Interview with Mary Ward. One


Interview with Mary Ward. One


Mary Ward grew up in Bloxham. She joined the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force in 1940 and was posted to RAF Driffield, on general duties in the officers’ mess. She describes a German daylight attack on RAF Driffield on the 15 August 1940 and the extensive damage it caused. Group Captain Leonard Cheshire had recently arrived and assisted her out of a shelter. The station relocated briefly to RAF Pocklington, during which time she was sent on a cookery course at RAF Melksham. She was then posted to RAF Linton-on-Ouse in late 1940. She describes a cook’s shift. While delivering rations she was invited by Squadron Leader Ivor Jones to re-muster as a map clerk special duties. She ordered maps and calculated targets and was sometimes present at debriefings. She describes her living conditions and uniform; the emotional stress of the work; those who were ‘conscientious objectors’ or lacking moral fibre; and Cheshire’s first wife, Constance Binney. In 1942 she met Douglas Harsum and they were engaged. He was killed on 12 June 1942. At the end of 1943, Mary Ward moved to RAF Shawbury, still working on maps, then to RAF Brawdy, where she met her husband Roy Ward. After the war she lived in the Lincoln area while he served at RAF Waddington. They also lived briefly in Aden. In civilian life her husband worked for the Met Office and she describes the various places they lived in England. She also talks about her family and at length about her passion for flower arranging.




Temporal Coverage




01:51:51 audio recording


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CB: My name is Chris Brockbank and today is Monday the 14th of December. We’re talking with Mary Ward about her experiences and we’re in Crowthorne. So, Mary could you start off with your earliest recollections please and then just keep going from there.
MW: Earliest recollections would be in Bloxham and possibly five or six years old. I lived with my mother’s sister, her husband and her brother in a thatched cottage in Bloxham. I went to school at the C of E school in Bloxham until I was eleven and then to Banbury. I left school at fourteen and a half and worked in various jobs to do with lady’s maid for Lady Burnham, Hockley Heath and then decided to become a nursery governess. I went to the nursing home in Sutton Coldfield on recommendation and was at the time was looking after a dyslexic, what they called, a dyslexic child, a two year-old who was unable to speak, as part of my training. I moved out of the nursing home to live with that family to take care of that child and stayed there for a few years, a couple of years possibly and, and then moved on to another similar post with an older child. This was in Sutton Coldfield. On September the 3rd war broke out, 1939. And later on that year we, my friend and I decided that we would join the forces. We wrote to the RAF and were refused on the grounds that they didn’t have any particular job for someone who’d been a nursery maid really and, but we applied again in the early in January that year in 1940 and we were both accepted but unfortunately my friend decided, her parents decided, that it wasn’t for her so I went on my own to, I can’t tell you the date I just don’t remember the date but it was, it would be March 1940. I went for training at Uxbridge, three weeks training. I’ve very little recollection of that but then I was posted. My first posting was to Driffield in North Yorkshire which we didn’t have a complete uniform, there wasn’t enough to go around so we, we had to wait to be, to have a complete uniform but we did have the stockings and the shoes but we didn’t have battle dress until much later. We were, the RAF at that time had moved the civilians from their quarters and we occupied the civilian quarters RAF housing on the periphery of the air force really and we shared a house with oh perhaps four or five of us in a house. I was then general duties and was given a job in the RAF officers’ mess looking after the officers’ needs. Really, the post and anything else that they needed to know to get to, to get from one officer to another or to the group captain or whatever. It was quiet, fairly quiet. Five miles from Bridlington and very little activity until the 15th of August when we had a daylight raid. Fifteen aircraft came over at half past one in the afternoon. I was, I was just at the time helping with the lunch and helping, doing, manning the phone of course and flying control wanted to speak to the group captain immediately. I had seen the group captain not a couple of minutes before but I couldn’t see him just at that moment and I was running about trying to find him. At that particular time in the RAF you didn’t, flying control didn’t sound the siren unless the group captain had given permission and we, they desperately needed to sound the siren. These aircraft were approaching from Bridlington, five minutes flying time away possibly. To sound the siren. I ran around trying but in the end, without his permission, they did sound the siren. By that time it was too late for the officers’ mess. We were completely bombarded. Absolutely flattened. I was pushed in to the shelter by a couple of officers. Finally, we came out and I was helped out by the young Group Captain Cheshire, Pilot Officer Cheshire who had just arrived at the station a couple of days before me. And we were all very shaken. It was, it the dust and the mess that was so difficult to take in. I don’t know how much of this you want but I feel -
CB: Keep going.
MW: That it’s, it’s possibly important that you know that. Leonard Cheshire said to me, ‘Where are you going?’ I said, ‘I’m going, I’m on duty to go to the sick quarters.’ We had a roster for duties, sick quarters and he said, ‘Oh.’ I said, ‘Do you think they’ll need me up there? And he said, he looked at me and said, ‘No. I don’t think they’ll need you really. I think they’ll manage without you.’ So, we did, we split up and went, I went back to the billet and my friend who was an accountant, I said, ‘I don’t like living on the periphery here now,’ I said, ‘It’s too far out. I’ll come in to your, into the quarters with you.’ So I moved in that night. But we tended to recover quite quickly because we all went to see Bob Hope in “Riding Down to Rio” or something during the evening but the station was a complete washout. The ammunition had been all gone. The aircraft hangars had been hit, Cheshire’s aircraft had been, was not, we couldn’t, we couldn’t fly from there so the following day we moved to Pocklington. This was 102 and 78 squadron I think and 58. We moved to Pocklington and did a little flying from there but the one thing I haven’t said about, about Driffield is most of the flying at that time we were dropping leaflets in France and Germany. There were hardly any bombing being used at all. We didn’t have any did we? But during my little while at Pocklington I was asked to consider re-mustering and they were very, very short of cooks. Would I take on a cook’s course? So, reluctantly I did. I went to Melksham and that would be in the September straight into the Battle of Britain and I can’t tell you, I have to say this but I was there for four weeks, five weeks. I passed the course but I have no recollection whatsoever. Absolutely nothing. I can’t tell anyone because I don’t know anything. It was the sheer volume of aircraft, the noise night and day in the shelter in the Battle of Britain. We couldn’t, we couldn’t cope. How I passed the course I don’t know but we did. And then I was posted back to Linton on Ouse. At Linton -
Other: Mary, sorry but the nurses have come.
CB: We’re just pausing for a bit because the health visitor has come.
CB: We’re just talking about early stages of living in Bloxham and the lack of facilities as we know them today. So what was the house like and what were the facilities?
MW: The house was a fourteenth century thatched cottage with a stream running at the bottom with a loo situation, situated down at the bottom of the garden with two seats. The water we got from the spring in order to flush it, try and flush it down. From the, actually from the river. From the stream. Yes, we had, we had a spring in the garden from which we obtained our drinking water, always had the drinking water. You had to be, you had to go and fetch it from the, from the spring and bring it up. We had no gas, no electricity until just before the war and we had oil lamps and candles for lighting in Bloxham. Gas has never been, never come to Bloxham at all. We were too far out for that but, and, but we did keep our own hens and during the war we actually had pigs, a couple of pigs for food. The garden, we were always almost self-contained because we had so much vegetables which we, which we preserved during, during the summer for the, to carry us through the winter. Beans, potatoes, carrots, everything that could be preserved we did and we kept. So, it was really there, wasn’t, when the war came we didn’t have a great deal of difficulty in, in, in maintaining our own food. I have to say when I went on leave during, during the war we, we didn’t really go I had everything I needed really. Really good bacon, eggs and fried bread and things for breakfast which was good after the RAF food [laughs]. How much else do you want me to say?
CB: Well that was just to get an understanding of what it was like. Yes.
MW: Of what it was like.
CB: Yes.
MW: Yes.
CB: Right. So we’re now talking, we’ve talked about your training as a cook.
MW: Oh yes.
CB: At Melksham.
MW: Yes.
CB: And so you returned to Pocklington.
MW: No. I returned to Linton on Ouse.
CB: Oh Linton on Ouse.
MW: Yes.
CB: Okay.
MW: Into the sergeants’ mess.
CB: Right.
