Interview with Joyce Colley


Interview with Joyce Colley


Joyce Colley grew up in Leicestershire and Somerset. She was working as a trainee hairdresser before she was conscripted into the Women's Auxiliary Air Force in 1944. After training she worked as a teleprinter operator in an underground bunker. She remained in the Royal Air Force until 1948.







00:44:52 audio recording

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HB: This is an interview for the International Bomber Command Centre at Lincoln. Taking place between myself Harry Bartlett, the interviewer and Mrs Joyce Colley.

JC: Colley [spells out surname]

HB: Who is an ex acting sergeant in the women’s auxiliary air force.

JC: That’s right.

HB: And served during er the Second World War.

JC: Second World War, that’s right.

HB: The interview’s taking place on the 27th of September 2017 [background noise] in Rugby [background noise].

Carer: Do you want a cup of tea or anything?

HB: No thank you. Right Joyce, we’ve been introduced.

JC: Let battle commence.

HB: We know that you’re over 21 for definite.

JC: That’s true, yeah.

HB: You were born 27th May 1925. Where were you born Joyce?

JC: Here, well not literally.

HB: In Rugby?

JC: No I was born in Nuneaton.

HB: In Nuneaton, right.

JC: Yeah.

HB: Right, and is that where you went to school?

JC: Partly, until I was eleven.

HB: Right.

JC: And then my dad got a, this job took him down South to Somerset.

HB: Right.

JC: So we all trooped off down to Somerset and we were there a few years until my dad died and then my mum wanted to, we all came trooping back up and erm I don’t know where we went then I’ve forgotten, it’s all a bit hazy. And I was here then until I was about fifteen.

HB: Right.

JC: And back we went down again. I met Ted you see in this job was down in Portsmouth, would you like to [unclear].

HB: And Ted is?

JC: My husband.

HB: Right.

JC: Only he wasn’t my husband then.

HB: No, were you working at this time Joyce?

JC: Yeah, yeah.

HB: What were you doing as a job? [laughs]

JC: Well I started, I can only remember from when I was in the Air Force.

HB: Right.

JC: And I was a tele printer operator.

HB: Ah right, so, so were you married to Ted before the war?

JC: Yes.

HB: Right, when did you marry Ted?

JC: Do you know I can’t remember.

HB: How far before the war?

JC: Ooh, [laughs] no I think it was ’44, do you know I can’t remember.

HB: That’s alright.

JC: I’m ashamed to say I can’t remember.

HB: That’s not a problem, that’s not a problem. So where were you when you actually signed up, when you went, did you volunteer or were you actually called up?

JC: Er, no well it was as bit of each actually.

HB: Right.

JC: They were going, they said if you don’t go you’ll be took.

HB: [laughs] Right. [laughs]

JC: So it was an either or situation.

HB: Yes.

JC: So I had to leave my job and went into the Air Force.

HB: And what was, where was.

JC: I was a trainee hairdresser at that point.

HB: Right.

JC: Yeah.

HB: And where were you when you were called up, can you remember?

JC: I was here.

HB: You were here in Nuneaton

JC: Yeah, Yeah.

HB: Oh right, right. So you got called up, well called up volunteered.

JC: That’s right, pressganged.

HB: Yeah, and did they just send you straight for training or did they send you home again?

JC: No, [makes whistle sound] up to Lancashire, just outside Liverpool, Wigan.

HB: Wigan.

JC: Wigan believe it or not.

HB: Right.

JC: Between Wigan, yeah, under a slag heap.

HB: Oh right.

JC: Literally under a slag heap.

HB: And was that an RAF station or was it just a training depot?

JC: It was a secret centre.

HB: Right.

JC: Coding Centre.

HB: Ah right.

JC: So I was there you see.

HB: Yeah, and is that where you did your training?

JC: Yeah.

HB: And when you finished your training can you remember.

JC: I went to Cranwell to do my training.

HB: Ah right.

JC: All me sir no, madam yeah, three bags full and then we did our training and then we were posted.

HB: Right.

JC: And I was posted to erm up North.

HB: Right.

JC: And my home was down South, typical Air Force, typical services.

HB: Yeah.

JC: So it took me three days to get from when I went on leave, three days travelling from my home to the station and backwards and forwards up and down the country.

HB: Oh dear, right.

JC: Three days one way, because of all the raids.

HB: Yes, oh yes.

JC: They were shooting from the sidings you see, troop’s raids going past.

HB: Yeah, yeah.

JC: I’m sorry this must be ever so boring for you.

LM: [unclear] [laughs]
HB: No, no. [laughs]

JC: She bares with it bravely.

HB: Yes. Erm, sorry I did forget to mention at the beginning of the interview that there, we have got a carer present who is, what is your name?

