Interview with Gwyneth Stratten


Interview with Gwyneth Stratten


Gwyneth Stratten was born in London in 1934. She was briefly evacuated during the war but wrote to her mother to say if she didn’t come and collect her, she would walk home. On a visit to a museum in London with her mother she saw a group of badly injured airmen visiting the museum. This was the start of her fascination with the men of the Guinea Pig Club and their surgeon Archibald McIndoe. Gwyneth joined the Army in 1951 and was very happy in her role. She married an RAF serviceman and returned to the UK. Years later, she became the librarian of Rauceby Hospital which, having previously been a mental institution, had become a military hospital during the war. When the hospital was due for closure, she began collecting items to build a picture of the history of the old hospital and organised a reunion of ex-RAF patients.







00:52:28 Audio Recording


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AStrattenG210722, PStrattenF2101


MC: This interview is being conducted on behalf of the International Bomber Command Centre on Thursday the 22nd of July 2021. The interviewee is Mrs Gwyneth Stratten and the interviewer is Mike Connock. The interview is taking place at Mrs Stratten’s home in Lincoln. Also in the house is Mr Stratten. Ok, Gwyneth, thank you very much for doing this interview. What I’d like today, start at the beginning and so tell me a bit, when and where were you born?
GS: I was born in London and I lived there all through the war only leaving in 1949 when my parents thought that we were going to be having trouble with Russia and they didn’t want to be in London if we had another war and that we moved to the country.
MC: Yeah. So, what did your parents do? What were they —
GS: My father. Well, he had to work in a factory during the war but other than that he was always a self-employed electrician and my mother was just mum [laughs]
MC: Did you have any siblings?
GS: Yes. I had a brother who served in the Army during the war and he was, finished up in Germany. Again, he was in the military police and he came out in 1949. I’ve no others.
MC: Yeah. So, your early schooldays. Do you remember much about your early schooldays?
GS: I can, I have actually written about my school days.
MC: Yeah. So, you obviously enjoyed them.
GS: Which, no —
MC: Oh right.
GS: Which I found very useful when my children, my grandchildren at the local school were working on what life was like for children during the war. So my grandchildren delightedly went off with my identity card and my ration book and all the information I had. So, it was quite useful.
MC: Yeah. So, you were born when? Sorry. What year?
GS: I was born in 1934.
MC: ‘34. Oh, right. So, you were, at the outbreak of war you were quite old. Relatively, you know. You weren’t —
GS: Well, yeah. When the war broke out I was —
MC: ‘39. Oh, you were five year old. Yes. Yeah.
GS: I was five years old.
MC: Yeah. So you, you remember quite a bit about the war.
GS: I do. There are certain anecdotal things which I think of will go with the subject we’re speaking about now. I remember in nineteen, I think it was 1944, my mother was a great one for introducing me to like the theatre and museums and all that kind of thing and on this particular day she took me to one of the museums at Kensington. I don’t remember which one. And we were in this particular gallery and there was just she and I there looking at the things when we heard all this noise and a party of seven men in RAF uniform came in accompanied by some very pretty ladies in all their nice summer finery. But the thing that immediately hit you was that all the men were horribly disfigured. There was one young man there, he had no face and no hair or anything. And they were running one of these tubes from his arm to build a new nose. And I mean a ten year old looking at that. But I was always very, sort of, it didn’t shock me. I just looked at them and my mother quickly drew me away and said, ‘I’ll tell you in a minute what that lad is.’ And she told me and she said they were the pilots that had been injured during the war and they were being treated at a place called East Grinstead.
MC: East Grinstead.
GS: And that’s where it first entered my life.
MC: Yeah.
GS: Which was fantastic.
MC: Yeah.
