One WAAF's war

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One WAAF's war

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Commences with call up and journey to Innsworth camp. Describes accommodation, activities and compatriots in detail. Continues with very detailed description of training and activities at Compton Bassett. After a farewell concert was posted to Bawtry Hall. Describes life with companion and work. Manages to get out of cleaning work and was sent to RAF Grimsby where she worked in telephone exchange and fell in love with Lancaster bombers. Subsequently sent of aircraft controllers' course at RAF Cranwell. Describes camp, life, accommodation and training at Cranwell. Mentions church parade where no WAAFs turned up and subsequent consequences. Continues with new section with title 'LACW Kathryn Reid (nee Kathy Miers) WAAF No 473650 RAF Oulton 1944'. Covers posting after training as R/T.D/F operator to Sculthorpe which was under command of Group Captain Pickard DSO, DFC. Sculthorpe was closed and all units, including American ones moved to Oulton from where she describes location, activities and work. Mentions RAF aircrew converting from Stirling to fly American aircraft at night as well as describing her work in aircraft control. Mentions she was on duty for D-Day. Goes on with description of operations and mentions B-17 from 214 Squadron shot down near station sick quarters and only two gunners escaped. Continues with more derails of work and life on camp including entertainment. Mentions American friend. Next was posted to RAF Swannington and describes work and operations with Mosquito. Final posting to Church Fenton where once again describes location and work in detail.

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This content is available under a CC BY-NC 4.0 International license (Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0). It has been published ‘as is’ and may contain inaccuracies or culturally inappropriate references that do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the University of Lincoln or the International Bomber Command Centre. For more information, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0/ and https://ibccdigitalarchive.lincoln.ac.uk/omeka/legal.

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BReidKReidKv1

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ONE W;A.A.F’S [sic] WAR

My Call up Papers had stated I was to report at Innsworth Camp on the 1st of January., Eager to answer the call, I arrived at a very unearthly hour in Leeds station, the day before. Railway Stations during the war were live theatre, all the comings and goings. the thousands of uniformed men and women struggling with their kit bags and rushing to catch a seat on a train filled to bursting. Then the sad goodbye’s heartrending and tearful, and the thrill of the reunions between loved ones. The Stations were always dimly lit, and always in a smoke screen from the Steam Train pouring out its billowing clouds of smoke, giving a cloak of mystery to the dramatic scene.

I was travelling down to Glousester [sic] with my current boy friend, who by happy coincidence was returning from leave to his aircrew training camp near Gloucester. My Father came with me to the station to wave us off, poor father, he a very shy man, was very concerned at my leaving for what he thought; would be a life full of evil temptations. He plucked up the courage to enquire of two Waafs on the station, If they were happy in the forces? Their replies of assurance did not entirely reassure him and it was with a sad countenance he bade me farewell.

The train was crowded standing room only, and we arrived in Gloucester, in the evening. Found the hostel where I had booked in for the night, said a sad farewell to my boyfriend, whose last instructions were ‘Arrive in camp as early as you can tomorrow, then you’ll be able to get out to meet me, by Boots in the high street, at 8 o’clock to go to the cinema.

I had read, that Hostels in America, frequented by ‘Gentlemen of the road, where they had to sleep leaning on ropes fastened from the walls, and I braced myself for the prospect of a balancing act or a rope trick.. so, it was with much trepidation, I entered to portals of the hostel and found ---=== Everything whitewashed, dazzling white walls, long polished passages. A mature lady in a white coat gave me a bristling business like welcome and without more ado, took me upstairs to a vast long room. Never had I seen so many beds,, this was better than ropes!!

In the room were seversl [sic] girls, in different stages of undress, confusion covered me I had never shared a room with anyone before. I rushed to a bed at the far end of the room, the farthest away from an occupied one, undressed in record time and dived under the top blanket, where I lay and shivered all night.

Outside the snow was falling, my one top blanket was no protection in the unheated vast barrack=likr [sic] rroom. [sic] Was this a baptism, for hardships to come? By morning light, I found I had been sleeping= or trying to --- on the top of three more blankets and two sheets. My first lesson --- Look before you leap!

09-00 the reveille for breakfast and after dining on porridge, baked beans on toast and tanned tea, I paid the magnificent sum of one shilling, for breakfast and my night’s lodging.

Tramping through the snow, now lying thick on the Gloucester streets, I caught a bus to Innsworth Camp, walked the long, long lane, traversed thousands of times before by raw recruits and reported with nervous apprehension to the Guardroom, guarded by two RAF armed police who informed me ‘I was she [sic] first recruit of the day and I must await the arrival of the WAAF orderly.,

I waited for what seemed an eternity, under the scrutiny of the RAF guards, I took a dislike to them then and I never had the pleasure of altering my opinion. The orderly eventually arrived, a homely looking [inserted] girl [/inserted] [deleted] weighedth [/deleted] a cheerful smiling face, How good it was to see a smiling face! With a friendly offering ‘To carry my bag’ she escorted me from the gates of freedom into the arms of captivity. I plied her with questions ‘What was Waaf life like?’ ‘Did she like being in the Waaf?’ Her answers were far from cheering, but worse was to come, In reply to my question ‘Will I be allowed out of the camp tonight?’ [deleted] weighed most heavily upon me [/deleted] ‘Once you are in here, you are here for weeks’

I felt a net tightening round me, I wanted to wrench my case from her hand and run back the way I had come, but my feet, as if oblivious to the desire of my mind, ontinued [sic] to follow her. We entered a long low room [deleted] xds [/deleted]. On a large trestle table, there was surely, all the steel collection of Sheffield,, thousands of knives, forks and spoons, my escort selected one of each and asked t

[page break]

[underlined] 2 [/underlined]

My escort asked if I wanted anything to eat. As I didn’t, I was then taken to a long row of wooden huts row upon row as far as the eye could see. They looked cold and comfortless, rising from the snow covered ground, black and bleak. Entering in, I found it as cold as it looked. The big black iron stove in the centre was unlit.. Down each side of the hut were 12 iron beds and stacked on them were grey blankets and three small square buff coloured mattresses. Biscuits they were called. I dumped my case on the bed nearest to the door and near to one of the few-all too few-windows, then sat down on the available seat … that of the iron spring mattress.

There I sat, shivering, until another new recruit joined me about lunchtime. Together we braved the unknown terrors of the cookhouse. It was a long low building with bare walls of a non-descript shade. Concrete floor ornamented here and there with scraps of food and pools of spilt tea. The tables were long and bare with backless wooden benches to sit by them. The eyes of all the girls already dining there seemed to be pinned upon US. Was this because we were the only ones still in civilian dress?

We nervously approached the Hot Plates. Now what do we do?. Suddenly a loud YELL behind us. “Take off your headgear when in the dining room”. We turn in terror to see a Corporal WAAF – Gosh we were in the presence of a veritable god!. And it was glaring at US!

We immediately doffed our offending winter headgear and grabbed a plate, holding it out to the girl behind the Hot Plate. She threw upon it with great vehemence, a spoonful of potatoes. We walk a few paces to another WAAF in a dirty overall and cap, she with the same GOOD GRACE, provided us with some watery cabbage and a few-very few-pieces of meat. THEN with a dull thud a piece of pudding is thrown on another plate. We balance them and retire to the further most table from the uniformed throng and start to attack our dinner.

Our fastidious tastes and stomachs, revolt at the food before us. We push the main course uneaten, to one side and begin to try to bombard the pudding. She who has tasted airforce boiled pudding can never forget it. If only it was worth its weight in gold!. We give up the task of trying to eat it as a hopeless one and deposit it down the holes provided for hopeless repasts and depart as hungry as before – declaring that we would NEVER NEVER eat such a meal …… by the next day we were only thankful to eat ANYTHING provided, we were so hungry.

I was later to learn of the hard work and long hours the WAAF’s in the Cookhouse had to endure. If anyone got a raw deal they did ….. so did we, sometimes at the receiving end.

By late afternoon the hut was full of girls, all shapes, sizes and variety from all walks of life. Everyone of us wrote letters home to say we had arrived safely and not to write back for a week. Talk about severing relationships – we all felt cut off and cut up by cruel officialdom.

