Interview with Priscilla Henwood


Interview with Priscilla Henwood


Priscilla was encouraged by a friend’s father to join the 600 Squadron in anticipation of the war. She was called up and was based at Finsbury Barracks, involved in recruitment. Priscilla also worked on the telephone exchange at Clerkenwell.
In October 1940, she was posted to RAF Bassingbourn, an Operational Training Unit for Wellingtons. Hope Embry, wife of Basil Embry was stationed there.
Priscilla was sent to the Air Ministry War Room in Whitehall and received correspondence in pneumatic tube system. She recalls an extraordinary message about Amy Johnson crashing into the Thames. She would see Churchill and his wife. They provided the Cabinet War Office with information, including statistics.
Priscilla went on a corporal’s course and was stationed briefly at RAF Hooton Park. After promotion to sergeant, she was sent on an officers’ course at Loughborough and then posted to RAF Tangmere and the ground-controlled interception (GCI) radar station at RAF Durrington. Priscilla was put in charge of the GCI station near RAF Ford. She did another course at Alnwick and was then made adjutant at RAF Biggin Hill.
Priscilla expresses her disappointment with how Bomber Command was treated after the war. She praises the land girls and mechanics, who were often overlooked.
Priscilla went to RAF Montford Bridge and was an adjutant at RAF Rednal. She returned to the Air Ministry War Room in 1943 and was involved in the Far East operations until the end of the war, monitoring signals. On D-Day they all went down to Buckingham Palace.




Temporal Coverage





01:00:01 audio recording


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MC: Right. This interview is being conducted for the International Bomber Command Centre. The interviewer is Margaret Carr. The interviewee is Priscilla Henwood. The interview is taking place at Priscilla’s home in Helderberg Village, Somerset West, South Africa on Saturday the 25th of November 2017. Priscilla, thank you so much for seeing me today. I really appreciate it. Would you like to tell me just a little bit maybe about your early life, where you went to school and your family.
PH: Thank you, Margaret. Thank you very much for taking time on your two day visit to come and visit me. I feel very very honoured. Truly honoured. And it’s lovely to meet you and your family. My early life. Well, my early life. My brother and I were twins. Our parents lived in, were stationed. Well, my father was stationed in the Royal Air Force, or Royal Flying Corps in Palestine in the 1916/17 I suppose. And then my mother was stationed in Salonika in Greece — working with the Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service Reserve. And they all wore grey and scarlet and they were very, very elite nursing sisters. Anyway, she was there until the end of the war and then she went. She somehow managed to go from Salonika to Palestine to meet my father whom she’d known before in her early life in — down in the New Forest. And so they were married in 1919 in Cairo. In the riots. Always riots in Cairo. And I see today two hundred, six hundred people have been killed in Cairo. This is today. Saturday. In November 2017. It’s a tragic country. Anyway, they were married there and went back. Eventually they went back to England. And my brother and I were born at Farnborough. One of the first RAF stations in, in Hampshire. Royal Flying Corps. We were born in October 1921. And my father was stationed near. Then, it all changed then and people were re-routed and reconnected. He left the air force and eventually we lived in London. All sorts of post war problems that we recognise today. They were the same problems back in 1920s and ‘21s. In fact they call the 1918 to 1939 “The Long Armistice.” And so anyway there we were living in Sussex for a while and then my brother and I grew up in London. In Maida Vale and St John’s Wood. And we had a happy time visiting, with going to museums. The Science Museum or the, always Westminster Abbey, the unknown warrior. And so we, we went and we grew up there. I went to school in Maida Vale and then to secretarial College. My brother went to school at Monmouth. And then just before the war in about 1938 I had a great friend whose father was in the War Office and he recognised this war was coming. He recognised that women were going to be recruited in to munitions or farmer’s labourers and all sorts of things. So he arranged for my friend Joan Morgan and myself to join the 600, City of London Squadron. That was a fighter squadron in London obviously. And they wore, they wore red and scarlet cloaks. Or their cloaks were lined with scarlet. They were an elite but they were stationed at Hendon. And this is a bit, this is an interesting part. We used to, I used to go about once a week. I never actually went down to Hendon but they had meetings in the HAC headquarters and at Finsbury Barracks in London. And the idea was that we were to be as a group. We weren’t really the WAAF yet. We were going to be the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force and we were going to do exactly what everybody had done in the first war. We would go with the squadron, 600 City of London Squadron. We would go and be typists or telephonists or cooks or drivers, or whatever. Medical assistants. And so then we went to various lectures. Very interesting people from the first war. And learning about how it would be in trenches and stations in Europe when we were conquering Europe. But it was not to be. The training went on. My brother was in the Royal Fusiliers in that time. So we were pretty well prepared for the war when it came. In fact, I was called up before the war. And we went. We were then based at Finsbury Barracks in London and did recruiting. The great thing was we used to recruit young women for the air force and then they’d say, ‘Yes I want to be, I want to be in the air force. I want to be in the secret service. That’s what I want to be.’ So we said, ‘Well that would be nice.’ I said, well we must have, one of the first things we had to do is to go for a medical. And there at Finsbury Barracks we used to take, one of those places to be — ‘No. I can’t go for a medical today. I was out at a party at the nightclub all last night. So can I come back and have a medical later?’ [laughs] In fact one particular person did come back and had a medical and she passed. And the big passing was that I remember my [unclear] — fit, brave one, mentality alert. And so we were launched. And so I did various tasks in Finsbury Barracks. Including working on the telephone exchange at Clerkenwell. And then in October 1940 I was posted. And I went off with a rug in a rug bag and ready to go to the trenches really. That’s what we thought would happen. But anyhow off we went to Royal Air Force Station Bassingbourn. B A S S I N G B O U R N. Which is near Royston in Hertfordshire and Cambridge. And that was an Operational Training Unit for Wellington bombers and we, I was in the equipment section and typing on a Royal machine. And you see, I mean, they said, ‘You’re setting that machine on fire.’ There was a lot of nonsense going on. We were all very young. And one of the people who was stationed there was Hope Embry and her husband Basil Embry became a most highly honoured and significant member of Bomber Command. And he survived the war. I think you can read more about Basil Embry. But he was a lovely person. Obviously, I was all of seventeen and thought I was, I’d conquered the world, you know. I had arrived. But he was, I suppose much older. Probably twenty five you know. And there was Corporal Bates who was in charge of equipment in this Operational Training Unit and he used to tell us a story of how he was in charge of, of parachutes. And his parachute, what it did, what happened was they decided to change where the parachute, they had the rip cord here but then they decided it was awkward, and fear. And he used to tell us this gruesome story of a pilot who used his parachute, forgot it was on this side and they said he’d scratched himself to nothing on the way. We always used to be horrified by that story. And so it was very, very interesting and we saw the Wellington bombers. We met a lot of sergeant pilots. There was one man called Wally Walsh who was from Toronto. And I remember another, Len Day from London. There was several of them. And what we used to do as we became a little more used to Royal Air Force life we’d walk up to the pub at Royston. It was probably not as far as Royston — Bassingbourn. A local pub. Well I always remember before I left to join the air force or to go to Bassingbourn my mother said, ‘Now, Priscilla, you may, you must be very careful what you drink.’ She said, ‘You may have a shandy. Ginger beer shandy. You may have a little sherry, but no cocktails. Don’t you ever have cocktails,’ and since then I never had a cocktail. Now I never drink cocktails [laughs] but it was all very innocent. Two or three of us used to go with these dear men. They were just that much older than us. They never took advantage of us. We all went up to the pub and had a shandy and played shove ha’penny and had a lot of laughter. And those were those early days of the war, before Christmas in 1939. And then I went, I remember I went home for Christmas. Some of the, some of these pilots had had a car and one of them drove a lot of us up to London where my mother was now living in a flat. And so that was the first Christmas of the war. And my brother came down, still in the army, from wherever he was stationed. Bushey I think. And so life was very interesting and we learned a lot. Bassingbourn. And it was very, especially good for me because my, my cousin was still at University in Cambridge. And so I could cycle to Cambridge. In fact one day I walked from Bassingbourn to Cambridge. This was lovely. It was fun. So we did that. And there was talking about photographic interpretation. There was a Photographic Interpretation Unit at Benson just near, and I had never went to Benson but I met people who were there. And it was wonderful work they did interpreting a little dot in the sky. In those days with no, no modern facilities. And they did wonderful work those photographic people. And then we used to go into Royston. So then, in May 1940 a message came, or a signal came. My name was Welsh then. W E L S H. That was my maiden name. I meant to tell you that going to Cambridge I met, I’d already met him but I met Paul who I was eventually to marry or who would marry me. But he was a great friend of my cousin. They were having their last year at Cambridge and then they both went off. He into the army and Paul was, who I married, into the navy. But that’s another story. Anyway, that was so, I didn’t waste much time when I was at Bassingbourn. But I enjoyed every minute. It was all an education. Like a university education I suppose. And so then I was stationed, sent to London to the Air Ministry War Room. W A R room. In, in Whitehall. Near the [pause] I think it’s a, not the Home Office [pause] I can’t remember but it was that end building at the end [unclear] at Whitehall. And the Spanish, the St James’ Steps, King Charles Steps below, in to Green Park. Anyway, I went there as a rookie little WAAF and was put in to a correspondence. What do you call it? Just give me a minute.
