Interview with Margaret Hourigan


Interview with Margaret Hourigan


Margaret Hourigan grew up in and around Nottingham. Despite holding Labour principles she volunteered for the WAAF’s as soon as War was declared and was called up in January 1940. She Hourigan served in the Women's Auxiliary Air Force as a plotter with Fighter Command before being posted to RAF Waddington and RAF Skellingthorpe with Bomber Command. She met and married an Australian pilot, and emigrated to Australia after the war. Margaret and her husband had eight children.




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DE: So, a quick introduction, this is an interview for the International Bomber Command Centre. My name is Dan Ellin, today I am interviewing Margaret Hourigan nee Parsons it is the 16th of April 2018, we’re at the IBCC Digital Archive, Riseholme and also present in the room is David Hourigan. So, Margaret, could you start?
MH: Start yes.
DE: Start by telling us a little about your life?
MH: Yes, my childhood. If I start, I remember 1926, I remember the Great Strike. And my father was a miner when he came back from the War, the only job he could get, he was very badly wounded in the first World War. And I remember the, standing on the front step of our little house on Lowmoor Road and a man ran in toour front door. And the police outside, was it police or a soldier? On a black horse reared up and the man ran under the horse’s legs into our house and out the back door. And I don’t know what happened but police everywhere. I think the miners were striking, maybe they were being a bit angry, I don’t know. But my Dad was a safety man and so he was down the pit so it was OK. I remember that very plainly, I think it was 1926. I would have been four. And then, my Dad was very, very ill after that he got badly burnt at work. I remember [unclear] to think he was going to die. We were too little to know that. Anyway, he didn’t die, eventually he recovered. And I can’t remember moving but we moved to another house and my Nanna and Grandpa left and they had a fish and chip shop which we took over so my Dad worked there. He also worked at the pit, he also worked as a gardener for a doctor, and he also had his own allotment. So, he repaired our shoes and cut our hair when we had no money. And we were always well fed through the Depression years but I remember terrible scenes of children with no shoes in the snow. Awful things we saw at Kirkby. And I think then the miners didn’t get any help if they were injured at work. I think they went home and had to suffer. I can’t, I know we were all very Labour, when the Daily Herald paper came out we all thought we were in heaven, and all very Labour. I’m not now [chuckles] we were then. And we used to go to, when I was a little bit older, we used to go to Hucknall Air Display. There was a little aerodrome there, and they had Tiger Moths. I used to think ‘One day, God I’d love to fly them.’ And every year we visited until I went to work and then I decided that I would join up as soon as war was declared. Oh, belonged to the Labour Party League of Youth then and we were very hostile little bunch and when Mr Chamberlain came back from Berlin waving his bit of paper we all went mad and got very angry. And the Labour Party said they were going to disband us if we didn’t shut up. One of our trips was to go to the pictures and we sat down when they played God Save the Queen or King or we walked out according to our mood. Anyway, soon as war was declared whoosh we all joined up except one poor man who was a true conscientious objector. He never did join up and he had awful struggle, but he never gave in. We were all wimps, as soon as war was declared.
DE: What happened to him do you know?
MH: I don’t know. I know he was penalised and punished and treated like dirt. I don’t know. He didn’t die because one day David answered the telephone, somebody in Canberra saying ‘Anybody from Kirkby in Ashfield?’ And David rang up and said ‘Yes, my mother is.’ So he chatted I said ‘I remember his Dad he was a conchie.’ We never heard from him again. I mean I didn’t mean to be derogatory, I thought he was a wonderful man.
DE: Um. But you, you, you joined up?
MH: We joined the WAAFs yes. And I went to stay with my Auntie Margaret. She had a shop on Highson Green at Basford in Nottingham. And early hours of the morning I trotted off to Nottingham station. I went to St Pancras, how I got across London I don’t know. I’d never been before and I went to Kingsway and there was a male clerk there and a doctor. And they talked to me all morning and then the male clerk took me to the pictures at lunchtime. You know they had those newsreel places then, and I shut my eyes the whole way through because I thought if I can’t see, if my eyes aren’t good enough, they won’t take me I was sitting there [chuckles] [unclear] a right nutcase. Anyway, took me back to Kingsway afterwards and must have had a cup of tea or something. And the doctor said ‘You’ve got a heart of a lion.’ Always remember that.
DE: Um.
And then I had a medical, went home and I think it was very early January 1940 I got the call up. Freezing cold winter. I don’t know how I got to London, I suppose I did. And went to Watford, think it was Watford. And it was freezing cold there and a dirty, dirty billet the men had been in, and nobody had been in for months, anyway it was really dirty. And the water froze in the pipes, we couldn’t have a wash. The girls had water bottles that froze in bed. I woke up the next morning and I went to the sick bay, and I was covered in big red blobs. And the doctor said ‘Haven’t ever seen flea bites before?’ I hadn’t. Anyway, they must have gone away because we started marching up and down, up and down, and round and round, got our uniforms and then I was posted to Leighton Buzzard. I found I’d been enrolled as a clerk,special duties, so I must have talked well and got a very high classification. And went to Leighton Buzzard, started plotting. And then one day they said ‘You and two other girls are posted to Bawdsey Manor.’ It’s down near Felixstowe where Watson-Watt invented the radar. [unclear] arrived late at night, remember crossing water but it actually wasn’t an island, it was just a little inlet to get across to the house. And a man rowed the boat over and somewhere I met some soldiers. I don’t know how because they said would I ask the girls at the base if they would like to come to a dance? I thought they’d all be too posh to go but they ‘Oh yes.’ So, we went to the dance with the sailors, the soldiers and it was a huge house. Lots of rooms, lots of cockroaches. And in the morning I woke up and they had kedgeree for breakfast. I’d never seen it before. I was just used to cornflakes or porridge and they had this great big thing of kedgeree. Anyway, the Indian educated girls all loved it. A lot of girls had been brought up by their families living in India, they thought it was wonderful, I didn’t. Anyway, we started on the radar and we had a green screen, like a television screen, with a green line wavering line that went across it really quickly. And echoes, a big echo would be an aeroplane, and wiggle, wiggle so many in the group. I couldn’t do it, I hated it, made me feel sick. Anyway, I persisted and the other girls just had a little green handle, they could turn it and illuminate the echo and say ‘Twelve plus’ and ‘twenty thousand feet.’ I could not do it. So, I went to the WAAF officer in the end and I said ‘I hate it, I can’t do it.’ And there was a man in the office with her. He said. And she said ‘Yes, yes.’ I couldn’t go, he thought I knew too much. Anyway, outside was the big pylons, you know?