At nine o clock we all marched, well tried, to a hanger at the farthermost part of the camp. In this huge hanger I felt the size of a fly. We were seated at long tables, provided with pencils and paper and were told by a WAAF sergeant that we were to have an intelligence test.

Feeling far from intelligent, tired by the events of the day and bewildered by so many people around me, we were given maths, english and psychology questions – the latter consisting of fixing squares with squares and circles with circles. Talk about putting a square peg in a round hole! .. A time limit was set. I looked around with great satisfaction to see others likewise nibbling at pencil ends and other eyes beside mine gazing at ceilings and walls seeking inspiration!. The cold walls gave cold comfort – my mental assets were frozen like me and I handed in my papers with great unsatisaction. [sic]

We were marched back to our huts through a Gloucester snowstorm to find that the sergeant in charge of the hut had lit a coke fire. Warmed at the thought we made up our beds in the approved RAF style – [inserted] Grey Blanket [/inserted] corners tucked under biscuits. – followed by a cold wash in a cold ablution block.. Ah those ablutions!. The memory of the odour in them lingers yet. I retired to bed, my troubled sleep broken by sobs from adjacent beds. My first day in the WAAF’S was over. What would tomorrow bring?

[page break]

COMPTON BASSETT

The next morning on parade at nine feeling smart and resplendent in our uniforms we began to shiver and became numb with cold – it was snowing hard. We were taken in charge by a WAAF corporal and put through our paces. The next four hours consisted of marching. Left right left right: about turn: saluting to the right: saluting to the left: eyes right eyes left: eyes crossed – well I felt mine were! My feet in strong flat shoes ached and my mind felt blank under the cross fire of orders directed from an outside source. Instead of choosing my own way I had to follow orders quickly and mechanically. This felt very strange but would have to be got used to which of course we did. After 6 weeks of “square bashing” we were fit enough to bash anything!

We had lectures on hygiene, health matters, social graces and smoking – the latter being a “filthy habit” the young WAAF Officer stressed. On going to her office to get a pass to the nearest town I noticed a cigarette dish brimming over with fag ends on the front of her desk. A case of “Do as I say not as I do”!

We did have a farewell concert. The Corporal who produced this fancied himself as a theatrical agent and chose the girls on a show of legs! We – the chosen ones – had to send home for our most glamorous gowns. Mine was backless but had a fancy jacket to wear over it. The producer insisted that I shouldn’t wear the jacket but I overruled him. I was too shy to wear a backless dress in front of an audience of airmen – how times have changed! Our efforts were noisily greeted – talk about audience participation! All light-hearted banter to close a chapter of our introduction to service life.

At the ‘passing out’ parade we had a splendid band playing all the popular RAF tunes. A very handsome young officer took the salute. My marching companion remarked ‘Doesn’t it make you feel proud’? I replied ‘I haven’t done anything to be proud of yet’! The handsome officer chose the prettiest girl in the parade to talk to – we felt rather proud as he had chosen a girl from OUR hut maned Margot Nunns. I wonder what happened to her? I’m sure she would be a success as she had started well!

[page break]

[deleted] 34 [/deleted]

[underlined] 5. [/underlined]

For a month we marched, had hygiene lessons and physical jerks. Every morning we arose at 6am and stood by the side of our beds to be inspected from head to toe by a WAAF Officer whose eagle eye missed …… nothing. We had vaccinations against typhoid and other diseases. I propagated against them to the other girls saying that I had read that we could refuse to have the injections. As we lined up with left arm bare for the needle, the WAAF orderly took a dim view of my stammering refusal to have the injection and gave me such a withering look as she said “Well if you refuse to have the injection and become ill we can refuse to look after you”. I then weakened and succumbed to her instrument of torture only to find that the other WAAFS had taken my advice and refused. I suffered more from my embarrassment about not practicing what I had preached to them, than from the needle!

Some of the girls – [deleted] about 18 in all [/deleted] [inserted] about 12 in all [/inserted] – had to queue at the tailors to have alterations to their uniforms. They had to wait a long time and this, along with the intense cold and the fact that they had just had their injections, had a depressing effect upon them. The result was I, and the other occupant of the hut, witnessed in all their entrances the same procedure. The door opened and a white face appeared. The owner of it staggered through the door and made an unsteady bee-line to her bed. And after throwing herself upon it burst into tears. After witnessing this monotonous behaviour 12 times, the afore mentioned witness remarked “Well if I didn’t know where I was I’d think I was in a lunatic asylum”. However my turn was to come. That night I was on fire picket duty. This meant reporting to a corporal sitting in a hut about half a mile away. I had to write my name in a registration book and under threat of a charge had to stay in my own hut all evening – so that in case of a fire I could put it out. We had one small – but none the less heavy-bucket in the hut and I was not sure what use this would have been in the event of a fire. In any case my legs were like jelly as a result of the earlier vaccination and I would not have been much use should an emergency have arisen. However I had to take the bucket to fill it with water. Staggering back with it into the hut I found the window between my bed and the next one – which I had opened before going out – had been closed. The cold and the injection must have befuddled my senses because this constituted a major tragedy and I howled myself to sleep

The next morning, with swimming heads and stiff arms, the order was to “March and Swing ‘Em”. She meant arms not heads although the latter would have perhaps have been kinder to me in my present state of mind [inserted] AFTER A MONTH OF [deleted] I [/deleted] ‘Square Bashing’ I felt I could bash anything. [/inserted]

[page break]

COMPTON BASSETT

After lunch we were marched through the rain to the Equipment Hanger. A huge place reminding me of a prison mailbag room – it smelt the same. I hasten to add that my visit to Armley Jail was to entertain prisoners with the concert party I belonged to! At the first counter we were issued with caps. The great coat came later. Then with an empty kit bag we filed past what seemed dozens of counters filling the kit-bag till it overflowed with items – knife fork and spoon; woollen hood; grey stockings; pair of flat shoes; 2 blue shirts; bloomers (passion killers); humbug striped pyjamas; gas mask; tin hat; WAAF hat; two skirts; 2 jackets; waterproof cape and identity card. I had to drag it along as the kit bag was as big as myself! It took a lot of manoeuvring on my part. At last we were in possession of every article His Majesty’s Government were please to give us! As we came out of the opposite end of the hanger it was with a sigh of relief to see lorries waiting to take us – and our burdens – back to our huts.

We couldn’t get back quick enough. Although tired and dispirited by the day’s events and not a little dampened by the eternal rain, we simply had to try on our uniforms! Mine fitted where it touched but I did not trouble about that! But I remember I put my collar inside my shirt neckband instead of outside and nearly succeeded in chocking [sic] myself. Conscientiously articles were marked with the ink provided – with name, number and date. Then lights out and sleep. Nature’s blessed curtain of peace descended upon us – yet not all of us as I still heard sobs from adjacent beds.

The next morning on parade at nine feeling smart and resplendent in our uniforms we began shiver and became numb with cold – it was snowing hard. We were taken in charge by a WAAF corporal and put through our paces. For the next four hours life consisted of marching. Left right left right: about turn: saluting to the right: saluting to the left: eyes right eyes left: eyes crossed – well I felt mine were! My feet in strong flat shoes ached and my mind felt blank under the cross fire of orders directed from an outside source. Instead of choosing my own way I had to follow orders quickly and mechanically. This felt very strange but would have to be got used to which of course we did. After 6 weeks of ‘square bashing’ we were fit enough to bash anything!

At the ‘passing out’ parade we had a splendid band playing all the popular RAF tunes. A very handsome young officer took the salute. My marching companion remarked ‘Doesn’t it make you feel proud’? I replied ‘I haven’t done anything to be proud of yet’! The handsome officer chose the prettiest girl in the parade to talk to – we felt rather proud as he had chosen a girl from OUR hut named Margot Nunns. I wonder what happened to her? I’m sure she would be a success as she had started well!

