Interview with Jean Smith


Interview with Jean Smith


Jean Smith worked as a clerk in the aircraft manufacturing industry before the war and later served as a secretary in the Women's Auxiliary Air Force. She served at 27 Operational Training Unit at RAF Lichfield.




Temporal Coverage




02:40:04 audio recording


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ASmithJ160312, PSmithJ1601


AP: This interview for the International Bomber Command Centre is with Jean Smith, who was a WAAF at Lichfield among other places during World War Two, she in fact I met her husband who was a Stirling flight engineer, so this is gonna be a good one. My name is Adam Purcell, the interview is taking place at Jean’s home in McCrae, south of Melbourne and it is the 12th of March 2016. So, Jean, I thought we might start from the beginning, it’s probably a good spot. Uhm, can you tell me something of your early life, what, where and how you grew up, uhm, education, first job, that sort of thing.
JS: Oh, well, I was born on the 1st of January 1922 and born in [unclear] 6, moved to, uhm, Welwyn Garden City and that’s where I spent my school life. I went not to the local primary school and I went to Hitchin Grammar School, was the nearest secondary school to Welwyn Garden City and then I went to Pitman’s College in London and at the same time the family moved to Amersham in Buckinghamshire. I was always very keen on horse riding and show jumping so that’ s where I spent most of my spare time in my youth. I did a secretarial course at Pitman’s College and also studied for my civil service exams, which I passed very well and went in, I chose the Air Ministry, my father told me I was very silly to do that. He was a civil servant, he knew better than me but I wanted to go into the Air Ministry. And then the Air Ministry split and was the Ministry of Aircraft Production which I went into. We spent our time typing out and preparing all these contracts for small firms to make Wellington bombers and Spitfires and Hurricanes a year at least before the war started. Then the war started and by that time I had met a very nice young man at Halton number 1 school of Aircraft Apprentices and he was passing out that year and he was sergeant apprentice and he, when the war occurred, he went straight over to France with the British Expeditionary Force, he was a fitter of course, and then managed to escape back from a French fishing village, on a French small fishing boat back to Folkestone and as soon as he got back to Britain, he, then we were, the Battle of Britain had started and we were very short of pilots for all our new aircraft, fighter aircraft and he trained as a Hurricane pilot and sadly he was shot down in the Battle of Britain. I wanted to go into the Air Force straight away, into the WAAF, but my father wouldn’t let me, he said, no, not until you are twenty one, why that magical number? I got in at twenty in the beginning of 1942 and I wanted to be a flight mechanic or a radio operator but of course they conned me and they said that you’re already trained and you’ll save your country such a lot of money [laughs] and so I went in as a secretary and all I did was my two months training at Innsworth Camp with thousands of other girls, usual routine, learning to march, to salute and hygiene and air force laundry, marches. And there were no mirrors on our training station so we had to learn to do our hair, put our make-up on and put our caps on and tie our ties without anything other than your little compact mirror and that was a bit of a thing. Anyway, I was posted to number 27 OTU Lichfield and I wanted to be in Fighter Command, now I was going to Bomber Command. Anyway, I arrived at 27 OTU and I found out what a lovely station it was, friendly and happy. And, [sighs] I became secretary to the Chief Flying Instructor Wing Commander Jackson, he was a South African and he’d done his first tour on Hampdens and I, my office was part of the orderly room, training wing orderly room down in flying control on the edge of the air field and I was stunned when I used to see all these young officers and flight sergeants and warrant officers coming in, all the instructors coming into our office, I was strapped dumb and they were all decorated and they’d all done their ops on Wellingtons and Hams, not Wellingtons, Hampdens and another aircraft, we used to call them coffin boxes, Hampdens, can’t think of the other one, uhm, and I was so naive and young, all these young heroes coming in, breezing in, and of course I quickly learned all the slang, you know, di digitate and you’re in the fertilizer business and [laughs] so on and so on, the prangs and they really did say jolly good show when they came in up to doing something [laughs], well, uhm, so, the Waafery was two miles down the road, uhm, I think it was a place, a little village called Streethay, it was on the main road and it was two miles away and it was surrounded by high barb wire fencing and sentries at the gate and I remember, some of the aircrew boys saying: ‘Why do they, why do they surround your place as if it’s like a prison?’ and I used to tell all the Aussies: ‘To keep you randy Aussies out’. We had a little pub called the Anchor, a tiny little pub that had been a coaching inn and it was just, all about a quarter of a mile down the road from our camp and, of course we were all armed [?], we were all given service bikes, we could all ride a bike because we had to ride to and fro to camp and coming down on summer evenings, especially when I was first there, lot of the girls used to stop and go in for half a pint of beer before they went in for their tea [laughs]. Oh, I was so pure and innocent, it took me six months before I set my first footstep, I’d never been in a pub in my life, [laughs]. Anyway we used to go into the Anchor a lot for a quick drink and also of course on the nights in the winter, when night flying was cancelled, when it was thick pea souper fog or rain streaming down, you couldn’t see an inch before you, we all used to wait around in our hut after we’d had our tea at night and suddenly over the tannoy the message would come: all night flying cancelled, all night flying scrubbed, over and out. And we’d all say whoopee and get the curlers out and put all the glamour on, those were the days of big pink rouge cheeks and thick horrible makeup called powder cream, we used to plaster all over our spotty faces and big cupids bow lips bright red and mascara [?], which came in little black blocks and you spat on it and rubbed it with a little brush, and thickly coated your eyelashes. The trouble was it wasn’t waterproof so if you went to the pictures and it was a sad film you, also all the girls came out with streaks of black down their cheeks [laughs], we’d all be trying to wipe of our black tears. Uh, we had a lot of fun in the Hut 2 and, as I say, we used to put all our makeup on and then best blue and dash down to the pub and then we’d wait there, we’d order our drinks, just half a pint of beer and you’d hear all the boys coming down and all the bikes going bang, bang, bang on the pub wall and they’d all come streaming in and in half an hour the whole place would be a thick fug, you could hardly see across the room, cigarette smoke and I always remember cigarette smoke and all the wet wall, there was always a big fire on in the lounge bar and the piano, oh, piano would be going like mad with all the songs getting naughtier and naughtier as the night went on [laughs]. And it was good because these boys were doing their, they were doing their operational training, they were, they’d come from all their various schools, pilots from their flying school, wireless school, gunnery and they’d come together and they’d been put in big room and told to make up a crew of five which would be pilot, navigator, wireless operator, he was also a gunner, uh, a gunner and a bomb-aimer and they would then convert onto Wellington, twin-engine bombers, the good old Wellingtons which were nicknamed Wimpies, they were, they were going up doing circuits and bumps all day and all night and it’s all very well, I was shattered actually when I got there, because the number of accidents in training was shocking during the war and I don’t think a lot of civilians, I didn’t think there were going to be all these terrible accidents and my first job, as soon as I settled into my, into my office, my first job was to type out a form 765C, I think five copies I had to do, you had to do five copies, one went to Bomber Command, one went to Group Headquarters, one went somewhere else and this particular form 765C, which was an accident report form for Bomber Command, it was a Cat E, and Cat E was total wreck all crew killed, it started with Cat E which was just nothing, you know, somebody knocked a, knocked a whole in a [unclear] or something like that, but the Cat Es were all full and of course when I’d done that and send that off and I was appalled cause I said to the sergeant in charge of the orderly room: ‘Does this happen often?’. ‘Oh, yes’ he said turning to me, he said, ‘Oh, we’ve had one accident, we should have another two in the next week’. Sure enough we did and next day I, and next morning I, after I’d done the general correspondence with the Chief Flying Instructor, the CFI, I had to go and sit down and we did letters of condolence to the various parents and wives and I know there were two Australian families and I thought how dreadful, all those miles away and I suppose no air mail, so I suppose in five weeks, will take five weeks for the letters to get to the parents somewhere in the outback of Australia and it just hit home, the war really came home to me in those first few days at my new station. And I was to see a lot of very nasty accidents and I think you know there’s always, it always makes me shudder now when I hear of a bad accident to a large airliner, you think of the horrible noise and the smell and that sort of vile cloud of black, black grey smoke and then the dark red flames going up and I’d seen dead bodies being carried out of planes and it’s so terrible and it did happen so often and of course we were very near the Peak District, Staffordshire, Derbyshire was the next door county and of course the Peak District and the boys did their night flying training in all weathers, terrible weather in full blackout and there they were flying around with all the peaks not very far distant and all the, all the Welsh mountains not very far away so, we had quite a lot of accidents hitting mountains. There used to be a comical character, in a magazine which was circulated to the air crew every so often and there was a little pilot called PO Prune and he was always saying: ‘Do not come down to sea!’ and he always held his finger in the air and that was called the irremovable digit [laughs] and he was always telling people all the things they, all the aircrew telling them what they must look out for and what they mustn’t do and constantly it was: ‘Do not come down to sea!’ Never come down lower than a certain height. And life went on very smoothly at 27 OTU. I remember, uhm, I turned twenty one of course at the end of that year, on New Year’s Day 1943 and there was, on Saint Valentine’s Eve there was a WAAF dance. Morale had been bad among the WAAF at that time because we’d had an awful lot of accidents, one girl had lost her young husband only a few months married, several girls had had bad news from their boyfriends in Africa because at that time our tanks, it was the first time when our tanks were being pushed back by Rommel and there was bad news from all our various fronts and the U-boats were having a feast downing our convoys, rations were being tightened for civilians, it was a very bad time, so, all the officers, and our WAAF officers decided, have a dance, I think it was the, our WAAF, the WAAF was formed in 1938 or ’39 just before the war and it was an anniversary for the WAAF and of course we couldn’t be allowed to wear civilian clothes, you weren’t allowed to wear civilian clothes, you had to be in uniform all the time. So, they got round that by saying, we’ll have a fancy dress dance for the WAAF, not for the airmen, the airmen have to come in uniform for the girls. So, we all rushed home, if we had a 36 hour or 48 hour leave, we all rushed home and said to our mothers, what have we got, got all the bits out, my mother dyed some spare cloth, she dyed one lot red and made me a very full skirt and then she found a bit of blackout curtain and made a little bodies and the boys in the dope shop painted a sickle and hammer on it, cause they were, the Russians were our gallant allies in those days and I’d also I got a little [unclear] in civilian life, a little, pretty little embroidered blouse, Hungarian blouse. So I went as a Russian peasant and my aunt had given me a beautiful silk Japanese kimono which she had before the war, it was a really beautiful thing. And my best friend, Hibbie, Brenda was her real name, Hibbie was dark-haired and very petite and I lent this kimono to Hibbie and she did her hair up with a comb in it and went as a Japanese girl, a horrible [unclear] [laughs] and so we all got it, we were told to get in the transport, we could go in our fancy dress and we were all glamourized that, we’d had all our hair set, we’ve had to get in the transport in order to go up to main camp but we had to take our uniforms with us to, to camp, so that we came home, back to camp in uniform. Anyway, we got up to the big NAAFI on the main camp and the station band which was very good started to play and the boys came in and we were dancing and a couple of young men came in and they, they were just in working gear, with scarves round their neck. They walked over to the bar, meanwhile ten of us had coloured a huge table near the bar, so, we were all there, sitting and chatting and these two young airmen came along and the older said; ‘Hello, girls, can we sit with you?’ And I said: ‘Oh, yes’. And they dragged out the young man along, she seemed very shy, blushing about being among with all us girls, anyway this was to be, this was my husband-to-be and he didn’t ask me to dance and I was getting up and dancing with all these other boys and then I said: ‘Don’t you like me or don’t you think I can dance very well?’ He said: ‘I can’t dance, he said, I’ve never danced in my life, he said, there’s a boy in our hut being trying to teach some of us to dance but, he said, I come from the isle of Lewis, and we are free Presbyterians, we are Calvinists, and we believe dancing is very sinful’. But he said: ‘I don’t’. And he said: ‘I’d like to learn to dance’. He said: ‘Will you dance with me now?’ So, he danced with me and trod all over my feet, he was such a, oh, he had lovely blue eyes and he was a very nice boy with that beautiful Highland accent, very soft and of course I really fell for him and he said, so after the last waltz we, he said to me: ‘May I see you at to transport?’ I said, ‘Oh yes’, I said, ‘You have to wait outside because we’ve all got to change back into our uniforms’. So we go into another room, change back and I found that I got all my uniform there except that I hadn’t got my, we didn’t have suspender belts in those days, we had corsets and [laughs] large, pink corsets with suspenders on the end and I found I left my back at camp. So, I put my stockings on, I went out to transport, I was holding my skirt with my stockings up and there is this nice boy waiting for me and eventually, you know, after we all chit chatting and talking, the driver said: ‘Get in girls!’. So, he said: ‘May I kiss you goodnight?’ and I said: ‘Oh, yes!’ and I put my arms up around his neck and my stockings fell down [laughs] and so obviously it must, it must have been ordained that this would be my future husband. Oh, we only had five dates before he went off, he was a fitter on our camp, and we had five dates and he went off for his aircrew training and the young man and the older man who’d introduced him to us girls was Norman Jackson, who went on, he went off on the flight engineers course too, he was a fitter. And he went on to win the VC, he climbed out on the wing of his burning plane, he stuck a fire extinguisher into his tunic and climbed out and the other men were sort of holding onto his parachute pack and then a flame [unclear], he managed to put most of the fire out but the flames blew back all across his face and hands and unfortunately in all the shemozzle, well the fire extinguisher of course went, fell off the plane and but his parachute started to open so he had to go off, they couldn’t drag him back and he was a POW. The Germans cared for him pretty well but years later, apparently he worked, somebody told us that he worked in a high class Rolls Royce showroom selling Rolls Royce, he probably would be helped after the war, but he was a prisoner of war for a long time. Uhm, no, from about 1943 to 5 and uh, unfortunately we tried to get in touch but it was very difficult after the war, everything was in such a muddle and we never got the chance to meet him again. And, so, Jock wanted me to be his steady girlfriend but most of us WAAF didn’t like, didn’t like to be, it was the boys who wanted to be serious but we didn’t like to be serious with any of them or getting, most of us didn’t want to get engaged or married because we all felt with aircrew that once they got married or they were engaged, they were, they became very serious and much more careful and it was, we all felt talking to aircrew boys that it was the worst thing to be very careful, it was far better to be gung-ho and able to take risks than, and not have to think about a wife or a serious girlfriend. But I wrote to him the whole time he was on ops, I didn’t see him for eighteen months, I wrote him the whole time he was on ops, and I’ve got most of his letters and unfortunately he hasn’t, he didn’t, he couldn’t keep many of mine because most of them threw letters away, personal letters were thrown away. Uhm, aircrew on ops, it wasn’t a wise thing to keep anything from love life or anything like because if you were killed or taken prisoner, the RAF police went in and put everything into, uhm, boxes and all that was sent to the parents and sometimes, or wives, and sometimes it was far better that certain things weren’t known. So, I mean, you know, even things like condoms, they were told not to keep in their lockers and things like that because of the attitude in those days. So, uhm, eventually in 1945, I was posted to 3 and 5 Group at Grantham, the top groups which commanded the operational squadrons and we were working in a large country house on the edge of Grantham and we were billeted in a lovely old Edwardian house right in the middle of Grantham, not far from the Great North Road which ran through Grantham at that time. And it turns out, when I was reading the biography of Bomber Harris, when he was a young air commodore at the beginning of the war, that was his living quarters, his house with his wife and young daughter and they, eventually it was withdrawn as living quarters for RAF officers and became the living quarters for mainly the clerical and secretarial staff and actually discipline was very easy in the house, this was the place where we were living, uhm, because we were all very trustworthy women who’d worked as personal secretaries all the war and so were trusted to go and come without having to book in or book out. So, I knew I’d been keeping in touch with Jock and I knew by then he’d finished his tour of ops and he was a fighter engineer instructor at Woolfox Lodge, just down the Main North Road and he’d got a motorbike and so I said, you know, I said, he said, you know, did I feel like taking up the friendship again, and I said if he was interested, yes, fine. So, he came up on his motorbike to Grantham and we renewed our friendship, which of course brought something to our romance and we married at the end of 1945, once all the, when the war was over. But, to go back to Lichfield, I would have gone on Lichfield, unfortunately my very nice Chief Flying Instructor boss went back to do a second tour of ops so I was getting some, I was going to work for someone else. But sadly he went back on ops and he lost his life, his plane crashed over Germany and he lost his life and it was very sad because he’d married an English girl and he had two lovely children because I used to, when there were officers mess dances, I used to go and babysit for him, cause I always felt, I always used to sit next to him in his car when I was taken out to his house. [unclear] for the night and I used to feel like a queen sitting next to a senior officer [laughs] going past the guards [laughs] and they were all saluting [laughs] and so I used to look after the children and then he, and I’d have breakfast with them and he’d go, we’d go back to camp next morning. But very sadly, we were moved from our nice wooden house, we were moved into new Nissen huts, this was when conscription came in for women at the end of 1942 or the beginning of 1943 and we really suddenly became inundated with all these conscripted women, they hated us, we hated them, we were volunteers, they were conscripts, and they didn’t want to be in the services and we made it clear that we wanted to win the war and we were going to win the war [laughs] and so on. Anyway, we were moved to new Nissen huts, which had been built in the winter and were still, the concrete floors were still very damp and it was terribly, terribly cold, I know, we discarded our sheets and used to sleep between blankets and we put on our pullovers and our slacks over our WAAF pyjamas, which were nice and warm and thick but still not thick enough and we heat bricks up and wrap them in newspaper or old bits of cloth to put in the bed and even so in the morning your breath used to be frozen, right down the blanket, a little icicle. Anyway it was so cold, and I got flu and I didn’t do any, I got a cold and then it went into flu and I didn’t do anything about it and didn’t go sick, that went into bronchitis and the bronchitis very quickly turned into pneumonia and I was at work and I went all funny and they had to get an ambulance to take me to sick quarters and I must have been very ill because they put me in a private room which was normally kept for officers and I was wrapped in the officers white blanket because if I’d been, other ranks blankets would have been grey [laughs] and they gave me the new miracle drug, MB363 or some, it was a new sulphanilamide drug and it worked wonders on pneumonia and I was sick for, very sick for a few days and then eventually I lost my voice and I was sent down to Waafsey quarters to convalesce and in Waafsey quarters they had a dreadful sergeant, a woman sergeant, a WAAF sergeant in charge and she used to have all us patients up every morning, we had to get on our hands and knees in our pyjamas and polish the floors [laughs]. I couldn’t speak [laughs]. We had a little wind-up gramophone in sick quarters and the only record we had was some well-known singer of the day singing, we’re having a heatwave, a tropical heatwave, it isn’t surprising, the temperature’s rising, she certainly can, can, can [singing] [laughs]. We played it and played it and played it. So then I went back to work but by then my boss had gone and the senior medical officer decided that I’d been so sick and I’d also had a lot of very nasty boils and said really you should have a series of injections for vitamin B but unfortunately vitamin B is kept for aircrew only so I can’t give it to you, and he said, I’m going to do the very next best thing, he said, I’m going to arrange a posting to group headquarters and he said you’ll have much better food, you’ll get fruit and he said you will be in much better quarters, but of course when I went to group headquarters it was all very nice but no aircrew, no any young men. The only thing was, we had a big Canadian Bomber Command station not far from us and a huge American camp so we used to go to the American camp and that was the first time we saw, for several years that we saw oranges and ice cream, they gave us ice cream [unclear]. But to go back to Lichfield, before I leave Lichfield to go to 93 Group Headquarters in Derbyshire, I must tell of the most exciting thing that happened to all of us and that was our station taking part in the first thousand bomber raid on Cologne, I think it was the 30th, 31st of May 1942 and that was very exciting, I mean, we didn’t know where, that the target would be Cologne but we all knew something big was on. Apparently, I’ve read all about the thousand plan but at first poor old Bomber Harris thought [unclear] make the bombers because the Coastal Command was going to be in it and their bombers were going to take part and the navy bombers, but at the last minute the navy and coastal or they say so, Coastal Command withdrew so we were left with less than a thousand bombers and Bomber Harris said they must: ‘Churchill had said it must be’, and Bomber Harris said it must be a thousand bombers so they racked in all the training stations and every screen was allotted a crew and so cause always at the end of OTU training the aircrews always went on things called bulls eyes [?] or light tight raids just over the coast of France either to straf, shipping or to drop leaflets and just over the coast and then back again, to give the young aircrew a taste of what it would be like but now we were going to have everything, uhm, every crew we could put, even if they were going with an instructor, the screen instructors and so, of course our poor old Wimpies, I mean, all those operational training units, all the heavy conversion units, the aircraft were already second hand, they’d all been used on operational flying, they’d all been used and abused I mean, you, when you talked to a flight engineer as my husband was, they were running those engines very often at revs never put down in the makers note and they came to the instructional units, and they were pretty knocked about a lot of them, a lot of them been hit and repaired and they weren’t very good and that’s probably what caused a lot of the training accidents. And so of course my husband, cause I didn’t know him in those days but than I knew, but I knew all the mechanics, all flight mechanics and fitters were working all around the clock to get service for aircraft and aircraft were taking up on their tests and then repaired again and again, the, don’t you want to stop [whispers]?
AP: No, no, you’re alright.
JS: And then they, then the uhm.
AP: But I will get you to move the microphone if you can, slip down [laughs] it was fine as long as you put your hands on [laughs]. There.