GS: And I never ever [emphasis] forgot it. And then my next experience was I had to go and have facial surgery myself and I went to University College Hospital in London in 1984 and I was due to see a professor there who had got this special programme going for people who had had cleft palates. And I sat in his office waiting for him and on the shelf was a cabinet and it was full of instruments used in plastic surgery and it was MacMillan forceps err McIndoe forceps, McIndoe this. McIndoe that. And I thought that name and I remembered back to then. And then in 1981 I went to Rauceby and discovered that again I was looking at the Guinea Pigs. That’s what those young men had been.
MC: Yeah. They were. Yeah. Of course. Yeah.
GS: And then I had the great honour of meeting a big group of them when they came to Rauceby for the reunion and that was one of the most moving moments of my life because on the day they came we really did put on a really good show for them. And the widow of the man who had been the [pause] I’m just, he had been the plastic surgeon for the unit there all through the war and his name was Squadron Leader Fenton Braithwaite and he went on to become a wing commander and that fascinated me. You know, that there was three jumps in my life and as I say when I met these men they still bore a lot of their scars but the widow of this surgeon had sent down some photograph albums. When the patients were brought in to the hospital they were photographed immediately and then as the treatment progressed photographs were taken on each occasion so that the men themselves could see how they were progressing. And also, it was there for the surgeons. And anyway, we, I remember sitting with somebody else and we were looking and we were both crying just looking at these terribly injured men. But on that day that they came we put a notice in the room where the whole thing was happening to say if anyone thought that they were featured in those books if they came to see me I could arrange for them to view the books and have a look if they wanted to. And one man came over and said, ‘Yes, I —' well several came and this particular one said, ‘I would very much like to see them.’ I said, ‘Right, come on. You come in my office.’ And I said, ‘Would you like me to stay with you or do you, would you like to be on your own?’ He said, ‘I would prefer if you would stay here.’ So I stopped with him and he leafed through and all of a sudden he found the picture he wanted. Oh, I’ve gone all [pause] And he said he’d spent, ‘I’ve laid a ghost.’ And I looked at him and he said, ‘I wanted to see my hands when I had fingers.’ And sure enough he had no fingers.
MC: Yeah.
GS: And he said, ‘I’m so grateful for seeing this.’ And with that he just got, got up and went back to the, to the room. But that whole day it was very very emotional. These men were all, in my eyes, heroes. Can you turn off? I must —
[recording paused]
MC: Yeah. Well, let’s go back to, we’ll carry on with that in a minute. Just go back because you were five when war broke out.
GS: Yeah.
MC: So, during the war were you, you stayed in London or did you get evacuated?
GS: I remained in London until 1944 when the VJ bombers were coming over and I don’t know if you had experience of them but they were terrifying.
MC: The V-1s.
GS: The V-1. V-2s.
MC: Yeah.
GS: And my parents decided that I should be evacuated so off I went to stay with a relation in Bristol. And I was only there five weeks and I wrote home and said to my, and said to my mother, ‘Mum, I want to come home. If you don’t come and fetch me I’m going to walk home.’ [laughs] My mother brought me home and two days after I came home a mine was dropped in the garden up the road and that was the nearest anything ever came. But —
MC: And whereabouts in London was this?
GS: I lived out at near Edgeware.
MC: Oh right. Yeah.
GS: So, but I have many many memories of the war.
MC: Yeah. So, when you left school, so you went to school in London.
GS: No. I left there in ’49.
MC: Oh yeah.
GS: And moved down to Wales and I went to school down there.
MC: Yeah. So, when you left school what was your, what did you do?
GS: Well, when I left school I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I won a scholarship to Art College and this is where the miserable bit comes in. I had no financial backing whatsoever and in the end I discovered it wasn’t going to work. I had no means of making money or anything. I had to give it up. So then I went and joined the Civil Service which was the most boring work I’ve ever done in my life. And it was through being in the Civil Service drove me in to the Army [laughs]
MC: So, when did you join the Army?
GS: I first joined in 1951. I joined the Territorial Army. That’s where I became a qualified radar technician. And I left that and joined the regular Army in ’55 and it was the best thing I ever did in my life. It was, it was the making of, I felt that my life actually started when I was twenty one. It was wonderful.