Carer: Agneshka.

HB: Agneshka.

Carer: [laughs]

HB: Right.

JC: It gets them every time doesn’t it?

HB: [laughs] Right so what, can you remember what year you actually joined?

JC: ‘44.

HB: You went in ‘44.

JC: ‘44 to ‘48 I served.

HB: Yeah, was it early on in ’44 that you went?

JC: Yeah, yeah.

HB: Right, so you went to Cranwell and did your initial training.

JC: Did my initial training.

HB: Marching about and saluting.

JC: That’s right.

HB: And you then got posted to Wigan?

JC: Yeah.

HB: And did Wigan have a name or did it, or was it just a number?

JC: No, it did have a name but it was the station name.

HB: Right.

JC: Blackbrook, RAF Blackbrook.

HB: Right.

JC: It comes eventually.

HB: Yeah, like I say there’s no rush Joyce at all.

JC: RAF Blackbrook, yeah.

HB: So you go to RAF Blackbrook.

JC: Hmm.

HB: And your job, you get sent to do, what was your job?

JC: Tele printing.

HB: Right.

JC: Secret bomber, sending out bombers and bringing them back in erm and missing reports and death reports. That was awful.

HB: Hmm.

JC: I remember once being on duty one night duty and they’d been on a bomber raid over Berlin and I put five reels of paper in my machine every line there was a missing man or a killed man.

HB: Oh no.

JC: I thought there’d be nobody left I swear, we were all in tears.

HB: Do you know what squadron that was with?

JC: Erm, no I don’t, I don’t remember.

HB: Right.

JC: But it was bomber command they went on bombing raids.

HB: Yeah. And that was from Blackpool.

JC: Yeah, yeah.

HB: So you working on the tele printer, where were you living?

JC: On camp.

HB: You lived on camp?

JC: Under a slag heap.

HB: [laughs]

JC: On the Liverpool Lancashire Road.

HB: Yeah.

JC: Buried under a slag heap and that’s where we lived and where we worked and we never saw light of day or breathe fresh air.

HB: So you were underground?

JC: We were underground, we were under a slag heap.

HB: Oh right, oh right, underneath the slag heap?

JC: Underneath the slag heap, it was air raid precaution you see.

HB: Yeah, yeah.

JC: Terrible, no fresh air.

HB: So how, when you were billeted on the airfield, where you in a?

JC: No air field.

HB: Sorry?

JC: No air field.

HB: There was no air field?

JC: We weren’t on an air field, we were on a secret, it was a secret.

HB: Communication centre.

JC: Yeah, communication centre, as I say we were buried under the slag heap and we were moved by coach/bus, erm RAF bus from our billets which were in Wigan.

HB: Right.

JC: Backwards and forwards to, to RAF Blackbrook.

HB: So the actual billet you were in was in Wigan?

JC: Yeah.

HB: Were they private houses?

JC: Some were, yes.

HB: Where you.

JC: Then we all got moved back into camp.

HB: At Blackbrook?

JC: Yeah.

HB: Right, so when you first got there you were in a private house somewhere?

JC: To start off yeah, a private billet.

HB: Right. And how many of you were there?

JC: There was only me billeted with a family.

HB: Right.

JC: Oh no two of us.

HB: Right:

JC: Two of us that’s right, yeah.

HB: And were you, and was that your pal or just someone you served with?

JC: Well somebody we served with.

HB: Right.

JC: Really.

HB: And did you keep in touch with the family?

JC: No, no, not once we’d left, no.

HB: So how long do you think you were in the civilian billet before you moved into the camp?

JC: Oh about a year.

HB: Right.

JC: About a year, I don’t know why they kept us all in there but we were all, I think it was until they got it built to be honest.

HB: Oh right.

JC: Because you know it was all new, all, I tell you it was all crash, bang wallop you know, all done in a rush. This must be ever so boring for you I’m ever so sorry.

Carer: No, [laughs] I just listen.

HB: Er. so, so you, you get picked up in buses and taken backwards and forwards.

JC: From the camp.

HB: Yeah, and you go down underground, how many would be working in your section?

JC: Oh, there’s a tele printer section in one room and a telephone exchange in the other.

HB: Hmm.

JC: And it was, oh there’d be about forty or fifty girls there, quite a big camp, and the bus would come and take us back to the camp, yeah.

HB: Yeah. So when you were operating the tele printer and doing the secret coding.

JC: Secret coding, yeah.

HB: Where were your messages going to and where were they coming from?

JC: Well they’d be going to bomber command.

HB: Right.

JC: Various stations. That’s why it was secret you see.

HB: Yeah, yeah. So you were doing that.

JC: Hmm.

HB: Erm, what sort of stuff were you getting coming into your?

JC: It was all coded.