Then came the posting to a different station – BAWTRY HALL

[page break]

COMPTON BASSETT

We did have a farewell concert. The Corporal who produced this fancied himself as a theatrical agent and chose the girls on a show of legs! We – the chosen ones – had to send home for our most glamorous gowns. Mine was a backless but had a fancy jacket to wear over it. The producer insisted that I shouldn’t wear the jacket but I overruled him. I was too shy to wear a backless dress in front of an audience of airmen – how times have changed! Our efforts were noisily greeted – talk about audience participation! All light-hearted banter to close a chapter of our introduction to service life

Bawtry Hall in Norfolk was the next chapter. Dorothy and I arrived there in the rain and we were housed in the cook’s hut. The language upset Dorothy so much that she said in tears “Oh Katie what have we come to?” By the next morning we knew! The WAAF Officer gave us the task of cleaning the ablutions! “How good of the Air Ministry to send 2 girls to clean the station”. After three months Dorothy “escaped” to be the secretary to one of the top Brass in 1 Group and I escaped by the kindness of Sgt Spud – not a fitting name for a very beautiful and kind girl. She took me into a very large telephone exchange. I took an exam for this work and passed. One night I was alone on duty when Sqdrn Ldr. Sharp called into the exchange for a chat. I told him I hadn’t joined the force to become a switchboard operator. I wanted to be a radio operator with the planes and be where the action was. He promised that he would help me and soon afterwards sent me for just 2 weeks to RAF Grimsby (Waltham). I arrived on station to see beautiful Lancasters emerging from the mist. I fell in love with them – still am! After 2 weeks in the telephone exchange I asked Flt Lt Reece if he would let me stay. He said that he would be delighted to keep me. Then followed the happiest time spent on the happiest station where tragically death had dominion – but so had laughter, romance, happiness, humour and YOUTH.

The telephone exchange was small and sited in a hut. It was manned by one operator at night and two by day. Our Corporal Vera was lovely and really mothered us. She was also in charge of our Nissen hut – number 13. Belying the number it was a happy hut lying cheek by jowl with the wonderful Waltham Windmill. I practiced learning to cycle around the base of the Windmill – a bike was a necessity to get up to the operations station. It took me a long time to balance when getting on and off the bike When large vehicles bringing fuel and bombs to the base passed within a hair’s breath I used to throw myself and my bike into the ditch and then wait for a kindly passer by to hold the bike whilst I jumped back on

[page break]

COMPTON BASSETT

We did have a farewell concert. The Corporal who produced this fancied himself as a theatrical agent and chose the girls on a show of legs! We – the chosen ones – had to send home for our most glamorous gowns. Mine was a backless but had a fancy jacket to wear over it. The producer insisted that I shouldn’t wear the jacket but I overruled him. I was too shy to wear a backless dress in front of an audience of airmen – how times have changed! Our efforts were noisily greeted – talk about audience participation! All light-hearted banter to close a chapter of our introduction to service life

[inserted] THEN CAME THE POSTING – NO NOT BY MAIL! BY COINCIDENCE BEING YORKSHIRE GIRLS WE WERE POSTED TO YORKSHIRE [/inserted]

Bawtry Hall in [deleted] Norfolk [/deleted] was the next chapter. Dorothy and I arrived there in the rain and we were housed in the cook’s hut. The language upset Dorothy so much that she said in tears “Oh Katie what have we come to?” By the next morning we knew! The WAAF Officer gave us the task of cleaning the ablutions! “How good of the Air Ministry to send 2 girls to clean the station”. After three months Dorothy “escaped” to be the secretary to one of the top Brass in 1 Group and I escaped by the kindness of Sgt Spud – not a fitting name for a very beautiful and kind girl. She took me into a very large telephone exchange. I took an exam for this work and passed. One night I was along on duty when Sqdrn Ldr. Sharp called into the exchange for a chat. I told him I hadn’t joined the force to become a switchboard operator. I wanted to be a radio operator with the planes and be where ethe action was. He promised that he would help me and soon afterwards sent me for just 2 weeks to RAF Grimsby (Waltham). I arrived on station to see beautiful Lancasters emerging from the mist. I fell in love with them – still am! After 2 weeks in the telephone exchange I asked Flt Lt Reece if he would let me stay. He said that he would be delighted to keep me. Then followed the happiest time spent on the happiest station where tragically death had dominion – but so had laughter, romance, happiness, humour and YOUTH.

The telephone exchange was small and sited in a hut. It was manned by one operator at night and two by day. Our Corporal Vera was lovely and really mothered us. She was also in charge of our Nissen hut – number 13. Belying the number it was a happy hut lying cheek by jowl with the wonderful Waltham Windmill. I practiced learning to cycle around the base of the Windmill – a bike was a necessity to get up to the operations station. It took me a long time to balance when getting on and off the bike When large vehicles bringing fuel and bombs to the base passed within a hair’s breath I used to throw myself and my bike into the ditch and then wait for a kindly passer by to hold the bike whilst I jumped back on

[page break]

Bawtry Hall in Yorkshire was the [deleted] next chapter. [deleted] [inserted] First posting you are asked where you would like to go – but rarely sent there!! As we were Yorkshire girls we didn’t mind Bawtry Hall Sounded nice [deleted] [indecipherable word] posting [/deleted] [/inserted] Dorothy and I arrived there in the rain and we were housed in the cook’s hut. [deleted] The [/deleted] [inserted] Their [/inserted] language upset Dorothy so much that she said in tears “Oh Katie what have we come to?” By the next morning we knew! The WAAF Officer gave us the task of cleaning the ablutions! “How good of the Air Ministry to send 2 girls to clean the station”. After three months Dorothy “escaped” to be the secretary to one of the top Brass in 1 Group and I escaped by the kindness of Sgt Spud – not a fitting name for a very beautiful and kind girl. She took me into a very large telephone exchange. I took an exam for this work and passed. [inserted] [symbol] [/inserted] [inserted] [symbol] many months later [/inserted] One night I was alone on duty when Sqdrn Ldr. Sharp called into the exchange for a chat. I told him I hadn’t joined the force to become a switchboard operator. I wanted to be a radio operator with the planes and be where the action was. He promised that he would help me and soon afterwards sent me for just 2 weeks to RAF Grimsby (Waltham) [inserted] [symbol] [/inserted] [inserted] [symbol] reminding me it was only for 2 weeks [/inserted]. I arrived on station to see beautiful Lancasters emerging from the mist. I fell in love with them – still am! After 2 weeks in the telephone exchange I asked Flt Lt Reece if he would let [inserted] me [/inserted] stay. He said that he would be delighted to keep me. Then followed the happiest time spent on the happiest station where tragically death had dominion – but so had laughter, romance, happiness, humour and YOUTH!

The telephone exchange was small and sited in a hut. It was manned by one operator at night and two by day. Our Corporal-Vera-was lovely and really mothered us. She was also in charge of our Nissen hut – number 13. Belying the number it was a happy hut lying cheek by jowl with the wonderful Waltham Windmill. I practiced learning to cycle around the base of the Windmill – a bike was a necessity to get up to the operations station. It took me a long time to balance when getting on and off the bike When large vehicles bringing fuel and bombs to the base passed within a hair’s breath I used to throw myself and my bike into the ditch and then wait for a kindly passer by to hold the bike whilst I jumped back on it!.

When I was first on duty in the telephone exchange lots of aircrew came in to ‘look me over’ but as they thought I only looked 14 they soon ceased calling sad to report!

The duty that I did not enjoy was on operational nights. We had orders to listen in for aircrew calling their girlfriends to sadly inform them that their date was off and why. We had to pull out the plug on these calls. I knew why there was a necessity for doing this but I always felt guilty and sad about it. They couldn’t phone from the village phone box as it was wrapped in coils of thick rope and guarded by a policeman. I later discovered that Aircrew had a way of getting around these restrictions. They would borrow a bicycle and cycle to the next village to ring from the phone box there – with no ropes and no policeman to prevent access! Foolish perhaps putting their lives and those of other aircrew in danger – but love always finds a way!