MC: So how long did you spend in the Army?
GS: I had four years in the regular Army and I went from private to sergeant in fifteen months. So, I must, must have been doing something right.
MC: Something right. Absolutely. Yeah.
GS: And I was also, I did an exam. They were talking about allowing the military policewomen to do SIB work which would, I would have loved. And I took, we did an exam which I passed with ninety eight percent but then of course they posted me to Germany didn’t they? [laughs] So I landed up in Germany where I met my husband and where foolishly I got married [laughs] So, yeah. That was my military experience. But the rest of it was, RAF experience was just as a service wife.
MC: Oh. Oh, yeah. Ok.
GS: And I could write a book about that.
MC: So, so, what brought you to Rauceby then?
GS: We were living at, my husband had been at Cranwell and my, my mother had just died in 1980 and I went through a really bad emotional time and our marriage was a bit shaky and my husband came home and he said, ‘They’re advertising for a librarian at Rauceby.’ And we all knew about Rauceby. Rauceby Hospital.
MC: Yeah.
GS: He said, ‘Why don’t you apply for it?’ I said, ‘No. They won’t give it to me. Why would they give it to me?’ So, I went for the interview and I think there were about seven of us went for the interview and I came home and I said, ‘Well,’ I said, ‘I just made them laugh.’ I said. I knew I wasn’t going to get the job. And we were having our tea and the phone rang and a voice said, ‘Oh hello, Mrs Stratten. Would you be interested in starting work —’ whatever. I couldn’t believe it. And that was giving me my dream job. It was perfect. I was in an old Victorian building. I was among medical things which I was fascinated by, you know. It was, it was just, just perfect.
MC: Yeah.
GS: I was able to, well I was involved in so many things in the hospital apart from the library. I joined the League of Friends. I used to do, oh I did several seminars and exhibitions and all sorts of things. It was the most wonderful job I’ve ever had in my life and as I’ve said before I would have done it for nothing only I didn’t let them know that. But it was a wonderful job.
MC: So, did you get to meet any of the patients there?
GS: I worked with patients as well.
MC: Oh, you worked with, oh I see, yeah. Yeah. Of course, you would do I suppose.
GS: Yes. I mean, you will find that there are things on the internet that talk rubbish about Rauceby. Well, I know for a fact I went through all the records. There were very very few examples of any cruelty to patients and when you read what all these people on this group that people that worked at Rauceby everyone said what a wonderfully happy place it was to work. It was. It was just lovely.
MC: So, what sort of hospital was it then?
GS: Well, it started out in 1902 as an asylum and initially the patients were housed in Grantham while they built the hospital and they moved in in 1902. And of course, it was wonderful. They’d got electric lights which I mean that was unheard of. Albeit the fact it was forty watt bulbs and it was only allowed to have it on at certain times of the day but it, it was just the whole, the whole concept of it. The whole building had been built with the patients in mind so that all the wards faced to the south which was wonderful. And of course, during the war they had, there were two verandas either side of the hospital. These were used for the tubercular patients and I’ve got a lovely picture of some on there with their nurses.
MC: Because weren’t some of the burns patients treated there as well?
GS: The burns patients were not treated in the hospital because in nineteen oh, 1928 Patrick, no not Patrick. Norman Henderson came to Rauceby as the medical superintendent. Then in nineteen, hang on I’m just thinking of the date. Nineteen. Where are we? Oh yes. The Mental Health Act changed in 1930 and it said that some patients could be day patients. They didn’t need to be, you know in all the time so they built a new little private hospital sort of thing away from the main building and that was going to be for the day patients. Well, they all moved in and then of course the war was coming along and the Air Ministry realised that they were building all these airfields they’d better provide some [laughs] some medical care. The hospital at Rauceby wasn’t big enough so they said right we have the day hospital at Rauceby and they moved the hospital from Cranwell. Moved it into Rauceby and they built two operating theatres in there. And then of course as things went on a little bit more it was realised they were going to need the whole hospital. So, on the 20th of April 1940 there were five hundred and twenty three patients with all their trappings. Their beds and everything were moved out and moved off to other asylums around the country and at the same time the RAF were moving in and kitting out the wards and they did the whole changeover in forty eight hours. And by any standards it was considered a miracle of organisation.
