Interview with Sheila Rankine


Interview with Sheila Rankine


Sheila Rankine wanted to become a member of the Women's Auxiliary Air Force but was conscripted to be a munitions factory worker. She worked at Rose's in Gainsborough making the hydro-static fuses for bombs including the Upkeep bouncing bomb. She met Guy Gibson sometime after Operation Chastise.




Temporal Coverage





01:01:41 audio recording


IBCC Digital Archive


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PL: My name’s Pam Locker and I’ve come to interview Mrs Sheila Rankine of [buzz] Bath on the 28th of February 2017. So, can I just start Mrs Rankine by saying an enormous thank you for agreeing to, to see us and tell us your very unique story. So, so would you like to just start by telling us a little bit about your family life and the build up to what happened during the war? What your experiences were during the war.
SR: Well, going back to the beginning of the war when I was sixteen I was living at home with my parents and my father had a business in Grimsby which was a retail business in the High Street. And of course, we lived quite a comfortable life so you know it was all rather soul destroying when I remember getting the news about when they announced that we were at war. My mother was very upset because my brother was with the P&O liners, my elder brother and he was down, the ship was then in Yokohama which of course was becoming a dangerous area in Singapore. So mother was upset because my father had served in the First War, in the Somme and he’d been wounded. But, you know after that we just accepted what, you know what everybody else did as the war started. And then I had been going to Art School because I’d got an art scholarship. And then I was working for the Singer Sewing Machine Company, demonstrating for them on certain materials, you know. So, quite happy and complacent about everything, I suppose. We just got on with it. And then of course it came that they started to conscript women and so, when I was eighteen I got conscription papers and went to report down at the, at the Recruiting Office and I’d been very anxious to join the WAAFs because I thought that was a lovely sounding [laughs] everything looked so good. The adverts with the uniforms and everything. So I was quite certain that I’d be joining the WAAFs. So, and I said to this recruiting officer and she was quite a stern lady. I remember her. I can see her now and she said, ‘Oh, we don’t want any more forces. We’ve got enough this week.’ She said, ‘We’re having to draft in to the factories. We badly need aircraft productions.’ So, I said, ‘Oh, I don’t want to work in a factory.’ It seemed a bit against my, what I’d even thought of, you know. So she said, ‘Well, I’m sorry,’ she said, ‘What’s the good of having so many airmen and, and no aircraft for them to fly?’ So, she said, ‘I’m afraid, you know, that that is where we will send you.’ So, I went home. I wasn’t very happy about it and I thought oh well, you know, have to accept it. So, I met somebody on the day that they told, they gave us all our details to go. I met a girl on the station platform that she’d been recruited as well. Hadn’t met her before but was introduced to her and off, you know off we set to and we were met by a billeting officer who took us to lodgings in Gainsborough. And they were the same as us, they had to, if they had a spare bedroom they had to take in conscripted people that came to the town. So, and then of course my first introduction to the factory life then. It was obviously so noisy but fortunately we were, went up on to this gallery because they were obviously training the new girls on this gallery and so it was a bit quieter than the main workshop. So, and then they were looking to our work. I think when I first joined and we made a lot of mistakes when they were teaching us how to use it I think I got called Scrapper Kidler at the time [laughs]. But eventually, you know we were trained to operate from finishing to about very low thousandth of an inch and so we just took, we just did the work that was brought up to us, you know. It varied from, there was barrage balloons and these screw things, and Spitfire parts. We didn’t really always know what we were doing. Just gave us boxes of things to do and then it was checked by the foreman to see that it was finished properly and, and off it went. So, and I was there for probably two years. Just about two years before the Dambusters raid was arranged and we knew there was quite a lot of busy work going on in the factory because the men had seemed to be working a lot of overtime. And on one occasion they were, they were nearly all night and we thought oh, you know why they have they got to do a double shift? But they did have a restroom and we had a canteen. But then we were brought up some boxes of brass components and finished them. Apparently, that was part of the mechanism that operated the bomb and of course, again we didn’t know what it was for. None of us did really. Even the men in the workshops because everything had to be so secret. So all the activity that we knew was going on down because we overlooked the main workshop. We just thought it was just part of the war effort really. So, it was quite a surprise when we finally were told what it was actually done and that was the morning after the raid when the announcement came over the tannoy that the work that had been done, ‘Now you know what the work was that you’d been involved in.’ So of course, the men were delighted because they’d worked really hard. I mean, we just finished these brass components but I think the main work was done by the men having to keep doing the modifications that Barnes Wallis, you know worked on to get it accurate. Afterwards we saw a demonstration in a smaller, in the actual factory. They’d got this water and there were small replicas of the bomb. Showed how it bounced, you know, so but it was all beforehand. As I say we were just factory workers. That’s all we knew really. So that was quite a thing at the time for the factory. And of course, Alfie Rose used to work on the wharf because we were on the River Trent and Alfie Rose, who was our boss he worked on the wharf tirelessly on a, with a part of a rear gunner’s turret and he was trying to improve because the rear turret the gunner couldn’t bale out. He’d have to go back to the mid-upper turret to get his parachute so that was a delay if there was a, you know, an incident. And eventually Alfie perfected this where there was this piece at the back and it went out the side so they could have their parachute, had room for it and then tip out on the side if there was an incident. And that I believe is in the museum at Hendon. I think it says on it Rose, “Rose’s Turret.” So that was his achievement. So, he was quite a clever man. So that’s because we were so close to Scampton, you see it was, the factory that was so near that there was no, I suppose there wasn’t quite the same concern that it might leak out because it was only a few miles away from Scampton Aerodrome so, we were able to operate without people noticing a lot of activity I suppose really. So that was just my couple of years with the factory.