MC: Secretarial. Typing and —
PH: Just put this thing off a minute.
[recording paused]
PH: Well, I was in the room where all the correspondence came. And in those days in The Air Ministry in 1940 it all came through on tubes. Like you have at the grocer’s shop or the haberdashers. You know ,they all had these tubes coming in, down and these messages would come in. So really it was a very responsible job because extraordinary messages came. One actually I remember was Amy Johnson. Amy. She was the wonderful pilot. And she had been, some said she’d been shot down into the Thames but she, she had crashed in to the Thames in London at that time. That would be about probably June 1940. So this, then I was to be there in the Air Ministry War Room for the next year and actually it was May 1941. We used to go up to, walk up to Westminster to Trafalgar Square for lunch. And Myra Hess played and it was quite peaceful. Then of course the Blitz started. And so then I had very interesting work then but we seemed to just take it in our stride because we did twelve hours on, twelve hours off in the War Room. And we’d have just a, right down in the bowels of the, of the War Rooms. The War Office I’m sure. And we used to have time off and we’d go up and amongst the ramparts of the building. Churchill and Clemmie would be walking about too because he had his secret place down below. Quite close to where we were. And the whole idea, object of the War Room, Air Ministry War Room was to supply the Cabinet War Room with up to date information. So all the correspondence came in and then we distributed to the, to the necessary parts. One of the very important parts was stats. Statisticians. How many tons of bombs had been dropped. Tons of bombs and then piles of bombs I think they called them in America. So stats was very important. And somebody was working at the back at the war room on them and it was very interesting because they were also working in the Battle of Britain. So messages were coming in and they’d, rather like the cricket scores. Twenty four for two. Six for eight. You know. They were counting it all. So that was a very interesting time for me. But then suddenly when I could go into all sorts of details but there was a great feeling of, of confidence and hope. You know, we never thought of any other way but we did realise that by then, by 1940, the end of 1940 just before the Blitz ended, the big Blitz ended there were no more planes. No more pilots. Just one more and suddenly Hitler had a brainstorm and decided he was going to attack Russia. Do something extraordinary. So my part as a WAAF, I was still a WAAF, they suddenly said I must go on a corporal’s course. I said, ‘Oh that’s lovely.’ I can’t remember where I went to that course. It may have been to Alnwick for that. I know I went to Alnwick in South Shields later but, so I did a corporal’s course and came back with these two stripes and was sent. I can’t, I can’t remember. Oh yes. I was sent to Tangmere but to be down in a little GCI station, Durrington near Tangmere. Anyway, I wasn’t long on that course and somebody said I must go on an officer’s course. Oh I know. Sorry. I did go from that corporal’s course. I went up to Chester. To Cheshire. To Honington. RAF. That’s it. From the corporal’s course that other bit. I never went, I didn’t go back to the War Room. I was sent to RAF Honington in, in Cheshire. Near Liverpool. So there I was with a, with a very nice sergeant. Woman sergeant. And she and I became great friends. And we had a big challenge at, as you were, it was not Honington. Honington was where my bomber friends went. It was Hooton Park in Cheshire. And that’s where I was stationed for, from April 1941 ‘til about July I think. And my promotion to sergeant came through and then in the same correspondence I was told I must go to an officer’s course at Loughborough. I remember saying, ‘Can’t I be a sergeant first and then go to Loughborough?’ They said, ‘No. You must stay as a corporal then you go to Loughborough.’ So I went to do the officer’s course at Loughborough and I was there for six weeks I suppose, whatever. And somehow or other I passed and I went to, I was posted to Tangmere. But going back a while I haven’t said enough about that time that I was in Bassingbourn. Can I go back to that? Because these, I told you about these, these chaps who were, they were all sergeant pilots and very fine men. Then they went off to — one went to Honington in Bomber Command and the other one went to Marham. I think he was 215 Squadron in Honington and 9 Squadron in Marham. Also up near Bury St Edmunds and there they flew and then I lost touch with them really but I know that Len Day went to Malta with Bomber Command. And while he stayed in London and then as war went on one lost touch. But I knew they did wonderful work. But I never really found out what happened to them