Interview with Mary Ward. Two


Interview with Mary Ward. Two


Mary Ward joined the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force in 1940. She served briefly at RAF Driffield but mostly at RAF Linton on Ouse. She trained as a cook before being moved to duties as a map officer. She prepared maps for briefings and debriefings. She was engaged to a flying officer, Douglas Arthur Harsum, who was killed in action on 12 June 1942. She offered a listening ear to aircrew who would visit her for tea and a chat. She describes their fears and the dilemmas of those whom she calls ‘conscientious objectors’. For a time she worked in the office next to Leonard Cheshire’s. She describes the VE and VJ Day celebrations, as well as a flight she took in a Halifax over France. She transferred to RAF Coastal Command towards the end of the war, serving at RAF Brawdy, where she met her husband Roy Ward. She also describes visiting Harsum’s grave in Bilbao some sixty years after his death.




Temporal Coverage




01:11:12 audio recording


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CB: Let me just introduce you. My name is Chris Brockbank and today is the 17th of February 2016. We’re back with Mary Ward in Crowthorne and we’re picking up on some of the points that needed elaborating upon and the first point is really, Mary, to do with your fiancé Douglas and what happened with that. How did you come to meet him in the first place and what went on after that?
MW: Well, I can’t remember the exact dates of when we met but it was ‘42 and he came with the rest of his crew to my map office to collect some maps. They needed new charts and they, they came to me to pick up the maps and the charts and he stayed behind when the rest of the crew left the office and asked me if I could go out with, if I would like to go to York with him. So, yes. I went to York with him and which followed, several dates followed and then he was diverted and was away for a few, a few days. I can’t remember exactly where the diversion was at this moment and then he came back and a few nights later he, they were, they went to an advance base and, to do reconnaissance over the Bay of Biscay.
CB: And this is flying in Wellingtons.
MW: That was flying in yes and he, he didn’t return that night. Well, several of the crews were lost that night but we, we, I was on duty. Most nights I was on duty when we were operating and we, I stayed until 8 or 9 o’clock in the morning trying to see if there was going to be any news but no there wasn’t any news and several days went by and I said to Squadron Leader Ivor Jones, ‘Do you think there’s any hope?’ And I actually said to him at that stage, ‘I can’t go on with this job. It’s too, too much to take. Losing all these boys.’ And his reply was that ‘I’m old enough to be your father. You’ve got to stop being, you mustn’t relate to this incident. You must put it aside because I need you here.’ So, right, well several months went by and worked very hard. That was a very busy time. And then I got a letter from Douglas’s mother who lived at Richmond. She had been, had been sent the, the um Douglas’s um kit and everything from, from the station. The adjutant had organised, always, always organised these things and, and she said, ‘I would like to meet you. Would you come and stay with me for the weekend?’ She said, ‘I’ve, I’d had a letter from Douglas just before, before he, he went missing and he said he’d met the girl he wanted to marry, he was going to marry.’ But I couldn’t do it then. I’m afraid, Chris, that it was too much for me. I had work. We were in Yorkshire, at Linton and they were in, she was in London so I kept putting it off and she kept phoning me. In the end, several months later, I did go. Very, very emotional. I’ll never forget the time she, when I went to meet her and I stayed the weekend, a lovely house. But she sobbed and sobbed. It really was her only son. The last one in their family and do you want to know what she was a sister, theatre sister in the South Middlesex Hospital and she said she’d married late and all she wanted was a little, a boy which she got and at twenty years old he was killed. Well, we did become very friendly. If you want me to go on with this do you? Ahum. And I went there quite a lot and then the time came for me. It was coming towards the end of ‘45 it would be and she said. ‘What are you going to do? Will you come and live with me after the, when the war’s over?’ I said, ‘No.’ She said, ‘You can have the house. You can have everything I’ve got’. But it was too much. I was too young to tie myself down at that stage and I knew Doug wouldn’t really have wanted me to do, to tie myself down so. And I met Roy and I had, well you probably saw from that diary I had loads of young men from the RAF from, from Australia who really wanted me to, to go back to Australia with them but in the end I decided, no. I would get a job and, and stay here. So we, we parted company really. I did write to her a few times afterwards but she was very disappointed that I wouldn’t go and live and live with her. And then I met Roy and um but that was after when I went back to, to South Wales to um to Brawdy. That’s Coastal Command, Brawdy. That’s where they were actually operating. They were still doing met, met work from there and I was there for a while until they, they closed Brawdy. I think the navy took it on then and then we went, we went to Chivenor, near Barnstable and from there I went to Northwood. That was headquarters at Coastal Command and from there I was demobbed. So, up until that time I think, I can’t remember, but I can, I can find out when I went to Bilbao. Up until that time I really, I mean I don’t, I can honestly say that there isn’t really a day that goes by when I don’t think of Douglas in some way or other and his christening cup is there on the mantelpiece. And his engagement ring. You will be very interested in this because she gave me her engagement ring which is a lovely three diamonds ring which I wore a lot and my granddaughter was looking at my, and she said she liked my rings and I said, ‘Right, well you can have this one when you get engaged.’ So recently, only last Christmas I had Douglas’s engagement ring put right. You know, cleaned up and made, made to fit and everything, you see. It is an old fashioned one of course. It’s quite old. And I gave it to her when she got engaged earlier this year. Well, I gave, I gave it to her boyfriend before then but Abigail now has it and she said, ‘Grandma,’ she said, ‘It’s so beautiful,’ she said, ‘I have to keep putting it in the box,’ back in the box looking at it. So that has been passed, as something that’s been passed on to her, on to her. Through her.
CB: So, you were thinking of Douglas all this time.
MW: Ahum.
CB: Was that -
MW: I only knew him -
CB: How long did you know him?
MW: Three months at the most.
CB: Right.
MW: Yes. But three months, three days, almost, almost you could say three minutes is long enough to know. You know you’ve got, there’s an attraction there isn’t there? You see, you’ve -
CB: Right. So, after how long did he propose?