MW: Yes. In the sergeants’ mess. That would be possibly about well, August 15th. End of August, September. I was still in the sergeants’ mess for my birthday in November. So that was, but cooking in the RAF was, it, you might be interested to know that it is, it’s quite different from cooking at home or possibly in a hotel. You did, the shifts were from six until two. Eight hour shifts. And when you arrived you were, you were allocated one or the other dishes in which you were in charge of. At that time we had a civilian chef. The RAF provided, were, had quite a few civilians. I worked with two. The chef in the sergeants’ mess and later on, much later on in the map office at Shawbury, they were both civilians. The chef would say, ‘You’re allocated to do the eggs.’ If it was the morning shift do the eggs and that’s all you did. That was you were in charge of the eggs. And in order to get enough eggs for hundreds of people, of RAF, fried they would have large, very large containers and you just drop the eggs in. At least two dozen at a time in to these very large containers and you looked after those, looked after the eggs. Sometimes you were asked to make sandwiches but on the whole that was all you did. That was your job for that, for the shift, doing that. And the afternoon shift from two you were doing a meal for the evening or for tea. You would often get put on puddings. I didn’t like doing the, doing the meats so I asked used to ask the chef if I could do the puddings. So, I learnt to make pastry there and I’m quite good at pastry even now [laughs]. Yes, it was quite different. And this is the most important part of my RAF story what I’m going to tell you now so if you, if you don’t hear what I say do ask me again because this is very important but I’d been in the R --, in the sergeants’ mess a couple of months and I was used to being, being, putting up the rations for the flying aircrew. The officers’ mess and the sergeants’ mess provided rations for the flying, for flying that evening alternatively and on one occasion the chef said, ‘Will you take the, the rations for flying tonight over to the intelligence office.’ I said, ‘Yes I will go over with the, to the,’ so, I went in the afternoon to the intelligence office with the rations for that night’s flying and I went into the intelligence office and I was introduced to the squadron leader and he said, ‘Where have you come from?’ And I said, ‘From the sergeants’ mess. I’ve brought your rations for flying this evening, for the crew this evening.’ ‘Ah,’ he said, ‘Well, what do you do in the sergeants’ mess?’ I said, ‘I cook’ or, ‘try to cook and, and do make sandwiches and do things like that.’ And he looked at me and he said, ‘Now, you don’t wish to do that all your RAF time do you?’ He said, ‘Will you come and work for me?’ I said, ‘I can’t do that. I’d have to re-muster.’ ‘Oh no,’ he said, ‘What do you know about maps?’ I said, ‘Very little.’ He said, ‘Well you’ve been to school haven’t you?’ ‘Yes. Yes.’ He said, ‘Where is the mouth of the Danube?’ So, I thought and I said, ‘Well is it in the Black Sea?’ He said, ‘That’ll do.’ And he said, ‘Go and tell your WAAF officer I want you to report here tomorrow morning at 9 o’clock.’ I protested. He said, ‘No,’ he said, ‘Please. You, I want you here tomorrow morning at 9 o’clock.’ Now, you know about the establishment. You know what you have to do to re-muster. My chef made a fuss because I was being, being, being told by Ivor Jones to go to the intelligence office. He said, ‘He can’t take my staff.’ I said, ‘Well that’s what I have to do.’ The WAAF officer made a fuss because I hadn’t re-mustered but Ivor Jones was an ex-army colonel, lieutenant colonel in the Indian army retired and he was head of intelligence at Linton and his word just went really. And so I went to Gloucester on a two, a course for two days. I came back with two stripes and that was it. He said to me at the time the establishment in the intelligence office is for one map corporal. You won’t be able to get any further unless I recommend you for a commission which he did and which I refused but that is a later stage but that, and I knew from then that I would never be able to get anything further than a corporal. That didn’t worry me. And so we settled down and it’s maps. Geography was really I would say my, my best subject at school and I did get along with maps but they were hard, hard to deal with because they were all rolled up. The maps and the charts. The target maps were quite small and we didn’t have very many because we hadn’t, we hadn’t produced them like they had in Germany. I mean they were prepared and we weren’t.
CB: Ahum.
MW: Erm my duties were really, at that time, nine in the morning until five or six in the evening except for when they were flying. The flying, I had to be available for briefing in case they hadn’t, they needed extra maps and certainly for interrogation which was in the middle of the night of course. On returning. Shall I go on about that?
CB: Please go. Yes.
MW: Yes. Well it was a very emotional job. Very emotional. It meant writing up names on the blackboard and having to rub them out the next day because they hadn’t returned. This went on night after night except when it was really bad weather. The boys, the young boys came to the office for maps or for a chat. Many of them didn’t wish to go to Berlin or didn’t wish to go anywhere. Then I would make them a cup of tea, give them a cigarette and say, ‘I’ll be here when you come back’ knowing perfectly well possibly that they weren’t coming back. But on other occasions when they weren’t flying we had very happy times in York. In Betty’s Bar in York. They, they, but I have to say it was a very emotional time for me. Everybody smoked. The air was full of smoke always and –
The other thing that we had to contend with was the bombing of the airfield. Bombing of the airfield kept continually in 1940, the end of ’42 and ‘43. Cheshire came back one night and said, ‘It’s worse here than it was in, than we’ve done, we’ve seen in Germany,’ because we’d had such bad raids. At that stage the RAF moved the WAAF off the station at night. We moved, I moved to a house at Newton on Ouse. A country house. And I had to cycle up in the middle of the night for interrogation and the other place that was requisitioned was the Beningbrough Hall, 35 Squadron took Beningbrough Hall and -
CB: Keep going.
MW: That was quite nice because we had little parties down there with the squadron and we, there’s a small village across the Ouse called Nun Monkton and we had to go across in a sort of canoe thing, a very small boat. Get someone to row you across and we had a really nice meal of egg and chips over in that, if you could find someone to pay for it for you [laughs]. Um -
CB: Just on that topic then. How much did you get paid?
MW: Um.
CB: Roughly.
MW: Not a lot.
CB: No.
MW: I’ve got a book that tells me that but I don’t remember it very well um but a corporal, I was a special duties, a map clerk special duties you see. I probably missed that and so I did get a little bit more than, than if um -
CB: Ok. So could you tell us what the role of the map clerk special duties was?
MW: The role?
CB: Ahum.
MW: Well just to look after the maps really and to help out in the intelligence office if I was needed. We did, we did have special duty men but I was the only WAAF involved in the intelligence at that time. We did have map WAAF officers and I’ll come to that at a later stage. I was, Ivor Jones recommended me for commission which I refused on the grounds that I preferred to stay where I was and I didn’t really want to be an administrative. I don’t know, I don’t, I can’t cope with admin at all really but he thought I would be able and on two occasions he did recommend me for commission but I refused on both occasions as I wanted to be able to stay there. Would you like to know a bit about what we did when we were off duty?
CB: Absolutely.
MW: The, the, we had an inspection, a kit inspection, once a month at which everything had to be laid out. I don’t know if you know about the beds but the beds we called biscuits. We had three erm like squares. I think they contained straw or something like that or that kind of thing and there was an iron frame of the bed and there were three biscuits that you, and then your sheets and your blankets and every morning before you left the hut, in my case with being shift working I didn’t, I could get away with it but every morning you had to stack those biscuits into three. Fold your blankets, fold your sheets and everything and put on that every morning. The WAAF officer went around and if they found you hadn’t done that you were in for trouble and um well we had kit inspection once a month but a lot of the time we lost something or forgotten it so while the WAAF officer was down this end we would, somebody would go around and replace it some, what was missing but those evenings turned out to be quite good really because we sat around the fire. We had these, these slow burning stoves, black stoves, this was in the Nissen hut. This, because this was later, after, you know when I was still in the, well I was at Linton for three and a half years you see but most of that time I was in a modern, in RAF quarters or in wooden huts which were a little bit better than the, than the Nissen huts but at a later stage I was in Nissen huts and they were, were not easy to, to heat you know. There was no heat.
CB: Ahum.
MW: We had to go down the road almost to go to the loo or to get a bath. We were allowed four inches of bath. There was a line all the way around the bath, four inches of water and you could, if you were lucky to get a bath. It wasn’t always easy because there wasn’t enough water to go around. But on the whole life was, it, it, I have to say it was very happy. The RAF did take on you as a person, a young person who had left their parents and they did look after you. You certainly got cautioned if you did things wrong and you certainly got, you were confined to barracks if you didn’t, if you did anything really bad. But on the whole you could get away with being a few minutes late on your pass at the guard house, in the guard room. Christmas was good. We always looked forward to Christmas because the officers’ mess always turned out and they waited on us always with the, with the food. They tried to do as much as one could with the lack of resources in those days but you usually had a fairly reasonable Christmas dinner and as I say it was good fun with the officers waiting on us. Dances. We had sergeants’ mess dances, officers’ mess dances which unless you were non-commissioned officers you weren’t allowed to go to those unless you were invited specially. And always the pictures. Always had the pictures. We were issued at Uxbridge with a mug and a knife and a fork and a spoon which we all christened our irons. You’re smiling. You know about irons don’t you?
CB: Absolutely.
MW: And if you got to the mess without your irons well you had to go back for them because they didn’t supply them. On thinking about this and I thought well it’s really quite hygienic because you’ve got, you were responsible for cleaning and looking after your irons, your mug and your irons but you weren’t expected to lose those.
CB: What was the mug made from?
MW: Hmmn?
CB: What was the mug made of?
MW: Oh is it -
CB: Was it metal?
MW: Enamel.
CB: It was enamel.
MW: Enamel. Yes.
CB: Yes.
MW: Yes, yes. White enamel.
CB: Ahum.