JS: Then, uhm, the uhm, so, they were very, very busy and we knew, because our, the control tower was next to K2 Hangar where my future husband worked and we knew where they were working cause we very often worked very late at night and you could hear all the noise and claying in the hangars and so we didn’t know the actual date until the actual date occurred the 30th of May and suddenly all, everybody was called on deck, everyone, you were just told to do all sorts of jobs, I know I was giving out sealed maps to the navigators and the pilots and we were getting all sorts of things together, all the Red Cross, the Australian Red Cross used to send wonderful parcels across, and the Aussie boys used to share, all the RAAF boys always shared their Red Cross parcels which were marvellous, full of all sorts of goodies and we were getting all those things ready and there were planes obviously being air tested and the whole station was busy with people, all with very definite looks in their eyes, all going about our business, sort of, with a lot of extra jobs to do and wherever you walked on the station normally when planes were bombed up, you wouldn’t see any bombs because they’d just be out of dispersals, but there were bomb trolleys everywhere, you were weaving your bikes all among all the different things, keeping a wary eye on the incendiary bomb boxes, which were painted red because if incendiaries fell off and the box broke open, the incendiaries could, they were very touchy and could often go off and you know, they were very dangerous. So, then of course the boys went for briefing and we were all hanging about, we had, I remember we had our tea and everyone, everyone was very quiet, very serious, the whole station. Of course, when there’s any big operations on the station is closed down and there is no leave and there’s no out coming or incoming personal phone calls or anything like that. So, we were all very busy, doing our various jobs and then I remember after briefing, they all came into the, into our big room in training wing and we were giving out the various, you know, chewing gum, barley sugars, cake, all sort of, parcels and things, cigarettes and off they went. We all had our quick tea and a whole host of us went down to wave them off, and I always remember that night, quite a mass of people were all standing underneath the balcony of flying control and all the top brass of the station, all the senior officers who weren’t flying men were above us, they were all out on the balcony and all the flying men, they were all in the planes, they were all been allotted to [unclear] crews and the three Padres all went, [unclear] and other denominations, Padres, they all went off choice and quite a few of our senior officers, who were ground staff chose to go with the crews, they said they backed them up and they wanted to go, you know, to give them heart as someone was there with them and we heard the first, to see a station, I’d never been on an operational station but my husband’s told me a lot about it but to see these planes or to hear them going, you know, we were standing there and of course always bombers during the war were around in dispersals, all dispersed around the airfield and you’d hear that coughing and choking sound of each engine starting up and revving up and then slowly, slowly. It was a rule that they mustn’t taxi fast because during the war all our rubber came from, well, what’s Malaysia and Indonesia now and of course rubber was very difficult to get and actually it hit the Germans more because of, you know, we were downing any German ships trying to get rubber, they couldn’t know they couldn’t get rubber because it was still British and but all aircraft, all aircrew were told to taxi slowly, because if you taxied fast it wore the rubber out more quickly. We were told that with our bikes, that we must only put our bikes into the bike racks with the rear wheel because if we put the front wheel in, it wobbled about and wore the rubber out [laughs]. All these silly things that happened during the war [laughs]. Uhm, so, then the, the first aircraft came weaving down past the control tower and I always remember the pilots window open and seeing the pilots face, each pilots face white in and his helmet faming [?] his face and he waved to all of us and, as they went slowly past, and we all gave thumbs up and he gave thumbs up and then slammed the window too and they went along to the runway, the end of the runway which wasn’t far away from us and of course they revved up each engine, one must be like a four-engine bomber station where they ramped each engine up to shrieking and you could see, you could see in the dusk, you could see all the dust and leaves and twigs flying and then of course they’d get a green from the airfield control and the caravan down at the end of the airfield and each one revved up and they took all the whole of the runway to get off to clear the hedge at the far end and almost before they were over the hedge, the next one was going down the runway, you know, heavily loaden with bombs and oxygen and high octane fuel, a living bomb themselves and we were all waving and we stood there long after the ground crew had put out the flarepath and long after the dim lights on the balcony had gone out off and all the officers had gone in, we all stood there, sort of not speaking, you know. And next morning of course lying in beds, you know, when the dawn was breaking, we were lying in bed, a lot of us hadn’t slept much that night, hearing the first faint roar of the aircraft coming back and counting back, we only lost one aircraft and they were actually, they had gone to another station, we were lucky but several of our aircraft had to turn back, cause that was the trouble on the training stations, Harris did get his, he got just over a thousand but actually before they got to the enemy coast some were turning back and I mean, once one engine goes in a Wimpey, you know you can’t go on. And of course, you know, we were lucky as I say, we, I and my friend who worked in training, when we dashed down on our bikes before breakfast to go and have a look, I think we run up to Flying Control, up the stairs to Flying Control to have a look at the big board to see who was back and that was quite an exciting night and so, and of course later on Jock told me all about, you know, his operational life and he had some exciting times. But, I went on to, Group Headquarters and of course you were working for senior officers, uhm, there were just one or two flight lieutenants, most of them were squadron leaders, ah, and of course you had air vice-marshals, all the people with the mess of scrambled egg on their caps and you were doing some, we were doing very secret stuff actually at that time and because of course, when I was at, yes, it was, 1945, yes, that was when I, that was when D-Day occurred and we all knew, because they cancelled long before D-Day, they cancelled all long leaves, all seven, fourteen day leaves and even forty eight hours weren’t very, weren’t given out very much. I was lucky, I wasn’t very far from my home and my home was by then in Buxton in Derbyshire because my father was in the civil service and he was in the customs & excise on the Board of Trade, and they were evacuated out to Buxton in Derbyshire. A lot of places, Ministry of Aircraft Production, were evacuated to Harrogate, all the non-military, there only be the Air Ministry, Admiralty, War Office, the Home Office, Colonial Office and, well, the Foreign Office, they were the only ones that stayed in London. All the other departments went out in case of being bombed, so, my dad’s office was in the big Palace Hotel, the biggest hotel in, uhm, in Buxton in Derbyshire and which is a beautiful place and so I wasn’t, when I was at Group Headquarters I wasn’t very far away. I could hitchhike to Derby and get a train to Buxton, so I was lucky I could get home for thirty six hours, but, I, uhm, for D-Day we all knew something was afoot but nobody, I don’t know why none of us put two and two together that it would be D-Day and we were doing all sorts of things so we used to, when you are on duty at night you know we’d be sitting the, only two or three of us on duty and we’d be having to take lots of coded messages and stick them onto paper and they’d go to various officers and the tele printers would be chattering all night with stuff from Bomber Command mainly and of course, then of course we, I came down to early lunch on, actually on D-Day and I went into the airmen’s mess and there was this little huddle around a tiny little radio that they got in the corner of the mess and I said: ‘What’s going on?’ and they said: [makes a shushing sound] ‘it’s on!’ So we all got our ears together listening. And I, cause I was very interested actually and had been interested for a long time because, of course I’d moved up with my parents, I’d left the Ministry of Aircraft Production and I moved up to Buxton when they moved to Buxton in 1940 and, I’d worked for the, I’d had a job as a secretary, as a town clerk in the town hall and the junior clerk who was a year younger than me, he had to wait till he was called up, he was in the home guard, he had to wait till he was called up because his mother was a widow and he was sort of contributing to the family so he waited until he was called up and the non, the local government offices were like the civil service and some big firms. When men were called up, their service pay was made up to their civilian pay, what they were earning in their civilian pay by the civil service and they were very, that was very good, so he had good money all the time. And we used to go out together, I was doing, everybody did voluntary work during the war, my mother rolled bandages and made up, she rolled bandages and made up, she old dressing kits for the army in her spare time, my dad used to fire watch and I used to go and work in the services canteen at the town hall in, about three evenings a week, pouring cups of tea or stirring backed beans for all the troops, cause we had troops everywhere, every town was full of troops, and, this, my boyfriend Morris, he was in the home guard, so he used to come and pick me up after his guard duties on reservoirs and oil damps and so on and, walk me home and I was, he was called up and went into the West Yorkshire Regiment and for years, I mean, Jock knew all about my romance with Morris, and the West Yorks were one of the first, they were one of the first to go on D-Day onto the beaches for the British crowd and I always wondered how he’d got on and my friend across the road, my neighbour across the road, she does genealogy and she’s looked up a lot of my family for me and she looked up Morris for me and if he’s alright and he got through obviously and he married two years after me and they had a daughter. And, so that was nice to know. So, that was our D-Day excitement and then of course I went, I was posted on to 3 and 5 Group Headquarters at Grantham, where of course I met Jock again. And our romance took off but nothing was, I mean, it was very easy living and very easy working conditions at Grantham compared to what I’d had and the war was almost winding down then so we had a very easy time of it and eventually of course once D-Day came, oh yes, D-Day, not D-Day, once VE-Day came, oh, we’ve all danced in the streets, there were civilian women dancing in their nighties in the streets and the street lamps were put on, and of course they’d obviously been preparing for VE-Day because all the street lamps went on and Jock and I, we used to go to a little park in Grantham and we had a special seat and that was our Snogging Seat and [laughs] we used to kiss and cuddle and on our Snogging Seat and we were very put out, after we’ve been down singing, drinking and you know, all the boys, he and all the boys climbed up, they put, they climbed up on the town, Grantham town hall roof and one of the boys tied a pair of WAAF blackouts, twilights, pair of WAAF knickers on the flag staff, certainly weren’t mine and Jock and I went round to our little park and our Snogging seat was no good anymore because there was a big lamp above it and it was lit up [laughs]. So, that was that but, he of course, he did his ops on Stirlings, so, I don’t know if whether you’ve heard, the losses on Stirlings were terrible and whenever we met people after the war and he said he was on a Stirling Squadron, they said; ‘Well, you are one of the few to get through!’ And half way through his ops, they took them off quite a lot of bombing ops and they put onto dropping, uhm, sea mines mainly in the Baltic, up the Gironde Estuary and so on, and then, that was quite tricky stuff, the only two or three would go out, it was quite tricky stuff because those sea mines going down on parachutes of course they were very touchy and they have to be, you have to fly at a certain level so that they would drop into the sea and then they come up to a certain level in the sea and lie there under the sea. And of course, while he was doing that, while he was dropping all these mines in the Baltic and so on, his father, who had been in the Royal Navy during World War I and then he went back into the Royal navy in World War Two and he was on minesweepers off our coast, off the western of [unclear] and the Minch, he was minesweeping for the British convoys coming and going. So, he was sweeping them up and his son was sowing them, they were called gardening operations and so he, they were doing well and also they were dropping a lot of stuff to the Maquis, the French Maquis in the Alps and he said, that was a very leery thing because he remembers, you know, cause Stirlings hadn’t go the height, they couldn’t get the ceiling like the Lancaster could so you often had to fly through gorges, these alpine gorges and he said, very often wingtip to wingtip you’d see this black icy glassy rock each sideof the wingtips and quite a lot of aircraft of course got smashed up in those gorges. And they also dropped to the Maquis, he had a quite an exciting experience, once they were quite high up in the Alps and they had just signalled and they received a torch signal back from the Maquis and they were coming to drop their, they had a lot of stuff including a Gee, of course it was always a flight engineer and a bomb aimer who were pushing it out in a big hatch, they had a special hatch who pushed all the stuff out and they were coming down in a steep curve and suddenly the floodlights, the searchlights went on and guns started, obviously the Germans were waiting for them and because they just went straight up, they took off and went off but he said he always wondered how the poor devils on the ground got on. And they did quite a lot of that sort of thing and they had, they were, they had a nasty time when they took off one night and the plane had been going, they’d been up all day, they’d headed up and down on air test and as they took off, one engine failed as they were taking off and they carried on, I mean three engines were, the Stirling was a tough plane, even though it couldn’t get the height, but second engine failed as they went over the end of the runway, and then the third engine started coughing and it was wintertime and there was a ploughed field next to the airfield, I mean they got a full bombload and the pilot said to Jock the engineer, he said; ‘I’ll have to go in’ and shouted out crash, you know, crash positions and they went in and he, Jock was up with the pilot, he was up in the cock pit and he said, all the earth, we went nose, he said, all the earth came over the cockpit but, he said, fortunately, he said, the little escape hatch so, he said, the pilot went out there and I went out the back and got out and we all got out and he’d expected the bombs to go off but nothing happened. So they were very fortunate and one [unclear] them was, see they’d had problems with this particular aircraft several other times and they had actually come back, they didn’t, I think they’d only returned twice with a bum aircraft and then this crash, and one the engineers, warrant officers came up to them and said: ‘Uh, yellow aye!’ and apparently he got roasted because they found out this aircraft was in a bad condition but it still went on flying and we were very interested because I think the Bomber Command War Diaries gives a detail of every aircraft that flew. And Jock was really through one day and he said, Jean, he said, this is so interesting, apparently it was sent off to a Heavy Conversion Unit and it only did two flights and then it disappeared somewhere over the coast of Ireland, the west coast of Ireland out to the Atlantic it disappeared with the crew, the [unclear] crew and never seen or heard of again, so obviously it was still playing out. He said there were always bum aircraft, lemons, like cars and but they were very lucky to get out of that. And then another time they were on their way to target and they were hit by cannon shell and an Me 109 went underneath them, obviously aiming for the engine, hit the starboard side, blew his flight engineer’s panel out and, cause all the lights, everything went out, and shrapnel flying around and this great big jagged hole and you could see the starboard engine and he was a bit stunned and he said: ‘I couldn’t breathe’ and he said: ‘I could feel this something warm dripping down my back’ and but he said, ‘it didn’t hurt, he said, my knee hurt’, he had got shrapnel, small shrapnel splinters in his knee and but he said, the navigator was groaning and he said, as soon as I sort of pulled myself together, the pilot was checking the crew round, fortunately the intercom was still working and he said, ‘engineer, are you ok?’ and Jock said; ‘I think so, I can’t breathe’. He said: ‘I’ll check’. Well, he found, he got a hydraulic pipe blown around his neck and that was what was dripping hot oil down his back, not blood [laughs] and his, a big lump of shrapnel had hit his parachute, bent his parachute buckle, harness buckle, perhaps bent it and set his Mae West off, that’s why he couldn’t breathe [laughs]. And it had wicker shade and gone, made a real mess, gone right into the groin of the navigator, I mean, the navigator sitting right behind the black curtain, you know, quite nice and all, nice and protected from anything nasty and he was the one who was the worst hit, well, he, Jock grabbed the first aid kit and he went straight up over and he, the navigator was in a really bad way and Jock gave him, cause they all had whole series of small morphines, he gave him morphine and cut and sliced his trousers and put a big shell dressing on his wound, he was and sort of dragged him to a lying down position and then he went to the wireless operator whose poor right hand was pouring blood and he said to him, he said to, don’t give me morphine, he said, cause he practiced Morse with his left hand, he said I’m carrying you on, he said, I don’t want to have morphine and go out to the wood, just shove a shell dressing on this and actually it was worse than it looked actually when they got back but they were still on their way to target so they were among a whole stream of bombers, it was very difficult turning round in a stream of bombers and the pilot said to Jock, he said, engineer, how is our fuel situation? Of course by that time Jock was checking with the torch what was left of his dials and switches and he said, can we get to target and back? As long as we have enough to get back home. And Jock said, that was the time I turned from a boy into a man [laughs] and he said, yes, so they went on and bombed and came back and they landed with very little fuel and the navigator of course went straight to hospital. The wireless op only had a week or two off, his wounds healed and, oh, Jock had only dressings put on his knee. But the others were ok, but, you know, see, they had no officer in their crew and actually that would have warranted in many crews that would have got a DFC or DFM for the [unclear] but DFM was not given out in great numbers and having no officer to sign it all because, yes, that’s it, the navigator was the only officer and of course he was in hospital so he wouldn’t be, he was unconscious by the time, so he wouldn’t have been able to write anything else, that sort of put the kibosh on any medal for the crew but I mean that was quite something I thought to go on to target and then come back. But that went on, as they all, oh you talked to a lot of the aircrew and I mean, that went on, there were so many crews that went west, that should have got medals, you know, for what they did. And, so he was very pleased and actually if he hadn’t died when he did, he would have, he did qualify for the French [unclear] again because he was flying, they did their last two ops just before, just on D-Day, they came, their last operation was on D-Day and that was another well-kept, that was a such a well-kept secret, I mean, the aircrew didn’t know, it went out that night, and they were given targets north of Normandy and they were dropping all these funny little sacking parachuters, which had firecrackers on them, so when they landed, it sounded as if they were firing shots and they dropped them, there a quite a lot of planes dropped them in various parts of Northern France and a lot of Germans did think that that was where the invasion was taking place and of course they went out, I think it was after midnight, cause it was only just into France, and they came back just as dawn was breaking and Jock was busy at his dials and only the pilot, the pilot must have looked down and he said: ‘Oh, boy, it is on!’ and he said, we all rushed and had a look and he said; ‘What a wall of ships!’ he said it the most amazing sight, he said, it send cold shivers down their backs and they’d also gone out and been minelaying a couple of nights before in the Gironde Estuary and he said, that was a terrible place for being armed, and he said, only three Stirlings went and he said their’s was the first to go in and of course they dropped these sea mines which are touchy even in the aircraft, you know, can go off and he said he looked round and his great friend was in the next aircraft, and was hit, went up and then the third bomb went up, so, they’d been given a route to come home across the South of France and then across the Channel, but the pilot had him put the nose down and went out in the [unclear], into the Atlantic and they came in through, came back through Cornwall [laughs], they didn’t want to know any more having lost their team mates [laughs].