but these people were the salt of the earth and so steady. And so that that time in in Bassingbourn which I just spoke about earlier made a very strong impression on me. It was a short time really but it was, it gave me inspiration and confidence and as I said earlier one always felt secure. They weren’t, there weren’t problems. At least I never found them. Probably there were too. So now I go back to my arrival at Tangmere. The day I arrived at Tangmere everybody was in mourning because Bader, the famous legless pilot, had been shot down that day. That was in August 1941. And there’s this famous story about his legs. They wanted to, the Germans said they’d give safe passage for his legs. And Fighter Command said not on your life. We’ll bring them over, as it was [laughs] if you catch us you catch us. We don’t want any special courtesies. We’ll just bring his legs. And they did. They flew them over. I think they parachuted them down. And Bader went on to have an extraordinary career too as a prisoner of war. But it was very interesting for me to be at Tangmere. There were Hurricanes and Spitfires and they’d had a tremendous bashing in the Blitz and a lot of people were killed and a lot of WAAF were also injured. And some of them were, were honoured with medals for bravery in that Blitz. But this was in 1940 when I was in London. So I, I went after that so all was so called peaceful then. There was no more bombing there. And then they, they had, this was what I was saying earlier. It was a little station near Ford, near Arundel, also in Sussex. Down from Tangmere. And I was put in charge, only having been on a course as an adjutant. And I was put in charge of this little station which was GCI and doing, working in radar. This favourite vital work. So we had this little office down below then, up at the top of the hill where these people were working on the radar. And wonderful things that came from, from that radar time. Interception and all that and I knew the [pause] when I was at Durrington it was probably early in 1941. There was a, it would be probably September ‘41 there was a warning that the Germans were coming to Durrington. They’d be parachuted in to, to get the people who were doing the radar work up at the top of the hill and kidnap them and take them back. And so they said, ‘Now, you people here below who are looking after them, you are going to be getting issued with Tommy guns so that you can protect your people.’ And along came a Home Guard. A Home Guard chap with a Tommy gun and he said to me, ‘I want you to learn to fire a Tommy gun. When the Germans come you’ve just got to pick this thing up and go boom, boom, boom and he’ll be dead and then you,’ [laughs] and then I put it on my shoulder and tried and I couldn’t do a thing with it [laughs]. I said, ‘I’m very sorry but you’ll have to have a bigger chap than me to protect these people.’ So there was a lot of laughter about that and of course the, again Hitler changed his mind and they didn’t come. So then, when I was there in Durrington and got married in the middle but that’s another story. A lovely time. It really was. My brother was, by that time, in the air force and he’d been shot down in the North Sea but rescued after two days and my husband Paul had been in the Malta convoy. He’d been in a Russian convoy but at this time he was in a Malta convoy relieving with The Ohio which was a ship with supplies for Malta. And anyway while he was in this convoy in Italy somewhere they were very upset. They were bombed by an Italian plane which was very interesting, and they said the plane was badly hurt, the ship was destroyed. They’d lost a whole keg of sherry they’d been given somewhere. That upset them. Anyway, he, he survived and we were married in 1942. In the war. Again near Cambridge, near Bassingbourn. So I was stationed. I went on to be stationed at Durrington and then went on another course and my, my husband left South Shields in his destroyer, a new destroyer to go to the Far East and he was away for three years. And I was on another course at Alnwick and enjoyed that. And I was stationed. Then I was sent to Biggin Hill. Stationed at Biggin. Again as adjutant. Sailor Malan was a famous South African pilot. And a lot of the Free French Air Force were there. And they were famous because they had at Biggin Hill, the squadrons there had shot down a thousand bombers. There was a tremendous publicity stunt with the papers. There was a big ball at the Dorchester to which we all went. All the, all the Windmill Girls were given open invitations to come to Biggin Hill for that weekend so there were high jinks with the Windmill and the other, I suppose night club characters would come. And Biggin Hill was the talk of every Sunday newspaper and everywhere in the world. They shot down a thousand planes and all the wonderful men which of course they were wonderful men. There was no doubt about it. And then they were to have a reception at [pause] in, at Biggin and Lord Trenchard was to come. Lord Trenchard, one of the founders of the Royal Air Force. Royal Flying Corps. And he came and the pilots told me that he, he came very much in his military Royal Flying Corps sort of uniform I think. Very impressive. He came and he said, ‘Good day gentleman,’ he said, ‘I come here to give you one message. It’s the bomber’s boys who is going to win this war. Good day gentlemen.’ And he turned and left. All the deflated people who were not really. That was, that was the big thing was the bomber boys who were going to win this war which of course we remember very well happened. And that, the tragedy of that was that the bombers did the job they had to do as we well know with, and I had many friends there and people to do with it and the casualties I knew. But after the war they were treated like [pause] like rats had left the ship. It was disgraceful. And people said, ‘They bombed Dresden. Dresden. With all that china. Look what they did,’ and I’d say, ‘Well Dresden was a route for those bouncing bombers to go thorough.’ They were, they were transporting all these bombs to go through to wherever they did. So those bombs were based before they bombed. These wonderful men who of course I can’t even think of the names as I’m talking but everybody knows them and they, well they saved, saved England really. Saved the world. And we all said if it had not been done, if the bombing had not been done successfully we would all be speaking German today in England. Nobody really saw that. People still don’t realise the precarious critical situation we were in because Churchill would always talk and buoy us up and life went on. And those bombers and the fighters. We all needed each other. And the Coastal Command and Transport Command, and balloons we all needed but it was the bombers who were the vital factor in any war. And their bombing saved Britain and to me it is, one feels ashamed that they’re only now being recognised and still people say, ‘But they bombed Dresden. How could they dare to bomb Dresden?’ Never mind they bombed London and would have absolutely finished us if they’d had their way. So, so where did we go from there? Let’s have a rest.
MC: Do you want me to turn this off for a short while?
[recording paused]
PH: I’m talking with Margaret about Bomber Command and at Hucknall and Scampton and others that I can’t remember, some of those. I was never actually stationed again on a Bomber Command station but we knew about them and recognised them and honoured them and a lot of the, it was an extraordinary life they lived because they lived in a nice cosy little English town where they’d be in tea rooms and life would go on and the station, people stationed nearby and some of the pilots —
[doorbell rings. Recording paused]
MC: Ok.
PH: Can you go back to what I said?
[recording paused]
PH: I was probably talking about, have you been to the War Room in in —? Cabinet War Room in —
MC: In London.
PH: King Charles’ Steps there. And you know how they said there’s nothing more. There’s nothing we can do. And then Hitler, you know, we believe in prayer. I don’t know, we’d had, we’d had a World Day of Prayer and suddenly Hitler changed his mind, we don’t know. I don’t know. I’m not telling anybody what they should or should not do or how they should be but there is something more than we know. It’s not just, it’s not just the computer and wireless and all these wonderful new ways of [pause] somebody said I’m watching a good film. Somebody gave me a stick. You get a stick and you put it in your television and then you watch a film. So we’ve got all these wonderful contraptions and things but we still can’t regulate the weather. We can’t regulate the tides and we can’t regulate the eclipses of the moon and the sun. And what happened two thousand years ago at such a time suddenly happens again two thousand years later, whatever, at such a time. There’s something more than even our brains can do. But so there we are. So I was talking about the faith and they had the, there was faith. We couldn’t have managed without faith in those days of war and I think maybe we might have done better in these last ten years if we hadn’t been prohibiting people from praying at the school. And you mustn’t mention Jesus and you mustn’t talk about Christmas. You talk about the holiday. Anyway, somehow and then other people come and say what’s what about this God? He doesn’t do anything for us. Well poor chap he doesn’t get much chance. He’s not allowed. So I’m not into religious talk but I do believe in faith and I do believe that it was the faith and prayer that brought us through that war. Maybe without, it would have happened, but we haven’t come through very well this lot. So where are we back to? Can you just stop a minute?