MW: And they did provide pyjamas, shoes. Shoes were dreadful, absolutely ruined my feet because they were so hard and everybody complained. Stockings, knickers, vests, everything. We had everything provided that you needed and in a way now one thing I hate getting dressed in the morning now because you don’t know what to put on. In the RAF you always knew what to put on because it was always that’s what you wore, you see. The washing was difficult cause we couldn’t, but we did manage to find women in the village who would do a bit of washing for us but we always took our collars to the Chinese. The Chinese had various laundries in, in York and we took, because they came back nice and stiff you see.
CB: Ahum.
MW: But what people don’t realise, I think how difficult it was then because we had two studs. One for the back. The collar was separate from the shirt you see and you had to put this collar stud in the back of your shirt and pull it around and then there’s another stud there at the front to put your, to do it up and then get your tie on after that. It wasn’t easy [laughs] but we, you get, you did get used to it. I think we enjoyed it mainly because we were young. We couldn’t, we couldn’t have done it over thirty.
CB: Ahum.
MW: No. But none of us were over thirty anyway so that didn’t really - Now, where do I go from there?
CB: Ok, so we touched briefly on the social side.
MW: Yes.
CB: So on the station -
MW: Yes, well I think-
CB: There was a cinema on the station was there?
MW: Things like when Gee came in. Yes -
CB: The navigation aid -
MW: At Linton we were the first to have Gee and I had special maps which were an absolute nightmare to look up because it was so secret at the time. We had to look after that. We were the first Halifaxes at Linton to have cameras available.
CB: This is the bombing camera.
MW: Yes. Bombing cameras. Not that easy to begin with and I did do a bit of, of the research on the photographs that came back. I have to tell you that there were very, very many that never went anywhere near the target.
CB: Absolutely, but one of the reasons for having the camera was to identify -
MW: Absolutely. Yes.
CB: That the target had actually been hit.
MW: Yes but then of course it all got better. It really did and then by ‘43 things really did hot up.
CB: Right.
MW: And we began to get control of things then. The, we had the thousand bomber raid from Linton. Every available aircraft they could pull out of anywhere went that night. Yes. Leonard Cheshire was there all the time. Most of the time actually. He, he was always good fun.
CB: Which squadron was he?
MW: Always danced with the wall flowers [laughs]. And he, yeah and very unassuming and a really charming person. I’ll tell you about when they went to, Cheshire and another went, they won, they tossed up. They wanted some pilots to go up to Canada to bring back Liberators for us to use. Cheshire won the toss up with another pilot. They went off. Quite not quite what they expected it was quite a poor boat that they went out on but they, they managed to go and get there. When they got there to Canada they hadn’t, they hadn’t the Liberators ready because they had to do, have a little bit of training so they were given some leave and he went off, they went off to New York for some leave and Cheshire met an ex-film star and they were having a really good time and this was a lady called Constance Binney and she was twenty years older than Leonard but on the spur of the moment in the few days that they were there they got married. Everybody was really, really sad when, but it obviously wasn’t going to work. It did work for a while and he, he rented, they rented a cottage in Marston Moor and then I think they had a railway carriage in Marston Moor and this was really funny because she was very glamourous and she was a lovely pianist in the mess. She used to play the piano beautifully. And very sociable of course. She, she didn’t get on too well in the, in the cottage and I had a friend who was in charge of the telephones. Telephone is downstairs from my office upstairs and we, as telephonists, could, we could always plug into a conversation. You had to pull the plug back and leave it open and you could hear what the conversation was. Now, we did. When Constance was on the phone we often used listen in to what Cheshire and Constance was, one day she was in a real state because she’d, Cheshire had shot a pheasant because he had somebody coming for supper and she said, she said she had put this thing in the oven and it was making a terrible smell. She couldn’t understand why it was making a terrible smell. Do you know? She left the innards in. But no we were very naughty. Not all the time but occasionally my friend, she would pull the plug back and listen in to the conversation. So we just um -
CB: In your office, was in the control tower was it? Or where?
MW: Yes. In, in -
CB: On the first floor?
MW: Yes, downstairs to begin with. I was in, I was always in headquarters and I was next door to the group captain to begin with. That was a small office. And then one day they moved me upstairs. The intelligence, I could take you blindfold in there now. The intelligence office was on the right-hand side, upstairs adjutant here and briefing room there. All right across the front of the building and my office was the middle one and the intelligence office was on the right-hand side so we were all together really and that made it easy for us to, for me to work when they came back.
CB: Ahum.
MW: Because they were interrogated in the briefing room and then came in to me to, I had to issue aids to escape and things like that. And get all those things back from them.
CB: So were you briefing aircrew before they left as well as debriefing them -
MW: Were they?
CB: Were you briefing aircrew before they left as well as debriefing them?
MW: No.
CB: When they returned. Or just the debrief?
MW: We, they were, the briefing was always on its own you know and then but they all went out together you know in varying, in two or three-minute intervals so that what were coming back did come back. They were, we were, they were debriefed in, in or interrogated in the briefing room. Yes.
CB: And did you sit in on all the debriefing?
MW: No I was making tea but I did do. Yes I did go in if Ivor Jones asked me go in and -
CB: Okay.
MW: And sort out anything like that.
CB: Yes.
MW: But I wasn’t always in on the interrogation.
CB: Right. So -
MW: I know I was in on the briefing because the boys used to all come up together. I went up with the maps, with the target maps one day, one evening, and I got in there, they were in there and there was a man in civilian clothing in there and I said, ‘What are you doing here?’ No civilians. It was very, very secret and hush hush and I said, ‘What are you?’ He said, ‘I’m the met officer.’ ’Cause they were still in civilian clothes in those days you see until quite late on in the war. They -
CB: Oh right.
MW: They weren’t given status to wear uniform but seeing a civilian in the briefing room when we were just about to do, to do a briefing that, and that really threw me a bit.
CB: Ok -
MW: I’ll tell you about Douglas.
CB: Douglas Bader.
MW: Douglas. June the 12th 1942. We’d been seeing each other for about two months and we had been out to York to the pictures the night before. He took-off the following day to an advance base to reconnaissance on the Bay of Biscay looking for minesweepers of course and we’d been out the night before and we’d got engaged. I didn’t have a ring then but, and I said I wouldn’t, we wouldn’t even think about marrying until the war was over. That wasn’t. Plenty of girls did but it wasn’t, it wasn’t really the right thing because they, we lost so many. Well you can say how many -
CB: Yes.
MW: We lost, it really wasn’t the right thing because he often left you with a baby or you know, as a young, a very young widow but we, we, we agreed on this and of course the following day, following evening I was on duty waiting for them to come back and he didn’t and there was that period between, which was the worse really, between when they should have been back and the waiting for them to come back. The wait. A couple of hours and they didn’t come back.
CB: Ahum.
MW: So what I did or what most of us did if we’d been on night duty we, you were just too tensed up to sleep. It was no good. You were supposed to go to sleep but you couldn’t do that. It was, we were just so tensed up with everything that we used to go into York and I quite liked riding at the time so used to go out and have a ride or get, try and get a meal or something just to try and get relaxed because I would be on duty again the next night you see possibly and -
CB: Where was he stationed?
MW: Pardon?
CB: Where was he stationed?
MW: At Linton.
CB: He was.
MW: Yes. But, at 58 squadron.
CB: Right.
MW: Yes [pause]. That was a Wellington.
CB: And what was he doing mainly?
MW: He was a navigator.
CB: Right.
MW: Observer. Yes.
CB: Right. And what happened?
MW: Well I think possibly they ran, they mistook the cloud base and ran into the cliff.
CB: Oh.
MW: And that is why, no one knew, his mother didn’t know, we didn’t know until, I didn’t know until fairly recently, eight years ago when I asked. This is, this is digressing really –
CB: That’s ok.
MW: But I, until my cousin was here and I said would you like to have a look on your internet and see if you can see this young man’s name and I gave him the number and the rank and everything and he came back to me the next morning and said, ‘That was easy.’ He said, ‘There’s only one of that name in the whole of the records.’ He said, ‘Is it Douglas Harsum and I said, ‘Yes.’ And he told me and he told me where, where, where he was and I said, ‘Well, would you like to come? Shall we go to Bilbao and look,’ and we did and we went to the cemetery. It’s wonderful. I’ve got the pictures and I’ll find them for you for the next time you come.
CB: Ahum.
MW: But it’s a beautiful cemetery and -
CB: Good.
MW: It’s, they’re all in one communal grave.
CB: Right.
MW: Yes. But it’s beautifully kept and it was being looked after by an English lady married to a Spanish, yes, Spanish man, yes. She’d been there a number of years. There’s a Book of Remembrance, there’s a small church, small C of E church and a small Catholic church. The Catholic one was very, very rarely or hardly used at all. The C of E one they always have a service on Remembrance Day and on various other days but I’ve got all the info there. It’s all written down and I did write to the WAAF magazine and they printed it actually.
CB: Excellent.