AP: Ah yeah.
JS: But they often used to come, cause they laughed after they hit the target, they loved finding trains to shot up and any roadways and shot up any convoys and anything and they’ve would come back with bits of haystack and leaves of trees and [unclear] but the Stirling was, he used to say cause eventually he went on and became a flight engineer instructor on Lancasters and he said, yes, they were, they were wonderful aircraft cause they could do the distance, they could carry the arms but he said, he said, our Lancaster wouldn’t have survived that first crash with a full bombload, he said, they were beautifully built, he said, they were a lovely, comfortable aircraft and he said, they were so sturdy, and then they could fly very low, but how stupid of the Air Ministry to cut their wings of ten feet to get into the normal hangar, I mean why not build the odd hangar to conform to the wing? Say, were some funny things in the, there were some weird, weird things went on, you know, people with all sorts of suggestions and as I say, this front wheel of your bike, I was put on a charge cause I put the front wheel of my bike in, I was late on duty and I flung my front wheel of my bike in and the service police came round and of course you had a number on and tracked it to me and I was put on a charge! And I remember being marched in without my cap and of course was one of the officers I knew and worked for and he [unclear] said: ‘Now, what have you been up to?’ And the WAAF officer looked [unclear] [laughs]. There was a WAAF officer and someone along this sort of thing and he gave me three days jankers and I went down to the cookhouse cause normally you got all these filthy, big greasy ben maries [unclear], huge things, this big cooking greasy stuff, you’ve got them to clean out, but they said: ‘Oh, we’ve got nothing for you to do’ and they gave me some tea and cake [laughs]. It was a good laugh and it’s funny when we’re all, of course now I go into the Air Force Association and of course, we always go, my daughter and I always go to the Odd Bods November dinner and we meet up together and we, it’s, I mean, even for years all those old chaps and they were facing hell and you wondered how they had the nerve to do it and yet they all said: ‘Best years of our lives. Best years of our’, Jock said it, I said it, and I mean our living [unclear], I I’ve seen the ranks, living conditions and food was terrible and the living conditions were often awful and what you had to do. Cause we had, when we were at Lichfield we had to, at one period, probably be ’42, ’42 more than ’43, there was a lot of business, Germans were dropping odd parachutes, two or three parachuters and of course we had a fifth column of people who were Pro-Nazi, Fascists, some even before the war, Royal Family, you know, old Edward the 8th and his bird, you know, they were all quite Pro Hitler and, we, we were, that was when there had been attacks on planes, that was when they used to keep the planes all in a line or on tarmac and they started to put them down in dispersals, the ones that were in use, any spare ones would be dragged out and put on a farmers’, in farmers’ fields under the trees and we had a couple of Wellingtons near our Waafery, near the Waafery and we were asked, we were told to do guard duty and you’d, there’d be two or three of us and, I mean, it was so absurd, was at wintertime and we’d wear our gas capes which came neck to floor and airmen’s wellies so you had to ware about three pairs of socks, because you were in these great big wellies and our tin hats of course and gas mask respirators at the ready and we were armed because see, the WAAF, the Women’s Auxiliary Airforce, the auxiliary women, we couldn’t be forced to carry arms so we were armed with truncheons, there were three girls with truncheons and we’d be out in the rain and mud, parading round these Wimpeys, we opened the hatch, we used to open the hatch and get in and sit up in the pilot’s seat and, oh, I loved the smell of aircraft, so aircraft [laughs] and not long ago the RAF went to the museum at Moorabbin, you know it was so lovely to smell a real aircraft inside, those oils and petrol and everything and sometimes we’d have an airman with a rifle. And at the same time they also had, we had a mock invasion and all they, they didn’t know what to do with the WAAF because all the airmen had arms with, with blank, you know, ammunition, and they had thunder flashes and they were, there were two, there were the enemy and all the ones [unclear] and all the aircrew weren’t armed and they didn’t know what to do with the WAAF so they told us we had to go and sit in the toilets [laughs]. And I remember cause there were thunder flashes, being blasted out against the wall, just outside, cause they knew we were in the toilets and the others were chucking thunder flashes [laughs]. And we, we said, why can’t we be out among it all. Anyway, they, you know, we had all those sorts of funny things and at the same, around the same period, when there was a threat, a real threat of airfields being invaded and they said, if there’s a last minute stand [unclear] on parade one morning last minute stand, would any of you girls volunteer to learn to load Lee-Enfield rifles? And you would be at the back and the men would be throwing their rifles to you to reload, you’d be throwing back loaded rifles and so on and so on. Then we all stepped forward, everyone, we all wanted to carry arms, it was funny because some, quite a lot of men, especially the aircrew said, oh, they didn’t want women to carry arms, we were nice, gentle girls, women, we didn’t need to, what we wouldn’t have done to a German with a bayonet! We, I mean, my dad was in the army in World War I, and I always, you know, used to talk about bayonet charges and things. Anyway, we all learned, we learned to dismantle a Lee-Enfield rifle and to clean it and then we learned to arm it and so on, and then they said, the sergeant down the rifle range said: ‘Would any of you girls like to volunteer to fire a rifle?’ and we all stepped forward and he said: ‘Oh, there’s too many of you’, he said, ‘we only have five rounds each’ [laughs] at least we got to fire a Lee-Enfield rifle [laughs] and I came back with a big [unclear] [laughs]. But, I mean, we very always said that we couldn’t carry arms, it seemed ridiculous they had a whole army there of women who were dying to carry arms. The ATS, my sister in law, Jock’s young sister, she went into the ATS towards the end, she was called up and she went into the ATS and, but she was put in as a cook, they didn’t, as a conscript, they were just, you’ll be a cook, and they had a horrible time but a lot, some of the ATS girls they were our viewfinders on the keg guns but they didn’t fire the guns but they were, they were very good on the viewfinders and but we, we actually in WAAF actually had the best of the women services in the war, I think we worked alongside our main army, you known we were always there and among the aircrew and helping to do things and I mean, we had, you know, there were flying mechs and battery charges and girls they are all among working among the aircraft and we all ate together, we didn’t eat in separate messes, we ate in the airmen’s mess and, I mean, we did everything except sleep together. And some of the girls did [laughs] but, you know, I think we were much closer because the air forces is a nice service, you know, it's a sort of much more specialised and you get different type of person in the air force, I think. And I now belong to the Royal Naval Association, I’m only an associate member, a lot of us RAF people go to the Royal Naval Association which is only a [unclear], [unclear] or [unclear]. They were lucky, the naval people, cause like our RAF Squadrons and the RAAF were all on our squadrons so there was a great closeness between the RAF and the RAAF and the same with the navy, quite a lot our RNAF were in on British ships and there’s quite a closeness and cause they, they obviously got into, they got in with the ones down here, the naval people got down here, got in the British navy got in ex-services associations with the Cerberus crowd, and they bought a block of land and it’s a lovely big block and the Cerberus as a sort of war memorial put up this memorial building and it’s, it’s not huge but it’s got a large hall and big kitchen, toilets, and a bar and outside a big barbecue and it’s really nice and once a month they have a meal and they get together and of course there is always a Trafalgar Day in October, you go and we always have a big Nelson thing, and drink our toast and rum, tot of rum and apparently they British Navy send out every year, they send out this small keg of naval full strength rum which is, cause in the navy it was always, when everybody used to have rum everyday but it was always watered down, it’s very, very strong and they are still saying this Cerberus, this ex-service crowd, still send out, I don’t know how much longer they will do it, this rum and of course the air force crowd, we sit at one table and the navy crowd are so different to us, we are very prim and proper lot, we are behaved, cause they always make fun of us, sailors are very rough and the funny thing, their wives and so on, they all sit at tables on their own and the men all sit at tables whereas we’ve always air force have always been men and women together and they, they told us the first time on when we were invited first for Trafalgar Day and they said, you air force types, don’t stand when the royal toast and the toast to Nelson is said, because apparently in the old sailing ships not very much headroom, do you know, those sailing ships, tiny old sailing ships like Nelson was in and they had a complement of eight hundred, fourteen inches for a hammock, that’s where you slept, fourteen inches, you’ve [unclear] and I noticed that a lot of those ex-servicemen, the old chaps, they, there’s a lot of them missing fingers and arms and hands, quite and I mean, you don’t see this among air force crowd. Quite a lot of them have, you know, half an arm or several fingers off and obviously, you know, I suppose with their big guns and things, I suppose stuff and I don’t know anything much about the navy cause it’s only my, up in Lewis of course most of them go into the navy, there were only four men from the Isle of Lewis who went into the air force during the war, Jock had always wanted to fly since he was a little boy, he’d always wanted to fly, and I mean as a crafters son he got back his chance because there is not work up there and you know, money was small but most of the men went into the navy or the merchant navy and the only ones that went into the army would go into the Highland regiment, the Seaforth Highlanders in [unclear] cause he had two uncles who were pipers and his sister, one sister was called up into the ATS, his, other sister, his older sister, unfortunately she couldn’t pass the medical for the ATS cause she volunteered, and she went into the NAAFI, cause the NAAFI was a good backup, you know, they had those little vans and they had, ran the canteens and they were very, very good and you’d find each station would have its specialised, you know, cakes and things cause I knew at Lichfield they made beautiful [unclear] cakes and we always used to go out to the NAAFI event who did outside about 11, or 10, or 10.30, or 11, everyone used to go, everyone, officers and everyone used to go out with their mugs and you’d always say; ‘Tea and a wad!’ [?] [laughs] [unclear], pig lardy, heavy things, we were always hungry [laughs].
AP: Pretty good. Let’s have a look. You have spoken for an hour and twenty minutes without a break, that’s pretty impressive [laughs].
JS: [laughs] Well, I’ve got no one else to talk to!
JS: I’ve got the cat.
AP: You’ve got the cat.
JS: He’s lying on my bed in the bedroom.
AP: I’m more than happy to assist. You’re absolutely fascinating so far. Uhm,
JS: I talk too much.
AP: We love this sort of stuff, this is really, really good.