PL: So it was Alfie who’s factory in Gainsborough.
SR: Yeah.
PL: And what was the, what was the name of the factory? Did they say it was sort of an engineering factory or what was it before it was taken over for war work?
SR: Well, can, Andrew, can you get the book? I think I’ve got something there. It was, I think their main job was designing machinery for tea, wasn’t it? There was tea and various products for food.
PL: So, in the sort of processing of food.
SR: Yeah.
PL: Right.
SR: Yes. It was machinery that was needed to process food, and tea especially I believe. Packaging tea. And so, but that was Rose Brothers as it was. I mean obviously quite a long going business from pre-war. But of course, I wasn’t aware of how important the factory was because we just went. You know, we were just sent there and that was, that was all we knew. We had to go and do our bit.
PL: So, so did you believe you were going to work in aeroplane manufacture? Parts for aeroplanes.
SR: Yes. Well, that was what they said when I was recruited and when she said that there’s no good having a lot of airmen when there’s no aeroplanes for them to fly. And so she said, you know this is part of the, what we need. So just that was what we presumed we were doing. Parts for aeroplanes. And that proved so. Whatever else was done in the factory was more or less related to aircraft and so that was the changeover from the tea manufacturing thing that they did. We were all, you know —
PL: But it sounds, it sounds like it was also very involved with the research and development of new things.
SR: Yes. I think it was possibly, you know and actually not told really much about what you were doing. Of course, it was all [pause] but I know that we were doing parts for Spitfires because I remember we were told the sighting, you know when you look through to get the, it was the sort of sighting from the, on there when they were flying and looking out for the enemy. That part we did. And I did a lot of ball bearings which were a bit of a bore for the, for the rear turret to run around on. So there was the ball bearings. So, parts we did know what they were but we just waited for the men to come up with boxes of things for us to get on and do it, you know. So, and so of course at that age we were a little bit involved in going to the dance that night so [laughs] you know, we, we just, they told us what we were doing and we were more interested in going down to the local dance hall about three times a week. And of course, there was always plenty of airmen there, partners there so, we had a good time really. But the hours were long. You had to go shifts which were six in the morning ‘til six at night. And then, then we went on to night shift which of course stopped us going out but we did night shift from six at night ‘til six in the morning. So, we had twelve hours shifts.
PL: So, what would a typical twelve hour shift be? I mean, I know you were doing lots of different jobs but what sort of things would you actually be doing?