DE: Um.
MH: And one interesting day before I left we were walking, a WAAF and I, were walking along the edge of green grass and the Channel was here in front of us. And I could see ships out at sea and big black birds flying all round it. And I thought they were big huge seagulls. And as we were walking along we saw the Coastguard. He was dancing up and down, waving his arms at us. We thought ‘Oh, he’s gone mad.’ And when we caught up with him, just as we caught up with him, a low flying German aeroplane went over. It would only be a hundred feet, we could see the pilot laughing. And he said ‘I was trying to warn you.’ Well where could we go? Nowhere to lie down and hide. Anyway, he was laughing. The German pilot must have thought it was a bit of a joke. We were both in uniform.
DE: Um
MH: Anyway, he flew inland for a little while and he came out further down the coast, we could still see him. He wasn’t laughing when he came back out. And he went back. The black birds were the first attack on a convoy.
DE: I see.
MH: So that was that. Nearly written off before I started. And then I went to Fighter Command Headquarters at Bentley Priory in the ops room there, started plotting.
DE: And what was that like?
MH: Huge, and down, down, down underground. We lived in huts opposite and I remember I Winston Churchill coming in. I remember King George coming in, looking down on the plots. And must have started bombing. I remember Dunkirk about that time. I asked, anyway I got a bit lonely, the girls were all very posh shall we say. One girl’s father signed the pound note, I know that. If you told me who it was I’d tell you that was so but I can’t remember. But I know her father was high in the Government. They all came along with their gold braid to pick their daughters up in big cars and here’s poor little me from Kirkby. I had nobody to pick me up. And I decided to have my photograph taken. So, I went along to this photographer and I had a black velvet dress I remember and I said ‘Would you take it with me smoking a cigarette?’ He said ‘Indeed I won’t!’ I thought I’d be a film star. He said ‘Indeed I won’t!’ He did a lovely ‘photo. Anyway, I asked to go to 12 Group, I went to 12 Group headquarters then in Hucknall and I stayed there all through the Battle of Britain and the night bombing. I was plotting the night Coventry was bombed and there were so many plots on the table but we couldn’t relieve each other. We used to take time off, two people standing beside each other plotting and grabbing plots off. You plotted five minutes red, five minutes yellow and five minutes blue. Then you snatched the red off and started plotting red again and they knew the time upstairs, they could tell how old the plot was. And when they were over land the Observer Corps did all the plots. Out at sea we got the plots from the radar.
DE: Um.
MH: And the men who were plotting that night from Coventry, not one of the them left their posts. All of their houses were bombed, not all badly but all stayed with us. Thought that was rather wonderful. Didn’t get much praise at all really when they talk about the war now nobody remembers the Observer Corps do they?
DE: No, my grandfather was in the Observer Corps.
MH: Was he?
DE: How did, how did it feel then seeing, watching the plots of the German aircraft coming in?
MH: We were too damn busy to bother. We wrote a poem about it. I wrote it down somewhere I know. ‘A bloody raids coming roaring in, kicking up a bloody din. Who can spot their bloody game? Bloody seven, two and four, these and bloody thousands more. Across the bloody coast they came, bloody Jones is up above , he a bloody man we’d love. No bloody smoking says the cad, enough to drive us bloody mad.’ Because we knitted or sewed or read but the men got so bored they cracked up.
DE: Um.
MH: In the end, when we started we’d be half and half. By this time, this time, they’d might be two men left who were C3, they couldn’t go anywhere else.
DE: Right.
MH: So then after all that bombing I had trouble with varicose veins and I was going to hospital, hilarious story. Going to hospital for treatment. And one day I woke up, I didn’t know, somebody knocked on the door, I’d stripped my nightgown off, standing there stark naked and a big policeman walked in the door. And I stood there [exclamation noise], and I stood there and he shut the door and went out. I still stood there. And he came in again and I hadn’t moved. And I ran. He said ‘I’d never seen anything as pretty in all my life as your little bum waddling down the hall.’ He didn’t know it was me but I went to get the bus to go and have my injections for my varicose veins and he was there and I cut him dead. He said ‘I knew then it was you.’ Otherwise he didn’t. So that was all over the camp. ‘A WAAF’s been caught in the nude.’ And it was me. He said ‘Why didn’t you put some clothes on?’ I said ‘I couldn’t think.’ Anyway, Wing Commander Woods was the CO there and he said ‘Why don’t you put in for Bomber Command, there’s a sergeant’s job going there?’ So, I did and took me to Grantham for the interview and I marched in, polished up to the hilt, [unclear]into the hall, turned round and they were sitting at the table there. Whizzed round, slipped on my bum. And I tried to carry on, I couldn’t. Anyway, we all started laughing then that was OK, we were all at ease. And I got accepted and I was posted to Swinderby and then I went to Waddington. And then 44 Squadron left Waddington, the Rhodesians. We had no squadron there we had put in concrete runways. I don’t know why they keep saying that there were squadrons there, there weren’t. They put in a concrete runway.
DE: Yeah it was closed for a while.
MH: It was closed for quite a while.
DE: We interviewed a chap who was there when they were putting the runways in.