MW: How much?
CB: After how many weeks or months did he propose to you? How long did you know him before he proposed?
MW: Oh only a few, they were all a bit like only, oh it must have been less than a month but he, and he used to make a joke of it because he used to send the boys, the other boys, the rest of the crew were there. They would say, ‘Oh when are you going to marry Mary then?’ And he said, ‘No.’ No. Oh some date in the far distance he would say but I didn’t, I wouldn’t have married anyone until after the war was over. In my, my, it wasn’t, in my book it wasn’t fair really, to get married, not to, but I had a feeling with the boys, with the bomber boys that they really, they wanted to leave something behind and, and if they could marry you and get you pregnant well they would. You know, there was something being, they knew, I mean all the boys knew that they weren’t, they weren’t likely to come back and of course most of them didn’t. It was only the few that um like Cheshire. Leonard was there at that time and his office was next door to mine until I moved upstairs. I was going to say to you, and I’m digressing, is there a possibility that I could get up to Linton?
CB: Absolutely. Yes. We can arrange that.
MW: I did read somewhere in the magazine that they had, they had funding that they, not that money would make any difference but I would just need the authority and perhaps a driver or something to, to go up for a couple of nights.
CB: Well, we do have a link with Linton on Ouse. There’s a wing commander who is responsible for the history of the place.
MW: Ahum.
CB: So I know we can get that sorted.
MW: You have that.
CB: Ahum
MW: Oh.
CB: Peter Jones who’s the, one of the -
MW: Who?
CB: Peter Jones.
MW: Peter Jones. Oh yes.
CB: Jones. He sent you the album back and he deals with all the, I send stuff to him.
MW: Oh really? Oh.
CB: So we can send that -
MW: He sent a very nice letter.
CB: Did he? Good.
MW: And Heather sent one as well.
CB: Good.
MW: Yes.
CB: Ahum.
MW: Well I would appreciate that because I think now as I say I’m just hoping that I’ll get Roy into a nursing home. Then I can have some free time.
CB: Of course.
MW: And do it because I do feel that this is, this is the last straw.
CB: Yeah.
MW: This is, you know, I really must do it -
CB: Ahum.
MW: Now. Otherwise I might do something disastrous because it is at that pitch at the moment, you know.
CB: Well, we, just keep us posted and we can sort it out. I know that because of a conversation separately that I’ve had with -
MW: Yes. I’m sure.
CB: With Peter.
MW: It would, it’s so nostalgic.
CB: Of course.
MW: But in my mind I can take you to the, to the, in to the headquarters, up the stairs into the adjutant’s room, to the intelligence office, the operations room and, and all those places. They’re all in my head you see.
CB: Of course. Of course.
MW: And it would be lovely just to have. I think it would be lovely -
CB: Ahum.
MW: Just to have a, have a look around again.
CB: So you met Doug when he was twenty two.
MW: He was twenty.
CB: Twenty.
MW: Yes.
CB: And you were twenty two.
MW: Yes.
CB: And um -
MW: He would have been, June the, June the um is it -
CB: ‘Cause the 12th was when he was lost. June ‘42.
MW: When he went down.
CB: Yes.
MW: Yes. And then in the August, on the 17th of August he would have been twenty one.
CB: Right.
MW: Yes.
CB: So what was the, you had a lot of choice of aircrew on the station.
MW: Had a lot of -?
CB: Choice of aircrew ‘cause there was so many.
MW: Oh.
CB: What was special about Doug?
MW: I don’t know really. He was just, we just seemed to hit it off. He was a very good dancer and I wasn’t and he was a very good skater. He skated at the ice rink at Richmond. And, and all that but I don’t know I don’t even know whether I knew him well enough to know how much he appreciated music but I’ve always been fanatic about classical music and I still am but whether or not he was I wouldn’t really know. He had quite a nice twinkle in his eye you know. He was, sort of a nice smile. Other than that -
CB: And was he a navigator? What was he?
MW: Was he - ?
CB: Was he a navigator or - ?
MW: He was observer plus navigator.
CB: Right.
MW: Yes. That was a bit more than a navigator.
CB: So he’d been trained in South Africa had he?
MW: No.
CB: Oh he hadn’t. Okay.
MW: No. Here.
CB: Right.
MW: He was a biochemist and he worked for [Joe Lyons] and he’d only just started. Well I mean, obviously, because of his age. He was only twenty, you see when he was killed.
CB: Yeah. And on the airfield, just going a bit broader than this now, you mentioned last time about you were issuing the charts for the raids but the lads would come and talk to you.
MW: Oh, yes they did.
CB: So what was the basis of that?
MW: The basis of that?
CB: Yeah. Their conversations.
MW: Oh their conversations. Well -
CB: Apart from the fact that you were a pretty girl that they came because also they had concerns. Did they?
MW: They would tell you about their personal life. Tell me anyway. And they would say how a lot of them didn’t want to go to the Ruhr and they didn’t, they didn’t, they didn’t know the target at that time when they came in until we went into the briefing room and everybody else was assembled. The met officer and the intelligence officer and briefing and everything and then once they, we had a large board on the wall, blackboard, and they, and then the route and everything was, was up on that board for them and the squadron navigation officer and the intelligence officer would point out various routes to go which were, which had, heavy, heavy flak and or searchlights and things like that but a lot of the time I know that a lot of them didn’t take any notice of what, where and they went their own way. Cheshire did that an awful lot.
CB: Oh did he?
MW: And they would change course and go over the routes that they thought might be more -
CB: From experience.
MW: Yes.
CB: Because what we’re talking about is a big map on the wall isn’t it?
MW: This -
CB: And it shows the route on this huge map -
MW: Yes. But we had -
CB: On the wall at the end of the -
MW: A big blackboard -
CB: Yeah.
MW: As well on the night when we, a big, like at school.
CB: Yeah.
MW: You know, a big blackboard it was and that’s what we had in the intelligence office to write the names of the, we wrote all the names down on the board that were going and who they were and the number of the aircraft and everything.
CB: Right.