SR: Well, it would just be whatever was on the day. You know, what had been given us to, it might have been a week or two on the same thing. I remember doing some barrage balloon screw work where they anchored the balloon down to the ground and had to have these things to screw in and we never really were told, it was just, not very often anyway. But we just used to, we were just there to do what they brought up for us to do and then the foreman used to come around and make sure that we were, we got the finishing accurate and then we just carried on with this. A box of, you know, whatever. So it was just, you know just giving us —
PL: And what was the, what was the atmosphere in the factory like? I mean, was there music or was there breaks and —
SR: Oh yes. They used to have this, yeah we used to have this music that they put on. Works. Worker’s Playtime wasn’t it? Yeah. Yeah. But of course, being noisy but we were lucky really because we hadn’t quite so much noise being up in the gallery. But they did have the music blared out. And of course the main workshop was set at the back so they had more noise than we would have and there was a lot heavy work being done. And there were some women down there so, we were lucky that we were put on to the gallery and then taught how to finish. And I never knew quite why we were chosen but maybe because we’d had a bit more mathematical education and so we were better off up there really as regards the noise and the intensity of the factory. We had a canteen and used to get a, you know an hour’s break, you know. But during the day we could go home. I used to go back to my lodgings. It wasn’t far from away. We used to get the meals there until nights of course. We couldn’t do that so we went in to the canteen. And then there was the odd incident. Gainsborough was fairly well protected. The main bombing areas were Lincoln. So we, we didn’t really have a lot of worry about bombings. Except we could, we could often see the lights and knew what was going on in Lincoln. But one night when we were on nights, when I was on nights and went up to the canteen and it was a hot, quite a hot summer night. I think it was about May, and we went in to, on to the veranda and it was a bright moonlight night and I was saying to my friend, I said, ‘Oh, there’s a plane.’ And you could hear him coming and just thought it was one of ours scouting, you know. Anyway, then suddenly we could see the bombs leave the aircraft and I said to Mary, I said, ‘Crikey, look. He’s dropping some bombs,’ I said, ‘It’s a German.’ So, we dashed back in to the canteen and we all shot under the tables. And it missed our factory except that it did, one bomb did land in the marshalling yard which was near the Trent. But the factory opposite, which was Marshall’s and they did a lot of heavy work like tanks and big, and they caught the front of their factory. But the other two bombs I think fell in to the main town. I think Woolworth’s got it. But of course, it was night time. There was nobody really injured and we thought that maybe he was scouting and would be coming back the next night because he had seen all the chimneys you see. There was other factories as well so, but anyway we heard that he had been shot down as he crossed the coast. So that was, that was the only time that we ever had any bombing in Gainsborough itself. But it was, I can always remember seeing that. It was so bright moonlight but as he dived you could see the bombs leave the aircraft so, and we all dashed in under the tables. We did have a, we did have an air raid shelter down at the back of the factory but of course we didn’t have time to go down there anyway. So, I think they marshalled us down there just in case there was any more following him but it all went very quiet so it was a, it was a little bit of a sort of one. They said he strayed straight from the Lincoln raid had got lost then he must have spotted the chimneys.
PL: So, so working in your gallery where you were working in the factory how many of there were you roughly?
SR: On the gallery?
PL: Yes.
SR: There was only five of us. That’s all. Yeah
PL: Right.
SR: Yeah.
PL: So, you all had your own machines to work.
SR: Yeah, we each had our own machine. Yes. So we worked more or less on the same job that came up in boxes according to how many of course there were. One girl was a girl that had worked there before the war. She was a, so she was fully trained and so she helped us a lot if we needed it. I think she was put there to, or we were put with her to make sure that, but the main thing was that we were trained. And the foreman used to come and check our work and there was always somebody around to make sure you’re not, you know. Sort of getting on with the work that you’re supposed to do.
[clock chiming – LOUDLY]
SR: I should have switched that off shouldn’t I?
PL: So, so the five of you must have been a tight group then.
SR: Oh yes. Yes. Yeah. Yeah.
PL: All good friends.
SR: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Yes. The one obviously a local person and she was a bit older than us and been trained you know as a job from the early days when, before the war so she’d got a family and other things so, but the four of us that were recruits we were quite friendly. Yes. And we used to go to as many dances as we could. Of course, we couldn’t do it on nights but I think we used to go about, at least, well three to four times a week because there were dances at the Drill Hall and local Assembly Rooms. And when you think that we used to get up at half past five at least in the morning, 5 o’clock the alarm went off and we, you know but we still went dancing ‘til midnight probably. So, you know it was, it was you know quite a happy life in a way for us. It’s that we just had to make the best of it because, you know going home occasionally at the weekends. I mean my parents were quite comfortable but we didn’t expect the luxuries that we had at home you know. We, our landlord, lady was very good. We always had a good meal but it wasn’t quite so luxurious as the home I’d been used to because a lot of those houses in Gainsborough they didn’t even have bathrooms. Of course, I’d never been brought up with that because I remember someone saying to me, ‘Do you remember the tin baths?’ I said, ‘No, I’m afraid I don’t.’ I was lucky, my parents always had a bathroom but that was just because my father was in business and my grandparents were, you know had had a fairly comfortable life, I suppose. But, you know, you just had to accept it. You had to get [pause] So that was a time when, you know, as I say we missed some of the conveniences and I think in the forces they always had showers and bathrooms but we didn’t and there used to be a local place you could go to to get a bath and we used to pay sixpence or something. So —
PL: So, like a bathhouse in Gainsborough.
SR: A bathhouse. Yes. Yeah. Yeah.
PL: So, would have been, what was that like?
SR: Well, you just used to go and pay your money and then they’d give you a room, you know obviously with a bath in it and then, and the hot water and it was strange because when the water cooled because you know how you like to have a soak in the bath and then you’d have to shout for him to put some more hot water in [laughs] And you’d say, ‘Water. More hot water please.’ And some of us would, you know, so but we used to have a laugh about all that because it was something that was quite foreign to us. And then when I used to go home at the weekends of course I always had an extra bath before I went back. But I mean there’s, it’s a sort of thing that the soldiers all had to put up with, didn’t they? So we just accepted it. And especially when you’d been working in a factory you really need a bath every day but you had to make do with a strip down wash and things like that. So you put up with it really. And then we used to go to the, hadn’t time to always go to the bath house. It was only occasionally. But you know that was all part of —
PL: So what about rations? What sort of meals did you have? What was your diet like?