MH: Yeah, yeah. We had Irish labourers come in. They were awful, we hated them. I damn near got raped one night. They were so drunk luckily they couldn’t catch me. But we had to walk home from Waddington. I was with an Aussie sergeant, Bill. That’s all I know. And we walked up the hill, you know you get to the top of the hill? All the nice houses were. Over the top was flat. That side’s green,this side’s airfield. And we heard these men saying ‘No, no, no you hold her, you hold him and I’ll have her. No, no, no, no, you hold him and I’ll have her.’ I thought ‘What’d they say?’ And I said to Bill ‘There going to rape me!’ and as we were passing by, I don’t know if it was an ack ack army unit but there was a five barred gate and a shed. I knew there were soldiers in there, and I put my hand on top of that gate and I cleared it. And I ran into the hut, the men were all in the ‘jamas, laughing and talking, and I said ‘Those men are going to rape me.’ And a couple of them got dressed and then Bill arrived. He said ‘I couldn’t get over the gate.’ But I cleared it. Olympic runner honestly. Anyway, they took us back to camp and that was that. But we had lots of trouble with the Irish then, always drunk, always fighting. Anyway, I trained as a watchkeeper and then sometimes I went to Bardney, sometimes I stayed I went to Skellingthorpe. The first time I was at Skellingthorpe I was under flying control, little tiny ops room. All the room was full of men. Officers, group captains everybody. And the raid was coming through on my little telephone . And I never learnt French at school and the route was coming through in French. I couldn’t do it. I know what, one was [unclear]. On one of those photos we’ve taken upstairs. I can remember that. Anyway, I struggled and did it and you know your degrees, I put in sixty three degrees and all that. And I made, I did it alright. Anyway Flight Lieutenant Williams said ‘You did a good job Maggie.’ He helped me, sorted it all out. But that was my initiation Eventually, we moved to a big ops room at the Doddington end of Skellingthorpe and had a great big table in the middle. I had a little office and Squadron Leader Quinn was at that end in his little office. He was a station navigation officer. And intelligence there in another little room. Daddy, Squadron Leader Dodd, we called him ‘Daddy Dodd’ ‘cause he was in his thirties. Daddy Williams was in his twenties and I know Daddy Quinn was twenty-nine. We thought he was old. And I worked there from then on. I remember a Lanc’ crashing at the end of the runway and blowing a great big hole and all the windows in Lincoln High Street were broken. And this air gunner was still sitting on the hole. He must have been mad, never, ever heard of him again.
DE: Um.
MH: But that was, we used to go to the end of the runway and watch the boys go. Not so much coming back ‘cause they came back early in the morning. But I’d walk round the perimeter track and they’d be lying by the aircraft on a nice summers day waiting to take off. I never dared say ‘Good luck or God bless you.’ Thought they’d think I was putting a jinx on them, but I wanted to say something, but I daren’t, never did.
DE: Um.
MH: But in the, when we went to lunch mess at lunchtime they’d all say ‘What’s the petrol like Mag?’ It worked out, you know long or short trip. Or ‘What’s the bomb load?’ they’d know if that was a big one that was a short trip. Or a little one was a long trip. And they knew I knew. I knew they knew I knew but I couldn’t say anything to them. And we had Group Captain Jefferson there who was a very, very posh gentleman. It was all ‘Do, do, do,do you think Maggie. Do you think you could?’ I can’t tell you what he said, it’s too rude. But he always sat with me at night when they were off flying and Daddy Dodd used to go to Lincoln and stay at the hotel with his wife and we had a code that I had to tell him, if somebody was coming back early or something like that. He’d ring me and say, I can’t remember what the code was but ‘Yes, come back’ or ‘No, you don’t need to.’
DE: Right.
MH: We had a great rapport. And that’s pretty well it I think. I often went to Bardney and worked there. And I remember meeting the nicest man I’ve ever met in my life. A Flight Lieutenant Dennis Irving. He was a very Catholic gentleman who went to mass, said the rosary, prayed. Everybody knew, we all knew and yet he wasn’t a bit shy about it. Was a real Christian gentleman. And the funny thing was they all had to wear civilian clothes when they went home to Ireland. I worked with a WAAF who had to go home in civvies. And yet when my husband went in Ireland he said that he had to wear civvies there were U boat men in the pubs in full uniform. They weren’t happy.
DE: No, I can imagine.
MH: Anyway, I pretty well went along like that was escorted to station dances and pictures. I remember once going to the pictures, Casablanca. We all sang ‘You must remember this.’ The whole theatre was singing and really the rapport, you can’t imagine and the friendship. It was just something.
DE: Um.
MH: Sometimes I’d go to a meal and they’d be one sergeant sitting there, I can remember him. And I thought ‘I should talk to you.’ But how do you talk to a stranger who’s looking a bit grumpy? Anyway, I thought you’re not going to come back. And he didn’t. Sometimes things happen like that. I remember being madly in love with a boy. And I was hanging around the flying control and in the end the girls said ‘For God’s sake Maggie, clear off.’ [unclear] I had to go home. Anyway, he did his tour and went back to Australia. That was that. He was killed afterwards anyway. And one day Daddy Quinn said to me ‘Maggie, I’ve got good news for you. Mentioned in dispatches.’
DE: You were mentioned in dispatches?
MH: Um.
DE: What was that for?
MH: I suppose because I was a good girl, did my work well. I lost the citation, I’ve got the box, the packet that it came in but my son that went to America took everything, I never got it back. I’ve got the envelope and I’ve got the thing it came with.
DE: Right.
MH: It said.
DE: Well we could probably look it up and find it [unclear].
MH: That’s what came with it. You can’t look it up, it’s all gone.
DE: No, we can look it up in the Gazette. It says it’s dated the first of January 1946.
MH: [Rustling of paper] What this is? That’s what the citation was with.
DE: Yes.
MH: Yes, they said you could look at the what’s its name? The magazine.
DE: The Gazette?
MH: Yes, the Gazette. It’ll be in there. That’s what we did, a plotter.
DE: Yes. So what was your job like?
MH: In the operations room?
DE: In the watch office. What was your job in the watch office?
MH: Oh the – the ‘phone would ring in the morning. We had to get to work at nine o’clock. I was always late. And the ‘phone would ring and a voice would say ‘Ops on tonight, maximum effort.’ Or they’d say ‘Nothing on tonight.’ Soon as they said ops were on I rang the group captain and I rang both wing commanders from the squadrons and then flight commanders and then the bombing leader and engineer officer, flying control, intelligence. And they all started their work then and then we had teleprinters bringing all the information later on in the war so Groupie Jefferson used to come in and read it and the route and Squadron Leader Quinn would come in. He’d plan the route from that we were going to fly. Height, target. Then I had to look up the colours of the day and they had to fire those across the coastal path the naval ship or whatever when they were coming in.