MW: What I wrote and told them about it, about that but I became, after many months of losing Douglas I kept getting letters from his mother. Would I go and see her. I couldn’t do that at that time. I was, partly I was busy and I, emotionally I wasn’t fit to see anybody but eventually I did go and she lived at Richmond and he was an only son and the last in the line of the Harsum and we became very good friends. In fact, she had lost her husband and you see, I did, I kept in touch for many years after that but it didn’t turn out quite as I expected because she got very fond of me and she wanted me to go and live with her but I was young. I wanted to get married or to have children and, and that’s, that’s what happened and I did get married.
CB: This cemetery, the cemetery, is it, because a lot of aircrew were lost in the Bay of Biscay. Does it-
MW: Yes it was mainly, mainly aircrew.
CB: Yeah.
MW: There are one or two others but as I say I’ve got that written down and I can let you -
CB: I was wondering if it’s a War Graves Commission -
MW: Yes, it is.
CB: Cemetery. It is.
MW: Yes, it is.
CB: Right.
MW: In Maidenhead.
CB: Oh I thought you meant the one in Bilbao.
MW: No. The one I got in touch with.
CB: Yes.
MW: To be able to tell me all the info.
CB: Yes.
MW: How to get there and what, you know, what to expect. And that was in -
CB: Was Maidenhead.
MW: Maidenhead, yes.
CB: Yeah.
MW: They gave me all the, Douglas’s crew which I didn’t really know that well and they were, I got all their names and everything all written down from, from, from the Maidenhead people.
CB: How long had you known him?
MW: Three months.
CB: Ahum
MW: Two months. Not long.
CB: And he -
MW: He would have been twenty one on, he was, he was killed in the June. He would have been twenty one in the August, on the 17th of August that year but that was the average age for, for aircrew.
CB: Yeah. And did you -
MW: And then of course you got these, the conscientious objectors.
CB: Yes. Tell me more about those.
MW: Tell me?
CB: More about them.
MW: Well, I don’t know very much except that they would come into my office. You see it cost quite a lot for the RAF to train a pilot or a navigator and then they would, they would go through that training and then find that, that God was, was stronger than what they could do. They couldn’t do it because of their religion but why? I would say, ‘Well, why, if you’re, why didn’t you realise that before you did the training.’ You see it was absolutely out for a, for a conscientious objector. There was no question about anything. You just went out of the RAF just like that with no, no, no reference, no pension, no nothing. It really was a very nasty, a very bad thing to happen to anybody really but they did, they would er -
CB: Who were these people? Were they any types of the crew or just particular members who had this -
MW: Were they?
CB: Were they all sorts of different crew members or -
MW: Oh yes.
CB: Or were they only pilots?
MW: Yes, no
CB: Or -
MW: They were, no they were all different kinds.
CB: Right.
MW: Different ones yeah. Rear gunners were, were it was very rare that pilots I think that would do it but the rear gunners and I don’t know if there was an occasional navigator that, that were conscientious objectors -
CB: There’s a key question here I think that emerges from the point about conscientious objectors who they called conshies.
MW: Yes.
CB: What about LMF?
MW: Hmmn?
CB: Lack of moral fibre.
MW: Absolutely. You’ve got it.
CB: So how do you differentiate between those and the conscientious objectors?
MW: You don’t.
CB: Right.
MW: No. That, that’s an awful phrase really. Isn’t it? Lack of moral conscience -
CB: Moral fibre yeah.
MW: Fibre, Yeah.
CB: What did they do to them? What did they do with them?
MW: What did they do?
CB: When they were identified as falling into this category?
MW: Well they just got in they just had interviews with senior officers and they were just chucked out of the RAF. No, you couldn’t, they couldn’t re-muster. They couldn’t do anything. But that’s what that, they went, just had to go.
CB: This is at Linton on Ouse.
MW: Yes.
CB: Did they run parades and have these people um identified on parades?
MW: On -?
CB: On parades. Did they call together airmen -
MW: Not that I know of.
CB: Ground crew.
MW: No. I don’t think so.
CB: Right.
MW: No. I think they were just turned out you see if they, I felt so very sorry for them really because if you can’t, it was really lack of moral fibre. They just could not do it, you see. They hadn’t got the nerve, you see.
CB: Was, was - sorry.
MW: You, you, you take somebody like Cheshire who did over a hundred operations, sorties including Nagasaki which happened later but that, and you and he said was he ever frightened, nervous about going on any? But of course he was as he said after doing sixty operations you were still nervous about the thing but you had to do it. You had to go in and do it and what I didn’t quite understand about people like Cheshire was that they had no compunction about whatsoever about bombing the Germans, killing the Germans. He knew he was going to kill people but you know on one occasion at a later stage when he went to France, you know that, and he went, he circled the factory that he was meant to bomb, it was when he was on 617 and he circled the factory there three times in order for the girls to get out because he was low level bombing then in the Mosquito.
CB: Ahum.
MW: And, and they did. They got out. And one of those French girls came back to England, came to Linton to thank him. Didn’t want to know. No, didn’t want to know. But after Nagasaki he was a different person. That was the crunch. He wouldn’t, that really turned that man into something completely different.
CB: Interesting.
MW: Yes.
CB: Yeah.
MW: That you, he said you’ve got to find a better way of making peace in this country without that sort of bombing. You’ve got to find a better peace finally. But have we?
CB: Can we just go back to your debriefings? What was the information you were looking for specifically?
MW: Oh I didn’t do debriefing.
CB: At the end of a raid.
MW: Ivor Jones did all the -
CB: Yes, but you were there listening -
MW: We had three -
CB: Some of the time.
MW: We had three squadron er two flight lieutenants, one pilot officer and Squadron Leader Ivor Jones in the intelligence. That was the establishment and I say you, you understand about establishment don’t you? That, that’s what you were allowed and that’s what you had. And one was the managing director of Brylcreem [laughs]. I can’t remember his name just at the minute but he was. I can’t remember his name at the moment.
CB: But he was one of the intelligence officers?
MW: No, they did all the debriefing. They did. Ivor Jones would say. ‘Did you,’ you know did you, did you, ‘Did you see the target? Did you bomb the target?’ And they would make all the notes. Oh no, I didn’t do any of that. No. No I just looked after them morally I suppose, you know with their cups of tea and -
CB: So the maps you were providing did they have before a raid? What was on the map? Was it a plain map or did it have anything drawn on it?
MW: Oh, no it’s Mercator, projector.
CB: Right.
MW: The 48-4 was the main one that they used for Europe you see.
CB: Ahum
MW: And then they had a small target map if, if they were available and these all came from High Wycombe and then they had an ordinary, not always they took a map but they had a silk map provided in their aids to escape which was double sided. I had one when I came out of the RAF but my cousin persuaded me to give it to him which I did and he had it made into a double-sided picture so he has it hanging on the wall.
CB: Okay.
MW: [Which you can] And they had a compass.
CB: These are the escape equipment.
MW: In, in their shoes yeah.
CB: Yeah.
MW: Or in the, underneath the -
CB: In the heel.
MW: You know about these things anyway don’t you?
CB: Well we need to -
MW: But they, and I had to issue things like that and make sure they all came back.
CB: So, how many other WAAFs were there in the intelligence section?
MW: Oh, we had two special duty, two men, young, young, they weren’t corporals. No, I was the only corporal.
CB: Ok.
MW: And I’d say Ivor Jones, Brylcreem and this other one and sometimes a pilot officer.
CB: Were they people who were new to the RAF or were some of them pilots already?
MW: Were they?
CB: Were they people -
MW: No they were, they were admin. No they weren’t -
CB: There weren’t any flying people -
MW: They weren’t flying at all.
CB: In that.
MW: No. I don’t know what Ivor Jones did in the army but I should think he would do, he would do an administrative job because he was so good at it.
CB: Ahum.
MW: As I say we didn’t have any WAAF officers. I think we only had one when I, you see it was 1940 when I went in. My number is quite low. It’s 893293.
CB: Yes.
MW: Yes.
CB: So obviously you kept that number all the time.
MW: You can’t get it out of your head, you know.
CB: No. Of course not.
MW: It stays there.
CB: Absolutely.
MW: Absolutely.
CB: I think everybody in the forces knows that -
MW: I know. They do. Yes.
CB: Remembers their number.
MW: Then of course I’m going out of Bomber Command now but I went to er, in the end of ‘43 I went to -
CB: That’s when you went to Shawbury was it?
MW: No. I went to Melksham. No, I went to um Newmarket first.
CB: Oh.
MW: Just for a few weeks.
CB: Yeah.
MW: And then I didn’t do much there. There’s not really any interest at all and then I went to Silverstone.
CB: Ahum.
MW: Silverstone was good because it was very near my home.
CB: Yes.
MW: And we were always, the done thing that we would go down to the bottom of the road and thumb a lift. It was nothing. You just did that.
CB: Yeah.
MW: You wouldn’t do it today. But that’s what you, and that was fine.
