Letter from Cynthia Barry to Angela Duwell



Letter from Cynthia Barry to Angela Duwell


Comments on recent rheumatism and that she was currently writing while on duty. Continues with news that WAAF watchkeepers were now allowed to fly on cross country flights over the continent. Recently this was done on the quiet. Mentions two routes over Germany and down the Rhine and the other over France. Cannot wait for her opportunity. Letter continues two days later where she gives account of her trip over the continent in a Lancaster. Describes route via the Netherlands, the Ruhr, Krefeld. Mentions much damage to cities and river bridges. Goes on to Oberhausen, Gelsenkirchen, Wanne-Eickel and Bochum. Mentions Dortmund and again long description of large amounts of damage to Dusseldorf and Cologne. Returned via Aachen, Vimy ridge (detailed description) Dunkirk and home. Concludes with catching up with news of friends and her latest activities.




Temporal Coverage




Eighteen page photocopied handwritten letter


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[inserted] Copy from Angela’s copy – to put in box file [/inserted]






893742 Sgt. Barry C. G.
Sergeants’ Mess,
R.C.A.F. Station,
Skipton Bridge,


My dear Angela,

Very many thanks for your welcome epistle – so sorry to hear you’ve been confined to bed with rheumatism, & I do hope you will have recovered by the time this reaches you. Quite a break from Bicester, eh?! Hmmm –

Today I don’t feel particularly intelligent, as I am tired & also I have rheumatism in my left leg something chronic. So please forgive me if this letter

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isn’t very coherent.

At the time of writing I am on night duty (from 5.30 p.m. till 8.30 a.m. tomorrow), & there’s nothing to do except a few amendments to secret documents, & a spot of typing, which I cannot do until Flying Control have finished with the typewriter.

WAAF watchkeepers & Met. Assistants are now given priority on the cross country flights over the continent! Isn’t it exciting? – I nearly collapsed when I heard that the Powers that Be were actually giving us official permission to [underlined] FLY [/underlined] !! It has often been done by girls on the Q.T., of course, but up till recently they were very strict about it. There are two routes – one goes over Belgium, into Germany, [deleted] thro’ [/deleted] over Hamburg, Duisburg, & down the Rhine

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[underlined] 3. [/underlined]

valley, & the other goes mostly over France & takes a more Southerly course. Betty & Joy were all set to go today, but the flight was scrubbed owing to bad weather. The trip takes at least 7 hrs., & we shall go in an operational Lancaster. I am simply [underlined] dying [/underlined] for my time to come! We go to briefing, & fetch our harness & parachutes, just like the aircrew boys. We might fly over C. Dean, as I believe the route goes over Reading anyway. I’ll write & tell you all about it after the flip – hope it’s a lovely day. I can hardly believe I am actually [underlined] going [/underlined].

I gave Ma a sort of account of most of my recent doings, so

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I’ll begin from where I left off

[underlined] Lapse of 2 days [/underlined] – it’s now the 5th – I didn’t finish this on night duty, & didn’t have a minute till now, when I am on [inserted] duty [/inserted] till 1730 hrs.

Wait for the news! – The very next day I flew on the 7 hr. trip over the continent! What a day! – Betty (one of my fellow watchkeepers here) & I collected our Mae Wests & parachutes & harness at 0930, staggered to the crew room at 0945, got helped into our equipment (which seems very heavy & bulky at first), then we all got into the crew bus at 1020 hrs. & were taken out to “B – Beers” dispersal. They took some photos of us in front of the kite – apart from

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[underlined] 5. [/underlined]

the six members of the crew, there was the padre, Pip Holmes (as 2nd pilot – he is Joy’s boyfriend), 3 ground crew boys, Betty, & myself. How we ever all got stowed away in the narrow spaces of a Lanc. – I don’t know! I stood [deleted] near [/deleted] next to the pilot in the cockpit for take off (a smooth one!), & had a really good view. I had my white roll-necked sweater & my battledress on as well as all the trappings, but it was so hot I somehow managed to discard my jacket & roll up my sleeves. Pip lent me some sunglasses (I couldn’t have done without them). We flew over York at 2,000 ft. then climbed steadily above land & cruised at about 8,500 ft. over the Wash, over Norfolk &

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out over the coast at Lowestoft. We did not break cloud till we approached the Dutch coast – then I got my first glimpse of the sea. Pip bet me 2 1/2d he would see the first ship, which he did, alas! – a small merchantman steaming north.