MW: On that board so that when, when you came back in the morning, so when they first started coming back, you would be able to, to, you cross off the ones who’d arrived and what time they’d arrived back and then of course the ones that didn’t come back were still there on the board.
CB: Ahum.
MW: But when they came back of course they came straight up to the briefing office, to the interrogation office and the intelligence officer there and I was there and I took the aids to escape from them and made some more, made the tea for them.
CB: Ahum.
MW: But when, when they were talking to me before they took off, not all of them came in but a lot of them came in, it was mainly about they didn’t really like certain targets. Well, that was obvious really that they were heavily, they were going to be heavily bombed, er shot at. The Ruhr was very, very well protected and Hamburg and places, that was a bit further up. Hamburg is a bit further up but um and of course Berlin was almost, at that time, Berlin, you could only carry the Whitleys and the Wellingtons could only just get to Berlin on the fuel they had. And so there was no, no point in trying to go around twice or anything because they hadn’t got the fuel to get there. It was just, just enough fuel to get them in to, in to Berlin and back but, until the Halifax and the Lancasters came in and then they could of course.
CB: So, we’re talking the early part of the war before the heavy bombers -
MW: Yes.
CB: Came in.
MW: Yes.
CB: Right.
MW: And I mean for a lot of the, for a long time when I went to Driffield, at Driffield all they were doing was dropping leaflets from there but um -
CB: How did they feel about that?
MW: Not very good. But we didn’t have it, Chris.
CB: No.
MW: We didn’t have anything. It’s alright for Churchill to stand up there and say that we’ll do this, we’ll do that but we hadn’t anything to do it with until once the factories got going in this country and we made, well we made wonderful progress of course.
CB: So this added to the apprehension of the crews?
MW: Yes. Yes.
CB: Is what you’re saying?
MW: Yes they wanted to go, those boys. Yes they, but of course a lot of them weren’t so keen on the, on the target. Going in the Halifaxes, they were very so slow but I mean they used to christen the Whitley as a flying coffin.
CB: Ahum.
MW: Oh you know that do you?
CB: I do. Yes. So when the bigger planes came, so we’re talking about the Halifax and Lancasters, but Halifax in Yorkshire, how did the attitude of the crews change?
MW: It did change quite a bit really because they, for one thing we had, at Linton we would have the first Halifaxes to have cameras so you had a camera in there.
CB: For the target.
MW: But it did show a lot. It showed an awful lot in the first, in the beginning that they were, some of them were nowhere near the target.
CB: Right
MW: I shouldn’t say that should I?
CB: No, you should because these are important points and the review that was carried out proved that they were sometimes fifty miles away -
MW: Absolutely.
CB: From the target. And you -
MW: I had a job then –
CB: You were seeing that
MW: In the beginning. I didn’t do a lot of it mind you.
CB: Ahum.
MW: But I did do it because my eyesight is very short-sighted well not very short but good enough to read a very tiny, and I did a lot of looking at the maps when they came back from the cameras and you could see that, you know, then but the boys seemed to appreciate that. And then we had the other. What was it called? H2O I think.
CB: H2S.
MW: H2S.
CB: Yes.
MW: That’s right. Yes.
CB: The radar.
MW: That was fitted and I think that was we were one of the first stations to get that, you see.
CB: Right.
MW: And those maps were very, very secret and we made sure that they signed for them.
CB: Right.
MW: But of course that soon went by the board and everybody got them and that but Linton was very upmarket in that -
CB: Was it?
MW: Respect but it was -
CB: Right.
MW: We were. I don’t know why but, whether we of course later on with Cheshire there and Chesh was there for a long time and it’s – [pause]
CB: So when, when they came back from a raid they came upstairs.
MW: In to the briefing -
CB: Brought the charts back.
MW: In to the interrogation office, yes.
CB: What happened then? How did it then progress with Ivor?
MW: Oh. Well we, they had they had a cup of tea and a biscuit and they, they had a one to one talk with an intelligence officer. We had Ivor Jones and Brylcreem and what was the other ones called? About four of them there.
CB: Right.
MW: One was the manager from Brylcreem. The hair thing.
CB: Right.
MW: We always called him Brylcreem but Ivor Jones was the senior man.
CB: Right.
MW: And, but they all got an interview. A one to one interview with them and asked where they, what they’d done, how, what, what the opposition was like, what the flak was like and, and that and obviously a lot of the time they had been, been, come back with, with a few bomb holes in their, in the aircraft but what height did they bomb from and how many times did they circle around the target and just general things like that and then they were free to go and sometimes they would come back in to my office and have another cup of tea and sit down and talk a bit but other times they went off to the mess and had bacon and eggs and, and you know it was dawn by then you see.
CB: So, what -
MW: But I stayed till about eight in the morning because some nights I was on again you see but I did tell you about the, the, my role in, was, - the establishment in the RAF you know about that. If they allocated, they allocated at that time one map clerk, special duties map clerk for each station and I was that one for Linton but if, if you wanted leave you had to have liaison with one of the corporals or the sergeants in the intelligence office that didn’t deal with maps but would take over from me but I didn’t have a colleague who I could just say, ‘I want leave.’ And that, and that happened on all the stations because we were only needed on bomber stations really because the rest of the, Fighter Command and Coastal and that, they didn’t need a lot of maps there but it was critical for us to have enough maps available for -
CB: Of Germany.
MW: Yes. If, I mean most of it was covered on a 48-4 and the Mercator’s projection map but - [laughs] Yes.
CB: Big.
MW: All came
CB: Rolled up
MW: Rolled up. My poor fingers. They’re very, very harsh. The edges of maps and charts and charts especially. And you’d try to roll them back to get them into these big chests that we had to put them in and they, and you -
CB: Difficult.
MW: Nip your fingers off with the, if you weren’t careful.
CB: So, some of the crew used to return for another cup of tea.
MW: Yes. They did.
CB: It wasn’t the fact it was another cup of tea was it? They came to talk to you.
MW: Probably.
CB: So what would they be talking about in that case?