SR: Well, my, my landlady was quite good. We always had a roast dinner and she did, she used to make a very good fruit cake. And our tea when we had our, we used to go home at half past nine in the morning starting at six. We could, it wasn’t very far our lodgings. We were allowed to go home for half an hour so she always used to find something to cook us in the morning if it was an egg on toast or a bacon ration or something like that. And then we used to have our main meal. And then at tea time it was a case of bread and butter and homemade jam because her husband, he made, he always used to make strawberry jam because you know, you had the fruit and then you used to get a sugar ration for fruit when it was in season. So he used to make strawberry jam. So I remember our tea was usually bread and butter and strawberry jam and a piece of fruitcake and that was the same more or less every day. And our sandwiches when she used to pack us up at night was always cheese because there was so little meat to spare. So it was always a case of a cheese sandwich because the canteen was alright and had fish and chips and things but at 2 o’clock in the morning you don’t really want that do you? Of course, during the day we could go home and have our meals but it was the night time. We used to go home for supper which was usually a sandwich or something. And then after going to bed at, got home just after 6 o’clock used to go to bed ‘til about two and then she always had a meal for us then because you know they’d had their lunchtime meal because that was normal then to cook. They used to have their lunchtime meal and so there was always a meal first for me when I got up and she always used to put it on a saucepan of hot water to heat through. So, so we had that and then there was, we used to finish then and so the meals just had to coincide with our shifts really. And then there was always, you know an apple or something like that because that was quite common. Fruit was quite easy to get. Not, of course, we never had bananas or oranges, things like that because they weren’t imported but, but there was always plenty of apples and local plums and that. Whatever was in season. So —
PL: So, how many of you were staying in the boarding house? Was it just —
SR: Just two.
PL: Two.
SR: Yeah. Just two. Yeah. Yeah.
PL: And was one of the others one of the people working with you?
SR: Yeah. yeah. That was one of the one’s I went away with when we met to come together. She was more or less, I think they lived in Grimsby and yes she was a nice girl and we got on quite well so —
PL: So, what did you wear?
SR: We had overalls of green. We used to, they gave us trousers which wasn’t common use then for girls but we had trousers and special shoes because all the liquid, I can’t remember the name of it now it used to come down to keep your tools cool. You know, there was always, it was always running on to the tools and of course it used to get on to the floor so they gave us special shoes because if you wore your own shoes, they had to be flats of course it would rot the soles so we had like a clog. And, and then we had green overalls and trousers of course and then a cap. And we did have, the boss asked us if we would design a better sort of a hat because he wasn’t used to these girls coming in like us with long hair which was the fashion then and of course leaning over your machine that was a danger to get it caught it up. So he, and so he said, we used to have to tie it back and then even that he thought wasn’t immediately safe so he asked us if we could design something to wear for that. He gave us all a chance and I designed one. It was a peak. A peak with a net type thing that came and you tucked all your hair in it. And so, and so when they took up the designs that we’d given mine was chosen and I got an extra week’s wages for that [laughs] Which was well worth having. Well, it was three pounds a week we used to earn so by the time you’d paid your lodgings out of it there wasn’t a lot left but you know that was for your pocket money and that was it.
PL: But a great achievement to have got that.
SR: To get a week’s wages was quite good.
PL: What about gloves? Did you wear gloves?
SR: No. No. No. Because the precision of the tools was so close and then we had to measure you see. Each tool had to be measured at the end and it was, I can’t remember what they called it. I always think of a thermometer but it wasn’t and I used to put it on and screw it down and it would register that it was within about three oh I should say about three, three to five [thou] to be accurate. Because if not they were scrapped and if you scrapped too many then there was a bit of problems. But they were all checked. Every one was checked that we had to be accurate because that was the last part probably to fit it into the main component. But I don’t think we took it all that seriously at the time. We just sort of hoped that everything was ok but, but you know we, we had to do our job but yeah, it was something that you had to accept but it wasn’t my choice of a career really. But after about two and a half years we, because the war then, we were in to ’44, the beginning of ’44 we were asked because it wasn’t such, quite such a demand that we could transfer. So I asked for a transfer and I went. They sent me to a Ordnance Depot in Leicestershire and I went in to the office. So I was a wage clerk then because and there was such big, it was all planning for D-Day. There were so many sheds, soldiers and civilian workmen and I was paying policemen on the site. There was ninety civilian policemen and I had to pay their wages and we used to have to go around on a Friday with the money, all the packets, on to the sheds and pay all the workers. There were eight of us in the wage office and it was all, we were actually attached to the Army and our, in charge of our office was a staff sergeant and we worked with the racks. There was half civilian and half Army and when it was approaching D-Day which again we didn’t know about we were asked to go in to the sheds and help finish some of the packing. We used to be knocking nails in boxes. And then of course there was a big lot of movement going on and all this equipment obviously went off ready for D-Day and there was a lot of field telephones I remember and tanks and all sorts. It was a huge place, Old Dalby near Leicestershire. And then of course we went in to lodgings in the village. One of the villages. Again, we were recruited in to, billeted you know. We had a billeting officer so but that was quite a nice change from working in a factory really and I was there ‘til after the war finished. 1945, I think. So —
PL: So, was there a sense that things were winding down at Rose’s?