HB: Right, so.

JC: Six letter codes, in blocks of six.

HB: Right, six of six. And then you would hand that to somebody or?

JC: And they’d be de-coded, yeah yeah.

HB: Did you do any of the de-coding?

JC: No, no that was a separate, that was a secret section, within a secret section.

HB: Ah, yeah that’s interesting. So then eventually they built you some accommodation on the camp did they?

JC: No there was no camp as such.

HB: No, no, no, but there, so when you moved out of your civilian camp.

JC: We moved camp.

HB: Ahh.

JC: I was transferred from that camp to where I ended up RAF Blackbrook.

HB: At RAF Blackbrook, right.

JC: Blackbrook, yeah, yeah where I ended up.

HB: Right, so at Blackbrook where they flying aircraft from Blackbrook?

JC: No it was a secret coding.

HB: That was still a er

JC: A secret coding centre.

HB: Right.

JC: And we were coding for the North East of England.

HB: Oh right, right. So you went to Blackbrook.

JC: Hmm.

HB: And is that where you went into accommodation on the camp?

JC: Yeah.

HB: Yeah.

JC: Accommodation underground.

HB: So how did that work?

JC: Badly [laughs] we never saw daylight hardly ever.

HB: Oh right.

JC: And eventually we started getting bombed.

HB: Did you?

JC: Yeah, yeah.

HB: Oh right.

JC: They went as far up country as that and Germany.

HB: Right.

JC: So we were getting bombed. We had several girls lost through bombing.

HB: Did you.

JC: Yeah, and we had to go underground.

HB: Yeah.

JC: Into the bunkers, yeah, and the sirens started going.

HB: Yeah. So how long were you there at Blackbrook?

JC: Oh goodness, I don’t remember. I left from there so I was there for the rest of, for a long time.

HB: So you were there from about ’45 to 48?

JC: Something like that yeah.

HB: Wow.

JC: That’s when I began to get my sergeant’s stripes.

HB: Yeah, I was going to say so, so.

JC: Because I’m an old hand you see.

HB: Yeah. When did you become a corporal then Joyce?

JC: Oh, I think it must’ve been serving what eighteen months. Then I became a corporal and then I was upgraded to sergeant, yeah.

HB: Yeah, yeah.

JC: Sergeant [laughs] air woman.

HB: [laughs] Were you in charge of a section then?

JC: Pretty much yeah.

HB: And how many were in your section?

JC: About twenty.

HB: Oh right, so a big, a big group.

JC: Yeah, yeah big sections, there was a lot of us there.

HB: And what was your responsibility for them?

JC: Everything, made sure they were on parade on time and ‘air woman get your seams straight.’

HB: [laughs]

JC: We weren’t allowed stockings with seams in.

HB: Oh right.

JC: And if we did, and I was one of them, I must admit, I own up, I was one of them. You can never wear your stockings straight, you turned your stockings inside out because that made the seams show.

HB: Ahh.

JC: Or if you couldn’t get stockings you painted a line down the back of your leg.

HB: [laughs]

JC: We must [unclear] to you, we did yeah.

Carer: [laughs]

HB: So when you, after you’d been posted to the station, obviously your husband’s still living.

JC: I don’t know where he lived, he was in the navy.

HB: Oh he was in the navy, so, oh right so that was.

JC: I hadn’t met him then, no.

HB: Oh right, right.

JC: No.

HB: So how did you, what did you do for entertainment when you were off duty?

JC: Not a lot.

HB: No.

JC: Well we were on a secret camp.

HB: Yeah, yeah.

JC: And there was nothing there you see because it was secret.

HB: Right.

JC: Yes it was grim.

HB: Yeah. What did you do to alleviate the boredom then?

JC: Not a lot.

HB: [laughs]

JC: It was almost like what we do here to be honest.

HB: [laugh]

JC: Not a lot no.

HB: So what did you do a bit of reading and a bit of.

JC: That’s all we could do.

HB: A bit of chatting?

JC: Yeah the book. But of course in the war time all the books were taken for the pulping to ammunition and that sort of thing.

HB: Right.

JC: And that sort of thing, so you couldn’t get books really.

HB: Right.

JC: You just sat and chatted.

HB: Did you ever leave the camp to go to dances or anything outside?

JC: Sometimes, but not very often, we were bussed out and bussed back.

HB: Yeah. Did you have to, did you have to go in uniform when you went?

JC: We usually did yeah.

HB: Did you ever sneak out?

JC: What do you mean under the wire, literally under the wire? Yeah a couple of times.

HB: [laughs] I thought you might have.

JC: You’re not supposed to know that.

HB: I thought you might have.

JC: We found a hole in the hedge in the wire mesh.

HB: Yeah. And where would you go when you sneaked out?