We made landfall over Flushing (Vlissingen), the port on the S. coast of Walcheren island, which was inundated for miles & miles inland, deserted, & all the villages & farms were shattered & flooded. In the harbour were many sunken ships & several barges on the beach were half submerged. We cruised at about 1300 ft. over Holland – it was pitiful to see little homesteads burnt out, besides signs of destruction in the towns. As we flew south of Eindhoven & over Weert, I got down into the nose in

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[underlined] 7. [/underlined]

the bomb aimers’ position – it was a good place to get a good view, but it was a bit cramped as both the padre & the bomb aimer were also in this little compartment! If one of us moved a leg 1 inch, everyone had to squirm about all over the place. Talk about sardines! We approached the Ruhr with Krefeld in the E. of us & Duisburg ahead. Pat (F/Lt. Patterson, the pilot or [inserted] & [/inserted] skipper) made a low circuit of the town, - [inserted] Duisburg) [/inserted] our first sight of an utterly ruined & devastated city. Three of the boys had cameras & took a number of photos of the places we visited – I do hope I shall be able to get one or two of the prints.

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If you are looking at the atlas Duisburg is in the N.W. corner of the Ruhr, on the Rhine. We flew at I should think about 1,000 ft. N. above the Rhine – all the bridges are blown up & lying broken in the river – there are one or two temporary bridges only. From Duisburg we [deleted] cl [/deleted] flew Eastward across the Ruhr industrial towns – I couldn’t tell you all of the ones we passed over, as we kept circling over so many ruins & the towns seemed to merge into one another [deleted] lik [/deleted] something like our own industrial areas in the N. of England. We must have seen Oberhausen, Gelsenkirchen, Wanne Eickel, & Bochum before we reached Dortmund which is N. E. of the industrial area. And when I saw the utter shambles that used to be a thriving city I

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[underlined] 9. [/underlined]

thought Dortmund must be the worst of all, but I was wrong, as I shall shortly tell you. Angela, & whoever else reads this, you could [underlined] never imagine [/underlined] the extent of the damage our bombing has done to Germany – the reality was so much worse than I had pictured in my mind Industry is obviously at a standstill – smoke was seen issuing from 3 or 4 chimneys over the whole area – the streets seems bare – there were a few people & one or two vehicles – military traffic no doubt. We caught a glimpse of the Dortmund-Ems canal, which is very famous, before we struck N. E. as far as Hamm, which was the most Easterly point of the route. Here are the enormous marshalling

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yards, which we bombed so heavily, & in fact there were hundreds & [underlined] hundreds [/underlined] of craters & signs of damage to the trucks, sidings, railway lines etc. From Hamm we turned S. W. over hilly wooded country, skirting the S. side of Dortmund again, & on to Dusseldorf – again, utter devastation met our eyes – we circled Dusseldorf & took some photos, then flew south to Cologne, where we found that the destruction in the other cities was nothing to what we now saw below us. The [underlined] only [/underlined] building left standing is the cathedral, which rises black & tall from the flat ruins on either side. Some of the streets are still unrecognisable as such – such mountains of rubble have fallen on them. The question which everyone was asking themselves was “Where on earth do people [underlined] live [/underlined]?” Indeed there seemed [underlined] nowhere [/underlined]

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for them to reside, unless it were in temporary dwellings (of which I saw very few), cellars, caves, or camps in the woods.

Having circled pretty low over Cologne, we flew as far South as Bonn – we should have gone as far as Coblenz, but we had spent some time in taking camera shots, so we turned westward at Bonn & flew towards Aachen over lovely wooded country (we passed over a handsome schloss every now & then). As we approached Aachen it became increasing obvious that a battle had taken place within the last year – thousands of tracks across fields showed where tanks & armoured columns had passed – the tracks were less discernible since grass, crops, etc had covered them

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but from the air they could faintly be seen. You could see overturned vehicles & stacks of deserted equipment, & many pathetic burnt & ravaged farms & villages, & Aachen itself had obviously been shelled & bombed to a terrible degree – there were potholes all over the countryside. One thing we can be proud of – we [underlined] did not see one bombed hospital [/underlined] – I think that is very good. We saw dozens of hospitals with large red crosses or squares painted on the roofs – all intact.