CB: Ahum.
MW: Shawbury -
CB: What did you do at Silverstone? That was an OTU.
MW: That’s right yes OTU. I just looked after the maps there and they had a lot of navigational equipment that needed a bit of attention from time to time. Sextants and things like that you know and, and not a great deal, I wasn’t there that long. But then I went to Shawbury that was the air, Empire Air Navigation School and they, the map office was in quite a mess there and needed a lot of attention but they were also working on Aries.
CB: What was Aries?
MW: That aircraft that went, that went to Canada. It was a special, special aircraft. I did help the squadron leader there. Squadron Leader Proctor who, who was handling that project.
CB: What were you helping him with?
MW: With the maps.
CB: Right.
MW: With the map reading. The reading out the numbers and positions on the map where they needed to be.
CB: But you didn’t go over to Canada with him?
MW: Oh no. I didn’t do any of that. No.
CB: Ok.
MW: I did do a bit of flying at Silverstone because they used to come backwards and forwards and around to Oxford in training you see. A few times I went up in an Anson. You know, the little aircraft, the Anson and, and Silverstone um Shawbury was, they were training an Australian squadron. What was, what was their number? 101, yes. All Australians. Very interesting young men. Full of life.
CB: Okay.
MW: Yes. We had, where are we there? Oh yes we were back in married quarters again then. Yes ‘cause I was in charge of a house there.
CB: This is in Shawbury?
MW: In Shawbury, yes.
CB: Yeah.
MW: Yeah ‘cause they tended to use the houses but of course not you see, at Linton and Driffield, they were permanent stations.
CB: Yes.
MW: Pre-war station and all built roughly the same aren’t they?
CB: Yeah and Shawbury. Yeah.
MW: Yes. Yes. Have you been to Linton?
CB: Yes and Shawbury.
MW: And Shawbury oh.
CB: They’re expansions period airfields. Yes. So then after Shawbury, well at Shawbury you were there for a little while.
MW: Yes. I was. And, and then at Shawbury, after Shawbury I went down to Brawdy in South Wales and that’s Coastal Command of course.
CB: Right.
MW: There, they were still, they were still flying of course by then, much later on.
CB: This was 1946.
MW: mmm’ And Shawbury.
CB: Brawdy.
MW: Brawdy was where I met my husband.
CB: Right.
MW: Yes. The map office was in a terrible mess. The navigation officer for whom I worked was absolutely wonderful to work for but I did get through the mess in the end because nobody had done anything for months. And they had just brought maps in, threw them down and it took me ages to get that clear. To, to get some sort of order there but um and then we moved to to Chivenor. The squadron moved to Chivenor and that’s near Barnstable.
CB: Also Coastal Command.
MW: Hmmn?
CB: Also Coastal Command.
MW: Also Coastal, yes.
CB: Yes.
MW: All Coastal then.
CB: So you were issuing a lot of charts for the sea.
MW: Absolutely. Quite different of course. There wasn’t the anxiety that there was with Bomber Command.
CB: So, how long were you at Chivenor?
MW: Not that long. I’m just trying to think. Yes I, and then I went to Northwood. Northwood was -
CB: The navy.
MW: And it and from there, Northwood, I was demobbed.
CB: Right.
MW: Yes.
CB: How far ahead did you know that you were going to be demobbed? Was it, did you volunteer for it or -?
MW: Ah yes well I because I’d been in so long because I was early, joined very early I could have come out much, but I offered to do another year, an extra year because really and truly there was nothing to do for me. I didn’t have a job to come back to and I certainly didn’t want to be back to be back to being a nursery governess again.
CB: Yeah.
MW: And I had met, met up with Roy and we were, I was toying with the idea of either going to live with Douglas’s mother, or going to Australia or marrying Roy and in the end I decided I would get married.
CB: It was a better offer.
MW: A better offer [laughs] but er so then that’s what we did.
CB: So Roy was still at Brawdy.
MW: He was moved to Waddington.
CB: Right. Oh.
MW: Yes. So, I came to live in Lincoln then.
CB: Ahum
MW: After that.
CB: Before you married him.
MW: Hmmn?
CB: Before you married him you were where?
MW: Oh yes. I lived in Lincoln.
CB: Yes.
MW: I got a job in Lincoln with the telephone manager’s officer. And that’s a different story. When you take, when you consider what they do today and what we did then in the telephone manager’s office it’s just archaic. You just don’t believe what, what goes on now. But yes I was, I was there. You wouldn’t want to know about that but -
CB: Well it’s just intriguing because what did people do when they left the RAF?
MW: This is it. I walked the streets to find accommodation for a start. There was nowhere to live. My family were down in Bloxham and I wanted to be near, be with Roy. There was no work in Bloxham, in the Banbury area and there um. There was no work and there was no accommodation but I think accommodation was the worst of my worries when I came out of the RAF. I did have a very good report from the officer at Northolt. Very, very good. He said, it should be in the roof somewhere but quite where, I don’t know and I managed to get a job purely on that, on that reference. You had to have a reference for everything in those days.
CB: Yeah.
MW: On that reference that he gave me I got this job in the telephone manager’s office. And then I managed to get some, some digs in Lincoln. Just one room. And then finally after we got married we got some, shared a house at Navenby. Do you know Navenby?
CB: No.
MW: Yes. Just up the road from -
CB: Yes.
MW: Lovely little village it was. Until Roy went , and we hadn’t been married long and he was posted to Aden.
CB: Oh.
MW: And he went by air. Flying by air was very limited in those days. You couldn’t. It wasn’t like it is now. It was very few and far between but he went out by air to take charge of the station at Aden. Khormaksar that is.
CB: Ahum.
MW: And I could go when he found me some suitable accommodation which [laughs] which again was a nightmare. Him trying to find me, but we did get in the end he decided that I would go to the Crescent Hotel which was the only reasonable place to live in it. So I went out by sea on the Toledo and arrived in Aden on Christmas Day, pouring with rain which he told me it never rained in Aden. And we had two years in Aden. Do you know Aden?
CB: Never been.
MW: No. Well you know where it is of course.
CB: Yeah. Yeah.
MW: Yes. Yes. But not many, I say to people, no idea where it is.
CB: We interviewed somebody operating from there.
MW: Yeah.
CB: Ahum.
MW: It’s, I mean you’d think, they don’t know the map these days.
CB: No. No.
MW: They get in the aircraft and fly off somewhere but they’ve no idea where they’re going I don’t think.
CB: So, then, when you, you were there for two years.
MW: Yes.
CB: Then where did you go? Well Roy was posted where?
MW: We came back. He was posted to Upper Heyford and then to Abingdon.
CB: And you got quarters.
MW: No.
CB: Did you get a quarter in both cases?
MW: We didn’t get quarters because he was back as a civilian by then.
CB: Oh, of course. Yes.
MW: Yes. He was a senior met officer in Aden.
CB: Ahum.
MW: In civilian but officer status you see.
CB: Ahum.
MW: So he could have lived in, well he did live in the officers’ mess in Aden but I couldn’t you see. Yes. It was officers’ mess only and so then we stayed in, we managed to buy a house or bungalow in Kennington which is not far from Oxford.
CB: Yeah.
MW: Oh, first of all we went, we had we shared a house in a place called Longworth.
CB: Yeah.
MW: And then we managed to buy this bungalow in Kennington and by that time we had our first son, Richard. Kennington is quite near Radley. Radley College.
CB: Ahum.
MW: Richard went to Radley College. Things were settling down there and then we had to move to Aylesbury.
CB: Roy went to Halton did he?
MW: Hmmn?
CB: Why did you go to Aylesbury?
MW: The Met Office just move you.
CB: Yeah.
MW: It’s like being in the RAF. The same.
CB: But stationed at Halton?
MW: He was stationed at, when we moved to Aylesbury he was stationed at Dunstable.
CB: Oh right.
MW: Dunstable was the main. So we bought a house in Aylesbury and for the five or six years that he was, he was at Dunstable we lived at Aylesbury and I had my second son at Aylesbury.
CB: What’s his name?
MW: Nicholas. And then we moved to Bracknell. The Met Office moved in 1961. It probably was here in 1960 when it was officially opened but the official Met Office where all the forecasting was done.
CB: But you came in ’61.
MW: Yes. They had a huge computer which was as big as this bungalow but it was all valves.
CB: Oh.
MW: All valves there and Roy was in charge of that. They used to get him up in the middle of the night because it had gone wrong and there were only three of those computers in the country and one was owned by Joe Lyons. Why he wanted one I don’t know and the other was down in something to do with the army. I can’t remember but -
CB: Yeah
MW: Roy used to go down there sometimes when the Met Office had broken down and he, well we’ve been in, in Crowthorne for fifty three years now.
CB: Have you really?
MW: Since we were in, but in that time Roy has been to Gan and the Indian Ocean but we weren’t -
CB: Yeah.
MW: I wasn’t allowed to go because they don’t have women on Gan at all.
CB: No. It’s such a small island.