JC: Well into the nearest town. We hitched.

HB: Oh right.

JC: No money to spend to buy a ticket to go on the bus.

HB: No.

JC: So we hitched [laughs] literally, yeah.

Carer: [laughs]

HB: [laughs] showing a bit of knee.

JC: That’s right yeah. And of course they were ever so kind, people were very kind, seeing us in uniform they let us into cinemas without paying, they smuggled us into erm theatres through the chorus girl’s entrance and one day we went to a theatre and we were standing and er ‘where are you going girls’ and we said ‘we’re trying to get a seat’ [whistles] and he beckoned us in and he took us round the side entrance and we all went in with all the chorus girls and we ended up across the stage, the curtains were drawn back with all the girls, it was hilarious, hilarious.

HB: [laughs] did you join in?

JC: No because they, no we couldn’t really, but they sneaked us across from one side of the stage to the other, the audience was there, the audience was there.

HB: What town was that then?

JC: This was in Liverpool, yeah Liverpool.

HB: Oh right.

JC: Hmm.

HB: I bet that was fun.

JC: It was, it was hilarious.

HB: Yeah.

JC: Well I still remember it.

HB: Well yeah it must’ve been good fun.

JC: It was a good laugh yeah. People were ever so kind to us, the doormen would sneak us in for free to the cinemas and they were really kind, really lovely.

HB: What did you do for rations then if you went under the wire, did you take a chocolate bar with you?

JC: No, no, chocolate bar, what are you talking about.

Carer: [laughs]

JC: What are they, no there was no such thing, no we just went without.

HB: Yeah, yeah.

JC: That’s all you could do.

HB: Yeah, yeah.

JC: Chocolate bar.

HB: Right, so now we get to the difficult bit.

JC: Oh, I thought that was the difficult bit.


HB: We get to the difficult bit now right.

JC: Yeah.

HB: So how often did they send you on leave?

JC: Once every three months if we were lucky.

HB: Right.

JC: It depended on bomber raids, if we could get transport, because the trains, it used to take me three days to go from Liverpool to get home, three days on my leave there and three days to get back to camp.

HB: So you really only had.

JC: A few days, yeah, yeah. And that was once every three months.

HB: Yeah, so.

JC: If we were lucky, mostly six months depended on bomber commands, the pressure of traffic at the time, whether we’d get rail transport, personnel everything. There was a war on dear.

HB: Yes, absolutely. So you’re sitting at your tele printer and you keep going off on leave so the big question is how did you meet Ted?

JC: At a dance in, we were back, because I was out of the service by then. Back in civilian life.

HB: Oh you were back in civilian life, oh right.

JC: Yeah.

HB: So you didn’t meet Ted during the war?

JC: No, no, no, no, I met him here in Rugby.

HB: Ah right. So you’ve been invited to all these theatres and cinemas and.

JC: Not invited dear, smuggled in.

HB: [laughs]

JC: Invited in inverted commas.

HB: Yeah. So what about boyfriends then?

JC: It depends they were all in the forces, so you’d make a date to meet somebody and they didn’t turn up and then you’d find that they were sent on a bombing raid but of course they couldn’t tell you.

HB: Yeah, yeah.

JC: And sometimes they came back, most times they didn’t.

HB: Yeah.

JC: It was very, very sad, very sad.

HB: Did that happen to you?

JC: Yeah, yeah, oh yeah, a special mate. And you’d stand in the Nafi que waiting for a cup of tea and you’d turn round and there’d be a chap standing behind you with no face.

HB: Oh right.

JC: That was, and the trick was to say ‘do you want a cup of tea mate’ you know without blinking without showing any emotion, that was the trick.

HB: Right.

JC: Never once did you ever let go and if a man like that asked you to dance you always danced, you never refused EVER.

HB: Yeah.

JC: Just wasn’t done. Broke the code.

HB: Absolutely, absolutely.

JC: Yeah, yeah.

HB: So when you were up at Liverpool did they have dances on the camp.

JC: No, no.

HB: That was that all excluded.

JC: Yes because it was a secret camp.

HB: Yeah because it was secret, yeah. So.

JC: No we went into the town.

HB: So you went into the town. Yeah, oh right that’s interesting,

JC: We didn’t get buses we got trucks.

HB: Yeah.

JC: And when you were going, and you asked if they could get, and what they did they threw you into, literally threw us into the backs of the trucks. Hands under your bottom and shoved and that’s how we arrived at the trucks.

HB: Ah, that was a good excuse [laughs].

JC: It was.

HB: Yeah, so just going back to 1945 ’46 erm, you’re doing the tele printing work, what sort of things were you sending out?

JC: Well they were secret codes.

HB: So,so.

JC: Blocks of six, lines of five.