JS: But then, then my cousin, there was my cousin, now I’m talking about the Isle of Lewis and as I say, my husband he once he went to primary school and he won a scholarship which, living in the village where he lived, fifteen miles away from Stornoway, where the only secondary school on the island. He won a scholarship but there was no bus you had to board in town and his parents, this was during the Depression, his parents couldn’t afford the books because, sometimes scholarships had a living allowance for books, uniform and living out but there was nothing like that during that particular year, so he couldn’t go to secondary school and he, I mean, there was me, I had a grammar school education and I was a hopeless scholar, absolutely hopeless, the only thing I was ever good at was English and history, and I never got anywhere with anything until I went to Pitman’s College and then I come out here and I saw one of my daughters teachers, when she was at primary school, said to me, oh, you ought to study and become a teacher, because we were desperate for teachers, so I investigated and I did, I went through, did my GCSE and so on went up the exhibition building and did my HSC and did very well, it was totally different doing it as an adult. Well, I hadn’t got horses or boys, that’s a thing, the two loves of my, oh, I was a terrible flirt in the Air Force. I was a student, I’ve been a quiet, studious girl as I say horse mad and I got in the Air Force and I suddenly discovered men and I didn’t read a book, I had boyfriends galore, I found a little address book and all these addresses are Americans, Canadians, New Zealanders, cause they all wanted you to write to them and we wrote letters to all, we’d sit on our beds and write letters to all these different boys you never saw again. But, I mean, love affairs were no sex, I mean to start with, VD, we were shown all these film of VD when we [unclear] training stations and that would put you off sex forever and if you were pregnant you were chucked out of the WAAF and you were never allowed, you could go back into the ATS if you’d had an illegitimate baby but you weren’t ever allowed back into the WAAF. Oh, we were very pure and high [?] but, uhm, cause Jock was shocked when I said, Oh, I said, the only thing that kept me a virgin was VD, the thought of VD and getting pregnant. And he said, oh, he said, I’m very disappointed in you, because I thought you had higher morals [laughs]. Well, I said, I didn’t want to get pregnant and I didn’t want to get VD.
AP: Oh dear.
JS: And when you’ve done the VD report for the station, for all the Czechs and the Poles, they were the worst. They used to have to go to Cosford once in a week to have these horrible, I won’t, well, you probably know what they used to, used to inject them with mercury and where but it was very painful apparently and we used to see the bus going and they all used to have their heads down and we used to see the bus going to Cosford once a week and we all used to go [laughs ironically], they all used to have their heads down [laughs]. And, as I say, I used to do the VD report and Lichfield had two satellite stations, Tatenhill and Church Broughton and they of course used to, uhm, they had Czechs and Poles. Now I mean, the Czechs and the Poles they were, they were so brave, oh, they hated, they loathed the Germans, they absolutely, as long as they could kill a German their happiest time but they were dreadful and of course in this VD report they had to say when they went to the MO and it was discovered, they had to fill in a form, they had to, legally didn’t have to give the name of the woman but they had to give where they, whereabouts they thought they contacted it, usually under a tree or in a field [laughs]. Contracted it, I should say. Or, and roughly the age, and the age could be anything, of the woman, I mean, they wouldn’t know, but the ages could be anything from fifteen to about seventy [laughs]. And of course, all the girls used when I was typing the VD report, all the girls used to come and look through the papers, weren’t supposed to [unclear] and titter and make very [unclear] remarks and, but they were the worst cause I and after the war I met several Polish, ex Polish airmen and I always used to say to Jock, oh, I don’t think I’d better shake hands with him [laughs]. And they were very nice people [laughs] so you know but we had men of every nationality you could think of at the service, you know, of the Commonwealth and so on you. We had lots of South Africans, New Zealanders. Now, the New Zealanders, they never had the funny accent they have nowadays, it’s funny, they spoke much more like Australian men. They didn’t have that funny twisted accent. I don’t’ know where they got that from, cause it’s really weird. And of course New Zealand, when we were going to emigrate, I wanted to go to Australia because I wanted to, we were living in Scotland and I wanted sunshine and of course all the.
AP: So you went to Melbourne [unclear]
JS: Of course, all the Aussies had told me what a wonderful country it was. Jock wanted to go to New Zealand because full of Highland, Gaelic-speaking Highland people and of course their Scottish country dancing is impeccable, similarly if you couldn’t go and of course they were only taking building, tradesmen or farm workers. So he, cause he’d gone back to his basic trade by then, he was maintenance engineer with British overseas, no, British European Airways. And he came out here, the old Australian National Airlines brought him out here cause they were so short of maintenance engineers so he saw it advertised, applied, they took him, brought him out six months ahead of me, cause they had hostels for me and, uh, so, when New Zealand was no good, he went down to London and applied to Canada house [?], he phoned me up and he said, we can be in Canada within three months and it was winter and I’d got flu and I, you know, I get, my nose was streaming, my eyes were streaming, I said, you’ll kill me if you take me to a country with all that snow and so he didn’t and so that’s why we applied for Australia and of course we’d read all these books about Australia and we decided, oh, the best place would be West Australia, the climate there was beautiful, Albany, and you know, the climate was supposed to be absolutely wonderful and cause ANA brought him out to Essendon aerodrome, so, he was Melbourne [laughs]. I remember when the first time we took the caravan up to Darwin and I’d only been in Darwin a couple of hours, and I said to Jock, Gee, how [unclear] would cost to move house and the furniture up here? Oh, I’d loved to have lived in Darwin. Cause Darwin years ago was lovely but the last time we went to Darwin it was, it had grown in population, it was very commercial but the first few years, when we used to take the caravan up North, it was lovely. This, and, people, all the young people used to stop, you know, older people and say: ‘Oh, hope you are going to stay up here, cause we, it was too many young people, we need some grandparent type people’. Have you always been in Melbourne?
AP: No, I’m from Sydney.
JS: Oh, your [laughs]
AP: Yeah, I came down from Sydney about five years ago for work. So.
JS: I’ve, you know, I’ve been through Sydney on the bridge, to go on the car, wiht the caravan, we’d been there over the, on the bridge and we’ve also been underneath.
AP: Oh yeah?
JS: And I’ve been to Sydney to change planes. I’ve never been to Sydney as a town.
AP: A lovely spot sometimes. Anyway, uhm, you were telling me before we started the tape, uhm, about something that was going on, one day when you were doing the, I think it was the group VD report about a certain squadron.
JS: Oh yeas, about that, about the.
AP: Yeah, so, can you tell us that story again for the benefit of the tape?
JS: Yes. God, what was it called the,
AP: Fauld.
JS: Oh yes, the Fauld, the day the Dam went up, yes it was in 1944 and it was the Fauld explosion and uhm, oh yes and I’d gone upstairs and was typing away at this huge, great big long-carriage and those long-carriage typewriters you never see them now, great big thing, very, very heavy and so I was typing away and it was this funny rumble that went through my feet, I have felt this funny and heard, we all stopped because it sounded like air raids and, we, it was only, must have been seconds, barely minutes and suddenly this rumble got bigger and my typewriter really big jammed, it went [makes a repeated booming noise] and I sort of set back and I looked at the dirty, green wall in front of me and there was this little crack and it started to open and it came down in a big curve and I just, I just watched it, cause funny it’s like when you’re in an air raid when you bombs and you tend to watch them, you’re sort of rooted to the spot. I mean I remember once was a terribly bad crash on our airfield at Lichfield and we were all in our office, we heard this terrible thud, screech, metal, you knew it was a crash, that metal noise and we looked out of the window, the side window and there’s this flame and it was sliding across the airfield, right out on the airfield, on the runway and it was beginning to slide straight towards training wing and we just stood there, we were just stood rooted to the spot. That was the time when, it was horrible. The operators see the girls at the radio while the radio operators took the planes up, and now the girls, they rushed to the window when this thing happened and they left us with the intercom switched on and of course, see, those Wellingtons you know were geodetic and they had axes along the body but obviously the boys were burning, the thing was a degrees of heat and they were screaming and you could hear it from above, you‘d hear the screams, it was horrible and we were rooted to the, I, everybody, nobody said a word, I mean, I, nobody passed out or anything like that, but it was really horrible and of course then the fire, cause naturally the blood wagon, the ambulance and the fire engine were always right beside flying control, they went straight out cause they got foam and it had stopped but it was a fact that it could actually, I mean if nothing had been done, it could have banged into our building. We were so struck with that and it was like that in that Fauld thing, and we were sitting, as I say, immediately somebody said, oh, there must be a bad air raid somewhere, funny we haven’t heard the sirens because often we did have [unclear] and I mean once our airfield was very lightly attacked by one aircraft and I mean, you’d simply, you’d, over the tannoy they’d simply say even before the sirens died you’d hear: ‘red alert, red alert’ and we’d always have our respirators with tin hats on our chairs and all you do is [unclear] your respirator on your shoulder, put your tin hat on and all fire alert, slip trenches outside, you’d run like hell once you got outside because you were scared and you’d, the slit trenches were so nasty because they’ve been used as toilets [laughs] by people going to a frat night they were very smelly and I know, a friend of ours, poor men, they jumped, he was the first one to jump into the slit trench and someone had obviously been doing the other business in there and when he got out, all the others came on top of him and he noticed and he was sitting there a nasty smell and when he got out, he found his knee, he’d gone straight into someone’s poo and he said he got a knife and cut his, he said, he couldn’t bare it [laughs]. Like poor Jock, one time on an air test and he was moving about the aircraft and they hit an air pocket cause they were low and [unclear] went up and he and the mid upper gunner were both, and they couldn’t move because of the way you are rooted you know in the planes and he said, he saw in slow motion [unclear] came over. They’re supposed to be emptied every trip and it all come over the two of them, [unclear], he said, we, he said I took my flying without equipment on a stick [laughs]. Oh God, he said, I went straight up to the showers, he said, I just showered in my uniform and then he said, I took that off and he said I was in the shower spitting it [laughs]. But and the mid upper gunner was the same, but poor old Charlie [unclear] but there was, it was always very pooey, very smelly in the, in the trenches because you’d sit there with your tin hats and things do fall on you, you’d hope no bomb would fall on you but, I mean, we weren’t like the fighter stations, they had it regularly, they were bombed regularly, down more on the coast down south we were, we were lucky we were in the Midlands but I mean along it was all Yorkshire, Lincolnshire, Norfolk, Suffolk, cause Jock’s Squadron he was 90 Squadron and they were in Suffolk. Cause they always used to rendezvous at Cromer Pier when they were went off, the you know when the whole gaggle of paints [?] were going out, they’d fly from their station and go up round and round to get height and then go straight out and they’d have some to rendezvous, Cromer Pier was a great place for a lot of them and others would, they’d get into formation and then they’d pick the other formations up, all up from all up the coast and we went to Cromer when we, one trip we had overseas in the 1970s I think, we went to Cromer and it was beautiful day because I know he was swimming in the North Sea and I, he said: ‘Oh, I’m lying here, look at me up!’ Thinking about me circling around over here before we went out, we’d stay off and went in from their area, they went in to France over the Frisian Islands. Cause he always said, I always put, as soon as the pilot said enemy coast ahead, he said that’s when I always pull my, he was always scared of his eyes being burned, you know, injured, and he said, I always pull my googles down cause some of them didn’t and got their eyes burned. He said, I was always terrified of getting my eyes burned. But he never, he still, you know, they had three pairs of gloves, silk and wool and then leather, but he nearly always worked with his silk gloves cause he was using bars and things and [pauses] but as I say, I still think, you know, but we probably don’t remember the nasty parts, you only think of the fun parts. When you say it was, it was the best years of our lives. I tell you why, because after the war it was so horrible. After the war we went back into Civvy Street and you had this awful feeling you weren’t wanted. See, people had, who’d been in fact prison officers [?], they’d all got jobs and they were looking after, this is my job and we don’t want you people coming in and move, you know, with all, you’ve got medals and we haven’t and so on and so on. And then the idea was that we should all forget the war, get on with the peace and everything was so grey and actually we were then more severely rationed, that was when bread was rationed and onions and potatoes. I cued for hours for all those things, because we were feeding Europe and particularly because we had to feed poor old Holland, cause they were starving but we were feeding the bloody Germans, that’s what got up our noses and we should have done what Joe Stalin said, Joe Stalin said at one big conference, he wanted Germany totally disarmed and made into the food bowl of Europe, got rid of those bloody Germans. I still hate them and I’ve got German blood in me, I’ve got Prussian, great grandfather. I still hate them like mad, I can’t forgive but then I was going to tell you about my cousin. Can I tell you about my cousin?