DE: Um.
MH: And eventually they’d have to announce they briefing times and would have to announce the meal times. And then I would go off duty at five, five thirty. Would go down to the runway then and watch them going. And then one time I went off in the morning and it was terribly misty like it’s been here for the last week. Very low cloud. And Jock McPherson was in the control in his little black and white van at the end of the runway firing a Very cartridge. I said ‘Can I have one?’ He gave me one, we were doing one each. And fire it and the Lancaster would come out of the mist. Over the waafery, down to the end of the runway. If it had been three foot short we would have been killed. But nobody did they all landed, bang on the runway.
DE: Wow.
MH: I think they had a bomb load on too, I think they were coming back with a bomb load.
DE: Crikey.
MH: Anyway, they were hilarious things.
DE: Ah ha.
MH: Another time we were sleeping naked outside. There was a little garden, I think it was an officer’s garden, somebody lived there. A nice little garden of roses. We used to go out then take our clothes off and a bit of low flying went on [chuckles]. Anyway that was that I think. When the invasion was on that night I went out to the toilet, about five o’clock in the morning, or six. It was just turning light. The sky was black with aircraft. Couldn’t, could not believe so many aircraft and I thought ‘I’ll remember this as long as I live.’ Which I have.
DE: Did you know what it was then when you saw?
MH: Well, I knew when I saw it what it was. I didn’t know, didn’t know it was on until then. But we had two accidents. Another time a bomb went off in the dispersal. All of the Lancs were loaded and windows again went in the High Street. But the people were lovely to us. One of the girls that, a big store, don’t know what it was. Just above the Stonebow she always gave me silk stockings. They were very hard to get.
DE: Um.
MH: Um. And then one day the war was over. And 50 and 61 just disappeared. Groupie Jefferson just disappeared and a Group Captain Forbes came. And he was a very nice man, we always thought about him. He’d come back from Japan and his wife was interned. We could never work out how that happened, not Japan, Singapore.
DE: Um.
MH: Anyway, 463 came and they were being briefed to bring the prisoners back from Europe. And I was on, I went early and WAAF said ‘’I knew you’d come early tonight when they were here.’ All the officers were in the ops room being briefed. And I saw this blonde one leaning on the table at the back. I thought ‘Oh, he looks alright.’ I can’t remember him coming up to me but he must have ‘cause I went out with him that night and I married him. (chuckles). Two months later I married him and went to Australia.
DE: OK. Well why not?
MH: Um. It’s silly. Silly, silly, silly. I didn’t know if he had a job, didn’t know if he was a layabout or what. I mean they were all handsome in uniform, I never looked further than that. Anyway he went to uni, the Government paid for them all to go to uni if they wanted to and they’d matriculated, so he did. Did an economics degree and a commerce and he worked in the Government all his life. And I got presented to the Queen Mother when she came and had a good life.
DE: So, you met him after D-Day?
MH: After the war was over.
DE: Yeah.
MH: He was on 463 Squadron.
DE: And did you marry him in the UK?
MH: Yes I did.
DE: When did you both go to Australia?
MH: He went back that Christmas. We married in October, October the 30th He went back to Australia then Christmas and I went back the next August on the Orbita.
DE: What was that like?
MH: They divided all the first-class cabins for in about six. And there was hardly any water to wash yourselves. We were taking all our clothes off and going standing in a draughty doorway it was so hot. And when we were going down Suez Canal we were passing all the British ships coming home with all the troops. And they were ‘Where are you going?’ and the Aussies were shouting ‘We’re going to Australia, we’ve got all the girls.’ And the Englishmen ‘ Have they really got all the girls?’ We felt miserable then. The Aussies were awful. When we got to Port Said the people came along the boat, beside the boat, hauling up handbags and things for us to buy.
DE: Um.
MH: And the Aussies put hoses on them.
DE: Right.
MH: I know my husband said when he arrived back in Australia all the big dignitaries came out to meet the ships coming in and cheering the boys. My husband always called them ‘The Cheer Company’, cheer you when you go and cheer you when you come back. They put the hoses on them as well. And anyway then I had a horrible time. My mother in law hated, me she was Irish and blamed me for all the stuff going on in Ireland. I’d never heard of it. We were never taught at school anything about that.
DE: Um. So where did you live in Australia?
MH: We lived in Enfield, it’s not a terribly good area really. But they lived there, my mother in law lived there with her second husband. My husband’s father came back from the first World War with a, what did he have? Military Medal, and I think he was a bit shell shocked. He cleared off and left his family and never, ever heard what happened to him again.
DE: Um.
MH: Anyway, we’ve got his medal and he got a write up on. You know you can look it up on David’s mobile and he’s got all his citation.
DE: Yes. Never, ever heard from him again. Shame wasn’t it?
DE: Um.
MH: They had lovely grandchildren. I had eight children, three sets of twins, and two single girls. David’s a twin. I’ve lost three.
DE: Oh dear.
MH: Um. Anyway, that’s that. I think that’s told you everything.
DE: If it’s OK I’ll ask a couple more questions?
MH: Yes.
DE: What did your husband do after the war in Australia?
MH: He was an, he started off as an auditor and then he worked for the Leader of the Opposition who was a Labour man. Mr O’Halloran Giles, he worked for him. And then Mr O’Halloran-Giles.
DH: Mr O’Halloran?
MH: Um? O’Halloran Giles. Mick O’Halloran that’s right. And then he died and Frank Walsh was the second one. My husband worked for him and they were elected into office but my husband couldn’t go with him the Public Service wouldn’t let him transfer to the Premier’s office. So he stayed in the Public Works Committee and he worked for them for thirty odd years.
DE: Right, OK. Did you have a job?
MH: No.
DE: No.?