[recording paused]
PH: And then the pilots would get married and their wives would come down and stay in the local hotel or boarding house or get a house and next to the RAF station so they’d live a normal sort of life. But then at night time they’d hear boom boom. The bombers going off. Counted them and when they came back five, six, sixth where’s the sixth? And they’d be off to the station to see if their husband had come home. So there was an extraordinary artificial but normal life living right in a war. Yet going as I say, you would go to the flicks. Everybody went to the flicks in those days, and going to the pub. So that I think the wives and the mothers really suffered. Even if they were in a town where they didn’t have a husband or son or somebody they heard the bombers going off and they would listen for them to come back and there would be one short or none would come back or something. And they would be very much aware of these people. So there was a strong [pause] a feeling of rationing, of letters to the Far East. Air letters we did, air letter cards we wrote. And they would be they would be minimised and sent off. And I think that people like myself who were privileged to be in the air force it was a full interesting life. We were all in it together. But for the mothers with the children and the one egg and a couple of potatoes a week and maybe some, a bit of meat — it was, it must have been terrible. And those cold, cold winters. One, one good thing that came in the war at that time was Lord Woolton and his feeding. All those children. They were very bonny — the wartime children. He had a special orange juice sort of proceeded so that all every child had on their ration card — orange juice. No bananas. They didn’t know about bananas in those days. So that the children were well cared for but the mothers had a terrible time. And other people who came into the war at that time and did a lot of, a lot, a great job, were the land girls. And the Land Girls were often employed on, on farms and learned to milk the cows and to make up the hay and all the rest of it. But some of them of course were misused and used as maids. They would milk the cows and then come on in and make the breakfast for the farmer and his wife and his children. And they’d wash up afterwards and then go back to the fields. So the Land Girls were magnificent and did a great job. And the other people I always feel we’d never, they’d never been, to my knowledge, been recognised as they should have been were the mechanics. When those fighter planes landed the mechanics were there. They bashed, probably had some shooting, and the pilot would go off and have a shower and had some breakfast. Meantime this chap would be working on his plane so it was ready and he could take off again. Take off. And it’s the same with the bombers. Those chaps who looked after the — the engineers and the, all the people who worked on the planes. One has never really heard enough recognition of them, or for them. I think that is something that is missing. Maybe you could mention that to your people in Bomber Command. And Fighter Command too. Because they were, they were on the job and of course suffered terribly when their pilot was killed. And they, you know became, you know mates. Worked together. Worked on the plane. And so that was that. So then I told you I was, I did the officer’s course at Loughborough and I went to Tangmere and then did where I’d been. I’d put Hooton Park as well. But then I went to Biggin Hill. I told you this and as I said Sailor Malan was there. And Churchill lived nearby at Chartwell. And Sailor Malan’s wife was there too and she had a baby and Churchill was the baby’s godfather. He was there. It was a wonderful station Biggin. In spite of it being rather choked off by Lord Trenchard telling them that it would be the bombers who would win the war. Separate from Biggin Hill I went, I was sent on another course. Of course they loved to send us on courses. So it was very like being at university but you’re not. And a lot of legal work too. Not that I can remember any of it now, as you can hear. I can’t always remember the names of the stations but from, from Biggin Hill I went on this course and it was and I went to Shrewsbury, Shropshire. To Montford Bridge. And that was another training station. Rather like Bassingbourn had been originally. And I was stationed there as adjutant near another big RAF station — Oswestry. All near Shrewsbury. And the, and at Montford Bridge there were Czechoslovakian and Polish pilots all waiting. Doing circuits and bumps waiting to go. To go off, to fight. They were waiting to go off but the weather was dull all the time. and they were frustrated. And the Poles and the Czechs were not good friends so there wasn’t always a very good atmosphere there. But they were lovely. They used to call me — the Poles used to call me mamushka [gihana?] — little mother. And I, because I had to sort of tell them what to do. ‘Oh Adjie, can’t we do —?’ They wanted to fly but they couldn’t. They nearly went mad because the weather was so bad. And that was in, I’m talking now about 1943. October. That sort of time. And while I was stationed, while I was stationed there I had a phone call to say that my brother had been — it was an accident I think in a Mosquito night bomber and his plane had crashed. And he was alright but his observer wasn’t, and he went to try to rescue him and he was also burned. That was my twin brother. November 1943. Seventy something years ago now, just this week. So then somehow or other I didn’t apply so I left Montford Bridge and I went back to the Air Ministry of War Room in 1943, November. And I was in the Far East operations and was there ‘til the end of the war. ‘Till ’45. But my job there was to monitor signals that came in. And they came in then for one and we had to read them and work out the tonnage of bombs that had been dropped. This was all in the Solomons, in the New Guinea. All near Australia. All the fighting of the Japs which were impossible really. We’d never beat them as it seemed. Anyhow, we had to have this report ready by four in the morning to go through to Churchill to go to the Cabinet War Room where Churchill would be with, of course, all his people. And it had to be accurate. And I remember I made a mistake of saying Zagreb was [pause] and they were dropping bombs, dropping bombs on Zagreb which was west of, of the ocean. Of course it was east. Whatever it was I got it wrong and Churchill in amongst all the other things he picked up this mistake and it came back. He didn’t miss a trick. But it was very interesting time in the War Room with the Far East and the war going on in Italy. That was a new one. Remember we were fighting in Italy. That was an unnecessary tragedy too. And that was the time when I was in London of the bomb. What did they call them? Dropped bombs. I can’t remember. They came through silently and they dropped.