SR: Yeah. Yeah.
PL: In terms of war work.
SR: There was. Yeah. Yeah.
PL: So was there a request for being assigned elsewhere or did you, did you volunteer for that?
SR: Well, we were just told that I think we were, it was an option. You know if anyone wanted to, it was allowed because we’d done our two years. So I think it was after that and then it was beginning to wind down you see because it was the beginning of ’44. I mean there had been a lot of bombing raids but it was beginning to, the war was beginning to develop better for us wasn’t it, and I think they’d got enough. They were, after that there weren’t perhaps the bombing raids that they’d been having earlier in, in the war but it was, if I remember it’s just, it was just an option that if you wanted to. Because we were recruits you know that we had an option I think. Some, some liked factory work but I didn’t particularly. I thought I’d quite like to get a change, you know. And I think I’d, the pressure had been you know I felt doing long shifts and I felt, you know that, a bit weary and I thought it was a chance to I mean just to have a change and get back to more or less the work that I was happier doing I suppose. But you get used to factory work you know.
PL: So, going, going back briefly to the factory so I understand you met Barnes Wallis.
SR: No. I didn’t meet him. No. No. It was, he was obviously coming in down to the main workshops because of these modifications. But it was after the raid, about a week or so later after obviously the crews were busy elsewhere but I remember them coming, the foreman coming up and saying, ‘Oh, we’ve got some visitors today.’ And he said, ‘Some of them, you’ll be seeing some of them up here.’ And he didn’t tell us a lot about it really but he just said it was coming from Scampton. And then there was a spiral staircase that led down from our gallery down to the main work area and I remember the girl on the end, Mary, she said, she said, ‘Oh,’ she said, ‘There’s somebody’s coming up.’ She said, ‘Oh, I can see the flat caps. It’s airmen.’ Because you see as they came up the spiral staircase you could, all you could see was the flats of their, of their hats. So she said, ‘Oh, it’s airmen,’ she said. So, of course, so we all were expecting these to come up and of course it was Guy Gibson and some of his crew. But I think there was only about four of them. It wasn’t the whole crew. Just whoever was with him at the time. There was a lot of them went into the workshop downstairs but obviously they’d said that we’d contributed so they came up the spiral staircase and just chatted with us along, along the row and at the time I don’t think we really thought it was that, that important, you know.
PL: Can you remember what they said?
SR: No. They just said, ‘Oh —’ you know, they looked at the machines and they said, ‘Oh, this is where you obviously made some of our equipment.’ And you know, it wasn’t very much really and then they walked along and just stood a minute or two and then off they went again. So, but it was just the fact that I always remember that part where they were coming up the spiral staircase. We could see the, the uniform and the flat caps, you know.
PL: Yeah.
SR: We didn’t know who it was going to be until the foreman was, whoever was with them just introduced them as who they were. But I don’t remember the names and I don’t even remember because the only member of the crew left now at this time is Johnny Johnson, isn’t it? Who was the mid-upper gunner, I believe. I don’t know whether he was one of them because I couldn’t really tell you the names except that we knew the one that we remember is the one, that it was Guy Gibson and he brought some of the crew. Well, whether there was any more downstairs I don’t know but there was only about four with him. But of course there was seven in a crew so probably weren’t all available at the, or why they arranged it. But we knew nothing about it until they actually arrived. But there is also in the Gainsborough Museum there’s a table cloth that Mrs Rose used to have when she had any important visitors and obviously because of the war work and everything there was quite a lot of important names on it and it is in the museum. And she used to get them to sign it and then she would embroider the signatures and it was actually on the television in the Antiques Roadshow at one time just demonstrating it and there was all these names. Barnes Wallis and Guy Gibson as well as many others that had obviously visited the factory and had visited their home because they had a home just further up on the Trent. And so all that was obviously proved that these were people that came to the factory. So that was quite a thing that we saw at the time and so all the names obviously as, they were signed as they visited.