MH: Too busy. I beg your pardon I did have a job when I first went to Australia. My mother in law insisted that I went to work. And I was pregnant with twins, sick as a dog, morning sickness. And I went to work at [Myle?] Emporium, which was a bit like [TJ’s?] sort of place, and they were so sorry for me they put me in bed every day. They said I was the worst saleswoman they’d ever had. How could I go from my job to that?
DE: Quite.
MH: And [Lloyd?] used to meet me at the railway station on his way home and take me home. I couldn’t face his mother. And they drank and swore and called all the English ’Pommies bastards.’ And it was after the Bodyline cricket series when Ray Larwood was there, who was born, lived near where I lived in Nottinghamshire.
DE: Um.
MH: And were all Bodyline killers. She used to go on about it. Anyway that was that, eventually they left and sold us the house and left. We could never afford to move anywhere else then ‘cause all the children went to private schools. We had some nuns opposite our house. I had a knock on the door one day and they said ‘Can David and Diane come to school?’ I thought ‘Go to school with nuns, no.’ I said ‘No, we’re moving.’ Couldn’t think of anything else to say. I thought afterwards said to my husband ‘They looked, had nice faces.’ ‘Cause he was a Catholic, I didn’t know. Anyway they knew and anyway I went and said ‘Yes, they can come.’
DE: Um.
MH: They started off. And David and Diane went to school. Sister [unclear] had about a hundred children didn’t she David? All in one room. When I went there [hissing noise] they all had their front teeth missing. ‘Mrs Hourigan’s here, Mrs Hourigan’s here.’ Anyway I heard them talking one day and teaching them saying about Jesus and Jesus was God when he came to earth. And I said ‘What’s she saying? Jesus wasn’t God.’ So I said to her ‘Don’t agree with what you’re saying.’ So she said ‘Well the mother sets the religion, if you don’t like it.’ She said ‘Have to give it up, but.’ She said ‘Before you do that go for a retreat,’ I went for a retreat at Canberra College and I fell in love with it. What they were telling me, and the singing and the hymns and the incense. I was in heaven and I converted in 1954.
DE: Right, OK.
MH: Never regretted it. And with losing three children I can tell you I needed my faith.
DE: Um.
MH: David’s my right hand man. And when I came here for this reunion I had these photographs to give all these years. I’ve rung Bomber Command time and time again in London and they took a message once and I said that bombing photos and no idea, absolutely no idea what I was saying and then it’d only be a couple of months ago I rang my daughter who lived in Dorset died and my other daughter moved into her house. And I was telling Elizabeth and she said ‘Mum I’ll fix it.’ So she rang and she got Nicky Barr, is it Nicky Barr? Who said ‘I’m thrilled, thrilled, thrilled. We’re opening the memorial.’ She said ‘I’d love your Mum to come.’ So Nicky rang Annette who’s done the Australian contingent and Annette rang me and said ‘Do you want to come with us?’ I said ‘Oh, I’d give my right arm to come with you.’ So I did. And then when we were at? We were David, where I fell in love again?
DH: Coningsby.
MH: Coningsby. I saw the Millikin name on the wall. I said ‘I knew a Millikin.’ And Wing Commander Millikin’s in 61, 619 now.
DE: Ah ha
MH: And he said ‘You knew my, that would have been my grandfather.’
DE: Wow.
MH: He hardly believed me at first but when I told him things I knew about his grandfather he knew I was genuine. And he said ‘Did my grandfather kiss you?’ I said ‘I wish he would, he didn’t, he was married.’
DE: Well.
MH: But anyway he was really happy. And he was a lovely man his grandfather was. A happy one like this one, happy and kind.
DE: Um.
MH: We had all those events, I could tell you hundreds truly, things come back to me. I’m lying in bed at night, cor. Is the lake still at Skellingthorpe?
DE: Um, I’m not sure. Skellingthorpe has changed an awful lot because –
MH: I know it’s a town, village now.
DE: It was built on virtually all of the, all of the old RAF station yeah.
MH: I know the school’s Lancaster school isn’t it?
DE: Um.
MH: Where the watch office was they said, and the waafery was in the rookery.
DE: Oh right, yes. What was the waafery like?
MH: Oh, a few huts. I had to walk across an empty block to get in have a bath. Get your clothes off. You can imagine in the middle of winter going to have a bath?
DE: Did they have plugs in the baths?
MH: No, took your own plug. We found that everywhere we travelled, it all went to Ireland, there was never a plug in the bath.
DE: So what did you do?
MH: Put a plastic bag over it.
DE: Aha.
MH: And that sucks in stops the water flowing away. There was plenty of hot water.
DE: But it was a long walk from the?
MH: Not really a long walk, a cold walk.
DE: Cold?
MH: And being an NCO I had a room at the end of the hut. So all the girls were there, open beds, but I had a little private room. And a little stove and I used to fill it with flowers, from the. What’s those flowers David?
DH: Cinerarias??
MH: No, those big bushes, rhododendrons. Rhododendrons.
DH: Rhododendrons.
MH: Yeah.
DE: OK. Did you have any trouble with the girls in the rest of the hut?
MH: Never, never, no. One girl surprised us. She was sitting knitting baby clothes and suddenly they said ‘She’s gone.’ We didn’t know. Was pregnant. She’d gone. We had, some of the English airman used to be a bit snobby. When the Aussies came and the Rhodesians they were really, and the Canadians, they were really you know, didn’t care whether you were a sergeant or what. They were officers there agreeable but some of the British. One man I met, and he used to come in the ops room. They all came in the ops room at night when ops weren’t on and I had a kettle and a toaster and the NAAFI used to send me over a big lump of butter and a lot of bread and make toast. And anybody would turn up and have a slice of toast and a cup of something. And this man used to, flight lieutenant somebody or other, used to come and have a cup of tea and toast with me and Bill. Familiar yes, ‘Maggie fa, fa, fa’ and a couple of days later I went into town and I was walking up towards the Stonebow I remember on the right hand side. Met him with this civilian woman and of course I chatted to him like I had in the ops room the night before and he just cut me as dead as dead. I thought ‘You pig.’ The next time he came for cups of tea I tell you he didn’t get it. Hung his head. I thought ‘Don’t bother coming here.’