MC: It's quite amazing.
GS: And then of course they then progressed to build bomb blast wards around the south facing wards and built the things they required for military operations.
MC: So, when, when did you get to meet McIndoe then? Was that later?
GS: I haven’t actually met Mc —
MC: Oh, I thought you did.
GS: I always wish, I would have loved to have shaken his hand. He was a remarkable man.
MC: Yes.
GS: And anyone you speak to that had anything to do with him would say, and he was knighted of course for his work and he was just so remarkable. I mean for instance when he had these patients at East Grinstead, when men in the RAF were in hospital they had to wear these awful uniforms like, they were sort of grey blue things and they had a red tie and they were hideous. But he said, ‘No. My patients will wear their uniforms. They have got to know that they are still the men they were inside.’
MC: Absolutely.
GS: Even though they were disfigured. Disfigured externally. And I thought for that time that was very very forward thinking and he was really a psychologist in the making. But I thought that was incredible.
MC: So, was it still an asylum when you got there? Or was it not?
GS: Well, the Mental Health Act changed so much over the years. The original Mental Health Act, I mean you read it and it would make your hair curl. It really would but improvements were gradually made and every time there was a change there was a big upheaval everywhere you know. No. Even in, in the comparatively short time that I was there I think it changed two or three times but each time there would be an improvement. And then of course we come to Enoch Powell. The MP. The dreaded Enoch Powell. He came to Rauceby on an inspection and he walked all round and they took him down to the farm. The hospital had its own farm. They took him down to the farm and he just stood there and the people that were with him said you could smell this weird smell and he said it was from the pigsties and he said, ‘That is not right having the pigsties smelling like that when there is a school nearby.’ And anyway, he went away and a fortnight later they were told they had to stop all farming. Just like that. Now, when you think you’ve got these people in a mental hospital the majority of which came from agricultural backgrounds so that kind of work came second nature to them. So, it was good therapeutically and it provided produce for the hospital and everything. So, these poor people, they were, said, ‘Right, you can’t do it anymore. All you can do now is sit in your chair, read a book or whatever.’ There was nothing and so he was not very popular.
MC: I can imagine.
GS: But the awful thing was that they found out that the smell didn’t come from the pigsties. The smell came from a blocked drain [laughs]
MC: But the farming, the farm never restarted.
GS: The farm never restarted.
MC: Oh shame.
GS: Yeah. They did keep some of the gardens going and within the hospital, in fact next door to my office we had the most glorious Edwardian conservatory which, I mean it was just magnificent and so some of the people, the patients that were able to could go in there and work on the plants and that. But to take away that without even considering that he was removing an essential part of those people’s lives was wrong.
MC: So, I mean there was one thing that somebody brought to my attention was called NYDN. Not Yet Diagnosed Neuropsychiatric. Did you ever, was that —
GS: Never. Never heard that.
MC: It was just something somebody mentioned to me about —
GS: No one never. No. I never heard that one.
MC: Never heard. I was going to say so, so, what, what prompted you to write the history?