HB: Right, so.

JC: They were just letters which didn’t mean a thing or numbers.

HB: Right.

JC: It was secret you see as you know.

HB: Yeah. And you mentioned earlier on that you did the missing list.

JC: Yes.

HB: You did the missing list and that sort of thing.

JC: Yeah, yeah.

HB: So did you send them out?

JC: They were in plain code.

HB: They were in plain language.

JC: In plain language, yeah.

HB: Er for the losses.

JC: Yeah yeah, oh it was dreadful, kin formed, that means they their families had been informed, kin not formed means they didn’t know who they were or where they were, they just didn’t come back to camp.

HB: Hmm.

JC: It was really terrible.

HB: And you, I suppose really sometimes you’d recognise names would you?

JC: Hmm.

HB: That would be sad.

JC: It was terrible, really was, terrible. Bored her off look, [laughs] she has to go to her job.

HB: Yeah. Yes it’s difficult to sort of put that into words isn’t it?

JC: It is actually.

HB: Yeah.

JC: It went too deep and I’ve never forgotten it never.

HB: No.

JC: No never, all those lovely men and they were and then we started getting them back you know how the, was it John West is it, started getting back bomber command [unclear].

HB: Oh the er,

JC: Terrible injuries.

HB: Yeah.

JC: Faces burnt to a frazzle, dreadful.

HB: Yeah.

JC: And we had an aircraft landed on our where we were the site we were on and to see the, oh god I can’t tell you, dreadful, dreadful, falling out of the aircraft all in flames.

HB: Were they prisoners of war coming back?

JC: No, no they were bomber crew.

HB: They were just crew who had managed to get back.

JC: Get back that’s right.

HB: Badly burned.

JC: That’s right, shocking, shocking it was.

HB: Yeah that’s the, that’s the side that people don’t know about.

JC: No don’t know about.

HB: They don’t really know much about do they?

JC: No, no. But I thought of their, some of them were married with young children and they said that their wives loved having them [unclear] and the children went screaming from their daddies, it was awful, terrible, terrible.

HB: Very, very hard to imagine isn’t it.

JC: Oh terrible. Anyway.

HB: I mean at that, that’s an aspect you know we don’t very often get to talk about.

JC: Hmm.

HB: So you’ve got to 1944 or ’45 ’46, you’re still up at Liverpool?

JC: No I was back home then.

HB: Back in.

JC: No ’48.

HB: So you were up at Liverpool all the while up until ’48?

JC: Yes then I came back down to Somerset.

HB: Right.

JC: Back home.

HB: Which was where mum and dad were?

JC: That’s right.

HB: Right, so you, if you can remember it, 1948, the war’s been over a couple of years, erm, what were things like in the country and living?

JC: It wasn’t bad actually I think the country recovered pretty well really and because I was in Somerset and so it was cider country.

HB: Oh yes.

JC: Yes it was nice there.

HB: What did you do when you were de-mobbed did you just de-mob straight away from there or did you have to go anywhere?

JC: Well I’d been a hairdresser, oh no, no you were just chucked out of the camp and [whistles] and that was it you know.

HB: Did you go and get a smart dress and a hat and a handbag?

JC: Oh you [unclear]

HB: [laughs]

JC: No you came out in uniform and you sent the uniform back.

HB: Right.

JC: They had them back.

HB: Because a lot of the men went to erm, when they were de-mobbed they sent them to er a place and they were given a ticket for er for clothing.

JC: No we weren’t.

HB: You weren’t?

JC: No, no nothing like that.

HB: Right.

JC: No, nothing you just went home that was it, they gave you a rail ticket home, goodbye thanks but no thanks and that was it.

HB: Right.

JC: You’re gone.

HB: Yeah.

JC: Just like that. Oh no, no clothing ticket or anything.

HB: Was, when about in ’48 would that be would that be sort of in the middle or towards the end of ’48?

JC: I don’t know, I can’t remember, no I can’t remember.

HB: That’s alright. So you’ve come, you’ve come to the end of your time in the WAF, you’ve served all the way through with bomber command.

JC: Yeah.

HB: And you’ve seen what you’ve seen. What did you think about how the Government were about bomber command?

JC: What the government thought about bombing?

HB: Yeah.

JC: I don’t know I couldn’t know really.

HB: No, no.

JC: What the Government thought. I knew what the civilians thought, which was respect.

HB: Right.

JC: Total respect. What the Government thought I wouldn’t know.

HB: Right. So you didn’t read much about it in the newspapers what it was about?

JC: No, no I don’t remember if I did.

HB: Ok.

JC: I don’t think there was a lot in about the war, I think it was all about getting back, back into work and getting the country moving again really you know.

HB: Yeah, so you went down to Somerset.

JC: Yeah.