DE: I can’t say I blame you, that’s –
MH: No, no. But I found that, and they used to call the WAAF’s ‘camp bikes’ or ‘officer’s ground sheets’ was the pet one.
DE: Do you think that was justified or?
MH: No, [emphatic] no, no, no. When I look back and think how hard the girls worked. The MTT, the girls in the mess, and the equipment. And my friend used to drive the bomb trolley and people in the office, and teleprinters, telephone exchange, intelligence, meterology. We all worked so hard and we all believed we were shortening the war.
DE: Um.
MH: I never heard anybody say anything else. And David will laugh. I meant to tell you this story about David’s friend. When they were about eighteen, they were at Uni. And the man remembers to this day, he’s a professor now. Monash University but he knows Mrs Hourigan was angry with him. He said, what was it we were talking about? Bomber Command, we talk about Bomber Command the whole time my husband and I when we got back. We lived what had happened. And we were talking. And he said ‘Oh, they all went off.’ He said ‘They thought kill a few Germans tonight.’ And thought that of Bomber Command, and I said ‘Nothing of the kind.’ And David saw him recently and he said ‘Your mother still remembers then does she?’ He said ‘Yes, she does.’ I’ll never forget, I was so upset, so angry. And when I was in hospital last year the doctor said to me ‘I’ve heard that when they woke up in the morning they threw a dart at the wall. Wherever the dart landed they said ‘That’s where we’ll bomb tonight.’ I said ‘Nothing could be further from the truth.’
DE: So do you think in Australia Bomber Command has got an odd sort of reputation?
MH: I think it, I thought it was general because here for a long time we were wanted for being war criminals weren’t we?
DE: Um. Some people think that yeah. I just wondered if you thought it was different in Australia because you know I think.
MH: I think in Australia a lot of the people thought that the Bomber Command boys had been having a good time in England and they were being bombed by the Japanese. And when they went back it was ‘Oh you’ve been having a good time overseas, we’ve been suffering the Japanese.’ In fact when the War was over the squadrons were ordered to come back to fight Japan.
DE: Um.
MH: Only lucky that the Americans dropped the atomic bomb in August or they’d all have been coming back for that.
DE: Um.
MH: But I don’t think that they understood the War ‘cause they hadn’t been in it. ‘Cause when we’re lying in bed hearing the doodle bugs going round, buzz, buzz, buzz, and then the engine stop you think ‘Oh God, where’s it going to land?’ They had none of that.
DE: Quite, no.
MH: I remember being in Nottingham one night when Nottingham was bombed and I was with my Auntie. And she was a little way out of Nottingham and remember seeing all the incendiaries in the fields. We could see the bombs going down. And one night, we used to hitch, when we were in Fighter Command, we used to hitch hike to London on our days off and one night I remember being on top of a building and mines were coming down on parachutes. How I got up there I don’t know and the men were running around. What do you call them? Air raid wardens were running around with buckets and hoses and we’re up there laughing and dancing about, the WAAF’s and me. We never were in any danger ever when we were in uniform. Except those Irish men. Never forget them. But nowhere else, we went in, we were wandering around looking for a pub we could get a drink. [unclear] some places I can tell you wouldn’t go in. We’d open the front door awful, people with black eyes and black and they’d just look up, we backed out again. I don’t know what sort of den on iniquity it was, didn’t even know where we were.
DE: Um.
MH: But we’d hitch. And when we met the Canadians we cut all our buttons off and swapped with them. We came back to Nottingham without a button on our uniform. And they went off without buttons on theirs. I’ve still got Canadian buttons on mine somewhere. Don’t know where it is, my uniform is now. Think Michael took it to America
DE: Aha.
MH: So, that’s it I think.
DE: Okey dokey
MH: Are you happy with that?
DE: I’m absolutely very, very much so. I’m just having a look to see if I’ve got any questions I wanted to ask. Just going right back to the very start when you joined the.
MH: Um. WAAF’s.
DE: Did you, did you volunteer or were you?
MH: I volunteered.
DE: Why did you choose the WAAF’s? Why did you volunteer?
MH: I liked the air force. I used to read the Biggles books when I was a little girl.
DE: Um.
MH: You know Biggles and his second pilot was Algy and his engineer was Ginger, and I lived those books. And I just wanted to join the air force, thought it was wonderful.
DE: I was just wondering how volunteering during the war sort of fitted in with your early political beliefs?
MH: Forgot all about them. Voted Liberal ever since I came out, out to Australia. No, I remember in Hucknall a man, some officer I’ve forgotten who it was, he used to pick us all up, bit of a ratbag I don’t know. And he took us, this bunch of WAAF’s up to his house, he was filling us with gin I remember that, we were all merry. And he was asking us questions about politics and we were slamming the government, slamming this and that and he couldn’t believe his good fortune. We were telling him everything that was going to happen after the war. What we were going to do, burn the place down I think and start again. And then the next night he asked us to go back to his house again, we didn’t have any gin, he had another man there. He said ‘Tell him what you told me last night.’ Of course, we were all dumb, needed a gin to get us going again. He was very disappointed. We wouldn’t be wound up.
DE: Who do you think the man was?
MH: I don’t know who he was, he was some somebody, some politician I bet you. But when my husband worked for the Labour Party I was happy with them. Then we had a man who was a bit nasty, but he was openly gay and he was a nasty man as well. Had nasty habits and my husband had to work with him. Some of the time he really didn’t like him and I sort of went a bit off the Labour Party. And then I changed my mind.
MH: And I thought in Australia the unions were running the show and my daughter’s husband, married a sailor, who was in Vietnam and the waterside workers wouldn’t ship any arms or food or anything over, and that put me off.
DE: Aha. OK.
MH: And one of the men asked me the other day, on one of the interviews what I thought about when people died. I didn’t always react you know, you saw missing, missing, missing, missing, missing. I know they were all terribly upset when Dambusters went and Henry Maudsley was a man from 50 Squadron who everybody loved. Oxford Blue and very educated. Lovely young man. And when we went into the chapel in Lincoln the candlesticks and crucifix are dedicated to Henry Maudsley, supplied by his family. So yesterday we put a poppy on him on the memorial. I forgot should have done one for Guy Gibson, I couldn’t think. ‘Cause I didn’t lose anybody.