GS: Well, as I say when I first went there I realised what I was in and I thought this is wonderful. Look at all these lovely old Victorian, Victorian fittings. I mean the interior of that building was to my mind fantastic. It was all these wonderful glazed tiles and the workmanship that had gone in to it. Great big solid oak doors. It was just beautiful. They’d modernised the wards gradually over the years but a lot of the old tiles were there. It was so beautiful and so I wanted to know how they’d come to be there. That set me off trying to find out about the building of it and then, and it just went on from there and then we decided that we were coming up to one anniversary and somebody said to me, ‘Why don’t you organise a reunion for all the, for all the ex, for all the ex-staff.’ And I thought oh, that’s a good idea. Says she. And then of course we had to hunt out all these records. Well, when we were looking for the records we were finding all sorts of old photographs and documents and I said, ‘What’s going to happen when the hospital shuts?’ And the clerk said, ‘Well, they’ll just bin them.’ And I thought, ‘No, they will not.’ So, as I went round I gradually accumulated all these wonderful books and things and one day the porters came down to me. I’d got them on my, my list and they kept their eye open and they said, ‘Oh, Mrs Stratten we’ve found something we think you ought to see.’ So off we went in to the cellars of the hospital and there on a shelf were three great big leather bound books. And when I opened them the first two were all hand written and the third one had typed sheets taped into it and they were the patients’ records from the day the asylum opened.
MC: Goodness me.
GS: And would you believe I brought them all home and I read the lot. It was amazing. It gave me a real insight in to how the medical professional approached, well mad patients as they were.
MC: Yeah. Yeah.
GS: And they were the majority of them were considered to be pauper lunatics.
MC: It wouldn’t work today.
GS: So, I thought well now these books they are not going to be dumped. So, I thought, right. I know what we’ll do. We’ll have a reunion and I will do an exhibition in the ballroom and we can have all that there and then afterwards I I will look to putting it all safely. So after we had the reunion which went very well indeed we [pause] I rang the Archives in Lincoln and said, ‘I’ve got something I think you ought see.’ And they came out and said, ‘Oh, thank goodness you’ve got to us.’ They said ‘already the leather is deteriorating’ so they were wrapped up very carefully and put in a box and taken away so I knew they were safe. Some of the books I hung on to because I thought I’ll hang on to it until we close the hospital. Then I’ll hand them over. So, and then that started the Rauceby connection as such and it just grew from there because everyone in the hospital knew what I was doing and as I say after the reunion of the patients I wrote a little book called, “Rauceby Reflections.” About the hospital which we sold nine hundred copies and there were copies sent to Australia, New Zealand, Canada. All. America they went. They went all over the place. I mean we sold them at two pounds each I think it was and the money went to the League of Friends so that they could buy Christmas presents for the patients. So it was win win win all the way round.
MC: That’s excellent. Really brilliant. Yeah. So —
[recording paused]
GS: How did we come to doing this RAF reunion? Yes.
MC: What’s, oh that was the RAF reunion.
GS: No. The one I’m talking about was, was the hospital reunion.
MC: Oh, yes. Yeah. Yeah.
GS: And in actual fact we found a lady who had started work there in 1915 and I’ve got some lovely pictures of her and she was fantastic. Is that on or off?
MC: It’s on. Yeah. Go on. It’s —
GS: Anyway, after that while the, while the reunion was in progress I was in the ballroom and walking round and I noticed down in the corner where the little bit of the RAF bit was I could see these, I think there was two couples, a husband and wife couples taking great interest in it and they came over and they said, ‘Mrs Stratten, is there any chance that you could organise a reunion for the RAF?’ Well, I said, ‘Nothing’s impossible if you don’t try.’ But I said, ‘Just leave it with me.’ And at the same time this lady came over. Her name was Mrs Masters and she had been a nurse in the Burns Unit at Rauceby during the war. So, she came over and said, ‘Do you think we can do a reunion for the RAF?’ So, with that I got in, I had a colleague who was interested so he and Mrs Masters and I went up to see the manager at the hospital and said, ‘Look, we’ve had this request. Would you mind if, could we do it?’ And he was very obliging. He said, ‘Well, I don’t see why not. But you’re doing it. We’re not doing it.’ Right. And, but of course we had a bit of a problem there didn’t we? We hadn’t got any old books about, about RAF personnel. Nothing. The only thing we had was this photograph of RAF, RAF men in uniform. And we knew, we knew Norman Henderson who’d been the medical superintendent and who had been with the RAF during the war as a wing commander but that was all. So, of course then we had to try and trace all these men. I can’t remember how long it took me but I did finally get a name for everybody on that photograph.
