JG: Oh yeah look at the houses they are absolutely classic 1930's houses.
Daughter: Well that's where my Grandma and Grandad lived in one of those.
JG: Right oh. that's marvellous there's some great stuff there
Daughter: Yes and a lot more of Dad you know a lot more of his Squadrons and all sorts of things.
JG: Did he often talk about his time in the RAF?
Daughter: No he didn't and I wish now you see Dad died eighteen years ago.
JG: Right.
Daughter: And I wish I'd would have asked 'cause if you look in the distance you'll see what I've done this year I've been I have sat in a Lancaster for a taxi ride in the position that Dad would probably have been in.
JG: Well I have, you see that radio that's just behind that picture you're holding I have one of those
Daughter: Oh yes.
JG: My Grandad pulled it out of the back of a Short Stirling at the end of the Second World War.
Daughter: Wow, well this year I really wanted wished Dad could have been here but Mum's done her best she's told us a lot and look at this Dad saw these operas in Rome whilst in Italy 1945 -46.
JG: That's a hard life that must have been hard living in Italy and watching operas
Daughter: There you are Dad went and saw three operas
JB: Rigoletto and La Boheme oh wow...crikey i bet that was nice the thing that's amazing about that is it would not have been the thing you really got the chance to do would it.
Daughter: No, absolutely not .
JG: It must have been amazing
Daughter: Yes I mean he travelled all over the place he certainly did.
JG: You'd be amazed for various reasons I've interviewed lots of veterans widows because I'm quite interested in other aspects of it not just the Bomber Command stuff and you'd be amazed how little a lot of the lads talked about their time in...
Daughter: No my Dad didn't he never to talk he never used to say
JG: It's quite fascinating how little people have spoken about it and when we've interviewed veterans how glad they are to be able to tell us about it actually at last
Daughter: Yes
JG: They feel like somebody's interested.
Daughter: Interested yes, I think this is absolutely wonderful Wimbledon Education Committee Wimbledon central school for boys 'Oliver Herbert Bell entered this school by examination in September….



Jim Greenhalgh, “Interview with Joyce Bell,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed February 27, 2024,

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