Interview with Iris McClements. One


Interview with Iris McClements. One


Iris McClements was a member of the Women’s Junior Air Corps and then the Royal Observer Corps. She met her husband on one of his visits to York.







00:14:08 audio recording

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Iris McClements. Ex-Royal Observer Corps. And I was stationed in York 1944. Previous to that we’d lived in the country to, I think, up about the age of fifteen I recall being in the so-called Home Guard. I don’t know whether I was old enough. I do remember the stirrup pump and that was my little war at that time. Later I joined the, what was called the WJACs which was the Women’s Junior Air Corps. A grey uniform. I can remember learning the theory of internal combustion engine. I don’t recall the date but it’s in my diary that I was very quickly made a sergeant. But memory’s fading now up to the time when I had to go in to the war. My age. I was first of all going in to what was called a reserved occupation which was driving. And my father had such confidence in us that he said what we could do, whether you could or not. And what I did was I went and have a driving test. I hadn’t been in a car previously and — but we were all connected with the driving trade so maybe it was instinctive that I should go on the test. Found myself on — not a car but a lorry and that driver took me to a hill where he said you normally use the matchbox behind the wheel to see if he took off without dropping back. I passed that but I had trouble with the gears. And he said I can see you’ve been used to a syncromesh gearbox which didn’t mean a thing to me. Anyway, I got the job but as I hadn’t already got my driving licence and that was my first time on the road. He never knew that. We decided it was better to go and join the Observer Corps. Because that meant that I could live at home. Home being a boat on York river at that particular time. The Royal Observer Corps was affiliated to the RAF. We got handed on into our area which was North Leeds. The outposts where two men plotted and as far as I recall on our table it was where the three points met. That put us where our aircraft was. I’m always amused to think that we were actually plotting aircraft across an area which wouldn’t take seconds now. Had hostile. H for hostile. We’d have a block of aircraft a mile wide which was in the centre of all the airfields in Yorkshire. As I recall they would go around in a circle. I could be wrong. Until they gathered up and this was probably two fifty plus on our table heading for Reading where I understand they took off to go over Europe. We were on multi shifts which I don’t recall being a problem except you got a long weekend. Or a short one. Consequently, when York was bombed I was on my day’s sleep and never knew anything about it. The aircrew would come in to York where I met my husband who was [pause] the only things in those days were cinema and if I look at my diary it was cinema nearly every other night or dancing. And we [pause] he would come in to York with the crew. I don’t think we ever felt in any danger although York was absolutely full of airmen and the things you hear about happening these days. We were never aware of any being afraid of anything. I think they just used to go around in their day off. Seven members. Catch the bus back. And then if they were on stand down they would come in to York. And I can remember being caught having lemonade in the pub my parents frequented. The landlord said he’d seen me in the pub. And feeling very guilty he did add that I was only having lemonade. But that was the situation in those days and eventually we met. And I have, after the war, I was only in the war period of a year but I can remember desperately rushing back. First of all, we, having been in the motor trade found that there was an opening to secure the bikes that a lot of Canadians would have to travel around. And so, we, it put us in the direction of actually relieving them of their bikes as they were going back and putting us in business. So, I do recall dashing back between buying to get my weekly wage. I thought because I’d only worked half a week I thought two pound fifty was worth having. And really this was the sort of the end of the war. The beginning of my career.
Other: Excuse me.
IM: Just that we were in a position to befriend Canadians or whatever. And they I think were reasonably well provided for. But I can recall one Canadian being invited for tea. And I, with the family, if you heard that they had a certain things in the shops. It might be bananas. I don’t think they actually were. I don’t think they were bananas but this is an example. The shop had opened because there was baking that day and we went and queued to buy what you would call a tea plate size apple pie because the Canadian was coming for tea. And it happened to be the plate that was put in front of him and to our horror he devoured the lot and it was meant to be shared between the family [laughs] We never told him. But that was it. You queued. There were, the shop might get a pair of shoes in and you would buy them even if they were a half a size too small. Or anything else that you queued for. I don’t remember being particularly sorry for ourselves in any way. We didn’t — I don’t recall missing anything. But inevitably we did hear and did in fact witness a plane which crashed in the centre of York onto a housing estate. And I can remember having a discussion which bicycle we could go — to see if we could help. Not to witness but to help. And my father got the bike. It only had one pedal. Consequently, he arrived on the scene just in time to get what probably was, whatever the explosion was. Bomb or otherwise. He fortunately wasn’t going around the corner when it happened I think. He got away with it. But there’s still evidence of where that plane crashed in the middle of York. And of course, I’m going to lighten it to the fact that my husband had a similar situation. Icing up. I never understood why York iced up during the daylight actually. I witnessed it because it was daylight. In his case he had a different situation I think which he didn’t talk very much about but he didn’t tell anybody else either. But I think it was a miracle that he’s alive because they had various situations where they were — and I’m also have to go back to one thing he left out about the, his aircrew survived the war except for one person. And the reason that I refer to this is because we, or my father was involved although he didn’t know. The man decided he would just go on a trip which was going to be an hour or so and as he happened to have a family at Melbourne. And they were reported returning to Melbourne but whether they went down in the Humber or what there was never any trace of them. But I go back to the fact that my husband-to-be sneaked my father’s car out of the garage to take the —
Other: Widow.
IM: Wife. To the station to put them back out of the area. My father never knew about that. But then towards the end of war we had VE celebrations we had on this boat that we had. It seemed, it seemed we had half York on deck. I don’t know whether there was any danger of it ever capsizing or not but the — we had the decorations. The council put photographs which I have of the boat being illuminated and celebrating the end of the war. And strangely enough I don’t recall my husband-to-be being there on that occasion. He’d probably gone back to Ireland by then. That was where his home was. But on the other hand he decided to come back and as already stated he was employed by my father until the time that we [pause] until we went in to business on our own accord. In Wakefield. Later, when the VJ celebrations came on I was unfortunately in bed with chicken pox and so that was the end of my war. Interestingly, my husband’s place, where he flew from, isn’t a million miles away and on his eightieth birthday my son arranged for a helicopter to land in the front garden. Take him over York. Over the airfield where he flew from, for his celebration. Now, that airfield they’ve got permission to restore the control tower. And all our memorabilia, 10 Squadron, is there for volunteers who are restoring this property. It can be visited but by pre-arrangement. Ok.
MJ: On behalf of the International Bomber Command I’d like to thank Iris McClements at her home for the recording on the 21st of September 2015. With great thanks we do.



“Interview with Iris McClements. One,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed June 17, 2024,

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