MW: That’s right. Yes.
CB: No.
MW: And I had my third son here.
CB: His name is -?
MW: He’s Edward.
CB: Oh right. Did any of the three go into the Met Office like their father?
MW: No. No. One, Richard is an optician.
CB: Oh right.
MW: He’s got a practice in Hampton Court.
CB: Ahum.
MW: And Nicholas, the middle one is an engineer but he works in Wales and Edward, unfortunately, Edward has a business building children’s playgrounds.
CB: Ah.
MW: He had a very, very successful business doing all the children’s playgrounds around up and down the country but he had a severe stroke.
CB: Oh.
MW: Four years ago.
CB: Right.
MW: I saw him yesterday and he is very disabled. But we do, he’s only down at Halton so we -
CB: Ahum.
MW: Do meet up for lunch but unfortunately it was a very bad stroke.
CB: Oh dear.
MW: It was life and death really.
CB: Awful.
MW: Very bad. But he’s cheerful and I took my friend see him, to have lunch with him yesterday and he said, ‘You know, Mary, he does, he’s with it.’ It’s just the problem is with the speech. He can’t communicate -
CB: Right.
MW: It’s all up here.
CB: Yeah. Frustrating.
MW: And Peter said, ‘Oh he knows what he wants to say Mary. He can’t, just can’t’ -
CB: Ahum.
MW: He’s, he’s living at home now. And he, I don’t think he’s resentful, you know, about what’s happened to him. He seems quite cheerful and my friend said, he hadn’t met him before, and he said that he thought he was, he was really quite good obviously you know with his ability to talk. He says a lot of bloody hells unfortunately.
CB: Does he?
MW: And my friend’s a priest so [laughs]. I said to Peter, ‘Look,’ I said –‘, ‘I don’t really want - ’ He said, ‘Look Mary it’s no difference at all.’ But he’s like that. I mean a lot of priests wouldn’t have -
CB: No.
MW: Gone along with that but he’s very nice and -
CB: How many grandchildren have you got?
MW: Six. They’ve each got two.
CB: Two, two and two are they?
MW: They’ve each have two yeah and one came yesterday with us, Abigail. She’s lovely and she’s finished at Sheffield. She’s got, she’s got a law and criminology.
CB: Oh.
MW: And she’s the prettiest thing you ever saw.
CB: Going back to your, your major role in the RAF was in intelligence.
MW: Ahum.
CB: What was the key item that sticks in your mind about your job there?
MW: About my?
CB: The job you did. What was the most important part of it would you say?
MW: Looking after the boys. Yes. Being, the maps things were easy, I ordered the maps. I knew where they were going and knew how to calculate the targets and that but it was looking after the boys that was the most important.
CB: And what was looking after the boys? What did they really need?
MW: They needed a little bit of comfort. I think Ivor Jones saw that in me when he asked me because that was a very unusual thing to do. Chris, you don’t get away with that sort of thing in the RAF.
CB: No.
MW: I don’t think anybody else would tell you that story.
CB: Ahum.
MW: That, to be, to be told by a squadron leader to report to him the following morning without being re-mustered.
CB: Ahum.
MW: Without being, the WAAF officers being told. It was very unusual. That was the key point in my, it was one of the best jobs in the RAF really.
CB: Ahum.
MW: When I think about it. I mean all these girls that did, the friends of mine that did, that did work on balloons and, and, and television, the er um telephone operators and that but they, mine was, I was right in the midst of it. Right in the midst of the bombing. I knew, I knew the target. I knew what was going on and, and I mean Ivor Jones knew where the flak was coming from, what to tell them what to avoid and that but um and all that and, and it was just I was just in the thick of it really.
CB: So these, these young men are aged nineteen, twenty.
MW: Oh average age yes.
CB: Twenty one.
MW: Yes. Yes.
CB: And what are they really wanting to talk about?
MW: What did they want to talk about? Their home life. They’d just come out of university some of them. Not all of them. Just tell them what was going on at home. I don’t think they really wanted to be there. I’m sure they didn’t, a lot of them but, but they were going to do it. They wanted to be aircrew.
CB: Yeah.
MW: That was the absolutely the aim of every young man in the RAF was to be aircrew. Nobody wanted a groundcrew job at all.
CB: They were just getting things off their chests.
MW: Hmmn?
CB: They were trying to get things off their chest.
MW: Oh yes. Yes. Yeah.
CB: Any ground crew talk to you the same way?
MW: Did the ground crew -?
CB: Any ground people because they would have learned from air crew that you were somebody who was sympathetic to concerns did you get -
MW: No. I never really got to know the [air] crew I was really involved so involved with the maps I didn’t really get to know the ground crew at all.
CB: No.
MW: No.
CB: What was the worst experience you had, would you say?
MW: I think it was at Driffield.
CB: The bombing.
MW: The bombing. Yes.
CB: What was the casualty level then?
MW: We had –
MW: We had one WAAF killed on the station and about seven airmen. Seven others. That’s all in Cheshire’s book.
CB: Is it? Right.
MW: Yes, and even I am mentioned in “Cheshire VC” and he said about this WAAF who he had to put in to, in to the shelter. That was a very near thing for me. Well, for the three of us. There were two officers who weren’t when we went into this small room when, when everything started collapsing and you couldn’t see your way out and as I say then it was, it was Cheshire who pushed us in to the shelter. But I think possibly, we did have some very bad raids at Linton at night. We got, we were bombed one night. We were in the shelter and we got, I got thrown from one end of the shelter to the other end of the shelter. Ended up at the other end of the shelter and I had a piece of shrapnel in my toe, in my foot. But I would have said that because Linton, Driffield was the first experience of that sort of bombing in daylight that we, that it was quite horrendous.
CB: So -
MW: I, I [pause]
CB: Do you want to pause for a bit?
MW: Ahum
CB: This is an emotional -
MW: Ahum
CB: Issue isn’t it. Let’s stop for a bit.
Other: Yeah. Look at those two there. That could be Scarlet and James.
CB: Mary’s done so well that we’re just stopping for a cup of tea which of course is what they did in the war as a way of reducing the difficulties of the time.
MW: What we haven’t discussed of course is whether you wanted to know and I thought you did is what I did after the war.
CB: That’s it.
MW: When I came back.
CB: I did. Yes.
MW: And that is quite interesting really.
CB: Is it? Yes.
MW: Yes because after the boys were out of school.
CB: Ahum.
MW: I, I took up flower arranging.
CB: Did you?
MW: Yeah. And I did a City and Guilds. Have you done? Have you?
Other: Yes.
MW: I can’t believe it.
Other: Yes.
MW: Goodness.
Other: I’ve done the floristry as well.
MW: I’ve done floristry as -
Other: And got the City and Guilds, yes.
MW: You’ve done City and Guilds?
Other: Yes. Yes.
MW: Goodness me.
CB: Every Wednesday she does flower arranging classes.
MW: Yes. Yeah, well I’ve done the cathedrals.
Other: Lovely.
MW: Oxford twice.
Other: Lovely.
MW: Christchurch, Westminster Abbey, Guildford.
Other: Super.
MW: And I’ve been chairman of the club. Well I -
Other: Have you?
MW: For my sins. But yes, if you want to know about that well -
Other: Yes. Yes.
MW: It’s so nice to meet somebody -
Other: It’s a lovely thing to do isn’t it?
MW: You take, whilst you’re flower arranging you can’t think of anything else.
Other: No. That’s right.
MW: [?] And I say to all the classes that I have, that I’ve had in the past, not so much now but in the past I’ve said look if you take up flower arranging if you’ve got a problem and everybody seems to have problems-
Other: Oh yes.
MW: These days. That you can’t think about anything else.
Other: No. No, that’s true.
MW: You just concentrate.
Other: That’s right.
MW: On your flowers. And your foliage of course.
Other: Yes your foliage.
MW: Your foliage.
Other: Is very important. I’ve got a lot of foliage in the garden actually.
MW: So have I. [laughs] Myrtle is the thing isn’t it?
Other: Yes. Yes.
MW: Yes, I’ve got -
Other: The only thing I haven’t got which is very useful is Ruscus.
MW: Oh I haven’t got Ruscus either.
Other: That’s a super thing isn’t it?
MW: It is, isn’t it? Yes.
Other: Both the hard and the soft Ruscus.
Other 2: Is that one yours?
CB: Yes.
Other 2: I’ll just empty the tea.
Other: Yes but I must -
MW: Well I did that you see. That was from -
CB: That’s lovely isn’t it?
Other: Beautiful.
MW: That’s somebody brought me some flowers the other day.
Other: Lovely.
MW: But this is what you see -
Other: Yeah. That’s lovely.
MW: You don’t -
CB: I’m glad we didn’t try to be too ambitious with what we brought you. [laughs]
Other: [laughs] I know.
MW: [Laughs] Well if you have to do this random. Have you been to the shows or anything this year?
Other: I’ve been up to new Covent Garden to demonstrations there and, you know. Various church -
CB: Thank you.