MC: Oh I know.
MC: I know what you mean. Yes.
PH: I had a few adventures with that. And we were stationed in London again and it was a very exciting time in a way waiting. Waiting for D-day. Buzz bombs they were called buzz bombs. And they were the ones that were boom boom boom and then you heard them when it stopped that’s where they dropped. And then they had an even worse bomb that just came silently and it just, you didn’t know and the next thing was chaos. I experienced a bit of that when I was living by then at, when a whole group of us WAAF worked for officers all together in Chelsea. We had, there was a flat and somebody else had a room and we all used to get together. And there was quite a bit of bombing then in the night again. And I remember one of our, one of our friends had a flat in Chelsea. She had a lovely flat upstairs which she’d had for some years, it was her home. We were down, we were down below. A couple of us were down below in more the basement. So we would all come down to the basement for the night when the bombing was on. And then next day we’d go up onto the, into her flat when the sun was shining. And a big fruit to have in those days was rhubarb. We’d always have rhubarb. And I remember we had rhubarb at the top of the nook for pudding and he used to call them — we always heard, none of us had had babies but we always heard that the, after your baby you have a wonderful sort of party. You forget all the pain, all the problems, and just sit down and enjoy it. We used to call them our post baby, post bombing breakfast. Then I can remember going back again. Way back to when I was in the War Room in 1940. Again, we were caught one night going somewhere. A friend had had a flat in Ebury Street in, near Victoria Station. So the bombing was pretty hard that night but she had one of these records playing the Warsaw Concerto which had just come out and some Beethoven and boom, boom, boom you know, the sign from France when the code Beethoven’s fifth. So I can remember those days. We were really in trouble but it was alright. We were all in it together. And that’s, as I said earlier was how I felt sorry for the mothers who were left behind with the children and rationing and clothing. Maybe their own sick mother with them. Their diets were not easy. Neither, as I’ve said earlier, were the lives of the people that maintained the aircraft and the ships and the guns in the air force. We have a very fine young woman. Well, she’s not young any more, she’s my sort of age. She was on searchlights in London, and in the park and they used these lights all the time. And that must have been a big, big strain because they were right out on Hyde Park and I suppose Regent’s Park with these lights going, so they were a certain target for the bombers but she survived it all. She’s written her book about it. Then came, going back again now to the War Room and there was D-Day which we were all involved in in the War Room of course. And still the Japanese war going on I was very much involved in that. There were reports coming in. And we, the [unclear] then there was that sudden war. Somebody decided to fight in Holland between Holland and Germany and a lot of casualties there. I can’t, I’m trying to think of the name. We can probably think of it afterwards. But where the army obviously were involved. I’ll think of it, and tell you later but it was in, it was in Christmas 1944 because the, it was D-day was June ’44. 6th of June. But this was another little war that somebody seemed to start and it was on the Holland/German border, and we had a lot of casualties. And then after that came, came May and the end of the war. And I remember we were all, we were, I was on duty in the War Room that night and so we phoned Buckingham palace and asked, ‘Would the king and queen be out?’ And they said, ‘Yes.’ So we all went down to Buckingham Palace.



Margaret Carr, “Interview with Priscilla Henwood,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed March 2, 2024,

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