PL: Did you feel after the, I mean you were very young but did you feel after the Dambusters raid and all the fuss that was made about it did you feel differently about the work that you were doing in the factory? I mean, did you sort of feel actually this is much more, there’s all sorts of interesting things going on here or did, was it just, did it just —
SR: No. Not really. I just think it was all part of the, the things —
PL: Part of the job.
SR: Part of the job. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah, because a lot of the work that was, we did, we didn’t really know what it was. How important it was going to be. But obviously it was just these parts of aircraft and Spitfires as well apparently. And then there was some rather mundane jobs that went, you know. I used to like to do the one that was small and had a, but some of the bigger things like to do with the barrage balloons and that you know they were a bit sort of ordinary I suppose. I liked it when it was a bit more intricate. Yeah. But we really didn’t, we didn’t sort of think it was so, we knew they were classed as an important raid because we were told after the, the day after it was announced on the tannoy that, ‘Now the work that you’ve been doing you can, you know what it was.’ So that was quite exciting at the time but you soon forget that, you know. You go on to something else, don’t you?
PL: So, I’m interested to know a little bit more about the Rose’s because they sound like a very interesting family. So, so, Mr Rose himself what was your impression of him? Did you —
SR: Yeah. Alfie.
PL: Yeah.
SR: He was the son of the original Rose’s but yeah he was a lovely, very nice, friendly man. Yes. And because he used to, we used to admire him for sitting, he used to sit outside on the wharf because the back of the factory doors went out on to the wharf and we could see through the windows you know that, being up on the gallery and he would sit out there and he had this rear turret. We didn’t know what he was doing. You know, we weren’t really told that sort of, but we knew how much he was working on it and thinking, well there was something he was obviously working hard with and that’s what it turned out to be. That he was trying to improve the rear turret for the rear gunner and of course eventually he did. So he was quite a clever man. I think the factory itself had got a, had a good name for manufacturing. But as I say it’s all —
PL: Does it still exist?
SR: No. No. It’s gone now. Gainsborough itself, it’s, it’s all been pulled down. It’s gone, and it’s a park and I think they call it the Rose’s Park. Yeah. But they were, there was, there is a lot of history about the Rose family in the book published Rose Brothers, Gainsborough. And so it’s quite interesting as I say but I didn’t know very much about factory life at all really. I didn’t know what, you know before I was called up to do some. So —
PL: So, going back then, catapulting forward to your work in preparation for D-Day. So, what, when you were in Leicestershire so, what happened next? So, you worked up to D-Day I’m guessing and then what happened?
SR: Well, then of course, because it was D-Day and a lot of the forces then were, I think the [unclear] after all the equipment and everything that was needed and the Old Dalby still existed and I think it did for quite a while but because we were then running down on the staffing that was needed and then we had the option if we, we could stay on. A certain amount of us were allowed to stay on for a while and then, then we were given the option to be discharged. So we got a, because while I was working for them as the Army we used to have Army passes to go home. We had leave and we had leave passes and we had to operate the same as the Army did really except for going into private billets. But the rules were the same for us and then of course we were told that if we wanted to apply after May or June it was we could then apply for a discharge. Because gradually of course a lot of those staff weren’t needed because I mean the whole thing was concentrating on the D-Day so the staffing wasn’t quite needed in the same way. So then I decided well, I think I’d had enough of being in lodgings so I went home. So, you know because when you were in lodgings I mean, as I say it’s not quite the same and we, they were all, there were so many people that lived in small places and didn’t have the facilities that we perhaps had had at home. Lucky enough but don’t realise it at the time. My parents had the same sort of comfortable homes but I was perhaps pleased to get home. And then, and you sort of start to wonder what, what you’re going to do when you get there and it was just a taste of it was nice to go home without having to go back again and I could enjoy being at home for a while.
PL: So, were you at home when peace was declared?
SR: Well, no because that was May, wasn’t it? What was that? What was that? Nineteen? I was still there in 1944 and it was officially declared, was it in ’45? So, I was already, yeah I was already home then I think. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah, because it was after D-Day that they started to give us the chance to sort of run down the staff. But that was quite enjoyable being at the [unclear] Quite enjoyed that apart from again lodgings. I was in a cottage that was. It was in the village. One of the villages, and you used to get picked up in the morning by a coach and used to go around all the people that had been recruited and pick us up in a coach and take us to the depot.