DE: You didn’t?
MH: No.
DE: No.
MH: Not personally. But it was hard, I mean you knew that they’d been shot down. You knew the worry that they were going to be shot down. And some of them you looked at them and you knew they were going to get it ‘cause they were a bit –
DE: Bit shaky?
MH: They had a twitch or. And you always thought ‘Oh they’re going to cop it.’ And they did. And the mad ones, the ones you thought ‘You’re going to die.’ They survived ‘cause they were realistic, ‘We can’t possibly live.’ So.
DE: Um. Did anyone ever talk about lack of moral fibre?
MH: One man, one man, lack of moral fibre. It was awful. Ripped everything off him, all his ensignia, in front of the whole camp. I was reading about Group Captain Cheshire yesterday on David’s mobile. I saw ‘Group Captain Cheshire – Unknown Story.’ And read about him and he said with lack of moral fibre he had to be very strict because it could taint the whole lot of them.
DE: Um.
MH: He said he was very strict with it.
DE: So did you, did you see that actually happen with people having their?
MH: It did happen. It did happen.
DE: Where was that? Can you remember?
MH: Oh, I think it was at Skellingthorpe we had one. But they got sent away quickly because they’d taint everybody else. I know my husband said when he was flying his bomb aimer said ‘I can’t press the tit, I can’t press the tit!’ My husband said ‘You’ll faffing well press the tit or you’ll go with ‘em!’
DE: Your husband was a pilot?
MH: Yeah.
DE: How many ops did he do?
MH: About fifteen. He only came at the end of the war, he was only eighteen in 1942. I was two years older than him.
DE: Um.
MH: Never let me forget it. I was a cradle snatcher. [chuckles] But they looked so old the Bomber Command men, they all had grey faces. And there hair seemed to get colourless somehow they looked. Fighter pilots always looked gay and young and laughing. I know in the Battle of Britain I bet they didn’t but otherwise they were always gay and young. But the Bomber Command pilots always looked old.
DE: Why was that do you think?
MH: I don’t, because in the morning they’d know, ‘I might die tonight.’ And friends, people all around them were dying and I think that they knew how dicey their life was. And they’d live in a hut and come home and half the beds would be empty.
DE: Um.
MH: And sometimes when they took off in the morning they’d go to Germany and come back at say midnight and they’d be an intruder in the circuit. And one time was dropping bombs on the Waddington bomb dump. We thought it was hilarious at Skellingthorpe, bombing Waddington. They had Air Commodore Hesketh, we hated him. And he was a very bossy man, all his gold braid. And we didn’t have any of that at Skelly, only had the Groupie. They didn’t go around polishing boots and looking and making a parade and all like they did at Waddington.
DE: So do you think there was a difference between the permanent stations and the wartime stations?
MH: Yeah, I reckon. Well the Aussies were very casual. I remember one raid when the war began they handed, not when war began, when the D-Day began they handed the air force over to the army. It was the silliest thing they ever did. The army would call up, ‘Come and bomb this.’ And they’d get the bombs on the ‘plane. ‘No, don’t come now, we don’t need you.’ And then ‘Come and bomb this.’ They’d all get ready again, ‘No, don’t come we don’t need you.’
DE: Um.
MH: And in the end they said ‘Either take us off or the bombs sink in the ground.’ Anyway one time they said ‘We don’t need you, stand down but don’t leave the station.’ Course all the Skellingthorpe mob stayed around but the Waddington mob all shot into Lincoln. And within half an hour they called ops on again. And the police and SP’s were racing around trying to round the Aussies out of the pubs. We were all ready but they, they were very undisciplined like that.
DE: What was Lincoln like? Did you go out in Lincoln?
MH: Oh, incredible. At night when the bombers had taken off you just heard this roar, you can’t imagine. Well we had thirty six take off at Skelly, there were thirty six at Waddington, sixteen or seventeen at Bardney and Scampton and Woodhall Spa and East Kirkby all of them. All take off, all go over. They used to meet at Beachy Head and, or Reading sometimes and amalgamate there and then start flying out to Holland. But they’d just all roar over. Massive noise.
DE: Um. And of course working where you did you knew before they did where they were going?
MH: Absolutely. And when they did the Berlin run, I think it was 1944, they went to Berlin about five nights in a row. And Nuremburg was another one, they lost about ninety ‘planes that night. None of them liked going up the Ruhr, Cologne or. Some of them, I know they had fish names for targets and we had a [unclear] ‘phone scrambled if you wanted to talk privately you pressed the scrambler.
DE: Yes.
MH: I remember Air Commodore Hesketh rang one day. I didn’t know it was him. I picked up the ‘phone, I said ‘Hello, hello, hello.’ [loudly] ‘Air Commodore Hesketh here.’ ‘Oh,[long drawn in breath] beg your pardon sir .’ ‘I want Group Captain Jefferson.’ I suppose he said to Groupie Jefferson ‘She’s a right one in there.’ He would have defended me. I know he would. But we had a lot of fun, used to laugh a lot. And I never, ever worked out the bomb load. I could not do it.
MH: I had to have one cookie, one thousand pounder, twelve SPC’s of incendiaries. And each Lancaster carried that. We had thirty two, thirty six whatever and I couldn’t do maths at all. I always rang Waddington the girls and said ‘How much bomb load have we taken off?’ And she would tell me. And I had to phone 5 Group and say ‘This much has gone.’
DE: Um.
MH: Once Groupie, Daddy Quinn came in with his slide rule. ‘Just do this Mag, just do this.’ I told him not to bother me. Can’t be bothered. I couldn’t cope, my little failing.
DE: You found a cunning way of getting round it.
MH: [laughing] We had, one night we had a camp concert. I was with this sergeant sitting there and a man who did tricks. What do you call ‘em? A conjurer. And he said ‘Two come up on the stage.’ He spotted us two sergeants sitting. ‘You come up.’ I had to get up and hold ropes and get things and next thing I kept dropping mine. Everybody was cheering, it was awful. Oh dear.