MW: Oh, what they were going to do, you know, if they, when they got their leave and where they were going to. It’s just, didn’t talk about what they had done so much as what they, their personal life. And I had one or two conscientious objectors and that was very difficult, very difficult because the RAF had paid a lot of money to train a pilot or a navigator and then after eight to ten weeks of training they decided they couldn’t do it and they became conscientious and the RAF is very cruel to those young men.
CB: Ahum.
MW: You know.
CB: Ahum.
MW: Yes.
CB: I’d like to know more though.
MW: Absolutely. Yes.
CB: So what did they do to them?
MW: Well, they, they were just thrown out of the RAF. No two ways about it. There were no references or anything like that given. They weren’t allowed to re-muster to do another job. It was a very cruel and harsh end but a couple of them got out on religious grounds. They couldn’t come to terms with that fact that God didn’t want them to, to kill other people whereas I will say most of the boys I spoke to and Cheshire was certainly had no regrets whatsoever about going over to Germany and bombing. He didn’t. They started this, we’ve got to, we’ve got to, that was Cheshire’s attitude about it but when he, I don’t know what year when he was flying in 617 on the, and he had a Mosquito and he went low level flying and what they call that and he went to a factory to [drop leaflets] to bomb in France.
CB: In France. Yes
MW: You know this do you?
CB: Yes. Go on.
MW: And he circled around three times I think to warn those girls to get out and they did and then he went in and bombed it you see but one of those girls came back to Linton.
Other: Oh really.
MW: To thank him. Yes. And he said, ‘Oh no. Go away’ he said, ‘We don’t, we’re glad you all got out.’ So, that was his attitude but his attitude changed and he was a different character after Hiroshima. And that is what, he was a different character after that.
CB: Because he was on the bomber -
MW: He was on the -
CB: One of the bombers.
MW: Not on the one that dropped the bomb but -
CB: The second one.
MW: The one that was observing. Yes. Yes. I don’t know much about that because it was, it all took place.
CB: Yeah.
MW: You know, there, but it was -
CB: And then he became a Roman Catholic and then he started his Cheshire Homes.
MW: You have to speak up.
CB: He became a Roman Catholic and he -
MW: Oh he was a Roman Catholic.
CB: Also started -
MW: Yes he did.
CB: Started the Cheshire Homes.
MW: The Cheshire Homes with Sue Ryder yes. But I told you about him being married before didn’t -
CB: No. Go on.
MW: Oh didn’t I? Poor old Binney.
CB: Take that for me.
MW: Are you alright for tea?
Other: Yes.
CB: Do you want to stop for a mo?
MW: Yeah okay. Do you want another bit of cake?
CB: So, we’ve just taken a brief break and we’ve been talking about conscientious objectors but what about the other people who came under the title LMF. How did you come up against that?
MW: Um I didn’t see a great deal of that apart in, well I suppose in a way it was about three or four of them actually came through aircrew who, who decided that they couldn’t cope and they were known as conscientious objectors. A lot of them did offer the, the reason for not wanting to continue with flying, with, with bombing was that religion and whether or not they’d been religious people before or whether they’d just taken up with religion I really don’t know but it, they were obviously lacking in some moral fibre yes because it takes a lot of nerve to be a bomber pilot at whatever age. They were young men. This must be an awfully hard for you to go out night after night knowing that you’re not, you probably won’t come back and I think these young men probably couldn’t take that. But on the other hand the RAF had, had paid a lot of money to get them trained to be crew, to be aircrew which was all the air crew, as you know Chris were all voluntary reserves. Nobody was conscripted to aircrew and therefore if you felt fit enough and this was what you wanted to do for the country you should have been able to carry it out after that training but um all I did was offer them tea and sympathy but I couldn’t really do much else except listen and, and that’s what I did. To listen to them. They had various problems. They had this and they had that in their personal life which was, which they felt was more important than being, being, being shot down over Germany.
CB: And in many cases they felt a lot better for talking with you.
MW: Well, I wouldn’t know but I think they came so possibly that they did. Yes. Yes, I had a lot of spare time during the day when I was just tidying maps. I had a large office and when I was just tidying maps and checking on numbers of charts and things. Well, one of the charts which was used practically every night was Europe 48-4 on those were I had to order and perhaps if I’d had a delivery well that took a lot of time putting them all away, putting everything away and that but I did have quite a lot of time, spare time, during the day until we got the target and everything and then I needed to get those ready and the aids to escape which all had to be signed for. So, really and truly they, they, they knew that they could probably pop up to see me or pop up for, to have a chat and come in my office.
CB: Could you just explain what the aids to escape were?
MW: Well um they had a lot, the ones that I was involved with were, were things that they put in their boots and there was maps, there’s a silk map. Now one of them, one of these silk maps I had, of France. They’re back to back on both sides. Silk they are. And I, I did have one and I gave it to my cousin and he’s had it framed so you that can have one side one, one side and other as a picture like on the wall and he’s agreed with me that when he dies that he’ll send it to the museum for you. You’ll have it so you can have it.
CB: Thank you.
MW: There -
CB: Yeah.
MW: But um -
CB: What else did they have?
MW: There’s a compass.
CB: Yeah. That’s a small compass.
MW: Small compass.
CB: Pin head type.
MW: Yes. Yes.
CB: Button size.
MW: That’s right. Yes. And what else were they? I don’t remember too much about, about those.
CB: And then they had made their own arrangements for rations.
MW: Ahum. They, one of, one of the group captains at Linton used to wear a civilian suit underneath his, his uniform.
CB: His battle dress, yes.
MW: But he didn’t fly very often. That was Whitley wasn’t it, was it who did that?
CB: So he could immediately go into civilian clothes.
MW: Exactly. Yes. Yes, yeah, strip off everything if they were shot down and they had a chance of getting away.
CB: Now you moved on from Linton to other places. The Halifax had arrived before you moved. The operations were different because of the camera amongst other things.
MW: Before I moved?
CB: But you moved on from, from Linton. Where did you go to next?