The Group Captain used to call in to see us – he was kindly and friendly as were all the pre-war Officers. When the Sqdn Ldr discovered that I was waiting for the RT/DF course at Cranwell he said “Half Pint” (my nickname for being the smallest WAAF on the station) after keeping you here from Bawtry Hall it breaks my heart to loose you but I’m sending you up to Flying Control so that you will be proficient before the Cranwell course”. I was but that’s another story. [inserted] The weeks flew by I could’nt [sic] have been happier. I loved my work though our losses were many saddened us. [/inserted]

[page break]

Bawtry Hall in [deleted] Norfolk [/deleted] [inserted] YORKSHIRE [/inserted] was the next chapter. Dorothy and I arrived there in the rain and we were housed in the cook’s hut. The language upset Dorothy so much that she said in tears “Oh Katie what have we come to?” By the next morning we knew! The WAAF Officer gave us the task of cleaning the ablutions! “How good of the Air Ministry to send 2 girls to clean the station”. After three months Dorothy “escaped” to be the secretary to one of the top Brass in 1 Group and I escaped by the kindness of Sgt Spud – not a fitting name for a very beautiful and kind girl. She took me into a very large telephone exchange. I took an exam for this work and passed. One night I was alone on duty when Sqdrn Ldr. Sharp called into the exchange for a chat. I told him I hadn’t joined the force to become a switchboard operator. I wanted to be a radio operator with the planes and be where the action was. He promised that he would help me and soon afterwards sent me for just 2 weeks to RAF Grimsby (Waltham). I arrived on station to see beautiful Lancasters emerging from the mist. I fell in love with them – still am! After 2 weeks in the telephone exchange I asked Flt Lt Reece if he would let me stay. He said that he would be delighted to keep me. Then followed the happiest time spent on the happiest station where tragically death had dominion – but so had laughter, romance, happiness, humour and YOUTH.

The telephone exchange was small and sited in a hut. It was manned by one operator at night and two by day. Our Corporal Vera was lovely and really mothered us. She was also in charge of our Nissen hut – number 13. Belying the number it was a happy hut lying cheek by jowl with the wonderful Waltham Windmill. I practiced learning to cycle around the base of the Windmill – a bike was a necessity to get up to the [inserted] [symbol] The long white road. [/inserted] [inserted] [symbol] SITE [/inserted] operational [deleted] station[/deleted] [inserted] site [/inserted]. It took me a long time to balance when getting on and off the bike When large vehicles bringing fuel and bombs to the base passed within a hair’s breath I used to throw myself and my bike into the ditch and then wait for a kindly passer by to hold the bike whilst I jumped back on [inserted] IT. [/inserted]


When I was first on duty in the telephone exchange lots of aircrew came in to ‘look me over’ but as they thought I only looked 14 they soon ceased calling sad to report!

The duty that I did not enjoy was on operational nights. We had orders to listen in for aircrew calling their girlfriends to sadly inform them that their date was off and why. We [deleted] then [/deleted] had to pull out the plug on these calls. I knew why there was a necessity for doing this but I always felt guilty and sad about it. [inserted] [symbol] [/inserted] [deleted] In addition [/deleted] the village phone box [inserted] [symbol] They couldnT [sic] phone from the village phone box as it was wrapped in coils of thick [deleted] wire [/deleted] rope [/inserted] was wrapped in coils of thick rope and guarded by a policeman. I later discovered that Aircrew had a way of getting around these restrictions. They would borrow a bicycle and cycle to the next village to ring from the phone box there – no ropes and no policeman! Foolish perhaps putting their lives and those of other aircrew in danger – but love always finds a way!

The Group Captain used to call in to see us – he was kindly and friendly as were all the pre-war Officers. When the Sqdn Ldr discovered that I was waiting for the RT/DF course at Cranwell he said “half Pint” (my nickname for being the smallest WAAF on the station) after keeping you here from Bawtry Hall it breaks my heart to loose [sic] you but I’m sending you up to Flying Control so that you will be proficient before the Cranwell course”. I was but that’s another story.

[page break]

CRANWELL

Bernard had carried my kitbag up the long White Road to where the station transport was waiting for me. He looked forlorn and lonely and my heart ached for him. But with a cheery “I’ll see you at Christmas” I waved farewell and kept waving until he was out of sight.

Arrived Cranwell by station transport at 1pm. The winter winds blow hard across the lovely Lincolnshire countryside – the leafless trees unable to stop them. Cranwell in December is cold enough to freeze a brass monkey. After waiting a year for the course I would die for – if absolutely necessary. On arrival I was billeted in one of the huts that had previously been allocated to married Air Force families during peacetime.

I shared the downstairs room consisting of a kitchen, bathroom and bedroom with 2 other WAAFS on the course. One Scots girl (Ann from Paisley) who had the fiercest temper which occasionally I had the misfortune to being on the receiving end of and a London girl called Tony. They were in situ first and so had arranged their beds nearest to the fireplace! The fire had to be refuelled in the evenings with sticks and brush wood found around the camp as there was a fuel shortage – the coal ration soon ran out. Wood gathering was supposed to be a united effort but depended solely on me! There was an old fashioned copper boiler in the kitchen for heating the bathwater but with the scarcity of fuel we had to contend with cold showers!

The furniture was Spartan. Three iron bedsteads and two hard chairs. Also a wooden box for a locker. Food was provided in the mess hall. There were vans arriving at different times of the day to provide refreshments. The Catholic van was the most expensive and the Church Army the cheapest – and the most popular because of the prices. Refreshments were very welcome on the cold days we were experiencing.

The next day we were shown over the camp by a WAAF corporal. We had a look inside Cranwell College and the large room we would occupy. It was just like school – blackboard; school desks and no heating! I was then enrolled on the RT D/F course with about 30 other girls. The following day we all met again after marching in squads to the cookhouse. Lanterns were carried at night to avoid being run over by passing traffic in the dark

As Cranwell classrooms were large and cold we sat at our desks wearing greatcoats and gloves – even the lecturers wore their outdoor attire. Towards the end of the course two months later some of us had chilblains on feet and hands.

Our instructors were CPL Metcalfe (a kindly middle aged man) and CPL Gallagher – a Scot from Glasgow. Both men in civilian life had been teachers. They were excellent instructors. For a Limey like me the accent of CPL Gallagher had to be listened to very carefully to understand what he was saying. He spoke with his mouth virtually closed and I often wondered why. During the late 1960s I worked as a teacher in the Gorbals district of Glasgow. I came to the conclusion that Glaswegian mouths are not opened too wide because of the strong winds that blow through the city!

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It was a crash course of 8 weeks and included physics; electricity/OHMS law; principles of the internal combustion engine; compression; induction power and exhaust; morse and aldis lamp practice; R/T AND D/F direction finding. In the hanger – draughty and colder than the classroom – we were instructed in wiring; soldering and VHF short range. We were instructed by a civilian technical teacher and for me it was the hardest part of the course – not being at all practical. This instructor will be remembered for his opening words which were always the same and appealed to our sense of humour. “Now girls – always remember first of all to Tin your irons”. I had waited for this course and I was determined to pass it. I was so anxious to qualify that I studied all of the time. As a result I did not learn about – or make use of – the stations social amenities. When I was not studying I went into the nearby wood to collect twigs and branches to keep the fires going – a fire that I could rarely enjoy as the two other WAAFS commandeered the chairs by the small fireplace when they were not out enjoying the night life of Cranwell. I was really scared of the Scots girl’s fiery temper. I think I was resented because I was keen to study and they weren’t. It was a sad and lonely time and so cold the greatcoat was a blessing as it served as an extra blanket at night as a defence against the cold

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CRANWELL

Cranwell was isolated from the world. There were no newspapers; no news reports. We were instructed that if we heard an aircraft take off with an unusually sounding engine we were told not to talk about it to anyone. I later learned that it was the jet engine being tested

I can’t quite remember but I think it must have been because of a lack of fuel that we were moved from a downstairs room. I was given an upstairs flat to myself. My ex room-mates appeared to regard Cranwell as an opportunity to improve their social life. There were many foreign men on the station – especially Poles whose reputation did not enhance for me their attraction. I’m sure that some WAAFS will have failed the course due to their choice of priority!