MC: And how many was on it?
GS: I can’t remember.
MC: [unclear]
GS: Hang on. I’ve got the photograph here. One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven, twelve, thirteen, fourteen, fifteen, sixteen, seventeen, eighteen, nineteen, twenty one.
MC: Twenty one. And you got the names of all of them.
GS: And I got the names for all of them.
MC: That’s quite amazing. So, and then they call came to the reunion.
GS: No. No. No. No.
MC: Oh.
GS: Well, some of them had already passed away.
MC: Oh, I see. That was amazing.
GS: I mean, we were so chuffed. We got all the names and what was nice going into the future over the years we’ve had so many telephones calls and letters and things from people making enquiries about how they can find details of their grandfathers or their fathers or whatever. And this gentleman contacted us and said, ‘I never knew my father. He died just shortly after I was born. And —’ he said, ‘My mother always regrets that she never had a photograph of my father in his uniform.’ And he said, ‘I wondered if you’d got anything in your collection.’ Well, we looked through everything. Couldn’t find anything and then the name sort of rung a bell and I looked and there’s a picture of him on, in that big picture. And we, we did a copy of it and sent it off to him and we had the most wonderful letter back to say that his mother cried when she opened it.
MC: So, I mean it was, I mean in your history that you talk about the number of operations that were done.
GS: Yeah.
MC: You know, it’s quite, quite a busy hospital during the war then.
GS: Well, I mean, I can remember somebody saying that you could come out and you’d get up in the morning and there would be ambulances the full length of the drive bringing patients in and of course the other thing is in the Burns and Orthopaedic Unit you see these planes were going out on these bomber raids and things and sometimes there were accidents on the way out.
MC: Yeah. Yeah.
GS: But more often than not it was coming home and then perhaps been injured during the flight. Or the big thing was getting frostbite on their hands. And so of course it was, it was working twenty four hours a day.
MC: A constant flow.
GS: A constant flow. And I know Mrs Masters said that, she said you would just clean up the operating theatre from one thing, she said you just had time to have a quick cup of tea and there was somebody else in there. She said it just didn’t stop.
MC: So you, this story you wrote after you’d finished at the hospital then or were you still at the hospital? I suppose you started it at the hospital.
GS: Well, I started it. I did write an edition of it some in 2000 I think it was. I was never really happy with it but in between 2000 and 2021 we had so much material come back because we’d sold so many books and people were then remembering things that I thought oh, but then when I was ill last year I couldn’t concentrate on anything. I was just so ill. And I sat here one day and I thought I’ve got to do something and I want to get this Rauceby thing sorted and I remembered that I had a half-finished manuscript somewhere. So I hoicked this out of the cupboard and went through it and then sat down and I concentrated solely on writing this one.
MC: Yeah.
GS: And it helped me. It just got me back to functioning. The only problem was that never having done such a thing before I had no means of getting people to tell me what I should be doing. I wanted someone to come and help me put things on the computer because I was doing things I’d never done before and it was awful. I just had literally no help at all and it was finally at the end I just got to the point where I found a publisher who was interested and I thought I’ve got to get someone just to help me to finish it off. A gentleman up the road is a IT specialist and I said, ‘Look, blow the Coronavirus thing,’ I said, ‘I’m over it and,’ I said, ‘You’re alright.’ And he came down and he sat for about an hour just, just tweaking it to get it right, you know. But I thought oh no. But then the publisher. They were in a state of chaos because when I’d initially put the book forward they were changing their operations. Then Corona came along. Half their, well most of their staff were working from home and I landed up with that version and then there’s a smaller version which is the one on, on Amazon with the code on it. And they published both [laughs] so you take your choice.
MC: Still the same story.
GS: Still the same story.
MC: Right.