MW: Oh but I was at Linton for three and a half years.
CB: Right.
MW: No. It was Driffield. We were bombed out of that.
CB: Of course.
MW: We did that last time didn’t we?
CB: Yes. Yes.
MW: August the 15th we had a daylight raid.
CB: Yeah.
MW: And we were wiped out of Lint –
CB: Yeah
MW: Er Driffield. Ammunition went up, we’d got people killed and that was a day I shall never forget.
CB: Ahum.
MW: Because it was a daylight raid and it was very early on, you see, in 1940 but, and then I was, then I went, we were moved to Pocklington with 102 and 76 and then we went from, I went on a course and, have I not told you this?
CB: What was the course for?
MW: Well they were very short of cooks.
CB: Oh yes.
MW: They sent me to Melksham.
CB: Oh yes.
MW: To do this course and this was, this was a day when the Battle of Britain was on and I can honestly sit here and tell you that I have no recollection whatsoever of what happened there. Where I was. It is as if there’s a complete blank.
CB: Really.
MW: I know I went to Melksham. I know I passed the course and I know that I came back to Linton but I’ve no other recollection at all and that was because, the only recollection I have of being there is that we were scared out of our wits because they were bombing day and night, daylight bombing and it just went on and on. You couldn’t, but I have a good memory as you know.
CB: This was Germans bombing you?
MW: But I can’t tell you a thing about that.
CB: Ahum.
MW: Nothing.
CB: You’re talking about the Germans bombing you?
MW: Yes. Oh yes. That was the battle yes, the Battle of Britain. That was on then. And then I came back to Linton and that’s where I stayed but I went back to Linton in to the officers’, to the sergeants’ mess to do, to do cooking and I, there was a civilian cook there ‘cause they did have a lot of civilians still working on the stations from the remains from before the war, you see. And the civilian chef and he, he used to give the orders and I took the rations across to the intelligence office. He said to me, ‘Will you take the rations across for the flying,’ for that night. The, the sergeant’s mess and the officers’ mess provided the rations. The tea and the sugar and the biscuits to make tea for them when they came back, you see and I took them across there and Ivor Jones, the intelligence officer, looked up from his desk when I went in and he said, ‘Where are you from?’ And I said, ‘I’m from the sergeants’ mess. I’ve brought the rations for tonight.’ And he said, ‘Oh would you come downstairs with me?’ He said, ‘Would you like, do you know anything about maps?’ I said, ‘No. Not a lot.’ And he said, he said ‘Where is the mouth of the Danube? Do you know that?’ I remember this as plain as anything. I said, is it in the Red, in the, er where was it now? It’s in the, can’t get it, it’ll come back and he said oh and what about so and so and so and so and I seemed to provide him with the answers but I said, ‘What’s all this about sir?’ And he said, ‘I want you to come and work for me.’ I said, ‘I can’t do that.’ I said, ‘I’m already in the, in the -’ you know what it was like in the RAF you had to have a re-muster put you to all the re-mustering, do all that and send it away and they would put it through to the officers in charge. I know this was very early on in the war, in 1940 but it’s he seemed to take command. He was an ex-military man and he, we always called him the colonel and he said, ‘Report to me tomorrow morning at 9 o’clock.’ I went back to the civilian chef and he said, ‘He can’t do that. He can’t take my staff.’ I said, ‘Well what I do?’ And so anyway I thought I’d better do what he says. He’s a squadron leader. So I went back and he said, ‘One of these lads, these corporals in the intelligence office, will show you what to do and you can go on a course in about a week’s time to Gloucester and, and then you’ll come back and when you come back you’ll be a corporal. And this, all this happened, you see. It was most, I mean you, you might think I’m telling you a really big story but I’m not. I assure you that is exactly what happened.
CB: And this was all when you were aged nineteen.
MW: Hmmn?
CB: This was when you were aged nineteen.
MW: Yes.
CB: Yeah.
MW: Twenty actually.
CB: Twenty.
MW: Yeah. This is what happened and it was so out of character for anybody to do. I don’t think you’d find anyone else in the RAF who had been promoted like that by, by a squadron leader. Just, just said, ‘Look, you come and you - ,’ and I thought about it afterwards and I thought well I really didn’t know very much. I hadn’t, I had, I wasn’t very good at school really but I was good at geography funnily enough but I wasn’t all that bright at school because I wanted to be outside. I spent most of the time looking out of the window you know instead of paying attention to the board but I think it was perhaps not, it’s not charisma but it’s attraction. People want to talk to me.
CB: Ahum.
MW: And I think he knew that. And of course -
CB: He could sense it.
MW: And this is what worked for him. These boys needed someone. Not motherly love at nineteen or twenty years old but that sort of, so that was where I was and that was where I stayed for the rest of the um until later on. He, he then, Ivor Jones said, ‘I’ve put a recommendation in for you for a commission’. He said, ‘You’ve got an interview,’ on so and so and so and so and I thought about and I said, ‘I don’t want it sir.’ He said, ‘You don’t want it?’ I said, ‘No. I don’t want it.’ And he said, ‘Well,’ Anyway I went and I got accepted but I still didn’t want it.
CB: Ahum.
MW: So I refused and he said, ‘Why don’t you want it?’ I said, ‘I don’t want to be an admin officer for a start.’ I said, ‘I don’t want to be and I don’t want to be, to go away from these boys. I don’t want to leave this job. This job is what I like doing.’ I didn’t like it in that sense but I did, I felt I was needed then, you know. Sort of needed there with looking -
CB: Ahum.
MW: And then a bit later on, another year later he said, ‘Are you, would you, would you consider doing, having a commission now?’ I said, ‘No. I don’t want it.’ It just didn’t appeal to me.
CB: No.
MW: To be sitting at a desk or -
CB: Quite.
MW: Or doing these things so then I moved. I’d say I moved on then a bit. I think we’ve done all this -
CB: I think we have. I need to ask you a couple of other things if I may. One is, you were a number of several hundred WAAFs. Two hundred perhaps.
MW: Oh on the station.