The Church Parade was a very important occasion for His Majesty’s Forces. At Cranwell it was held every Sunday. One Sunday we assembled on the square in front of the Church as usual. After standing for what seemed hours with a wintry gale blowing right through us we were the last unit to enter the church. There was some grumbling amongst us about how cold we were – but nothing more. However the following Sunday morning no WAAFS turned up for the parade. I swear that there had been no conspiracy or consultation. We were all in the same frame of mind having been very very cold.

Pandemonium and a rude awakening for us! NCO’s began rushing around the WAAF’s quarters, banging on doors and shouting our names. We were hauled from our beds – all 200 of us – and told to report with full kit to the Admin Office. We were eventually charged to report with full kit every hour every day for a fortnight to the Office. We were also allocated evening cleaning work and confined to camp. The NCO’s (admin) were very cross because they had to do all the supervising – and they were also therefore confined to camp! WAAF Officers heads must have rolled too.

By the end of the fortnight Cranwell had never been so clean. But someone must have felt a little sorry for the way in which we had to face the wintry blast as we were never instructed to attend again!

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I was pleased with my test results from Cranwell

1st Test TEC 75 percent
PROC 93 percent

2nd Test TEC 81 percent
PROC 80 percent

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1.

L.A.C.W. Kathryn Reid (Nee Kathy Myers)
W.A.A.F, No. 473650. R.A.F. Oulton 1944.

After training at Cranwell as R/T.D/F Operator, I was posted to Sculthorpe, I had already had experience in this work at R.A.f. [sic] Waltham with 100 Squadron, and was hoping to go back there, as it was such a happy station, but instead of Lincolnshire, I was posted to Norfolk.

After a few months at Sculthorpe, the Station was closed. It was no longer Operational because the runways were in such a bad state of disrepair, the result of the many sorties that had been undertaken from this Station, under the leadership of the very famous fighter pilot, Group Captain Pickard D.S.O. .D.F.C.., This was the reason given to us when we were all moved, British and American personnel to Oulton.

As the whole camp was being moved, I can’t remember the reason why three of us from Signal Section, were dumped from a Station transport on to a deserted Norfolk lane one morning in March. We were quite lost in the endless Norfolk lanes, criss-crossing the chequered countryside --- no signposts of course. We stared across the flat monotonous landscape, hoping for a glimpse of grounded planes and strained our ears for the sound of revving engines --- but all in vain.

The reflection of the white surface of the lanes in the glare of the midday sun tore at our eyeballs -- the pangs of hunger tore at our senses and the heavy unwieldly Waaf shoes. tore at our heels, leaving our flagging feet, sore and blistered --- and always there was the fear that we were just going round in a circle, as people in desert places are reported to do and we would arrive back at our desolate starting place.

Three more sorry specimans [sic] of homeless, hungry and unhappy Waafs could not have been found in any English lane that day --- if there had been a living soul to find them! but the landscape was quite devoid of human life and it seemed as if we three, were the only ones left in the whole wide world.

With the coming of evening, the sinister silence was at last broken by the sound of aircraft engines, revving up to race across the North sea. We staggered towards the sound and found --- at long last --- the Oulton technical site -- complete with cookhouse! We sat or rather fell down to the festive board to a repast surpassing the food of the Gods --- a supper of burn’t [sic] beans and cold tanny tea.

The Americans were billeted near the technical site -- the best site -- and had their own cookhouse. Their food and their living quarters were good, even their uniforms were made of excellent material. We Waafs were housed in Nissen huts by the lake, a picturesque spot, but, after snow or heavy rain, the huts were often flooded ankle deep! The Aircrew, [deleted] I think [/deleted] were billeted at the far side of the lake or in the Hall. The far side of the lake was out of bounds to us.

[inserted] It was several miles it was in the opposite direction of our billets & after night duty we were often too tired to cycle there [/inserted]

As we Waafs had a long cycle ride to the cookhouse to get our meals, after night duties, we were too tired to go for them. With the result a notice appeared on D.R.O’s that ----- ‘Any Waafs reporting sick and found to be suffering from malnutrition, would be put on a charge’ Our meals were not good, one of the girls was advised by her father, a doctor, to tell us to put plenty of sauce, of any variety or quality on our food to obtain some nourishment, this we did. They helped to camouflage the beefburgers and [deleted] corn [/deleted] [inserted] corned beef [/inserted] beef that were monotonously served up to us.. The bread was thick and sometimes of uncertain age, the jam more sugery [sic] than fruity, The tea, like washing up water --- oh yes the duty officer used to come round regularly to our ‘festive board’ but complaints were few, we knew it was useless [inserted] [deleted] They fell on deaf ears [/deleted] [/inserted] to do so and at least we had food and it was – wartime.

After emerging from the cookhouse, [deleted] we used to [/deleted] [inserted] We as usual dangled our irons [/inserted] dangle our ‘irons’ – knife, fork, spoon and mug into a tank of greasy water, that was situated by the door, then having waved them in the air to dry them, we mou nted our bicycles and cycled to duty or back to our Waaf site.

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[underlined] 2 [/underlined]

Our mail was opened and censored. One parcel I sent home to my parents containing fruit etc; that I had purchased from a neighbouring farm, when delivered, had gained an Airman’s sock!. One Waaf friend in Meteorology, had written a graphic account to her parents, of the exotic food that had been especially flown in from abroad, for a high ranking Officers party. This letter resulted in her being brought before the Waaf Officer, who gave her a severe warning not to repeat this performance, or she would be put on a charge. The letter of course was destroyed.

The Americans used to get upset at the slow mailing system and classed it as ---- Stagecoach --- They were very friendly and charming and treated us with respect. I cannot speak too highly of them, especially of one; Sgt: Ford Killen, who became a lifelong friend.

The R.A.F. Aircrew, also from Sculthorpe, were being converted from Stirlings, to fly American aircraft at night. They had suffered terrible losses on Stirlings and the strain of this showed. The American crews were operational during the daylight hours. Although we in Flying Control liaisoned [sic] with them, they had their own Signal section, to control their aircraft landings and take off. I was told, that, after a bombing run, returning American pilots were directed to land by personnel, instructing them from an aircraft over the Drome! In our Flying control, we had the duty of course to listen out for all aircraft in our radio range and many an American Pilot calling ‘DARKY’ becaues [sic] he had lost his way over Norfolk, was helped by us, to find it again!.

It was truly an awesome sight, to see the great mass of American aircraft, filling the Norfolk morning skies as they passed overhead on their daily bombing runs. One morning there was a mid--air collision and many of the crews parachuted safely on to our Drome --- It did look at the time, rather like an invasion!

In May 1944, B19 Flying Fortresses of 214 Squadron, with a detachment of the 8th Air Force, No 803 Squadron; were engaged in various radio Counter measures. Jamming the enemy’s radio transmissions on a variety of wavebands. The V 2 Rockets and the Big Ben Jostle etc. All aircraft was fitted with this equipment. It was found that the B 24 Liberators were better suited to the working of this. Until we learned of this important radio work. we had wondered why, every American aircraft, when grounded on the Drome, had an armed guard, day and night. Their first daylight mission was on the third of June and their first night’s operation, a few night’s later, in support of D. Day. landings.

I was on duty in Flying Control the morning of D. Day. There was a lot of aircraft activity, but we were unaware of the reason for this, until much later. I remember an American Sgt: enquiring of me if our signal controls were working alright, as their important signals weren’t. He was rushing around very upset indeed,

Our night duties were of 12 hours duration, if there wasn’t any flying I was on duty alone. ‘listening out’, the Flying Control Officer would be on call if needed. Compared to my night duties at Oulton, when 100 Squadron was taking part in their nightly bombing raids, duty at Oulton was quieter and less traumatic. We occasionally got ‘intruders’ German fighter planes, straffing the Drome. It was dramatic, to see from Flying Control, strands of their gunfire criss-crossing the Airfield like jewelled ribbons. The action always happened too quickly to alarm me, and their fire, caused no damage to men or machines the times I witnessed this. But the problem was, that our aircraft, if waiting to land, had to be diverted away from the Drome. No small problem, if they were short of fuel, as was often the case. [inserted] – they always seemed to have the minimum of fuel for their Bombing raids. This fact we always felt sorry for the Aircrew as it often meant a difference between life and death [/inserted]

[inserted] we had to divert them away from the Drome [/inserted]

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3

In the following 3/4th of March, a large force of 100 enemy intruders attacked returning aircraft over Norfolk Airfields. At Oulton, a B17 from 214 Squadron was shot down near the Station sick quarters and only two gunners escaped.