GS: So, that, that one there I just that came out the blue really because —
MC: This was just of the war period.
GS: So, I thought no I’m, the other thing that made me cross as well I went to the museum at Hendon some years ago and that was very interesting. I even found something about my son’s activities on there. And I said to them, ‘Have you got anything on the medical side of, you know, hospitals and that during the war?’ ‘No. No.’ Anyway, I gave them a copy of the original little pamphlet thing which they were pleased with and then I was thinking when I was looking at all this I thought flip, I’m doing this for Bomber Command. I’m going to do another copy and send it down to Hendon because it should be there.
MC: Yeah. Quite right. Yeah. I mean in one story I was going to say that you mentioned that obviously Rauceby was nearly destroyed in a fire. In a fire.
GS: Well, yeah because that was after the war when it was still in, in being occupied by the RAF. Now, they had a beautiful ballroom there and of course during the war they used to have dances and that which was very popular in the local population. Especially the girls. And they would go down to the dances. Well, underneath the stage there was a room where they used to stack all the old bits of furniture. Anyway, this particular night they’d had the dance and it was over and somebody must have been in there and left a cigarette burning and the whole, because it was all pine panelling and the floor was all highly polished and it had great big, great big like stained windows. And the whole lot just went up. And fortunately, the wind was blowing in the right direction that it was, they could get everybody out but the fire just destroyed all the old ballroom and I’ve looked and looked and looked to find a picture and I did find one but it’s a very, very scrappy drawing of the ballroom.
MC: Yeah.
MC: But it gives you some indication of what it was like. But yes, and that was 1945 1946. Around then.
MC: Yeah. You say it was 1945.
GS: Yeah. Yeah.
MC: Yeah [pause] Yeah. Whit Monday 1945. Yeah. So when, so did you go back to Rauceby? You know for the closure when it was closed or —
GS: Well, I was one of the last people there.
MC: Oh, really.
GS: It was, it was awful really.
MC: So, were you still working there when it closed?
GS: 1997.
MC: Oh, you were still working there. Right.
GS: I was still working there. Yeah. And what I’m, I should have retired three years beforehand but I thought no I’ve started all these libraries and I want to be here at the end. So of course, we had to get everything out and on the last day I was officially opened my boss came from, from Pilgrim and there was somebody else there. And I, when I went to work I always used to dress formally because I thought you’re in the public eye, you know you dressed neatly but that morning I went to work wearing trousers and a jumper with a funny teddy bear on the front and my boss said to me, ‘Well, I’ve never seen you dressed like that.’ I said, ‘No.’ I said, ‘It’s the last day. I’m doing it for that.’ Anyway, while they and the other two were doing something or other and they weren’t around I just quietly slipped away. But then it was arranged that I should go back there. Just after Christmas it was. No. No. Sorry. Just before Christmas and I should check, there was a big box in the hall where people used to put books in. So I, they said, ‘Would you go back just check see the books in there.’ There was nothing in there anyway. But it was very strange going in to a —
MC: Quite eerie.
GS: I had on the last day walked all around the hospital on my own.
MC: Yeah. Very emotional.
[recording paused]
MC: You was going to mention something else.
GS: Yeah.
MC: What was that?
GS: Well, when I talked to, when these people were coming in to see me at the hospital from our ex-RAF people several turned up wanting to have a look around and having a chat with me and this man came in and he’d got a book with him. And in the book he’d written, and he had been flying in the Hampden aircraft and apparently he’d had quite a hair raising time and they sent him in to the Psychiatric Department. And he’d only, he said, ‘I’d only been in about ten days and —' he said there was one of these big inspections that the RAF love having when bigwigs come down and all the rest of it. And he said, ‘There was this rather elderly sort of high-ranking officer there in charge and —’ he said, ‘He stood by my bed and said, “What’s this man in here for?” And they told him, you know. He said, “He looks perfectly fit to me. Discharge him. He can go back. Man up. Man up.” Anyway, they sent me back to my unit and then a week or two later my MO on the station sent me back to Rauceby.’ I thought that just shows the attitude of some of the —
MC: Did he say what his problem was?