DE: Was that an ENSA concert?
MH: Yeah, yeah. And once we had some old ladies come, oh they were terrible. You had to sort of play a little tea thing in the afternoon. Fancy getting a bunch of airmen and airwomen and these old, fat old ladies with a cello, a big thing, and a piano and they’re all big stout old things in [silk?] dresses. We had to sit and listen.
DE: Not the sort of entertainment that you were after?
MH: No, no. No, no, no, no. Sometimes they were pathetic. I remember when I was young one of the WAAF’s in Skellingthorpe, not Skellingthorpe, [Waddington?] and this girl was singing. A pilot was sitting there she was singing at him and he was looking at her. Oh, they were so in love and she was really singing at him. She had on a pretty dress. All WAAF’s. We were slightly envious because in Fighter Command we didn’t see a man.
DE: Right, so Bomber Command was an improvement then?
MH: Bomber Command wall to wall men. But in 5 Command and 12 Group and Bentley Priory were just headquarters and Air Commodore um, you know the man who had his big wing and was always fighting? What was his name? Oh, can’t think. Anyway 11 Group fought with 12 Group because we had Douglas Bader and he wanted the big wings and [unclear] aeroplanes taking ten minutes to get off. He said ‘it goes in formation then.’
DE: Um.
MH: You could shoot them down. And he said, he said ‘if they drop after they drop their bombs it doesn’t matter.’ And 11 Group mostly were dropping them on my airfields. Anyway I can’t think, can’t think of the name. There was um. It’s gone, gone, it’s gone. It’ll come back to me, float back to me. My mind’s like a computer [unclear]. Anyway they had a lot of arguments about that. [unclear] once Douglas Bader came into the ops room we nearly all swooned away.
DE: Really?
MH: Um, um. See somebody with wings and young.
DE: Right. Yes.
MH: Never did get posted to ops in Fighter Command. I had this poor lover. David will laugh. What was his name? [unclear] and he followed me everywhere, he was a Canadian, and I did not want him. I never went out with him and they kept saying ‘He’s at the guardroom.’ And I wouldn’t go and talk to him and if I ever met a group of Canadians they’d say ‘You’re not Maggie are you?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Oh, awful person.’ And in the end I asked one of them what happened to him. Killed, he flew into a hill.
DE: Oh dear.
MH: I had to pray for him all my life.
DE: Um.
MH: I didn’t want him though. He was about six foot six, he was, and I was only little. And this great big thing standing beside me. Only a little thing. Anyway that was, would have been about 1944 I suppose.
DE: Ah.
MH: Look at it now, 2018. He’s still on my conscience. You can’t make yourself fall in love though can you?
DE: No. And for you it happened with your blonde Australian from 463 Squadron.
MH: Um. All my babies were premature. I had nobody to help me. No mother, no sister, no aunties. No sisters, nobody. [rustling of papers]There’s my MID thing, is that good enough? Defence Medal, yeah MID. Ha, ha, ha.
DE: Well unless you can think of another anecdote to tell me?
MH: No, don’t think I’ve any more.
DE: I’m sure.
MH: We used hitch hike and sit on the tanks and drive to London. Never got into any harm. Just hop in the truck and it’s ‘Hop up love.’ And take us to London and drop us down, we stayed at the Waterloo Bridge. There was a Sally Army hostel nearby, we used to stay there.
DE: This was when you were on leave?
MH: On leave or weekends off. We worked night shifts we’re on, have a couple of days off. And what were those, Lyons Corner Houses then, they had like a restaurant. And they used to wheel a big trolley full of jelly cake, sort of like layers of cream and jelly. Could have a cup of tea and a slice of cake. Like being in heaven, used to have a slice of cake and a cup of tea.
DH: What was the story of your flight down the Ruhr after the war?
MH: Oh yes, yes.
DH: Oh, OK. Tell us about.
MH: Oh yes, we did a cook’s tour after the war. And I had two flights. I had one flight with a person just flying around over Nottinghamshire and Lincolnshire. And when we got back he said that he hadn’t filled his logbook in because I’d been sick on his log, which was a dirty lie and I was really angry about that. And then we did a cook’s tour down, what they call a cook’s tour, down the Ruhr when the war was over. Oh, the damage was awful. And we were going round Heliogland and the ‘plane was going like that. [chuckling]
DE: You felt a bit airsick [unclear]?
MH: I felt sick.
DE: How many people went on an aircraft trip, cook’s tour?
MH: Oh, I think a lot of people went on if they wanted to.
DE: Aha.
MH: And you were lucky enough to get someone that would take you.
DE: So where did you stand on the aircraft?
MH: I stood behind the navigator some of the time.
DE: Aha. So you could look out and?
MH: Um.
DE: Yeah.
MH: I was scared though. I was really scared.
DE: Of flying?
MH: Um. To say I’d wanted to be an airman all my life I was really frightened.
DE: Um.
MH: Once we got in the thick cloud I remember flying over Nottingham in what they called cumulus nimbus, real thick black cloud. And I thought ‘If anybody else is in the cloud with us what’s going to happen?’ But there wasn’t anybody in with us.
DE: No.
MH: And then when you’re going down, to [makes vomiting noise] I don’t mind now, I fly on all the big ones.
DE: Yeah. They’re a little bit different aren’t they?
MH: Absolutely. We flew home in the, what’s it David? sleeper. It was non-stop.
DE: The Dream Liner?
MH: Dream Liner, non-stop from Perth to London.
DE: Um.
MH: Horrible, too long.
DE: Yeah.
MH: Can you think of anything else I’ve told you David that I’ve forgotten?
DH: I just noticed you said you flew home on the Dream Liner but your home’s in Australia.
MH: Oh I forget yeah [laughs]
DH: Her heart’s still in England.
DE: Fair enough.
MH: My heart’s always been in England.
DE: Um. Well thank you very, very much for coming here and telling me these stories.
MH: Thank you. Thank you for listening.
DE: No, my pleasure.
MH: Um.
DE: I shall press stop. Thank you very much.



Dan Ellin, “Interview with Margaret Hourigan,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed April 17, 2024,

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