CB: On the station.
MW: Oh yes. Yes.
CB: So what was the general link between the association between the WAAFs and the flying people?
MW: The flying?
CB: The aircrew.
MW: The aircrew.
CB: Ahum.
MW: Oh we all, all the girls loved them of course. I mean if you wanted a date you didn’t have, it wasn’t much if you didn’t have a date with, with, with aircrew or with an officer or something like that you, you, you were aiming a bit high but with aircrew yes they all liked the aircrew boys ‘cause they were fun you see. They were great, they were really, and er but I didn’t have much to do with the other WAAFs really because I was on shift work, you see. I mean my, my duties weren’t nine to five although I was usually there about 9 o’clock but because I would then have to be, be back in the evening, in the middle of the night and that was a bit traumatic when we, we had a very bad raid one night. We were always having, we were always being bombed at that time. They seemed to target the RAF stations up, up in the north and Cheshire came back and said, ‘It looks worse than we’ve left, what we’ve done in Germany.’ This RAF at Linton but um after then they decided that the WAAF couldn’t sleep on the camp so we were billeted out to various large houses in the vicinity and my, I went to Newton on Ouse which is just down the road from Linton. If you’ve been to Linton you probably know it’s just down the road and um but that wasn’t very good because I had to be, go on my bike in the middle of the night to get back to the office to, for interrogation you see and they used to be droning overhead and me on my bike trying to get back because you weren’t allowed lights or anything. But -
CB: It was dangerous on the road was it?
MW: On the road? At -
CB: Yes.
MW: Not in the middle of the night it wasn’t. No. No, it was, it’s very countrified, you know um but you couldn’t see where you were going in the middle of the night with no lights on.
CB: No.
MW: And there’s aircraft droning overhead but, the ones that were coming back because as I say I stayed until, until we cleared everybody and then it was about 8 o’clock or 9 o’clock and then you were so tensed up you couldn’t go to bed really so we used to hop off into York and have a play around, you know, in York for a bit, come back in the afternoon and have a bit of sleep because you might, I might be, be back on again in the evening you see. If the weather was good then I, you would be back on duty again but if the weather was bad you would have a few days off if it wasn’t fit for flying.
CB: Finally, fast forward to 1945.
MW: Hmmn?
CB: 1945.
MW: Yes.
CB: Fast forward to 1945. You, in your diary you’ve got a very brief statement on the 8th of May, VE day. About the end of the hostilities in Europe. The end of the war.
MW: Yes.
CB: Was the 8th of May. How did you feel at that time?
MW: Where, where the 8th of May, where was?
CB: So you’ve put in here, I’m going to have to do, you’ve put in here, “Down to the beach with Pam and Ray. Peace declared with Germany. Had tea at the Met Office.” So -
MW: Oh is it -?
CB: What happened really that day? Did everybody celebrate?
MW: Oh yes.
CB: Did it just go over their heads?
MW: Went mad. Everyone -
CB: Or what happened?
MW: Oh went mad down at the beach and you let all the dogs out. You know, some of the crews and we, we, had their dogs with them but they couldn’t have on the station. They had them boarded out you see and we went and got all the dogs and took them for a walk down on the beach. It was quite a nice day actually then wasn’t it. That, that year.
CB: And then on VJ day the end of the war in the Far East.
MW: Yes.
CB: Then -
MW: Oh I went to down to Plymouth didn’t I, because we were dancing in the Hoe in the middle of the night. Yes. That’s right.
CB: So, there really was a lot of celebration was there?
MW: Oh dear yes.
CB: With these things.
MW: Yes
MW: Yes. So it sounded as though there was plenty going on then.
MW: Yes. Yes.
CB: Yeah. Right.
MW: Well I wasn’t tied up with anybody at all of course. I didn’t get tied up with anybody after Douglas was killed until -
CB: No.
MW: Until I got, got to know Roy. I did know plenty of boys. I mean there was no shortage of friends to go out and that but I wasn’t over serious about anybody.
CB: No.
MW: Until as I say and that was sometimes think it probably wasn’t a good thing but on the other hand I should, should have probably given it a bit more time but it seemed to me that he was very keen to get married and, and at that time he was a very different person you see.
CB: Of course.
MW: A completely different person but this is what people as you say about the young marriages you, about Douglas, there’s nothing to say that that couldn’t have gone completely wrong because you don’t know the future do you?
Other: No.
CB: No.
MW: Although you think at the time that it’s all going to go -
CB: Yes.
MW: Alright but er -
CB: Yes. There’s another entry where there’s a chap who takes you on a flight after the war is finished over France.
MW: Yes. Oh yes.
CB: How on earth did you manage that?
MW: Well, yes. I was a bit privileged in those days and we yes we went over to France. That was, that wasn’t Roy’s crew. That was another crew. That was from Brawdy wasn’t it?
CB: Yeah.
MW: Yes and oh my goodness me how those, I really got to know what it was like being, being on board a Halifax with going over there oh it was awful. So little space in those things. You couldn’t, and of course you had to wear oxygen masks in those things. Nowadays, it’s completely different and yes that was quite exciting. I’d been wanting a flight but when I got to, I was at Shawbury, not Shawbury, Silverstone. You know the race course that was RAF and I was there for a short time. It was training and they wanted somebody to, to clear the map office ‘cause they hadn’t they’d had they hadn’t had anybody but they had a lot of instruments hanging about, navigational instruments so I went there for a short while and while I was there the nav officer said to me, he said, ‘Now if you don’t behave yourself you’re going up to Lossiemouth tomorrow’[laughs]. He would, he would threaten me you see and I kept saying, ‘Now when you’re going to Oxford again can I come for the trip?’ And he promised me. ‘Yes, he would. We would go.’ So, this particular day it was a really lovely sunny day and I said. ‘Now, look, can I come to Oxford with you if you’re going? And, ‘Oh alright but you won’t like it.’ I said, ‘But look it’s a lovely sunny day.’ Of course it was. There was all this, all this cloud about you see and oh God it was a terrible trip. This was in one these twin light aircraft. What was it? Anson?