The girls in Signal and Met: Sections, because of their night duties, were usually accommodated, in the same huts. At Oulton, we were all in Nissen hut 13. I remember some of the girls there --- Jean Anderson, Louise Simmons, Renie Saunders, Ann Cross, Daphne Verbeke, Joyce, Yvonne and Margaret. The Nissen hut housed about 12 girls, we took it in turns to keep the place tidy, Thursday night was ‘Domestic night’ followed by an Officer inspection on Friday. We also had to take our turn to light the ugly coke stove, in the centre of the hut. This to me was almost an impossible task and I spent hours coaxing the coke and twigs of wood, to inflame. Coke was often in short supply, so being the smallest Waaf in the hut, I had occasionally to creep into the ‘coke hole’ to steal some.

I remember the croaking of hundreds of frogs after rain, carpeting green our pathways, roads and lanes, also the large number of rabbits on the camp. The wonderful trees and the beautiful lake, that had been out of bounds, but in May the ban was lifted. Also we were given permission to wear, when off duty, civilian clothes. Not many of us took advantage of these concessions. [inserted] We had lived too long in our uniforms & [deleted] were [/deleted] we were proud of them & we’d no coupons for glad rags! can’t remember even window shopping in Norwich gazing at lovely dresses made one feel nostalgic would we ever wear again pretty dresses girls yearn for – anyway shopkeepers in Norwich only seemed to stock swords – how the Americans loved them. [/inserted]

Blickling Hall was out of bounds to us --- we would pass by and admire it, but never set foot in it. I think Officers were billeted there and Dominion air-crew. I did hear a rumour of one of the Canadians, falling from an upstairs window and breaking his leg.!

Off duty, we were allowed 24 hours leave every month. We used to cycle to Norwich and stay overnight at the Y.W.C.A. near the Cathedral. There were plenty of entertainments for the Forces. Dances and Concerts. I remember going to see a performance by the singer ‘Hutch’ and how, between his songs, he mopped his brow with great affectation! I remember too, on my first cycle ride to Norwich with my American friend Ford, we got lost and had to find our way across the big American airfield Horsham St Faith --- Of course we were stopped by a convoy of Service police, but when we showed our identity, they kindly -- but quickly, escorted us to the nearest exit!

With the girls from the Signal and Met: Sections, we spent leisure hours cycling -- how quiet the roads and lanes were, perfect for this activity. We cycled to Sandringham and found the little church there, decorated with yellow Spring flowers, making a glorious golden glow. We often visited the Slipper Chapel, that too was always decorated with flowers. I remember a Cafe near there -- a village house with the front room converted into an eating place. The lady of the house apologised because she couldn’t give us a hot luncheon, ‘But would we mind making do with an egg?’ We enjoyed the meal she kindly placed before us, a splendid repast of [inserted] 2 [/inserted] eggs and ham, followed by plums and custard, a rare feast for eyes and stomach!

I found Norfolk people very kind and friendly. The best friend to us on the Station, was ‘Mother Riley’ She and her family, owned the grocers shop in Cawston and kept open house to us all. Making us welcome with wonderful meals, and also inviting Aircrews and their wives to spend their leaves there. I sometimes attended the little Chapel in the Village with ‘Mother Riley’ we all caller her that. [inserted] – [deleted] not because [/deleted] she [deleted] had [/deleted] [inserted] did not have [/inserted] the slightest likeness to the thin popular variety character Mother Riley but because she was a Mother to us all who were fortunate enough to know her. [/inserted] On Sunday evenings we used to have a sing-song round her piano, especially good when Welsh [deleted] singers [/deleted] [inserted] RAF boys from the station joined us [/inserted] joined us.

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4

There were dances in Cawston, but they were rather overcrowded for dancing. The Americans held one dance on the Station, I was invited to go, with a very nice boy called Robin, I didn’t really know him, but enjoyed his company and the dance. I would have enjoyed it more with my friend Ford had he asked me first, but he, disappointed that his invitation came too late -- boycotted it. We, on the Station, never shared in the good food the Americans enjoyed and even on this festive occasion, we did not get [deleted] even [/deleted] a taste of their icecream, [sic] We were invited, however, to an American celebration dance in Norwich. We had transport there and on arrival, were each given a rose -- made one feel very feminine. No one danced, because, surprise, surprise, the band was Glen Millers. He was conducting of course, making the evening wonderful and unforgettable.

One night a play was performed by an all American cast -- very glamorous the Actresses were. We had entertainments with audience participation, such as Any Questions, Quizes [sic] and Musical evenings and films. ‘Mutiny on the Bounty’ and ‘[deleted] A [/deleted] Chip off the old Block’ and there was always fish and chips in Cawston and a shandy at the ’Rat Catcher’!

While on the subject of leisure and entertainment, I must record, that I cycled to Nelson’s birthplace and was impressed by the sight of the cobweb remains of his victory flags in the church there. I’ll always remember too, the sight of the white ghostly fens, stretching out as far as the eyes could see, into the misty coast line, Cromer was out of bounds, but I got a special pass to go there and found it very shabby and sadly in need of paint. Barbed wire was everywhere covering the beaches, where hundreds of troops, young and not so young, [inserted] X Many seemed quite middleage. They had obviously seen military action before were training in readiness for the D Day landings. I felt heartsick for them. Visiting the Broads, I enjoyed a short sail, a change from cycling! Norfolk seems flat until you cycle there, then you soon find out it isn’t. [inserted] with an American who had kindly invited me to share his rowing boat! He [deleted] was ]/deleted] was so busy rowing his [deleted] kept his han [/deleted] hands were well occupied! [/inserted]

When any of the American airmen were carpeted for an offence, the whole American camp was confined to Barracks. This caused quite a few difficulties as regarding arranging to meet our friends. Also, as the camp was so big and scattered, communications were almost non-existent. The American [inserted] RAF [/inserted] and Raf camps being out of bounds. We Waafs were well disciplined to obey rules and regulations, with the result, we often had to wait for our American friends to turn up for a date, sometimes, from no fault of their own, they didn’t.!

One episode I experienced wasn’t very pleasant’ One afternoon. I was taking in the basket of my bicycle, sheets of music for a concert rehearsal. About twenty drunken Americans grabbed me and my bike, then proceeded to scatter the sheets of music over the footpath and the field. I eventually managed to grab my my [sic] bike and get away, but for weeks afterwards, sheets of music were floating around the camp to remind me of a very upsetting episode. I didn’t report this, understanding that war, brings out the best and worst in all caught up in the tragedy of it, also sadly, I had learnt that not many Waaf officers were interested in our welfare and we had to look after ourselves.

One of my friends in the Met: office was being demobbed to train as a Doctor. Walking with her on her last night in camp, a jeep stopped by us and [inserted] [underlined] very [/underlined] [deleted] Young? Handsome [/deleted] [inserted] the occupants of, it, two American Officers, invited us to ‘jump in’ Margaret did so with alactrity -- to chaperone her = of course -- 'I followed and we were taken to their wooden chalet. All very cosy, with all mod cons, a great difference to our hut.! [inserted] & that of our Aircrew – which had been reported to me – never having ventured or [deleted] the opp [/deleted] been invited to their billets I hasten to add. [/inserted] We were offered sweetmeets [sic] and fruit, served on the point of daggers (they had quite a collection!) We were shown the list of their bombing runs, many of the items listed were classed as ‘Milk runs’, This was explained to us to mean, they had not been able to find their target, so had returned without bombing. Where they had got rid of their lethal cargo, we thought it wiser not to ask. After pleasant conversation, we were taken back in their jeep to the place where we had been

[inserted] Margaret took off her tunic & relaxed on one of their bed plumping up the cushions & reclined there much as attractive film stars preparing for a love scene – My heart sank – we were young on forbidden terrotery [sic] young with handsome American officers what was she up to? I talked about anything & [inserted] everything [/inserted] nothing – so conversation became paramount [deleted] we [/deleted] we were shown the list of I assure my reader nothing more [/inserted]

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5

‘picked up’ I wasn’t too pleased and questioned [inserted] spoil sport that I was – questioned Margaret [/inserted] Margaret about the escapade’ She informed me, she had wanted an adventure before leaving the Waaf and knew that I would have been able to handle any situation. --- had we have been found out, she would have been away the next day, leaving me to face the music, however it had been an adventure!. [inserted] – [underlined] interesting [/underlined] adventure [/inserted]

While at Oulton, I passed my test for L.A.C.W., this meant my pay went up to three shillings and fourpence a day!. I was recommended by the Signals officer, Flt Lt Collings for Corporal tapes, sadly, instead, because I had spoken up for the girls in Flying Control, at their request, to air their complaints to him, about the Waaf corporal there, I was posted to Swannington.