AP: You certainly can. [unclear]
JS: My cousin, there was another boy like my husband, he, now, his was a very sad story. His father, like my father and my father’s two sisters both married men during the war that were in the trenches. My sister Nora married this soldier and he ended up the war, after the Great War, in a lunatic asylum, he’d, he was shell shocked, absolutely shell shocked. And Nora always told her little boy Bill, who was born, she was married I think in 1916 and had him in 1917 and she told Bill, growing up, that his father was dead. And because in those days to be in a lunatic asylum, you know, was like having a baby illegitimately, it was one of these, you didn’t talk about those sort of things, Gee, woman had a Hysterectomy, that was women’s [unclear] and you didn’t mention that, everything was so, [makes a shushing sound] proper, and anyway poor Bill, he grew up. Uhm, Nora went and when my grandfather was widowed, he went up to Lancashire or Derbyshire, where he’d come from and he opened a little corner shop and Nora went up and lived with him and worked in the shop and Bill grew up and went to the local primary school but then Grandad died during those years and the shop apparently wasn’t making much money so, Nora came down and stayed with us and Bill, they stayed in our house for a little while until, and aunt Nora’s a widow of a service man, was supposedly a widow of a service man, she got a council house, we were living in Welwyn Garden City at that time, I was going to the local Handside Primary School and Bill came along too. Now Bill would have been about three or four years older, three or four years older than me, and I’ve got his photo somewhere, and I couldn’t find it today and he was a nice looking boy and of course you know, I was only a little girl about eight or something like that and, eight or nine, and, oh, I was in love with Bill, I used to tell my parents and everybody I was going to marry Bill and I remember, cause Bill loved, he had a Meccano set and Bill loved his Meccano and cause with my little itchy [unclear] fingers, I remember, could I have put that, no! He hated me, I was always around his Mecco, trying to or reading his comics, and I remember at school, we were changing classes one day and the big boys came out of whatever they’ve been and he’s, and of course I’m saying to all my other friends, that’s my cousin, that’s my cousin Bill and you know, Bill’s looking everywhere except, we were twelve or thirteen. So, you know, that’s my cousin and so they went and lived in their house and eventually they moved to Luton in Beds, and Luton was the centre of the hat-making industry, of course in those days I mean everyone made more hats, felt hats, women wore hats all the time, straw hats and felt hats in the winter and my aunt was pretty good at her job and Bill got a job as a young, he had, when he left Handside Primary School, during Depression there were so few jobs he got a job as an errand boy. They would take boys as errand boys on delivery bicycles, like you used to see in that funny comic series Open All Times [sic], it how you would have seen it on TV, and always had errand boys. I mean, when my mother went shopping, she would carry a little shopping basket but she would only get the perishables like the meat or eggs, a bit of cheese or fish, she would carry that home, everything else was delivered either sometimes by delivery man, mainly by errand boys on funny big arm bikes with a huge thing. And errand boys were all everywhere, of course they got a pittens [?], I mean, there was no real big dole or anything in those days, so, they only got a little bit above of what the dole would be and as soon as they, all these errand boys turned eighteen, see, they had to go on to adult wages, so they were all sacked. So that was when Nora moved to Luton and Bill got a job in a factory, you know, he was just a general factotum sweeping up and so on and he could see, like a lot of boys of that era, that it was much better in the forces, so he joined the Royal Air Force in those days when they used to wear the breeches and the grey patties and tunics up to your neck and the peak caps and he was stationed at Cardington where the balloons were, all the big balloons. And RAF Cardington and of course he saved up and bought a motorbike and so on and my dad had had a motorbike and they were motorbike crazy, he used to come over and see us a lot. And then of course, uhm, he, that’s it, he went in, he hadn’t got the educational qualifications to go to Halton, to the School of Aircraft Apprentices to be a fitter because you had to have secondary education for that, with maths and so on. He went into the trade of, is not a trade now, machine tool oiler and setter, next, really, a machine, he would end up as a machine setter which was a very good trade. So, that was what he was doing when war started, and about the same time it was, it was beginning in 1943 when all the four-engine bombers were starting to come in and we were really doing something over Germany, we were the only service other than the navy, the only service really doing anything in the war. And Bill wanted to go as aircrew, I don’t know why he never said why, and he, he applied to be aircrew and they turned him down, saying, you know you are a school tradesman, someone will have to be trained in your place, stay as you are. So he said, right, I’ll go on strike. Well of course he was marched up to the commanding officer who said: ‘I could court martial you and that would be the end of your air force career’. But he said: ‘I’ll tell you what, boy, he said, you can go in as aircrew and can go in as a bloody bomb aimer’. So, he went in, he was trained as a bomb aimer, he was at Skellingthorpe. Now he was on Lancasters. Now, the Air Force in 19, 1943, ’44, I think it was October 1944, the Air Force had been trying to decimate Brunswick because it was full of factories, war factories and they’d been, they’d had raid after raid, there was going to be a really big raid, a huge raid on Brunswick and that night the huge [unclear] went out including Bill’s Lancaster and they were all so even other, this shows you how our Air Force had grown from 1942 when we were couldn’t make, could barely make a thousand, there were other small diversionary raids on that would draw fighters away and it was a highly successful raid. It was, the town was absolutely decimated. They only had three or four minor raids on it afterwards, just to clean up and only one of our aircraft was missing that night. That was my cousin’s aircraft. I managed to find this out. I found out from the Bomber Command War Diaries and then I was in the library only a month or two ago, and there’s was a wonderful book which I had written down somewhere which has all, it’s a big book about all our prisoners of war, it has all our prisoners of war and of course Bill’s name was in. And apparently they were badly hit and their navigator, funnily their navigator, navigators always seem to get hit, their navigator was badly injured and they, I mean, it must have been hell in the plane because apparently, you know, it was going round and how, how on earth you can move about in a plane that is going down like that I don’t know. They, he said, he told us afterwards, he said, two of them, he and another, the engineer apparently, had to drag the poor old navigator to the biggest exit and his parachute came open, started to open in the plane because they just had to bundle everything out but he seemed to go down alright but they, they never, then he jumped and the other man jumped, that must have been the gunner I think. When they got down, when they landed in Germany, cause it wasn’t far from the target, they, cause he’d forgotten all of the correct things to do, he didn’t take his helmet, and all the hoo-ha getting them out, didn’t take his helmet off, and he was nearly strangled, all the cords went round his neck, he was [mimics a strangling noise and laughs] and then his big flying boots he had they were unzipped, they came off, [laughs]. So there he was in his socked feet and they couldn’t find any of the other crew in the dark of the night and they started to down this long road and you know on the continent they very often they put all this plane trees along the sides of the road and there were all these sapling trees with thick sacking wrapped round them, so to keep them up to sporting post cause they were, so he and the other bloke they cut all this sacking off to wrap around Bill’s feet and they looked around and there were all these plane sacking across the road, all these [unclear]. And he said the next thing is a couple of nights, he said, it was very cold, he said, a couple of nights we just got water, rain water, where we could find it in the fields and he said, we got turnips from the fields and ate them turnips and carrots and he said, we got to this little township and he said, in the dark we could see this building with all these bikes outside. We thought if we can get a bike how much easier and cause they knew the direction they were going, you know, towards the west trying to get to our troops. Anyway, they both grabbed the bikes and cause they must have made a noise, next thing all these German troops come out and they take them prisoners and apparently it was outside the SS headquarters [laughs]. Then, the next thing, he was an officer, now, that what I always think about my cousin Bill, his bomber aimer training, he’d been send over on the ATS scheme to Canada and he’d obviously the smart lad, been commissioned, you know, I mean, drop us off a commissioned, who wouldn’t take it, but Bill took it, and he was, he came out as a flight Louie. So, he went to Stalag, the officers camp, Stalag Luft III, the great escape camp and cause he talked, I mean, he didn’t tell us an awful lot but they were all helping, you know, that were these, they made bags to wear inside their trousers to take the earth and they’d sort of sprinkled the earth if they were walking about or playing games and he said, oh, he said, I could have been in the last group, he said, to go, he said, all us tail enders, he said, of course by that time they’d been captured and but he told us quite a bit about that terrible march that the Germans did, not just from Stalag Luft III, but from several of the prisoner of war camps. They were going to massacre the prisoners but why they started, they started to march them to the east and it was the middle of winter and of course a lot of them had thin shoes and uniform thin and they didn’t have any, they had a bad couple of holes of thin potato, growl potatoey water and they were all being marched along with all these German guards and if any of them fell by the way and didn’t pick themselves up, they’d either shoot them or bash them with a rifle butt. And I mean, Bill didn’t say anything much, just told us about this and he said, fortunately, he said, I, and he wasn’t a very strong chap and he said, you know, he said, it was pretty sickening, he said, we were helping the ones that were really, couldn’t walk but, he said, it was pretty sickening and fortunately we ran into, oh, we were spending, we’d been put into an empty prisoner of war camp for overnight and he said, fortunately or unfortunately the Russians came along. But, he said, there was a lot of problems with the Russian soldiers. They were trigger-happy and he said, we were warned that if we tried to sort of get out of the camp to start going to the east again, to try and join up with the British who weren’t far away, that we would, you know, that these trigger-happy Russians and he said, they came into our prisoner of camp and they treated us as if we were the enemy. He said, they just took wrist watches and all the money, anything of any value. They took even cat badges and things like that. And he, so they were told to play it very cool, and be very quiet, and just, they stayed in this prisoner of war camp for a few days and behind the barbwire and the Russians were circling around outside and suddenly the Americans appeared full force, tanks and guns and things and they immediately, the Russians sort of, they ushered the Russians, there were only a few Russians by then, they ushered them off and took the aircrew to an American camp, to a British camp but he said it was a pretty nasty situation. He said, when you’ve been a prisoner of war and then suddenly your allies come and treat you almost as badly.
AP: Said one of my interview subjects a few weeks ago, he said: ‘Then we were liberated by the Russians’, he said.
JS: There.
AP: Actually, we were recaptured by the Russians [laughs]
JS: Yes, that’s what he said, that’s what it was like, and he said, you didn’t feel comfortable, you didn’t feel safe,
AP: Very, very similar.
JS: Weird.
AP: Strange stuff. So, Bill came home [unclear]?