HB: Whereabouts in Somerset were you?

JC: Oh dear, Bridgwater.

HB: Oh right, yes, yes.

JC: Bridgwater, yeah.

HB: Well that’s not too far from Bristol and places like that.

JC: No, no, no that’s true.

HB: So is that how, when you went back to Somerset you were still hairdressing, is that how you, did you go back to hairdressing?

JC: No, no I had to give that up, my training. It was sad really because I’d done all my training and I was coming up for my last year, my finishing year, when the war came and then of course ‘you can’t do this’ ‘it’s a luxury trade’ and I was given the choice make ammunitions or going in the forces so I was advised to go in the forces.

HB: Right.

JC: Because you were filling shells.

HB: Right.

JC: Your skin went yellow, your teeth fell out, dreadful.

HB: Yeah, yeah.

JC: So they said if I were you I’d go in the forces so that’s what I did. But of course I came out with a trade.

HB: Yeah.

JC: Prior to, not one that I was joined in the first instance so I went into, I worked at the GEC.

HB: Oh right, yeah, yeah.

JC: And, erm I was doing tele printing there.

HB: So GEC, that was General Electric Company.

JC: That’s right, yeah.

HB: The big electrical company.

JC: That’s right yeah.

HB: And you carried on tele printing?

JC: Yeah, yeah.

HB: And how long.

JC: Only in those days I was doing, I wasn’t sending out bombers, I was doing erm, how many bits of this you wanted and oh boring stuff you know.

HB: Right, and how long did you do that for Joyce.

JC: Oh I can’t remember exactly, till I met Ted I think, no I don’t remember. I met Ted in Coventry.

HB: Right.

JC: At a dance.

HB: Was he a Coventry lad?

JC: Yeah, no he comes from Rugby here.

HB: Oh he came from Rugby, yeah, yeah.

JC: Yeah, that’s why I’m here now, my brother-in-law brought me back. I was in a lovely care home down the south.

HB: Oh right.

JC: Very nice indeed [pause] but when my brother-in-law came to visit he used to stay with us you see.

HB: Right.

JC: And we couldn’t get rid of the man, he would stay, he lives in France.

HB: [laughs]

JC: And he wanted to come back, he married a French woman and she wouldn’t come from France, she wouldn’t come back to England and she wouldn’t let David come back either.

HB: Oh right.

JC: So he was stuck in France and he said you can come and visit me here, because his son lives in Rugby that’s how I’ve come to be in Rugby.

HB: Ah right.

JC: [unclear] I didn’t choose to I liked it where I was.

HB: So you got a job with GEC and did you work all through to retirement or?

JC: Oh no I left when l was fifty.

HB: Oh right.

JC: I didn’t retire until I was fifty then I retired.

HB: Right.

JC: And Ted worked another two years and then he retired.

HB: Yeah, and did Ted worked for GEC as well?

JC: As well yes.

HB: Ah right. It wasn’t a GEC dance that you met at was it?

JC: Do you know it might have done.

HB: Because they used to have big dances didn’t they?

JC: They did, and it was in Coventry yes it could well have been.

HB: Yeah.

JC: I was leaving, he’d been to the pub with his mates and he was rolling up for the last dance you know and I was leaving with my mates to go home and he touched me on the arm and said ‘can I have the last dance’ and I said ‘I’m sorry but I’m just leaving I’m going home’, ’I’ll take you home’ he said. Now I’ve never seen that man before in my life and I immediately trusted him, I said he’s ok.

HB: Right.

JC: So he took me back home and we were never apart from that day.

HB: Lovely.

JC: We were married Fifty-four years.

HB: Ah that’s nice.

JC: Yeah, quite romantic really.

HB: It is.

JC: Yes, yes.

HB: And you’ve got no other family now?

JC: Nobody apart from my brother-in-law and David my brother-in-law brought me from a lovely care home in the south of England which I knew.

HB: Yeah.

JC: And he brought me up here. You see when he came to visit me down in Hampshire he used to stay at my house.

HB: Ah so you ended up living in Hampshire.

JC: Yeah we bought a house in fact that’s it there on the wall that photograph up there.

HB: Oh lovely.

JC: Yeah that was it.

HB: Oh that’s a big place, that’s pretty good, that’s pretty good. So.

Carer: Can I just ask.

HB: Yes.

Carer: Do you want me here?

JC: Not if you don’t want to be love no.

Carer: No because it’s taking so long I can’t sit here.

JC: No, no you’re alright.

HB: That’s fine, thank you. Erm [pause]

JC: You’re being recorded.

HB: And quite right too, quite right too.

JC: [laughs]

HB: That’s how it should be, erm, right so you were, ah right, I understand now, so who, were you working down in Hampshire as well.