Other: Church festivals. Flower festivals and what have you.
MW: Do you do them for church?
Other: I do. Yes. I do. Yes. Not regularly. Only when they have a special occasion. We’ve just had one, we’ve just had a flower festival so I’ve done something -
MW: Oh have you?
Other: For that. Yes. Yes.
MW: I do. I’m on the church roster here.
Other: Yes.
MW: ‘Cause I go to church anyway.
Other: Yes, so do I.
MW: I’m a church going person but I’m on the church roster.
CB: That’s quite a commitment to do that.
Other: I used to. I used to be. I used to do it regularly.
MW: Yes.
Other: But I don’t now.
MW: We have a roster every year -
Other: Yes -
MW: For the year and you -
Other: Which is good.
MW: Put down what you think you can, you are able to do.
Other: That’s it.
MW: Oh, thanks Abigail, lovely.
Other: Yes.
MW: Then if you have another -
CB: Yes.
MW: Go on.
CB: These are very good.
Other: Not for me thank you. No.
CB: Are you on sugar?
MW: No thanks.
Other: We have a problem in our village that there aren’t that many people being willing to do it so I think one of the wardens who was responsible for doing the roster had to give up in the end so if we’re having any special occasion she’ll ask the few of us -
MW: Yes. Yes.
Other: That will do something. To do you know to do something.
MW: Well you know we decide before Easter what we can do during the year you see.
Other: Yes. Yes.
MW: And then when we, we get to, if you can’t do that, if something comes up you find amongst yourselves. You -
Other: Somebody else will, yeah.
MW: You do that. But we have a problem with the altar. They won’t do the altar.
Other: Oh really.
CB: Really?
MW: And it always lands in my lap.
Other: Oh right.
MW: But I haven’t got the altar for Christmas. I’ve got the Remembrance table.
Other: Right. Right.
MW: I’m very good at pedestals.
Other: Lovely, yes.
MW: That’s really my strength. The pedestals.
Other: Lovely, lovely and it’s getting the weight right isn’t it?
MW: Yeah. But the, we, I mean I’m going back a long way to Dora Buckingham and that but City and Guilds isn’t an easy exam is it?
Other: No. No.
MW: No. People think you know it is. In fact, I went into it, I was just doing club things and my friend said, ‘Oh let’s go to Bracknell,’ she said, ‘They’ve got a course there going on.’ And so I said, ‘Ok we’ll do the course.’ We did. And then the tutor started talking about exams and I said, ‘What exam? I wasn’t, I wasn’t expecting any exam,’ She said, ‘Oh yes,’ She said, ‘It’s part one.’
Other: Ahum.
MW: And I got through that because I’d never done any, any exam work really in my life but they had what they called a multi, multi questions.
Other: Oh yes.
MW: There were four -
Other: Yeah. Yeah.
MW: And I think -
CB: Oh multiple choice.
MW: There’s only one right one you see.
Other: Yes.
MW: And I managed to do that.
Other: Good.
MW: And I got very good marks for that.
Other: Good.
MW: So then I went on to part two. Part two is very interesting isn’t it?
Other: Ahum.
MW: Did you watch Monty Don last night?
Other: No. I didn’t, no.
MW: Oh ‘cause he went through Capability Brown, Repton -
Other: Oh really.
MW: And Sackville West and all those -
Other: Oh I wish I’d seen that.
MW: People we know about. Yes
Other: Yeah.
MW: And if you’ve got it on your tape or if it comes up again. Do -
Other: I will. I’ll have a look.
MW: Yes.
Other: I will. Yes. Yes.
CB: Well at ninety six I’m amazed what you do.
MW: Oh go on it’s only a number.
CB: Yes but I mean you know the energy you put in to all these things is extraordinary.
MW: Yeah, but -
CB: Thank you very much.
MW: You see, once you’re a flower arranger -
CB: Yeah.
MW: You’re always a flower. You won’t give it up.
Other: No. Oh no. No.
MW: No. You won’t. No.
Other: I mean I go every week. I don’t learn anything but I just go for social -
MW: So do I, you see.
Other: Reasons.
MW: I go every month, you see.
Other: Yes. Yes.
MW: Now I’m, I’m -
CB: You instruct though.
MW: Honorary president now.
Other: Right.
MW: Of the club ‘cause I was -
Other: Do you belong to NAFAS?
MW: Yes.
Other: You do. Yes. Which do. I haven’t done that.
MW: Oh.
Other: I haven’t. I’ve only done the floristry.
MW: Oh you’ve done the floristry. Yes.
Other: I’ve done the City and Guilds floristry.
MW: Yes I’ve done the City and Guilds.
Other: And really the floristry that I learned they don’t really use so much now because it was all the wiring of the bouquets.
MW: The wiring and the stuff.
Other: They don’t -
MW: Oh yes.
Other: Do that anymore.
MW: They don’t do that now.
Other: No.
MW: No all those hyacinths that you wire.
Other: Oh don’t. Taking all the, I know, I know.
MW: Yes.
Other: But that’s not done now is it? I mean -
MW: No they are glued on aren’t they?
Other: It’s all that hand tied bouquets. Yeah.
MW: My friend that brought me -
Other: Yes.
MW: Those the other day, she’s a florist -
Other: Right.
MW: From, in Bracknell and she but she’s also a flower arranger.
Other: Ah huh.
MW: And she did a competition at Aldershot last week and she had those flowers over you see so she says, ‘Oh Mary can have those.’
Other: Lovely, no that’s lovely, that’s really lovely yes. It’s one of my favourite arrangements actually. I think that’s a lovely arrangement.
MW: The triangle? Yes.
Other: Yes, yes but on a little pedestal is -
MW: Yes I like that.
Other: Lovely. Yes.
MW: I mean, I, because I judge as well.
Other: Yes.
MW: I do the judging for the horticultural and everything.
Other: Yes.
MW: Yes. You, the, what was I saying?
Other: You do the judging for the Horticultural Society.
MW: Yes. Yeah.
Other: Yes.
MW: And for the various other shows around here now but they I mean some it’s very difficult to judge.
Other: I know.
MW: Because they use all this wire and stuff and -
Other: Exactly. Yes.
MW: And glitter and all that stuff.
Other: I know.
MW: We didn’t do that did we?
Other: No. I had what could have been a very embarrassing moment because I was asked to judge the local Horticultural Society flower arrangements and unbeknown to me, my tutor, the lady that had taught me for years, was putting in an entry and I was judging it and I bumped into her in Tesco and I hadn’t got a list of who was taking part and she was avoiding me you see. She knew that I was going to be the judge but she was avoiding me and I thought that’s funny she’s behaving in a most peculiar way. Anyway, when it came to the judging thank God I gave her first place.
MW: Oh.
Other: But I mean that could have been a disaster couldn’t it?
MW: Oh, yeah and you see, you see people say to me, friends of mine say oh well we didn’t realise about the judging. About the judging that they -
Other: No. I know it’s quite a responsibility isn’t it?
MW: It’s frightening.
Other: And you’ve also got to, you know, give comments as well.
MW: Oh yes you have to give comments.
Other: So you know.
MW: Yes.
Other: You know, it could have been, it could have been absolutely disastrous for me.
MW: Disastrous.
Other: If I’d, if I, you know had not given her -
MW: The judging isn’t easy.
Other: No, it isn’t.
MW: These days anyway.
Other: No. No.
MW: Because they use, and NAFAS have brought out these, you have to judge by NAFAS rules of course don’t you?
Other: Yes. Well I got a book.
MW: You got the-
Other: Actually, I wrote to them and I got a book and I read it because I thought I must, you know, I was asked to do this judging.
MW: Yes.
Other: And I thought I must know a bit more about it.
MW: Of course.
Other: And so of course it all has to -
MW: But as I say nowadays they don’t -
Other: Be certain
MW: If they don’t read the schedule -
Other: That’s right.
MW: If they don’t relate to the, to the, to the schedule that you can’t, you’ve got, you’ve got to down point them really.
Other: Yes.
MW: Last year -
Other: Absolutely.
MW: At Wellington, Wellington College I got a girl, it was a beautiful basket. Absolutely. Sunflowers, which I don’t like anyway -
Other: I don’t. Isn’t that funny?
MW: I hate them actually. [laughs]
Other: I can’t stand them.
MW: And she and she said and she got this beautiful basket and the title was “Let’s Have a Picnic.”
Other: Oh right.
MW: You see, and this basket was there and it was sunny and shining and really, really said a nice sunny day to you but it didn’t say anything about a picnic.
Other: No.
MW: If she’d just put a cake or a couple of -
Other: That’s right. Something yeah.
MW: That would have said, it would have told. I couldn’t -
CB: No story.
MW: I just had to down point it you see but it was certainly, it was certainly the best arrangement there.
Other: Right. Yes.
MW: But you can’t. You can’t do that, like you say. Who have you got at Aylesbury, you live in Buckingham -
Other: I’m at Wilmslow.