CB: Anson.
MW: Anson. Yes.
CB: Avro Anson.
MW: Anson Avro Anson. It was the most awful trip. I’ve never felt so sick.
CB: Did you sit up at the front?
MW: Hmmn? Yeah I went up to the -
CB: Did you sit up at the front?
MW: Yes of course but of course it’s the cloud -
CB: Twin engine. Yes.
MW: But you have to run into cloud and then it went whoohoo! all over the place in those light aircraft in those days.
CB: I must just go to the loo.
MW: Ahum.
CB: Thank you.
MW: I hope it’s clean and tidy. Anyway how are the flowers?
Other: Oh doing well. Thank you very much.
MW: Are you still going?
Other: I’m still going.
MW: Oh good.
Other: Only, only really it’s more of a social thing I suppose because I’ve been doing it -
MW: Don’t, don’t give it up.
Other: No I won’t.
MW: It’s so therapeutic.
Other: It’s my, it’s one of my pastimes.
MW: Isn’t it?
Other: Yes. That’s right.
MW: The next time you come I’ve got a really lovely Daphne out here.
Other: Oh have you?
MW: Yes Daphne, not Miseria um Daphne Odora
Other: Ah huh.
MW: Marginata. And the scent is gorgeous.
Other: ‘Cause not many, not many flowers have a scent now do they?
MW: Not at this time of the year. No.
Other: No.
MW: No. And my, at the back I’ve got so many Hellebores out this year.
Other: Have you? Its’ been a good year for Hellebores.
MW: Have you got Hellebores?
Other: I have. They’re down at the bottom of the garden.
MW: Oh right.
Other: I can just see them.
MW: Yeah.
Other: I’m being very lazy actually because I need a gardener to come again and sort me out.
MW: Right.
Other: The lawns are all fine. They’re all being treated
MW: Yes.
Other: And airyated and God knows what but um -
MW: Well I have the gardener once a fortnight and I’m not giving up that.
Other: No, your garden’s lovely. Your garden’s lovely but you’ve got good soil.
MW: Ahum.
Other: My soil is clay based.
MW: Oh yes.
Other: And it’s a nightmare.
MW: Well I say good. This is sand really it’s -
Other: Yeah.
MW: Sandy.
Other: But it’s looks lovely rich, dark soil.
MW: The water runs through that you need in the summer. It goes very dry.
Other: Yeah.
MW: But I mean the Camelia’s on this wall I brought some the other day. Out already, you see.
Other: Well it doesn’t know what season it is.
MW: Look at the Daffs.
Other: I know. It’s all the same. I know. They’ve all come through haven’t they? It’s incredible.
MW: Yes. What it’s going to be like in a couple of months because everything will be gone.
Other: Well that’s right.
MW: They’re forecasting snow for the weekend aren’t they?
Other: Yes. Yes they are.
MW: The Daphne’s done very well this year and Peter, my friend brought me another one. What’s that one called? That’s over the side there but I don’t, hopefully it’s going to go, go, right in the corner when, as you go out. The Sarcococca, have you got that?
Other: No. I haven’t.
MW: Oh that’s, when you go, when you go out it’s right on the drive.
Other: Ok.
MW: It’s got little white flowers on it.
Other: Lovely.
MW: And the scent is fantastic.
Other: Beautiful. Oh I’ll have to look.
MW: Just pick a bit and take it off with you.
Other: I’ll just have a little look.
MW: Smell it in the car going out.
CB: Sounds super. Thank you.
Other: Yes.
MW: It’s really gorgeous.
Other: Yes. Yes
MW: Yes. Everything seems to be -
Other: Well as I say nothing knows what season it is.
MW: What it is, no.
Other: That’s the trouble.
MW: No.
Other: Isn’t it? Everything’s coming through far too early.
CB: Well the trees are blossoming where I am.
Other: Yeah it’s crazy isn’t it?
CB: Well we were just talking about the Daphne’s and things but I say my garden comes first. I mean I could really go to town on this house and have it all decorated but I’m not going to.
Other: Why bother? No. It’s, it’s
MW: Why spend the, I’d rather spend the money on the garden, you see.
Other: Exactly. Exactly ahum.
CB: You need to get going in a minute I know but final point blossoming is interesting comment in a way, a word because you have all these young girls who are WAAFs on an airfield and you have these young men and they were young men become real men very quickly in the terror of the war. How did the WAAFs react? They blossomed quickly? What was the sort of way things went with WAAFs?
MW: What was the -
CB: How did they react to being in the air force in these circumstances?
MW: In - ?
CB: How did the WAAFs react to being in front line station like Linton?
MW: I don’t think we thought anything about it. I didn’t think, I don’t think we even gave it a thought that we were in, no, I’m sure we didn’t.
CB: But they grew up quickly as well.
MW: We grew up quickly and oh yes, my goodness.
Other: Had to.
MW: You had to. We, it wasn’t, we were there to do a job and at the RAF as you know they, don’t suffer fools gladly. You have to do that job. I’m very concentrated and if I but I go in the straight line, I can’t sit on the, everything goes this way but of course I’m very much a perfectionist as well and I think that gives you, in the RAF that’s, they don’t want, they can’t have people who can’t take orders. If you’re given an order you that’s it, isn’t it?
CB: Let’s get on with it.
Other: Yeah.
MW: No, I don’t honestly think that any of the WAAFs that I knew I knew mostly met office girls in the later stages because sharing a hut and being, being, being an NCO you had, you were given charge of a hut or a house. In the early days at Linton and at Driffield I lived in the married quarters that belonged, that the RAF people had vacated when, you know, the wives, when the war started.
CB: Ahum.
MW: We had their bedding and everything because that was all supplied by the RAF as it is today of course. They, you, you go in naked and you come out naked really don’t you? Because they provide everything -
CB: Yes.
MW: For you but, and it is a very good life if you, if you can stand the discipline.
CB: Yes.
MW: Yes.
CB: So here we are in a barrack hut with all these young girls. How difficult were they, as their corporal, to manage their activities?