JC: Yeah.

HB: And was that with GEC?

JC: No I wasn’t no, I can’t remember what I was doing, no I honestly can’t, it wasn’t the GEC I know.

HB: Right.

JC: I think I was hairdressing.

HB: Oh right.

JC: I was a hairdresser.

HB: Oh right you managed to get back to that.

JC: Yeah, yeah

JC: And I met Ted at a dance and we never separated after that.

HB: That’s lovely.

JC: Fifty four years till he died then David he bought me back here, back from everything I knew, everybody I knew, I was at a lovely care home there, back here where I didn’t know anybody so I had to learn everything all over again, broke my heart really because I didn’t want to leave.

HB: Yeah.

JC: It was lovely, they were really nice ladies there. Well they are here but.

HB: That’s sad.

JC: It was, it was, it upset me, still does.

HB: Yeah. What, if you can cast your mind back to the war years and your time in the, in the er RAF, what would you think was the best bit?

JC: The companionship I think. The comradeship and if you made a friend they stood by you, they was loyal, and then they were, well they stood by you whatever you know. I think that’s the best bit I remember the most.

HB: And what do you think was the worst bit?

JC: The death, the sadness losing bomber command friends. That was the worst bit.

HB: Hmm.

JC: Yeah, because I never saw the bombing you see while they were having dreadful bombings in Coventry I never saw that because I was in the, I was down in.

HB: Down in the bunker.

JC: In the air force yeah.

HB: Erm just let me write, I’m going to forget this if I don’t write it down [pause]. So how would, how, how do you feel about what the WAFs did in the war, what, what’s your feelings about the WAFs?

JC: I think they were invaluable.

HB: Hmm.

JC: Because they took the place of the men you see leaving the men free to go and do their bombing and what not you see.

HB: Hmm.

JC: And they were doing the telecommunications well the telecommunications for the whole North East of England where I was so all the signals were going back across the country. Oh no I don’t think they could have managed without the women’s services not really.

HB: And do you think they got the credit they deserved at the end of the war?

JC: In a way yes, although yeah, I think so but I’m not sure.

HB: Yeah.

JC: Certainly from the civilians yes but the Government hmm.

HB: Did you actually did you get your medals?

JC: No, no, not even a thank you ‘ok that’s it’ [whistles] shove off.

HB: Oh right.

JC: Literally.

HB: Because I think from your service ’44 to ’48 I think you probably qualified for a couple of medals.

JC: I should think so [laughs].

HB: Yeah, yeah. But you never thought to get your medals.

JC: I didn’t think we were entitled to one.

HB: Yeah. Certainly two I would think.

JC: Would you.

HB: Yeah, I would have thought so. You’ve got the defence medal. I could get you some details of that if you need it to be able to get your medals.

JC: I wouldn’t mind having a go, although I’m ninety-three I mean, you know it would’ve been nice, recognition at last.

HB: [laughs] Yes, yes, I mean you’re not alone.

JC: Oh I’m sure.

HB: A lot of people didn’t bother applying for medals

JC: No.

HB: And in fact you’re not the first to say that you never really thought about medals.

JC: No I didn’t no.

HB: You’d done your bit.

JC: And that was it, helped save the country di dah di dah you know and that was it. Yeah. You done your bit.

HB: So back in civilian life at the end of the war, that, that those early years, erm everybody you know the history books they talk about the erm restrictions and you know the austerity, how difficult it was, how did you fit into that when you came back from?

JC: Well it was very difficult because you’d gone from having companionship and erm whatever daft thing you wanted to do there was always somebody who’d do it with you, you know.

HB: Yeah.

JC: But in Civilian Street there isn’t.

HB: No.

JC: You’re on your own and that’s it.

HB: Yeah.

JC: So you miss the companionship more than anything, yeah.

HB: One thing I did miss and I forgot to ask you right early on, when you actually went into the coding centres, the place where you were working.

JC: Signal centre.

HB: Signal centre sorry, what was the hierarchy, how did it work say you were the corporal you would report to Sergeant I presume?

JC: Sergeant yeah.

HB: And how would that then work?

JC: Well they’d go up another scale go up another command I don’t know where it went after that.

HB: So who would have actually been really in charge of you there?

JC: A Sergeant.

HB: Just a Sergeant?

JC: Female sergeant a WAF.

HB: A WAF sergeant? And that sergeant would report to what a male officer?

JC: I’ve no idea to be honest.

HB: Oh right.

JC: No idea. There weren’t many males about.

HB: It was secret, that really was secret then.

JC: There weren’t many males about it was a female officer we had.

HB: Oh right.

JC: The CO was female, the whole camp was female.

HB: Ah, that explains it.

JC: Yeah

HB: That’s what, I was trying to think earlier on how it went. Oh so it was a female camp.