JS: Bill came home but it was all very sad. Now, we came out here in 1952 and Bill had, he’d had a job and he’d got a very nice girlfriend, they were going to get engaged and then his mother, apparently, I mean, we weren’t near him at the time cause my father said, if only I’d known, you know, but his mother then said, you can’t get married Bill, there’s mental problems in our family, in your father’s family and he and I think Nora was very possessive and I think Nora wanted him to be there for her life. And she, I mean, had, we don’t know how she brought it to him but she more or less said, you know, if I, in the end she told him, you’re father’s a raving lunatic in a padded cell and Bill said, I want to go, I didn’t know I had a living father, he said, you should have told me years ago, I want to go and see him and of course there was a real breakup between them and in the end she gave him the address of this place. He went to this mental home and he saw his father, more or less a slobbering lunatic, you know, and in a padded cell. And he came back, broke his engagement, I think he had a complete breakdown and he was having a treatment, he went in as a sort of outpatient and apparently he was getting on very well and he got a job as a gardener and he was still having light treatment but of course he got to know a young nurse there and of course the authorities would never let the nursing staff make boyfriends of the patients. So she was immediately posted somewhere else and I suppose he saw another friendship gone. I mean, the poor boy was probably craving for love and I just, look, I go around, I’m sure these years since Jock died, if I were religious, I mean, I’m an atheist, if I were religious, and if I were a catholic, I’d say I’d be going through a sort of Purgatory because I’ve been looking at all the things I should have done, I should have been a better daughter, I should have done better at school, I should have been a nicer wife, I mean, I wasn’t nasty but I was, you know, things I shouldn’t. And I think of Bill, and torture myself, if only you had kept, you know, written to him more often, if only you’d asked him to come out, we were living in a caravan over on the north side of town on our block of land, building our house out of pocket more or less, building where [unclear} house our first home and I couldn’t sponsor him. And the next thing, he was living in digs and working as a gardener and I suppose he just had this complete, what’s the use, because I know the feeling myself. And I had a letter from his landlady, apparently he put his head, and when she was out one day he put his head in the gas oven and I mean, my lovely cousin Bill, and I, a year I was so fond of him and it broke my heart. And nobody else in the family took more. Jock didn’t know him well and dad and mum didn’t take much notice. And my dad was very hard, he was very hardened by World War I, and what he went through, and you know, I, it haunts me all the time, that nice boy and I mean, you know, flying and so on and then, every sort of romance, every bit of love broken up and I, blame my, well, look as I always think of mental hospitals, because that’s what happened when Jock fractured his skull, and, oh, he was, I mean, I could, it was a huge and I mean nowadays he probably would have had a brain operation, fortunately he had very strong bones but you could feel this huge jagged bone underneath his skin, huge scar and he said to me, he wasn’t going to ask me to marry him cause he said, he said, I in the end he did and he said, look, he said, I lay it on the line, he said, if you marry you are not going to get the man you would have got had I not had this accident, he said, and I know what it’s done to my brain, he said, I know you won’t get the man that you deserve. And, I mean, I was madly in love, I didn’t care and, but, I know he did, he wasn’t nasty or anything, but he had a nose operation, uhm, oh, in the 1980s, ‘70s, had a nose operation and when the, he had a, like me, he had a deviated sept, to my [unclear] had it done, my nose was twisted and his nose was badly twisted and he couldn’t breathe well and he had this [unclear] surgeon, she said his bones were all overgrown and pressing on nerves and he used to have these occasional days, a couple of days when he would have a terrible headache and he would wake up in the morning, he’d still go to work but he would, he wouldn’t talk to me, he’d just look at me, glassy-eyed, his eyes would just sort of glare at me and he wouldn’t say a word, he wouldn’t answer me and it would all clear over, I mean, I didn’t mind that, it didn’t worry me, he wasn’t cruel or anything to me. But, I mean, I put it down to what he had on his head. But, he was taken from the local hospital to the big service hospital at Rauceby out in Lincolnshire, very big hospital which had been a mental home, a mental hospital. And I used to go, I used to walk about five miles, my bosses used to let me off early, they were very good and I used to walk about five, used to walk down the old roman road, the old way and right out in the middle country this big, huge building and all these corridors and every so often they’d be huge, heavy doors with double locks on because they were all pushed back with great big long corridors and then every now and again there’d be a little passage and that led to the padded cells. And I heard groaning one day and I tiptoed, I was on my way to see Jock, I tiptoed down and there was this poor young aircrew boy, I mean, he didn’t see me, he was bandaged over his eyes, he obviously burned top to bottom and he was hung on straps and he just got holes for his nose and mouth and all bandaged up with his arms up like this and he was groaning away and he was and I actually saw all this sort of pale blue padding, all ceiling, walls, floor, everything, they put the very worst burns cases in there, I suppose peace and quiet and, cause a lot of them were screaming you know, would disturb the other patients. But I know Jock must have been very ill because when I first came to visit him, the RAF nursing sister, she said: ‘Are you his fiancé?’, I said: ‘Well, we’re not engaged but we are going to get married when the war ends or when the war’s over’ and she said, you know, you know your boyfriend is very seriously ill, she said, I want to warn you, he is very seriously ill. And I mean, all they did with him there, he had his head sort of wedged in a wooden frame and he lay there for a couple of weeks in a wooden frame and they fed him stuff like [sighs] you don’t see it now, it’s sort of made from bones and, bones and brain and stuff that we used to be called, it was called something in old-fashion, it was like a sort of jelly, carsford [?] jelly, that’s it, it was made by bones and I think brains and it was the most tasteless stuff, cause I had to taste if his, cause it was supposed to help remake bones [unclear].
AP: Ok.
JS: So, that was, he obviously was very ill but they never cleared, they never gave him an x-ray to after, he was x-rayed when he had the accident, never gave him an x-ray to clear him and he managed to get back onto flying because he went for his aircrew board to see if he was fit for flying. And there was, there were two doctors and the old chap more or less told the other bloke he could go, the other doctor he could go, he said, oh, I’ll deal with this case and he was an old doctor and he came from one of the Hebridean Islands and he spoke Gaelic and of course he saw from Jocks docs where he came from and they spoke for about an hour or so in Gaelic and the doctor apparently said: ‘Ah, you are fit for flying!’
AP: So this, I think we were talking about that before we turned the tape on. This was the motorbike accident for Jock.
JS: Mh, yes.
AP: Wasn’t it?
JS: That he, he had scars, I mean, you know, cause his googles were broken and his nose was damaged and the size of his mouth was split, his eyes were all split at the side, he had slight scars, but it didn’t damage his beauty, I think he was quite nice looking [laughs]. But he was the love of my life, he was a lovely man. We laughed our way through time and it was all giggle, giggle, giggle, all the time.
AP: Very good. Uhm, what else do I have. Can you, well, we might back up a little bit. Can you tell me where you were and what your thoughts were, obviously you’ve already told me that you expected war to come but when you actually heard that Britain is at war. What were your thoughts and feelings and what were you doing at that point?
JS: Well, that’s rather dreadful because I told you I was in the Ministry of Aircraft Production and obviously war was coming, well war was coming very close because that, you know, what’s his name, had been over, Chamberlain had been over and come back with a piece of paper and then of course Germany had walked into Czechoslovakia and in that interim period we were working twenty-four hours, they’d got camp beds in a big room and we were and it was a Sunday and I was on duty, I’d, cause I was living at Amersham at the time, I’d come up, I’d think I’d slept the night an hour in the bed there which was in the Ministry of Aircraft Production was, the offices were in Berkeley Square and we, in the West End of London just walked up and Piccadilly was just and the Green Park was just up the road and I, we were called, they said to, we were working and they said to us girls we are all going down to the big hall because there is going to be a speech by the Prime Minister, because we all knew Germany had [unclear] and everyone was cock-a-hoop, oh, we’re going to be at war, oh whack-o!, sort of thing and of course, see [unclear], I mean, in 1939 I was seventeen, young and silly. We all were, a big typing pool of girls, all silly girls and we sat in the hall and the speech came on and he said we are now at war and we all said whoopee! And the air raid siren went and we were told to go to the shelters, or go down the corridor and we all rushed to the big windows and there wasn’t a soul to be seen in Berkeley Square. The Queen Mothers, the Queen’s dressmaker William Hartnell [sic] had room, had his big shop and rooms just opposite, not a soul to be seen anywhere, only a big red big fat barrage balloon going slowly up. And we were all, where are the Germans? And we all thought it was wonderful, then we all sang, Pack Up Your Troubles and It’s a Long Way to Tipperary and we were all throwing paper around and thought it was wonderful. And then of course I went home and my father said: ‘Bloody little fool!’ [laughs] He said, you wait, you don’t know what war was like, he said, now, and I remember when Dunkirk happened because I had an aunt, my mother’s sister married my uncle and they lived on an island at Thames Ditton, which isn’t far from Surbiton in Surrey, an island in the river Thames, that’s where the Thames widens and Richmond Park, beautiful royal park, is on the other side. And my uncle had a little cabin cruiser I think and they were given orders, everyone was given orders to take, the navy came round to, all those people on the island had boats and they were given orders at Dunkirk time to take their boats, they had to take their boat down to some part in the Thames estuary and the navy would deal with them and they were all hitched up to a, I don’t know whether it be onto a torpedo boat or a destroyer, I don’t think a destroyer would be too big, they were hitched up on lines and they were taken over to pick men up and brought them back. He only went over the once, cause I think he had engine trouble coming home and you know, all this sort of thing was happening and I and dad said, after Dunkirk I mean it was only then the Battle of Britain started almost and I remember we, dad and mum and I went for a walk and dad, we were talking about the war and he said, I don’t know, he said, what have we got? He said, we’ve only got these young men and a few young men with planes and he said, they are going to be overwhelmed by the German Air Force, who’d been practicing in Spain in the Spanish war, he said, they are going to be just shot down and he said, I just wish I’d kept my World War I revolver with three [unclear], one for you, one for mum and one for me. And that was dad, he said, it’s going to be a bloodbath if they come over. But then again quite a lot of us in years later in the ex-service things, we were talking, there were all, I mean, there was the man in the street who could do what he’s told and he couldn’t care less, as long as he’s got a warm bed and three meals a day and I mean, Hitler had obviously impressed the German people, I mean, obviously, well, I mean, they had been in a bad, in a terrible way in the Depression and we were, and we’d come through that terrible Depression and I mean, if you had someone who started to tell you, oh, we are going to do this and we are going to do that and we, you know, we are all going to live in a united Europe and do very well, and a lot of the, a lot of the upper crust, a lot of the aristocracy were very Pro-Hitler and, but there was in recent years, there have been things discovered, there’s been an underground headquarters found which, they’ve got no records of anywhere in the War Office or, anyway and apparently it has come out that there was a big, like resistance movement already being organised by Churchill and the patriotic people, very patriotic leaders of the country. Now there would have been civil war I think, I think it would have turned into civil war. You know, lot of us ex-service people have been talking, cause I’ll tell you this. In recent years, with the way life is, with the permissive life and it’s all me, me, me now and the way things are going politically, I mean everywhere not just our [unclear], our politicians are bloody twits, all of them and everywhere seems to be the same and all these do-gooders and letting all these people into Europe and a lot of us ex-service people are saying, perhaps it would have been better, saying, was it worth it? Was it worth all those lives lost? Would we have been better under Hitler? If you’d kept your nose clean and done what you were told you’d probably be just as well off. Cause the German people were. The only thing is of course, you’ve got things like the, those concentration camps, I mean, you’d think of that. The concentration camps, I mean, would we want concentration camps? This is the thing. You’ve got. And I mean, I was only reading the other day about the Japanese, if we hadn’t atom bombed them, they had, form the Emperor down, they had been given orders that every prisoner of war, civilian as well as service, which would have been a hell of a lot of civilians cause they had a lot of Dutch people and so on were to be massacred, it didn’t matter how you do it, squashed them, hanged them up, knifed them, staked them, all the most horrible of things, that every non-Japanese was to be got rid of, so, I was just as well we get the atom bomb off, cause we saved a lot of innocent people’s lives. But I mean, you know, there’s quite a lot of us, especially you know like in the navy get-togethers and things, and everyone says, was it really worth it, when you think of all your mates. And I think more or less one of the reasons that we say it was the best time of our lives, it was a wonderful time in the majority of people, civilians and service, we were all pulling together, we all had one ideal, and it was a very legitimate war. We had one ideal and there was the mateship, the companionship. I mean, I never came across anything nasty, I never came across rape or anything in the services, in the women’s services and everyone was so, you know, working together and the great comradeship and friendship and helping each other, cause life was difficult and harsh at times and we all helped each other. And, you know, you would put your friends before anything else, you know, to help your friends and support them and perhaps I’d think it’s more that when we say it was the best years of our lives, that terrific comradeship. And it really to me and of course to me all the time and then it’s something we all say in the RAF association, you know, those young men who sacrificed their lives and the way they were treated after the war, the way the bomber boys were treated and they must never be forgotten. My daughter gets on my nerves cause she said, oh, one day will come and everyone will forget them, I said, no, they won’t after all they don’t forget Nelson and the sailors that fought at Trafalgar, they don’t forget the soldiers that fought at Waterloo, that saved Britain and there was, both of those were narrow squeaks, [laughs], I mean Waterloo was very near the knuckle, they were and so was Trafalgar, cause Nelson was, cause right from a little girl I always Nelson was my big one time hero and we’ve had a film of his life, we also, one year we had a film of a sort of mock-up thing that they did in Britain of these battleships and they had an actual broadside, cause Nelson, Nelson did it, instead of fighting each ship broadside on and opening the cannons, he got, he laid his flotilla, all the enemy battleships were like front and back, you know, all in lines and then he came along with his flotilla like that and they simply opened up, bang, bang, bang, bang, bang, broadsides and split the ships right through and he brought that manoeuvre into being, I mean, he was a real, I read a lot about naval battles, I read, my reading, I read occasionally a biography or a travel book but my reading is all war books.
AP: [laughs]
JS: Oh yeah, I’m on the [unclear] and up there.
AP: I can see in the collection of books [unclear].
JS: I’m, I’ve been getting out of the library, I’ve been reading about [unclear], or I think submariners that’s even worse than bombers. I once met a submarine man and he was such a nice, gentle, little chap and I used to think, how can you go down under the sea, all those thousands of feet, oh, with depth charges?
AP: [unclear] a lot of fun.