From Aachen we flew a pretty straight course for Vimy Ridge, passing over the river Maas near Maastricht, S. of Brussels, over Mons, Valensiennes, Donai, Lens, & so to Vimy Ridge. This last mentioned part of the route was the [underlined] only [/underlined] stretch of country where we saw towns, villages & farms intact (at least from the air)

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[underlined] 13. [/underlined]

- & even then we saw [inserted] signs of [/inserted] destruction here & there in the shape of craters, shells of houses, broken bridges, & new graveyards. We circled the memorial at Vimy [underlined] very [/underlined] low – it couldn’t have been much more than 200 – 300 ft. – there was a red flag flying in front of it & a large posh looking car (containing some brass hat I expect) at the foot of the flagstaff. We could see a graveyard very near the memorial – containing graves of the fallen from this war I believe, then we flew over the Ridge opposite, where lies the enormous graveyard (for last war dead I believe). It was very sad.

Our flight was now nearing its end – it was at this point about 1545 hrs.

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We now turned towards Dunkirk – again signs of battle & bitter fighting. It must have been such hell as no one could ever dream of. Dunkirk itself was a complete & utter shambles – completely razed to the ground. We circled over the beaches (once swarming with men, now deserted) & I kept thinking over & over again the words “Miracle of Dunkirk” – I see now what a miracle it was, indeed. There were still one or two battered remains of boats on the shore – relics of the great evacuation [inserted] of 1940 [/inserted]. The sun was beating down on a blue sea as we set course for home, climbing steadily to about 8,000 ft. We made landfall over England at the Naze at about 1650 hrs. & flew a straight course back to base via the Wash & York. I was till in the nose when we came into land. We made a pretty

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[underlined] 15. [/underlined]

good landing at about 1810 hrs. My! were we hungry & tired!!? – it was worth it, tho’ – we won’t get another chance, I don’t suppose.

One place I forgot to mention – Venlo in Holland – we saw the airfield there, which our medium bombers used to prang when I was at H.Q. 2 Group.

The W.A.A.F. officer & the nursing sister went up on the same route in another aircraft that day.

As the padre remarked, there was so much to see that one simply couldn’t take it all in properly, but I know I shall never, never forget such an experience.

I wonder if you would mind keeping this letter, as I probably shan’t write another

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full account of the trip, & it might be interesting to read some years later, & I might forget one [inserted] or two [/inserted] of the details I have here set down.

Yesterday the Waaf Flight Sgt. Dot Dean [inserted] at Leeming [/inserted] was married to Nobby Hall at Leeming Bar church (you perhaps remember Dot whom you met when you were up here). She was married in white, & held a bouquet of sweet pink roses. Everything went off without a hitch – they borrowed one of the Wingco’s cars to take them to the church, & the reception was held in the mess. They had a wizard 3-tier cake, made by one of the cooks. Connie was the only bridesmaid. I only just made it! – I hitched from Skipton & jumped off the lorry outside the church at 10 mins. to two – the

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[underlined] 17. [/underlined]

wedding was at 2 o’clock!

Betty is getting married in September, & talks of nothing else!

Well, dearie, it’s about time I finished this, otherwise it will never get to you.

I received Ma’s letter this morning & also the pen – could you thank her & say I’ll be a-writing to her shortly?

Hope you are getting on O.K. & will soon be better. Do write again soon – I sometimes dispair [sic] of ever getting any mail. I never look in my pigeon hole, [inserted] now [/inserted] but wait for Betty or Ida or Bob to tell if [deleted] if [/deleted] there is any (they are “B’s” too!)

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Lots of luv,




C G Barry, “Letter from Cynthia Barry to Angela Duwell,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed April 24, 2024, https://ibccdigitalarchive.lincoln.ac.uk/omeka/collections/document/37301.

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