JC: All female camp.

HB: Right.

JC: The CO was female right the way through.

HB: Can you remember the CO’s name?

JC: No.

HB: [laughs]

JC: I’m glad to say [laughs]

HB: [laughs] never had to go and stand on the carpet.

JC: Oh I did.

HB: Oh dear, what was that for [laughs].

JC: Oh I can’t remember, I really can’t remember.

HB: [laughs] I bet that’s what you say.

JC: I really can’t remember.

HB: No, you didn’t get caught going under the wire then?

JC: No, certainly not.

HB: [laughs]

JC: Or coming back.

HB: [laughs] I don’t know, I don’t know.

JC: We used to go to the theatres and to and do you know the civilians were marvellous. If we went in, and we, we, perhaps there’d be six to eight of us would go as a crew you know.

HB: Yeah.

JC: And we all went in or out together and if we went to a picture place you know, we were ushered in and they’d move people, civilians out from the front seats, we went to a theatre, the most, so they moved the civilians out and moved us in so we could sit down and if we went to a theatre they’d move civilians out from the front and moved us in and that’s the sort of treatment we were given, top notch.

HB: Wow, yeah.

JC: It really was, top notch. They were brilliant.

HB: Have you got any, did you stay close to any of the people you served with.

JC: I did for a five years.

HB: Yeah.

JC: But of course we all went our separate ways and we ran out of things to say.

HB: Yeah.

JC: You know, they got married and had family and I hadn’t got married at that point you know.

HB: Yeah [pause] It’s alright it’s just a little bit noisy with people shouting in the corridor. Erm, hmm that’s interesting Joyce and I don’t think we’ve spoken to many people who worked in the signal sections.

JC: No, of course you wouldn’t talk about it it’s all coded.

HB: Yeah.

JC: And you didn’t know what you were doing what what it normally was.
HB: They just gave it you and you.

JC: Yeah, yeah, we had five letters and five down and they were squares and they had to be spaced so much apart for the machines to pick them up and they’re all on what do you call it tikatape now.

HB: Yeah

JC: No holes, no three above and two below. The small holes were fed and picked up by the teeth in the machine and fed through you know.

HB: Yeah. Did you keep a diary with you or anything like that during the war?

JC: No, you didn’t keep a diary because it was all secret so I don’t think you’d be allowed.

HB: Right. Ah well as you’ve already admitted Joyce sometimes things you were allowed and some things that you weren’t allowed.

JC: It did get a bit mixed a bit blurred shall we say.

HB: [laughs] Did you have any photographs of your time in the WAF?

JC: I did yes, but I moved places, but I’ve been moved about so much I’ve lost them all.

HB: Ahh.

JC: Which is very sad and saddens me because there were lots of my dear, dear friends.

HB: Yeah.

JC: They really were, really were friends.

HB: That’s such a shame.

JC: They’d stick, they’d lie for you they really would. They’d lie for you if they had to.

HB: Yeah.

JC: It was that sort of friendship you know.

HB: Yeah.

JC: You got you’re a day [unclear] a day.

HB: Yeah, so you.

JC: I think that’s what the war did to be honest.

HB: Yeah. And what do you think, what do you think your own contribution was to the?

JC: I think I made some kind of a dent you know. Doing the tele printing and everything else, certainly making a contribution doing the job that a man would have to do otherwise.

HB: Yeah, yeah.

JC: So I took the place of a man to let him free to go and bomb Germany [laughs]

HB: Yeah, yeah. Did you ever get the chance, at the end of the war people have told me about things called cooks tours where they take ground staff up in the aircraft and fly them over Germany and back.

JC: No, no I never got chance to do that.

HB: You never got chance to do that?

JC: No, no, it never came my way at all, no.

HB: Ah right. Well Joyce I’m not going to keep you any longer because you’ve got your party to go to.

JC: That’s true, that’s true.

HB: And I don’t know how long that is, about five minutes I think. So what I’ll do is finish.

JC: It’s only to celebrate this place being opened.

HB: Yeah.

JC: Yeah.

HB: We’ll terminate the interview there, we started at five past ten and it’s er ten to eleven.

JC: Not bad, I hope I’ve given you something to work on.

HB: You certainly have Joyce and what I’d like to do is thank you very much because people like yourself are getting a bit few and far between now.

JC: Well I suppose we are really, well I’m ninety-three.

HB: And the things that you can tell us, you may not think they’re important but when you look at the whole thing and how they all fit together, it shows.

JC: Well I hope it makes some sort of a sense anyway.

HB: Yes it will do.

JC: Good.

HB: I’m going to switch the machine off now Joyce.



Harry Bartlett, “Interview with Joyce Colley,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed April 12, 2024,

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