GS: It was only through all these people were under intense pressure.
MC: Absolutely.
GS: All the time. And although they were, there was a degree of fun and they had to have this outlet with all the activities they did and the, and the silly things they did because they wouldn’t have lasted another minute.
MC: Yeah. Are you aware of the term LMF?
GS: No.
MC: Used in the Air Force. Lack of moral fibre.
GS: Oh well, I know about that from, from the first one. Well, from the First World War when they took people out and shot them.
MC: Yeah. Well, I mean the MO at the station then would have likely sent that young man to the hospital.
GS: Yeah.
MC: To avoid him being declared as lack of moral fibre. That’s the, you know, that was, it was one of those things during the war. I just wondered whether you’d come across it.
GS: No. I’d not come across that. I mean most of the people that other than that I’d spoke to a lot of them were people who actually worked at the hospital and RAF people.
MC: Yes.
GS: But as I say a large, a large proportion of the people that came to the reunion were people who had actually had the treatment at the hospital. I mean, like Gus Walker. Wing, wing, well I can’t remember what he was then. He was the commander anyway. At Scampton.
MC: Yeah.
GS: And he’d, he’d been talking to another man standing outside and he noticed there was a Lancaster bomber and the bomb doors were open and there were fuses dropping that were not, not alight and he knew there was a big bomb on board and he went to run towards it. He went to run towards it and the bomb went up. The plane completely disappeared and Gus Walker was blown seventy feet backwards fortunately but he left one arm behind.
MC: Yes. I know the story of Gus Walker. Yes.
GS: Yes. I only know because when we were in Holland he was in charge out there and my friend’s father was the, husband rather was his driver and we met him at various functions that we went to. So I felt very privileged you know but yeah I mean —
MC: Was Gus Walker treated at the hospital then?
GS: What they did, they happened, they went rushing out. This Mrs Masters went and she and two surgeons and that rushed out there and then brought him back. And then he, while he was in there, God, what was his name? The Dambusters man.
MC: Oh, Gibson.
GS: Gibson.
MC: Yeah.
GS: He was, apparently he was very close to Gus Walker.
MC: Yeah.
GS: And he used to come in practically every day to see him. And that’s when Mrs Masters and Gus, and that young man started an affair but —
MC: Ok [laughs] Which young man are you talking about? [laughs] Oh so we’re —
GS: What did I say his name was?
MC: Gibson.
GS: Gibson. With Gibson.
MC: Really?
GS: In fact, Gibson was her son’s godfather.
MC: Amazing. Amazing. Yeah.
GS: But, but no it, no one who, I mean you’ve been in the RAF so you will realise you know but you can’t possibly realise what it was like. It’s only by talking to these people that you realise what pressure they were under. It was immense.
MC: Yeah. Yes, it was.
GS: And when, when I hear about these people nowadays moaning and groaning about doing a bit of extra work I really get —
MC: Yes. They certainly did go through a lot.
GS: They did.
MC: They did. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Well, it’s been lovely talking to you, you know.
GS: Do you think that’s alright?
MC: Oh, it’s brilliant. It’s been brilliant. It’s superb and I thank you very much for doing this interview.
GS: Well, as I said now I can put it all to rest and I can just shut my mind away from it because I’ve lived with it for all these years and I just wanted to make sure that it was available on the internet about Rauceby itself and I wanted Bomber Command to have something about it.
MC: The beauty of this is of course, the recording is, it will be on the archives.
GS: Yeah.
MC: People can listen to your story.
GS: Probably bore them stiff.
MC: Thank you very much.
GS: Are you sure you don’t want a drink?
MC: No, thank you Gwyneth.
GS: That’s alright.



Mike Connock, “Interview with Gwyneth Stratten,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed July 23, 2024,

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