MW: You’re at -
Other: So I’ve learnt in Wilmslow at the Education -
MW: Oh.
Other: Centre in Wilmslow actually.
MW: Ahh.
Other: Yeah.
MW: So you belong to the flower club there.
Other: Yes. Yes. Yes.
MW: And, and you do you have all the shows and things like that do you?
Other: Well you can go to various, yes you can go to the various shows but it’s mainly a learning centre so -
MW: A learning centre.
Other: Yes. Yes, educational centre.
MW: See I hadn’t started when we lived at Aylesbury but I still had my -
Other: Well Aylesbury is much better. I mean my floristry course which was one day a week took three years. That’s because in in Wilmslow -
MW: Well the City and Guilds.
Other: It was only a daily, a daily course you see and just a couple of hours.
MW: Yes.
Other: Whereas in Wilmslow they had, sorry, in Aylesbury they had much more, you know, concentrated courses.
MW: Yes.
Other: So it would have been a lot shorter but I was working at the time anyway and it suited me and I thought well I’ve always worked in offices. I wanted to do something different.
MW: Yeah. And you had a garden as well you say.
Other: Yes I’ve got a nice garden. Yes.
MW: Yes I have. At the back.
Other: it’s getting a bit much now because my husband used to do -
MW: Well I’ve got a gardener in now.
Other: Well I’m having to.
MW: That’s why it looks neat and tidy.
Other: I can see. I said to Chris when we got here, ‘The garden’s lovely.’
MW: Yes.
Other: I have a problem with gardeners in as much as they seem to flip from one person to another and they’re not reliable.
MW: Oh mine are actually. They’re costly.
Other: Yes I know.
MW: But I said, ‘Don’t worry about the house.’ I don’t worry about the carpets or anything as long as the garden looks right that’s alright.
CB: So how big is the garden at the back?
MW: Quite big, yes. Yes it’s
CB: And what, what, what sort of layout is it?
MW: Shrubs. I love shrubs.
Other: So do I. Not flowers. Isn’t it funny?
MW: No. You can do without flowers.
Other: People say you’re a flower arranger -
MW: Daphnes out here -
Other: But you don’t like flowers.
MW: My Daphnes are about to flower and all my shrubs at the back there.
Other: CB: What’s your favourite flower?
MW: Flower?
CB: Yes.
MW: Oh I suppose it would have to be the Lily. The Lily of the Valley
Other: Yes, they’re beautiful.
CB: And what about shrub? What’s your favourite shrub?
MW: The Daphne, which is about to flower any minute but we’ve got Azaleas. We’ve got -
Other: So have I.
MW: Magnolias. This estate is wonderful in the -
Other: I can imagine.
MW: We’ve got all this -
Other: The soil looks, the soil looks good.
MW: Yes, It is.
Other: Our soil isn’t good -
MW: No. Well when we lived at Aylesbury -
Other: You see.
MW: We had different soil there but -
Other: Yes, ours is very clayey.
MW: And this friend of mine the priest this is all we talk about when we go out you see. The plants. He is so interested in, in the plant life and he’s very clever but he’s more interested in leaf form.
Other: Yes.
MW: The form that –
Other: Yes. Yes.
MW: He’s got a thing about Viburnums.
Other: Oh right.
MW: He’d like to have the national collection of Vibernums if you please.
Other: Oh does he?
MW: Now there aren’t many Vibernums that I like particularly. They’re not, they don’t last long do they?
Other: No. No.
MW: You know, the Tinus, and what’s that one that’s very scented?
Other: Oh I um no, I can’t think.
MW: This one -
Other: Mine isn’t actually. Mine isn’t scented at all.
MW: But anyway, he, he’s got quite a few but I mean if you looked at his garden it’s, belongs to the church of course because he’s the priest and I would, I looked, took one look at it and I thought there’s no way I could do anything with that. It’s got, its Bagshot sand. He’s got about three or four pines in there. They drop needles all over -
Other: Oh yeah.
MW: The place.
Other: Yeah.
MW: Its dark and I thought, ‘Peter you can’t do anything with that.’
Other: No.
MW: But he does you see, He’s a tryer he’s a real tryer and he said a few months ago. ‘Will you come and have a look at the garden again?’ I said, ‘You’ve got far too much.’
Other: Get rid of something.
MW: He just keeps putting stuff in.
Other: Oh.
MW: I said move this stuff here around in to where you’ve got a bit sun and have this as a woodland garden so we’re in the process of doing that at the moment. Oh I couldn’t live without my garden. Could you?
Other: No. Do you like Hellebores?
MW: Hellebores? I said Daphne for my -
Other: Yeah.
MW: But Hellebores are my favourite flowers.
Other: They’re beautiful aren’t they? But I went to, we’ve got a very large garden centre at Woburn called Frosts and one of the, I can’t remember what his name was but we was one of the gardeners that was always on tele, a florists that was always on television and he’d done this flower arrangement with Hellebores and it was about sixty, sixty five pounds this, this arrangement and I thought I shall be interested to see what that’s like in a couple of days’ time if that doesn’t sell and of course they had, they’d used this you can’t -
MW: Absolutely useless.
Other: Arrange Hellebores and he should have known that.
MW: In fact I had a few in that little glass vase -
Other: Yeah.
MW: Before you came and I thought I’d better turn these out. I’d only had them in a couple of days.
Other: Oh really.
MW: It would not, I chucked them out.
Other: You shouldn’t cut them.
MW: Just before you came I thought I must chuck them out.
Other: Yeah.
MW: But my Christmas Rose, the Hellebore -
Other: Yes.
MW: Niger.
Other: Yes.
MW: Has just started to flower and we only bought that last year.
Other: They are beautiful and they’re so -
MW: They are my favourite. Yes.
Other: Many varieties aren’t there?
MW: Do you cut your leaves back?
Other: Yes.
MW: Yes. I must get the gardener to -
Other: Well I say do I, I mean I haven’t done a lot in the garden since my husband has died. It’s just been one thing after another going.
MW: Really.
Other: With the house with fencing coming down and tiles off the roof you wouldn’t believe it and I’ve had to always -
MW: I would believe it. I would believe it because everything, everything’s happened here.
Other: Yeah.
MW: This house is fifty years old you want to get out of it and get a new one.
Other: But at least it’s lovely though.
MW: Everything happens. The boiler goes and -
Other: That’s right.
MW: Everything wants replacing if you have had three boys that have been -
CB: Kept you on your toes. Mary, thank you so much for all of that and -
MW: Pleasure.
CB: And I’d just like to look at some pictures quickly.
MW: Yes.
Other: It’s these in the book Chris?
MW: Yeah.
CB: So, you couldn’t take pictures. You weren’t allowed to keep a diary.
MW: No.
CB: But the war ended. Is that when you started doing your diary?
MW: ‘45 I got one. Yes.
CB: Yes.
MW: I’ve got the whole, every day I wrote in it. I’m looking for it now but I can’t see it.
CB: Oh right. Ok.
MW: I put it down somewhere.
CB: Am I sitting on it do you think?
MW: It’s not under your -
CB: It’s not here. No.
MW: Is it, not underneath your -
CB: No.
Other: What about –
CB: Well we can have a look for it in a minute can’t we?
MW: But that is all about, about Shawbury?
CB: What prompted you to start taking a diary, making a diary?
MW: Well I don’t think I did much before the war but I did, I thought well somebody gave me this diary and because I hadn’t, I hadn’t been -
CB: Keeping one.
MW: Allowed to do one, I thought well, this is good.
CB: Ok.
MW: Anyway, I will find it.
CB: Yes.
MW: I say I only brought it through this morning, so -
CB: Yes.
MW: And I will find the, I think you will be interested in the album that we did on Bilbao.
CB: Yes.
MW: Because that -
CB: Absolutely.
MW: David took some beautiful pictures.
CB: Did he? Yes.
MW: Of the war graves and -
CB: And which squadron was Douglas in? 58.
MW: Yes, 58.
CB: Right.
MW: Yes.
CB: Yes.
MW: And that was Wellingtons of course. Yes.
CB: Yes.
MW: ‘Cause we didn’t get Halifaxes at Linton until later on and then we still had Whitleys and we still had Wellingtons. We had, at Driffield we had Whitleys you see.
CB: How many squadrons were there on the airfield at any one time?
MW: Linton? There were three.
CB: Ahum.
MW: Yes 102, 76 and 78 ‘cause Cheshire well from Middleton St George he came back on -
CB: Right. Ok.
MW: Well I hope that’s been -
CB: That was the interview with Mrs Mary Ward nee Brown who was getting a bit tired and some emotional issues towards the end anyway. Outstanding points to pick up later are details about her fiancé who died aged twenty one. A 58 squadron man. The emotions surrounding other WAAFs and also the interaction with air crew. So we’ll pick up on those with another tape.



Chris Brockbank, “Interview with Mary Ward. One,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed June 12, 2024,

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