[inserted] A Stirling A/c that had landed the night before – with casualties bespattered with Blood – I agreed I had refused at first But when this corporal had placed on the shelf over her bed space a piece taken from & speaking up – or out of turn for the girls I never did get promoted [/inserted]

[inserted] The Corporal had asked to see the plane that had crashed the night before she had put the piece from the rear gunners perspect [sic] on show on her shelf above her bed space for us all to see. [/inserted]

The girls were upset for me, but not one of them dare approach him on my behalf. W.A.A.F/Officer Lawson, sent for me and assured me there would be no record of complaint against me because of this incident and she was very sorry I was being posted. I was upset, but being naive I just accepted the situation, however, on reading my records when demobbed, I found she had been truthful to me. No mention of the matter, but a recommendation [inserted] from [/inserted] by Flt Lt Collings that I should receive my Corporal tapes --- alas because of the posting, I never did get promoted.

Oulton, was my first and last experience of being on a large R,A,F [sic] Station. Swannington was much smaller and I became happy there, so the move proved quite good for me. Swannington was the last airfield to be opened during the war in April 1944 for No 100 Group Bomber Command. Two Squadrons of XIX Fighter Command Mosquitos were stationed there, to give fighter support to the Bombers and for other special duties.

Oulton, being only a few miles away, I was able to cycle back there, to see my friends and also still enjoy the kindly hospitality of ‘Mother Riley’. My cycle rides there, in the early evenings after duty, were always slower than the ride back.! The lanes were dark and the trees many and high, overhanging the hedges in the narrow lanes. They seemed to be like weird witches, their branches clutching out to catch you as you cycled past. It worried me too, that I should take the wrong turning, as without signposts, all byways looked alike. Mother Riley’s schoolboy son, leaning out from his bedroom window, used to call out my name as I cycled past in the darkness, a nice friendly gesture! Oh the relief I felt on hearing our planes, or seeing the welcoming airfield lights! but this lonely ride never stopped me, from returning to see my friends at Oulton once a week.

The Americans left Oulton in August and I cycled up for the [deleted] first and [/deleted] last time, to the American billets to say goodbye to Ford. I was given his beloved gramophone records of Tchaikovsky’s Concerto No 1 in B Flat Minor, N.B.O/orchestra, conducted by Toscanini; to keep safe for him. I balanced them on my bicycle handlebars and was bid a fond farewell, from him and all his friends gathered there to bid me goodbye. I got the records safely back to Swannington and still keep them for him, although sadly, he is no longer on this earth. [inserted] [deleted] To enjoy them [/deleted] [/inserted]

I received a tribute from him when he returned to America. Writing in a New Orleans newspaper of his impressions of England -- I quote -- 'Cathy possessed infinite charm, not only attractive physically, she was also very intelligent. She accepted without insult, my constructive criticism of England, lent a sympathetic ear to my dreams and ambitions, without expecting anything in return. My knowledge of English girls is perhaps limited, but if they are half as nice as Cathy, I nominate them as the world’s best.’

With this kindly tribute, I felt I had made a good effort for race relations!

Although stations at Swannington for a year and a half longer, until the end of 1945, I never again returned to Oulton --- But I’ll never forget the good friends I made there.

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D-DAY APPROACHING

I was stationed at R.A.F. Swannington in flying control. For a few months before D-Day our mail had been censored and the coastal areas out of bounds to us

At the beginning of June 1944 however I was given permission to travel to Cromer to try to contact a relation stationed there with the paratroopers. I didn’t find him but I found Cromer looking battle scarred. So shabby and in need of paint to brighten the exteriors of the depressing neglected buildings. The war years had certainly left their mark

Heading for the beech [sic] to cheer myself up I found my way practically barred with huge rolls of barbed wire. Beyond, resting on the sand, were what seemed to be a whole Army of men – their Khaki uniforms blending with their surroundings. One large group invited me to join them. What a cheery group they were! Older and wiser having already had their baptism of war on foreign beaches. We laughed, joked and yarned our way through that sunny June afternoon – they told good jokes

On leaving them a sad faced sergeant approached me to ask what all the laughter had been about. I replied – ‘he looked in need of some’!. I don’t think he thought I was a spy! The next day the beach was deserted – left to the sea and the gulls. The army had left for a deadlier shore

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SWANNINGTON
RADIO ROUNDELAY
Mosquito’s at Swannington impatient to land

‘Round and Round I go
Heigho! Heigho!

‘Never get shut eye at this rate’

‘Listen old man I’ve got a date
With SNAKEHIPS and she’ll not wait’

‘Not with SNAKEHIPS again old boy
She’s bad luck you are tempting fate’

‘My good lord what a bore
Going round and round
The landing ground’

‘At Angels 9, 10 and 11
Going right up to blinking heaven’

All this natter comes to me
Over Swannington R/T
As Mosquito crews ‘muse’
Their patience just a little frayed
When waiting to ‘pancake’ after a raid.

Mosquito crews rather thought of themselves as fighter aces as in a way they were. Although carrying two bombs they also protected the bombers when escorting them on raids. As a result the crews were individuals and inclined to be flamboyant and sure of them selves. They were difficult to discipline when being stacked for landing unlike the bomber crews whose lives were dependent on silence and strict R/T procedures. Stacking the Mosquito’s was a difficult task for the R/T Operator when trying to get landing procedures to them through their continual ‘nattering’ Tragedy [deleted] once [/deleted] struck at Swannington on 22nd December 1944 when one pilot called R/T indicating that he had a serious problem with the ailerons on his Mosquito. He asked for permission to approach the airfield from the opposite direction to that taken by [inserted] the [/inserted] other aircraft. I passed this request to the Officer on duty in the Control Tower who gave permission for the Mosquito to approach as requested. I radioed the plane a number of times to say that permission had been given but because of the constant ‘nattering’ from other crews I could not hear any response. Therefore no one knew if the crew had heard the messages that may have saved their lives. The Mosquito approached the airfield from the usual direction and sadly dived into the ground in front of the Control Tower. I had to watch as both pilot and navigator burned to death – whilst trying to concentrate on bringing 27 other planes in the circuit safely to ground. The other crews were silenced on witnessing the incident – sadly too late! There was

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an enquiry into the incident and the notes taken by my R/T companion clearly stated that I had done everything I could to assist the crew with their emergency. The names of Mosquito’s crew were F/L W Taylor and F/O J. N Edwards. F/O Edwards is buried at Haveringland (St Peters Church) – not far from the airfield.