[recording paused]
PL: Recommencing recording. So Sheila we’re sort of getting to the end of the war now so what happened next? How did you —
SR: Well, I, I naturally had to find work and I went to a big department store in Grimsby, Lawson and Stockdale’s and I got a job in the accounts office. So I worked there for several years and then I, probably about three I think and then I met my husband. We used to go to the local dances and things and he was in the RAF and he was, he’d joined up during the war and stayed on then and signed on as a regular. So eventually we married and then I had three children and just was an RAF wife because you know, we didn’t work. It wasn’t a thing to work. He was away quite a lot because he was flying. So I was on my own several, several months, you know when he was away. And so my job was to stay at home and look after the children. Then we got posted in later years and I had the two to Cyprus and that was in ’59. And Andrew was born then in 1960. And then we came back and we were stationed at Abingdon where he went on to Beverleys where they flew trained paratroops. Parachuting. Then after that we went to Cologne and he was on a Hastings. And he was discharged in 1970, I think. Yeah. He did nearly thirty years in the RAF. So of course, I was at home looking after the children until as they were getting older I started to work on the RAF in Cologne and eventually finished up caring and went in to looking after older people and finished up with, in a sheltered housing.
PL: Wonderful.
SR: Of course, my husband died several years ago.
PL: So, did you get back to your sewing machine?
SR: No. Well, no. I, no not for work. No. No. No, I quite enjoyed that really because I like sewing now. Did a lot of knitting and sewing. Sewing was my forte really. I used to make my own dresses and things like that. My mother was a dressmaker. I’d been trained as a dressmaker and of course my father’s business was still going and he retired. I think they sold the business in about 1960.
PL: Right.
SR: My grandfather’s —
PL: And so during, during the war did you, did you say that that your, your parents sort of hosted airmen?
SR: Yes. Quite a lot. Well, my mother was very good. She was a wonderful cook and very hospitable and my, well some of them, well it was actually some of the Navy because, moreso because my uncle, my mum’s brother was a welfare officer down on the docks at Grimsby. And of course, some of the Navy because, you know there’s the Humber and they had a block across the end of the Humber to stop the Germans coming in from the North Sea and, but they used to open it when there was one of our destroyers say in trouble. To get them into Immingham for repairs. And my uncle used to ring up my mother and some of the crew they were actually still on service. They weren’t allowed to go home. They had to wait in Immingham. Probably only a minor thing. Only took a couple of days. And then my uncle used to ring up mother and say, ‘Can you do with a few airmen. They’re fed up here just knocking around.’ Navy rather. And so they used to come up and one Christmas there were some of them there and we had them for Christmas and I remember them bringing up some of the rations and taking them out of their trench coat pockets and putting them on mother’s mantlepiece because you know they were allowed to bring some rations. Then they stayed over Christmas for two or three days and then the ship was ready to go out and they went out and unfortunately that particular destroyer was, was hit when it got in to the North Sea by a German again and some of those crew that had been with us, I especially remember the cook who was an auburn haired lad, he was killed. Some of them came back into Grimsby hospital wounded. And that was only a day or two after they sailed out again. So, and then you know there was the airmen and I was, I was actually courting an airman at the time, at the end of the war and 1944 unfortunately went out on a bombing raid to Berlin and was, he was shot down too. He was lost. But he used to come of course to the house and he, when I was working, I was working, still working in Gainsborough then and he used to go because he was stationed at Waltham which was Grimsby. He used to spend a lot of time at my mother’s. Unfortunately, he was lost in that intensive Berlin raid they had in, in the beginning of 1944. They were sending them out to intense training on Berlin and that was really too much. He was very tired on the Sunday. He said to me, ‘Pray for fog tonight again.’ Because one night they’d had fog and they couldn’t go. But it was, it was too much for them really. I’ve got the details of him.
PL: What was his, what was his role?
SR: He was a gunner. Yeah. He was. Yeah. Yeah, the crew were [pause] he was at, when I met him I was at Gainsborough and he came, he was on the, they were crewing up and he came out to be crewed up from training and, and he said to me, ‘Guess where I’m being posted.’ And he said Waltham, which of course was quite close to my mother’s home so he knew that if I went home, you know he could see me more. So he was quite happy about that. Joined 100 Squadron and unfortunately was lost. Yes, he was three days before his twenty first birthday and I would have been twenty one in the May. So, so he’s buried in Berlin. In the War Cemetery there. There were so many of them lost. Dreadful really.
PL: So, Sheila I’m always also curious. At the very start of our conversation you said about your brother working on P&O ferries and being in, near Singapore.
SR: Yes.
PL: So, what happened with him?