MW: It wasn’t very difficult really. I know there are a lot of stories. I’ve heard a lot of stories about the WAAF went off with airmen and got pregnant and so on and so forth but it was few and far between in my experience. I mean, you had to be in at five to midnight or whatever it was and you did it. I mean, If the circumstances where you didn’t catch the bus well you just had to pay the price for it. It was there were no excuse in the RAF.
CB: Ahum
Other: No.
MW: No. You just and I think, in my opinion the RAF is rather maligned really in as much what we did during that war hasn’t been, had enough said about it. We did, Bomber Command didn’t win the war as people have said but my goodness what we’d have done without them I’m afraid is, I dread to think. We couldn’t, with Hiroshima coming forward that much if we hadn’t done Hiroshima we would still have been fighting now wouldn’t we? They wouldn’t have given in would they?
CB: No.
MW: No. No.
CB: Well on that note I think we’d better let you get on. Thank you very much indeed and we’ll arrange another meeting. Thank you -
MW: Well I don’t think we have done very much today.
Other: Let’s get all this into -
CB: We’re just talking about Mary’s dog tags and the plane. What was the origins of those.
MW: The dog -?
CB: Those that everybody wore.
MW: Oh yes one is fireproof and the other’s waterproof. Yes.
CB: Right.
MW: And I don’t know which is which mind you but if you were in a bombing raid over here or anywhere if you’d been, if there was very little left that would still be there to recognise, say that that was you.
CB: Ahum.
MW: You had been there and equally if you’d been drowned this one of them would be.
CB: Right.
MW: We were issued with these on the first day and you wore them around your neck.
CB: Right. And it’s got your service number on it.
MW: Yes, your, its um and your religion.
CB: Yes.
MW: I think. Yes.
CB: Yeah.
MW: I say that. They need a bit of a clean-up.
CB: Okay.
CB: And this is little bits of silverware when they were making the Mosquito. They had to use a certain amount of silver in it and there were little bits left over and the boys would make little things like, and this is -
CB: A brooch.
MW: It’s a little brooch from, it’s pure silver and it is from a Mosquito.
CB: Fantastic yeah.
MW: A Mosquito? Yes, it would be, I think. Yes.
CB: Ok. Thank you.
MW: And you’re very welcome to those.
CB: So what we’re looking at now is the detail.
MW: Yes these are -
CB: Where the grave -
MW: Are all the correspondence from you?
CB: Yes. Thank you. And in your binder here we’ve got details of the grave of
MW: Yes.
CB: Douglas Arthur Harsum, your fiancé.
MW: Yes. That’s 58 Squadron. That’s his number and reserve -
CB: And he died on the 12th of June 1942.
MW: Yes. And I think that’s the rest of the crew and that’s his headstone -
CB: Right.
MW: In Bilbao. And these are on board the boat.
CB: How many years was it before you found where he was buried?
MW: This is only about eight or nine years ago.
CB: Right. So it -
MW: Going back.
CB: So it took sixty years -
MW: Yes.
CB: To find out -
MW: To find out.
CB: Where he was.
MW: Ahum.
MW: And I stood there and I mean it’s probably been on the internet. My cousin came for the day and I’d had this well not because of that but I said to him, ‘When you’re playing about on your computer would you like to have a look and see if you can find where this young man was buried?’ And he came back with it. Hello.
Other2: Hello. Hello. Hello.
Other: Hello.
MW: I said um and he came back the next morning. He said, ‘Well that was easy there was only one Harsum in the RAF.’ Because it’s a very unusual name.
CB: Yeah, indeed yeah.
MW: And he said he’s in so and so and so and so and I said to Roy, ‘Would you like to come?’ And he said, ‘No I wouldn’t,’ he said, ‘But why don’t you ask David if he would.’ So we, I rang David and I said, ‘How do you think about it?’ I said, ‘If I pay everything because I’d got this legacy you see from -
CB: Oh did you? Yes.
MW: And I said the three of us will go. And we went and I stood in front of that headstone and it was, I could almost hear Douglas say. ‘You’ve come at last.’
CB: Really?
MW: It was -
CB: It’s very touching.
MW: Strange. It really is. But it’s such a beautiful place.
CB: Is it?
MW: And do you know when we went in the lady that keeps it going she’s English married to um whether he’s Italian I think he’s probably Italian and she took us to the little, the book where you can, and I wrote in it.
CB: A Book of Remembrance
MW: And there’s a little church, a catholic church and, and a protestant church. Catholic one’s not used very often but she said the protestant one they always use it on Remembrance Day and it is open on some occasions but it’s so well kept.
CB: Is it?
MW: And this is a communal grave of course.
CB: Yes. Right -
MW: But that’s on board the, the Bilbao and -
CB: That is the
MW: That’s the -
CB: Commonwealth War Graves. Yes.
MW: And there are the war graves. Can you see [?]
Other: Yes, I can see. Yes. Yes.
MW: You can see and these are, [pause] oh that’s Lorna and me.
CB: Yeah.
MW: And that’s the lady who looks after it and I say there was a cockerel running around.
CB: Oh was there?
MW: I think that’s him there. And when we went back a couple of days later there was a rabbit
CB: Oh was there?
MW: Running around.
CB: Really?
Other: Wow
MW: Beautifully kept.
CB: Yes.
MW: And these are all the ones that, is this of any interest?
CB: Yes. Thank you.
MW: Would you like to take it?
CB: We’d like to borrow that as well.
MW: Would you?
CB: Yes. And let you have that back.
MW: Ok. Oh well you can have a look -
CB: Yeah.
MW: At it when you get back.
CB: Thank you.
MW: I mean you, as I say there’s only us three on it.
CB: Yes.
MW: And you’ll recognise me -
CB: But it’s an important link in what you’ve been talking about.
MW: Right. Well you take that.
CB: Thank you.
MW: And I’ll keep all your correspondence.



Chris Brockbank, “Interview with Mary Ward. Two,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed June 21, 2024,

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