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When stationed at RAF Swannington in common with other station personnel I visited the home of Mrs Riley – a grocery shop in a nearby village. Mrs Riley had moved to the area from the Midlands for the health of her 10 and 11 yr old sons

Mrs Riley became affectionately addressed as Mother Riley – not because she was like the music hall character of that name but because she became a mother to those of us in the forces. We were fortunate enough to enjoy her kindness and hospitality. She always welcomed us with a cheery smile and a wonderful meal of rationed goodies

WAAFS on the station who were married to aircrew posted to other bases were able to spend precious time together because Mother Riley let them stay at her home

On Sunday evenings we attended the small village chapel with Mother Riley. She got some of the boys to sing solos. I was always asked to recite making her cry sometimes – with pleasure I hope! We would go home with her and sing old time songs – especially good if RAF Welsh boys joined in as they often did

Whatever wartime tragedies the coming week might bring Mother Riley was always there to give comfort and cheer. A wonderful friend to all

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CHURCH FENTON

Six girls manned the circular Fixer Post/Tower situated at the top of a Yorkshire hill near the village of Saxton. The WAFFS [sic] were on duty 24 hours a day. There were three Fixer Posts situated several miles from the Fighter Station at Church Fenton. We took bearings on aircraft coming into the sector and transmitted these to the Ops room at Church Fenton. They then used the information to direct fighter pilots to the position of the intruders. To hear a triumphant “TALLY HO” always gave me a thrill. Two WAFFS [sic] at a time operated the receiver set – both wearing ear phones. One WAAF operated a horizontal wheel measuring 360 degrees and giving the direction from the Tower to the aircraft. When we detected a sound in the sky that went down we called it ‘catching the dead space’ and we knew we had located an intruder. The bearings were then passed on to the Ops room. Three points of intersection would give the position of the aircraft on the plotting table. If our pilot became lost or could not immediately locate the intruder he would be asked to transmit for a fix. By using the three intersections the Ops room would provide the pilot with a vector to steer within a minute. He was then asked to transmit for a fix at minute intervals.

If there was no flying when we were on night duty we had to sleep on the Fixer station floor. My mother made me a sleeping bag which was much appreciated. Following the harvest rats used to seek shelter underneath the station and being hungry they satisfied their needs by knowing [sic] on the wooden floor. We used tin dinner plats to cover the holes they made.

One night I was rudely awakened from slumber to feel something run up the side of my sleeping bag. I jumped up and reached for the sweeping brush that was always kept behind the Receiver Desk. Standing on the desk I put on the light. There was nothing to be seen. My companion – like me rudely awakened – was not pleased and said I’d been dreaming. When rolling up my sleeping bag the next morning I discovered a large hole where my feet had been. Rats had been hungry!

The following day I wrote a poem to the Signal Section Church Fenton about the experience. As a result the rats were removed quickly and efficiently.

The two chores I didn’t enjoy were cleaning the windows of the Fixer Post – as I was all window! – and getting rid of he [sic] contents of the toilet. These tasks were often neglected by the other groups of WAAFS and it seemed to be our lot to deal with it. The windows were attacked with old screwed up newspapers and made to shine bright and clear. The Elson was another matter – often there was a squeal coming from the maggots. Between us we would lift the heavy bucket and remove its obnoxious contents down a hole that we had dug for the purpose. All the water we used had to be carried up from the village – it was in short supply. We carried the buckets of water on our bicycle handlebars. It was a steep climb but a lovely quick descent!! By the side of this hillside was a wild rose hedge. Kit assured me that in summer the hedge had

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red and white roses on it – white for the Yorkshire soldiers and red of the Lancastrians who had fought on this site. I never saw evidence of this but when the wind howled round the Tower on dark winter nights we felt that the ground we were on was rather spooky. Several of the leaders of the battle are buried with their horses in the local churchyard and according to Kit after the Battle of the Roses the beck at the bottom of the hill ran red with Lancastrian blood – not Yorkshire’s of course!

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It was amazing! How the Farmers – even the ancient ones – knew what time we WAFFS [sic] were on duty at Saxton Tower and if we were absent on leave or standing in for another girl they knew. Woe betide us if we were late on duty

I was billeted in the village of Saxton with a girl from Liverpool called Audrey – she was tall and blond. We were polite to each other and worked together quite well. But we were too opposite to become close friends. We shared a small bedroom at the end of the house – it had single metal beds. Yorkshire farmers were real characters. They had a reputation for staying on the family farm and being looked after by a doting mother. When sadly she died they would marry a young girl from the village to ensure that in their old age they would be cosseted. This was the case with the farmer and his wife where we were billeted. He used to say to me ‘EE Katie this is a wicked Village’ I used to reply ‘Well tell me why’. He never did and we never had time or energy after our hours of duty to find out for ourselves!. His brother lived with them and still wore his army coats from the Great War. He never paid his sister in law any money for his keep. He lived on a harvest of his brother’s pigs-bacon for breakfast; pork for dinner and ham for tea. The ceiling of the kitchen seemed to groan from the weight of the hams hanging there. He never had a bath although the Farmhouse bungalow boasted a lovely modern bathroom. I sat next to him at mealtimes and I used to look at him rather carefully. I was always surprised to see how clean he looked. I presumed that his skin was so tough the dirt just skimmed off it. One day his nephew persuaded him to have a bath. We all waited outside the bathroom to witness his exit. His first words to us were ‘Never Again’ – and he stuck to his word!

He slept with a safe in his bedroom – or so we were told having never ventured there. Until one ‘mischievous night’ we made him an apple pie bed – with brushes and many other things. We listened outside his door but there was no sound of anger or surprise. We could only assume that he was so tough that he never noticed his hard bedfellows! Kit the Farmer was as tough as old boots. He had his own chair and place at the table. We never saw him give affection to his hard working wife. He used to tease her by looking out of the window when other women from the village passed by saying ‘My what a smart or a fine woman Mrs so and so is’ Grace never rose to the bait but kept on scrubbing the kitchen floor tiles

They had a dog called Shep which the farmer said he would shoot if it wouldn’t follow the gun. Of course it wouldn’t. We WAAFS pleaded with him to keep his dog. In retrospect it would have been kinder to shoot it as it lived out its life tied to a short rope in a leaking kennel and lived on scraps. That was not good for any animal – it suffered and eventually died of malnutrition and lack of affection.

I missed the life of the camp and the opportunity to be where the action was. During the winter the bedroom was like ice as is had no heating. I used to say on retiring “Well I’ll now go up to Siberia” but this remark fell on deaf ears. Whilst there was the luxury of stable food and no restrictions about how often I could have a bath – paradise for WAFFS [sic] in comparison with the billet in Norfolk – I missed the action and the friends I’d left behind.

Being free from regulations – I didn’t always wear my identity badge as we were required to do – I hitched a lift on the back of a lorry to York. On arrival I stepped

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straight into the path of a very large and tall WAAF MP. She stopped me in my tracks and asked me for my identity badge which of course I didn’t have – did I?. There was I in uniform except for my hat that would have blown off as I was on the back of a lorry in a high wind

In a matter of days I was called upon to face a charge for not wearing my cap in York. A WAAF Officer – she appeared very young or was I growing old in service? – tore me off a strip and sentenced me to ten days in the cookhouse. I reported there after cycling down to Church Fenton early the next morning. The kitchen was crammed full with out of work Air Crew – hostilities having been wound down. “What are you doing here” asked one handsome young pilot – they were always handsome. I told him that I was reporting for my punishment. “You have to cycle down to Church Fenton for ten days – forget it”. We’ll do the chores for you”. What a knight in shining armour he was. I pedalled back to duty quicker than I’d come having been saved from my sentence!

My drama tutor had written to the Ministry re my Service release – I had not asked her to do so. As a result of a achieving an Honours mark on my associate Certificate I was given a scholarship to a prodigious acting academy in London. I had not asked her to do so. Whilst anxious to take up the scholarship I was reluctant to leave the Services. Had I not had this offer I would definitely have made a career in the WAAFS. However as a result of her plea I was called in front of the most handsome Officer I had ever had the pleasure of meeting. He explained kindly how he couldn’t release me early and was then interrupted by a young WAAF Officer. Fortunately not the one who had sentenced me earlier! She stood in front of his desk and gazed so lovingly in his eyes that I felt like an intruder. Without saluting I quietly withdrew from the room. I hope that she got her man!. I didn’t get my early release.

Oh how we WAAFS worshiped these brave men and boys – mostly from afar of course. On Operation Stations our thoughts and prayers were always with them and they knew this. The atmosphere on these camps was not death and destruction but optimism; love; laughter and comradeship. With a will to do our best in the work that we loved. We were helpful and competent partners in a situation that sought to triumph over the evil of a war that was not of our choosing

Collection

Citation

K Reid, “One WAAF's war,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed May 24, 2024, https://ibccdigitalarchive.lincoln.ac.uk/omeka/collections/document/39804.

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