SR: Well, he was on the way back. They, they’d left Yokohama and of course the Japs were already going through China weren’t they? So they got to Singapore which was their route home and they were asked to take on as many as they could from Singapore families. You know, because obviously the men out there had got a lot, had got their families there and they took a lot on board this ship. It was the P&O Ranchi and they got to India and put them ashore at India and then the ship was asked to go back to Singapore. They put ashore any, any people that they had on board and collected another lot from Singapore. And when they got back to India the crew were put ashore as well and they said they were taking the ship as a troop ship. And of course, by then the Japs were on the way, almost at Singapore. Treated them dreadfully of course, the ones that were left. And I remember him telling me about how they’d been told about going in to the hospital at Singapore, the Japs and they just shot all, everybody in the hospital. Nurses, doctors and everybody. I mean, dreadful the way they treated our prisoners of war, didn’t they? So, of course, most of the ones in Singapore were taken as prisoners. But my brother of course was put ashore in India and he joined the Army because he thought they’d be sent home because they asked, you know, who wanted to volunteer and he joined the Army but he wasn’t sent home. So he stayed on in India, was trained and he was sent to the Indian Academy because he was quite a clever lad at the time. He was only eighteen and anyway he became, he got his commission and he stayed in India all the war and he was, he was a major when he came out. A captain just been made up to major and he worked with the Ghurkhas and they were cavalry so he was on horseback most of the time. And they used to go down to the Burma front because they couldn’t take mechanised stuff in to the jungle because they used to take it down on donkeys and lead them down on horseback. So that was, he stayed in India and it was 1946 before he came home so my mother didn’t see him, well none of us did but, you know my mother especially didn’t see him for seven years. So, he did, you know I suppose in a way it might have saved his life because he, if he’d come back to this country he could have gone into the Normandy landings and whatever. But he was, worked, the Ghurkhas had a terrific name for the work they did in Burma and he was with them, training them for quite a while. He said it was, it was an honour to work with them. He said they were such fantastic soldiers. But yes, he finished up and so he was you know I suppose lots of things he enjoyed about India and seemed to be, did quite well anyway promotion wise and everything. So he was saved from anything more drastic as coming back to England. But when he came home because he was MT Regiment, which was mule training and of course he had to be posted when he got back here and they sent him up to Scotland to the MT unit and of course it was motor transport [laughs] and he said he knew nothing about transport. So, anyway eventually he applied for his discharge. He stayed in London and went to university in Kensington for a year and then eventually because he was very keen on playwriting and he worked for the BBC. So, he was a playwright with the BBC and scriptwriter, script editor. And that had been his early ambition really. To be a writer. So he had quite a good life really. But unfortunately, he wasn’t in the best of health and he died in his sixties but he certainly saw a little bit of [pause] but thinking that he was on the boats and then the liners were quite luxury items then, you know and they were only monied people that could afford those luxuries. But they put everybody ashore at India. I don’t know how they all got home but he thought he was going to be sent home but he didn’t. But anyway, as I say I think it was —
PL: That’s an amazing story.
SR: Perhaps, once he settled down. Yeah.
PL: Well, Sheila, look it’s been a fantastic interview. Thank you so much. I suppose my last question is this is, these are your memories. Is there anything else at all that you would like to be recorded?
SR: No. Not that I can think of because, you know to me at that time it was just a job we had to do and it was, wasn’t all, to us, you know to me being that age as well it isn’t that significant at the time, is it? You know, it’s only afterwards perhaps you realise there was some importance attached to it. But there were so many factories that were taken over the, you know over the country wasn’t there? I know going back to Singers when they had a factory where they made sewing machines in Scotland and that was taken over and it was all they had to make Army uniforms. And when I came back from the end of the war which was again, as I say I think I was a bit confused about the time but it was 1945 the [pause] I came. I got off the train at Lincoln to change to get the Grimsby train and who should be coming up the platform was our manager of Singer’s Sewing Machine Company and he’s tall, and Mr Peach they called him. He was a very tall man and I could just see him. I think, ‘Oh, it’s Mr Peach.’ So, he spotted me as well and he always used to call me little Kiddle because I was always, you know small and slim in those days. And he said, ‘Oh, little Kiddle,’ so he said, ‘What are you doing here?’ I said, ‘Oh, I’ve just come back from war work.’ He said, ‘I’ve got just the job for you.’ He said, ‘I’m opening a new branch in Lincoln.’ So he said, ‘Manageress Lincoln.’ Just, just like that, on Lincoln station platform and so he said, ‘Just get in touch with me.’ So anyway, when I got home and having been away for so long and in lodgings I thought that means going into lodgings again in Lincoln and I thought no. So I never, I never applied for it and I finished up getting an office job in Grimsby so I was quite happy with that for a while. Yeah. And then of course you get married and things change again, don’t they? So, one has to accept what, you know what was thrown at us at the time. And it was my choice to get married and have a family.
PL: Well, I’d just like to end then by saying thank you very much again. This has been a fantastic interview. Thank you very much for letting us share your memories.
SR: Well, to me I just wonder whether it was important enough for you to even have to go to the trouble but —
PL: Definitely. Definitely important enough.
SR: You go back and you think about the things that happen, you know, I suppose. You do have memories about it.
PL: Thank you very much indeed.
SR: Alright.



Pam Locker, “Interview with Sheila Rankine,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed December 4, 2022,

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