JS: But I, I do, I read a lot and I’m reading a lot at the moment about World War I cause there have been a lot of programs, Tony, oh, he’s Sir Tony now, the man who does the walks through Britain, he’s done a very three or four weeks running on a Sat, Sunday afternoon about going through World War I. My dad in World War I, he was in the trenches and then they were sent to Mesopotamia and that’s of course Iraq and then they were sent to Salonica, but they were sent through Palestine cause I know he had a bathe in the Black, in the Dead Sea, and said, oh, you just float on the top of the salt water but he saw Lawrence of Arabia, Lawrence of Arabia, he and another man, they came on their camels and he said, we’d just come out of the lines, we were fighting the Turks and he said, we’re all filthy and dirty and he said, we were having our rest and he said, cause dad started as a private and went up to, he went right through the ranks and was commissioned in the field and went up to captain and he said, I was in the headquarters and he said, this man in all his silk, was only a short man, in all his silk Arab robes came in and they wanted maps to getting from somewhere to somewhere and they were going to take a place, they were going to take the surrender of a place and the Aussies got there first [laughs] and took the surrender, and all these [unclear], all these two [unclear] men [unclear] Arabs they got there after us but then before that dad had seen the Australian light horse going up not very far away cause I think it was Damascus and the Australian light horse came through going up to Beer Sheba and he said, again we were all filthy, our poor old infantry, cause he was in the rifle brigade, he said, oh, the poor dirty old infantry and he said, we were all lying around and he said, suddenly, he said, in the middle of all this filth and dust, he said, these, like a vison, he said, these tall, they all seemed to be tall according to them, these tall bronzed young men and he said, everything, he said, their horses were gleaming, their saddlery was glowing and he said they got these, whatever, they got, I don’t know what they’re called in their hands and just, and they were all laughing and the Aussies were all laughing and joking and you know, the rifle brigade gave them a cheer and saluted them and they were all happy and I mean that was a real fluke, that the Turks had their machineguns set for them there, they’d had mown the horses down if they’d been able to and they got them locked all in a mess and apparently, cause you, I mean, if you’re on a galloping horse you know what’s it’s like on a full gallop, it must be pretty deadly to see all these waving their swords and shouting and, you know, shrieking and shouting and horses neighing and the thud of hooves, just imagine it. And it was a complete triumph but that means at some poor devils [unclear] worst of course and horses. Yes.
AP: So, oh yes, I have, we’ve covered a fair bit. [unclear] We’re still going.
JS: I shouldn’t have kept you.
AP: No problem at all.
JS: Four hours.
AP: I’ve loved it, it was really good. However, uhm, I do have one last question. It may well be the most important one all my interviewees is this. Uhm, in your opinion, how is Bomber Command remembered and what legacy has it left?
JS: How is it remembered? Well, I suppose all of us who’ve had anything to do with them will remember them for the, they were the, they were our little white hope in all those long years when we were waiting and waiting to try and get into enemy, try and do an invasion, they were our only white hope and they were, I mean, if it hadn’t been for Bomber Command, bombing the factories, roads, every, keeping them on their toes, and keeping them short of things, it might have been terrible on D-Day if we hadn’t done something, I mean, why isn’t Bomber Command universally, why is it always this bloody Dresden thing comes up? All the time it comes up! And it seems to me, Canada and Britain seemed to have fostered this, I don’t know why and I would like to see Bomber Command remembered for the fact that they were our one big bastion against Germany for those interim years before D-Day and I would, well, I hope that, I would like to see them remembered more as a special thing, as we remember the Battle of Britain, I would love to see a sort of Bomber Command Day or something but the way they are still remembered I don’t like this attitude, it always comes up Dresden. And I mean why, you’ve got a German [unclear] who agrees that Dresden was hiding a lot of things and still there’s these people, so, well, I’m glad that there’s this big memorial in Britain because I think that it’ll be there and it’ll be like that wonderful memorial in Green Park, so at least you’ve got something always there in front of people, but I mean, you know, I still think there should have been a Bomber Command Day and a Bomber Command Medal, I mean, I mixed with these old chaps and it’s so sad, I don’t know, it’s so sad and remembering what they did, I remember you see the crews and their average age was between eighteen and twenty two, I mean, I think Jock’s crew they had their, I think their navigator was, he was grandad he was thirty, no, no, it was their, I’m sorry, it was their rear gunner, he was thirty, he was ex-metropolitan mounted police, cause the only way the police could get in the services was volunteer for aircrew, so he went in and yes, Ron, he was thirty two and married with children and they called him grandad but I mean, they were young men and I look at young men now and think my God, they were either in charge of a bomber and seven men’s lives or they were in a motor torpedo boat, interestingly, I never thought much of Jack, John Kennedy when he was president, I didn’t like the Kennedy family at all but I’ve read a very interesting book about him and he was a very brave young man too in that motor torpedo boat, a very brave young man but you when, and talking to them and of course you’d say how did you feel, what was, when you knew you could be going to your death? And a lot of them have said, well, you couldn’t let your mates down, you didn’t want to go but you couldn’t let your mates down, cause Jock said the first, oh, he said, I looked forward to my first op but he said, after that I didn’t look forward cause he said, oh, he said, when we went over the target and I looked down and he said it was a vision of hell and he said I still, he said, I still wasn’t that scared until I got back. But I remember, see some people, they were, you know they were terribly superstitious, I mean, Jock always, he had a [unclear] bit, those tiny [unclear] bits with a hole through it that one of his relatives gave him and he had a tiny little silver thimble which he got the leaves that he, when he went into the air force, he had a Christmas pudding at his aunt’s place and he got this silver thimble on a chain, teeny tiny little thing, the size of his little nail and he had one of my suspenders and he’d always have them pinned on his flying suit and, when he was cremated and I put, they were always kept in our bedside cabinet and I took them out and I tucked them under his pocket, you know, so that when he was dressed and being put in his coffin, they would go with him on his last flight but I mean, they had, the pilot had a teddy bear and he always had to rub its stomach when you got in so that was always stuck behind the pilots seat and some of them, he always told he’d get through he always said to me, don’t worry, he said, I might get injured but he said I have a feeling I’ll get through, now, other boys didn’t and I remember when I was giving out some of the Red Cross comforts one night when they were going on one of these small ops and from Lichfield, there was a lovely young navigator, he, blue eyed and very fair curly hair and always a lovely smile and you know, he’d been one of the boys, we’d all been in the pub together, singing, we all knew each other quite well and I remember him coming up and he leaned across the table and he was a big tall boy and he picked me up, just picked me up under the arms and gave me a big kiss and he said, bye bye Jean, he said, I won’t see you again, I mean, a great big smile, and I said, I can’t remember his name and I said, oh come off, he said, no, he said, I know, he said, I know I’m on it tonight and he didn’t come back and he was quite jovial about it but quite a lot of them and Jock had friends that he knew and he said some crews, he said, some crews, when you were on your operational station he said you knew as soon as they walked into the mess as a new crew, he said, they had the look and the smell of death on them, he said, you knew that they wouldn’t last long, cause on his squadron, 90 Squadron, theirs was the first crew for ten months to do, to get through full operational tour and actually they did thirty two and they were asked to go on a last one and his mechanics said to him oh, one of his mechanics said, oh god, I wish you weren’t going on this one, but he said, It’ll be alright and it was, thank God, that was the one where the two friends got blown up. But I don’t know ways remembering Bomber Command, how do you make people remember? I just hope that they’re never, well, I just hope they’re never forgotten for what they did because that was a horrible job. And I, you know, you, as I say, we used to see them and they were twitchy, you could see a lot of them were twitchy when they were going down to dispersals and they’d laugh, they’d be like little boys, ah, and they’d light a cigarette and then they’d take two puffs and then put it out and then light another one, I mean, and in transports the WAAF drivers taking them down, they liked the WAAF to take them down to their planes, they much preferred a WAAF than a man driver and it was the same with the wireless operators, the radio operators in flying control, they, oh, Jock used to say, oh, he said, when you are tired out and he said, you know you’re being told, a force comes on telling you, you’re going in a stack and he said, all you want to do is get your feet on the ground and he said to hear that quiet woman’s voice, he said, a man’s voice never did anything to me, he said, you hear that quiet woman’s voice talking you down, almost sympathising with you, and he said, you know, it did something for you and I think, you know I think, they were full of nerves. Jock said, you were, he said, you were always very quiet in the transport, he said, some would joke with the driver, the WAAF driver about her boyfriends or things like that but he said you’d, he said, the worst part was the waiting, he said, the waiting for the word off, cause sometimes when they were down by the aircraft all bombed up, it was cancelled and that was horrible cause he said, if it was cancelled you think oh god, I’ve got to go through all this again tomorrow night and every time they got back it’s one off towards the end of your tour and he said, once you got into your aircraft, he said, cause, engineers, the bomb aimer very often did the second pilot’s job during a trip but always take off and landing, the engineer was always with the pilot cause he helped the throttles and so on and switches and he said, you sat down, you did your cockpit check, you did your crew check, he said, you forgot everything, you had so much to do before take up, off and once you were up you had so much thing cause the engineers were checking labour entring every fifteen minutes, fuel thing and of course any lights going out or oxygen not coming through or things like that, they were always, he said, we are, he said, I was always busy, I didn’t have much time to sit down at all, but he said, you were always so busy, you never thought it was only, he said, we always used to be so glad, we always used to give a cheer when we saw the Channel coming back, he said, when you saw the sea [unclear] those usually be or everything going up from the coast, or defences, he said, you saw the sea, he said, you just prayed you got across the sea cause so many of them didn’t. And the awful thing was that of course some poor sods that landed on beaches and then the beaches were mined or the aircraft went into mined areas and blew up, just as they thought they were there. They did one time come, they were short of fuel and they had to use Woodbridge, you know, Woodbridge was a huge, right just over the coast, gigantic, but he said, they said, and the next one most wonderful thing was when he said you saw your beacon, cause that’s another thing that caused crashes coming home, the, all the, on the east coast all these huge airfields and their satellites all the circuits were intercepting so you got planes twiddling around everywhere, all the time during the war the sky was never free of aircraft, it seemed to be, always aircraft doing something cause they’d all the train, people training and then there were people going here and there to other stations and going off out. One of the most wonderful things was when I was down in London on leave, I was walking near Buckingham Palace I think, it was with my mother and aunt and walking near Buckingham Palace and a huge squadron, cause it was right near the end of the war and I mean they were just it wasn’t easy in those days, they were going over and it was, the war was almost into Germany and all these Flying Fortresses went out, hundreds of them went right over Buckingham Palace flying out, quarter of an hour later [makes a whooshing sound] along comes a little fighter squadron, cause they had to, they picked their fighter umbrella up cause the fighters were much faster, all these Hurricanes and Spitfires all riffing a long, making a lovely noise and it was quite inspiring because I’d only seen aircraft going out at night one by one and circling round and listening to the [unclear] in the clouds and that was, that was not as exciting as seeing a whole squadron, of cause they did a big box formation, they were quite classy, and once they, once their jolly old formations were broken they were really limping and we were better with our open formations and once they had, it was nearly, it wasn’t before the end of the European war but it was not far off, we had a conference at, oh no it must, no, no, this was at Lichfield so it must have been, no, must have been, I left, I left late 1943, I went to Group Headquarters so it must have been 1943, we had a Stirling bomber coming to this conference, a Lancaster bomber and a Flying Fortress, now you could see the three of them, a Stirling just towered, the Lancaster was fair and the Flying Fortress, which everyone said oh [unclear] big planes, it was so small and the Yanks took us, our boys took us over there [unclear] and the Yanks planes, I mean I wouldn’t like to be a gunner on an American fortress and you know with this wide open bitterly cold I mean they wore a lot of warm things must have been terribly cold and they were more or less each side gunner, they were more or less bashing buttons and there were all the machine guns, all strings of ammunition everywhere, you had to pick your way through these strings of ammunition and it wouldn’t have been very nice at all, wouldn’t have been nice at all, so and cause, you know, the Lancaster of course you’ve got the big bulkhead but you’ve got a bigger one in the Stirling cause Jock said there was always the trouble you know when you had to get down to the rear gunner and you got an awful long way to go and it was, and you’ve only got a catwalk, is bitterly cold [coughs] if you hadn’t got, even through your silk glove you could feel the cold if you put your hand on the side of the aircraft [coughs] then you get that bloody great bulkhead, climbing over there with all that flying kit [coughs] horrible.
AP: Quite, quite amazing. Well, I think you’ve covered all the questions I had.
JS: [coughs] [unclear]
AP: I only had to ask three of them. [laughs]
JS: I apologize.
AP: No, no problems at all, there is some fantastic stuff in there. [unclear] I love these sorts of interviews I love the best, cause I come in, I ask one question and I just sit back and listen.
JS: Oh, as long as you don’t mind, I do apologize.
AP: Ah, I loved it.
JS; [unclear]
AP: yeah, yeah.
JS: I’ll make another cup of tea.
AP: Thank you very much. I’ll turn this off.



Adam Purcell, “Interview with Jean Smith,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed April 15, 2024,

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