Interview with Lillian Margret Bailey


Interview with Lillian Margret Bailey


Lillian Margaret Bailey volunteered for the Women's Auxiliary Air Force and after a brief time in RAF Balloon Command was trained as a driver. She served at RAF Elsham Wolds driving aircrews out to their aircraft.




Temporal Coverage




00:41:16 audio recording


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PL: Hello my name is Pam Locker and I have come from the Bomber Command Memorial trust
today to interview Mrs Margaret Lillian Mary Bailey; in her home, and Margaret thank you very
much indeed for agreeing to talking to talk to us and I am really looking forward to hearing your
story. So do you want to just start by telling me a little bit about your family and you came to be
involved with the WAAF?
MB: Well I was one of seven children, and in those days you had to do something some war work
and I volunteered to join the WAAF so that's how I got into the air force.
PL: Wonderful, and I understand that you inherited a new name?
MB: Thats right.
PL: Tell me about that.
MB: Well I was on this station and there was WAAF drivers we were all WAAF drivers and
there was three Lillian's on it and this officer said we can't have three so what’s your second name,
and I said Margaret since then I've been called Margaret.
PL: Oh my goodness! So tell me a little bit about your time at the WAAF , how did it feel at the
start when you first joined?
MB: Well I was a bit nervous at first you know, young, I joined up at Gloucester but I don't
know what the....where you get your uniform and...but I can't remember what it was called, then I
went to Ely near Cardiff, Barrage Balloon just while I was waiting to get posted to be trained as a
driver. I hung my coat in the porch one day and I had Ten shilling note in the pocket and that was
gone, of course I got told off for leaving it in me pocket they said it would teach you a lesson. So
I remember that from that house then I went to Cardington, near Bedford where I did my MT
training. And from there I went to Woolfox Lodge that’s near Stamford and that’s where they gave me
my new name there
PL: Right.
PL: And they were Stirlings and I wasn't there long then I went To Elsham Wolds
in Lincoln there was 103 Squadron and 576 and I was.....576 Squadron was just starting up and I
was sent to them, although it was after my MT training by the way.....I was there from 1943 to 1945 we
used to take the crews out to the Lancasters at any time of the day or night whenever they were going, if
it was night time we would go back to our billet and when we were called to pick 'em up we'd put
our battle dress over our pyjamas and go and pick 'em up anytime of the night or morning.
PL: were you able to choose what you wanted to do did you choose to be a
MB: Oh yes, I chose to be a driver some girls didn't carry on because they were too nervous
they'd sit up in bed with a steering wheel in their hand having nightmares but I was ok.
PL: Could you drive before?
MB: No, they taught you.
PL: Right.
MB: That was at Cardington, I think they still do it there now training . And Hiliary .. Hiliary
Roberts was stationed there with me she's the only one that’s alive now that were there, all the
others passed on.
PL: How many were there?
MB: Umm?
PL: How many of you were there altogether?
MB: In the section there were about twelve I suppose drivers because you did different times then
we had bad weather snow couldn't...the planes couldn’t take off we had no water so we used to
get the snow and melt it to wash and when it was foggy and that the crews were stood down so
we was stood down aswell and we all used to go into Scunthorpe or anywhere round like that.
PL: Anywhere in particular?
MB: Anywhere in particular?
PL: In Scunthorpe?
MB: Well in Scunthorpe there was a Toc H and this lady was in Toc H, she used to tell the
airmen and WAAFs that her house was open house and we used have you could have a bar there and
go anytime and they used to feed you and all that we used to call her Mum Martin so we used to
go there the pictures but then there was the Oswald at Scunthorpe but I only went once ‘cause I was
told I was too young or something to be in there so.
PL: So how old were you then?
MB: Nineteen when I joined up but some people look older than others don't they?
PL: Indeed, so the Oswald Pier was where all the Americans....
MB: Americans all around as well as Lancaster's we used to get loads go to the aerodromes for
parties and that, a lorry would pick us up and take us.
PL: So how was your...describe to me what a typical day would be like for you.
MB: Well you had.....there was two a WAAF site and a site on the aerodrome for the WAAFs
and for the WAAF drivers that were driving the crews to the aircraft were stationed on the
aerodrome, so erm you had different hours to do like so you'd get up go to breakfast and then go
to the MT section and that’s where you'd be where you were wanted to take the airmen seven in a
crew and we had little Bedford vans with a canvas roof at the back, you know we used to take
them out in that and then they'd be there for a long while before they took off depending on the
weather and the time and that and we used to be there with them like until they took off and then
we'd come back to sections what ever time you had your meals and then err you didn’t do nights
every time, you had shifts like and that’s when you took, two girls were on and two fella drivers
and we'd sleep in a little hut there and took them out and wait got back into bed then they'd call us
and we'd have to get up and go and bring them in and then we'd go back to our billets.
PL: So you must have got to know the crews very well?
MB: Oh yes very friendly with the crew but we knew that you know they wouldn't return a lot of them
Australians, Canadians ....and then when the war had finished they disbanded 516 so then I was posted
to Scampton I was there I don't know how long but I was there then we got shifted about a bit then I
went to Lindholme where I met my husband an MT driver.
PL: So how did you meet your husband?
MB: He was abroad , he was abroad Cairo and Malta all during the war so when he came to Lindholme
he wasn't used to WAAF drivers and we got friendly and then where did I go from there? Can't think
where I went from there but I got demobbed err, I got demobbed in 55? 56, and my friend and I
Kay who was at Lindholme we couldn't settle down into civilian life so we both rejoined went to
Wilmslow to rejoin ,and then err we were sent to Margate, Manston aerodrome Spitfires and then I got
married from there. She got married but she went out to Canada with her husband we kept in contact
until last year...I think she passed away.
PL: So firm, firm friendships made!
MB: Pardon?
PL: Firm friendships made at that time?
MB: Oh yes you had to didn't you really to pal up with people.
PL: So what year did you get married?
MB: I got married in 1948 I was still in the ... I was at Manston aerodrome then and my husband
was up at Hednesford up that way then when we got married I went up there to his camp with him until
I got demobbed and then he was posted down to ...where was it did I say the he got demobbed
we bought a bungalow.
PL: And what about your own parents?
MB: They lived in Essex, Wickford in Essex and my sister was in the land army two brothers were
in the army but we were all lucky we had all escaped got home.
PL: How wonderful, so you travelled about quite a bit.
MB: Oh yes yeah, didn’t go abroad they didn’t have WAAF drivers abroad we were only stationed
in England.
PL: So when you carried on after the war ended what sort of driving did you do then? Was it the same?
MB: You'd drive to a shoe factory take the men’s shoes to a factory in Nottingham, and laundry
drive big lorries and do all things like that you know.
PL: So and did you did make friends with other WAAFs who were outside who weren't drivers
who were doing other...
MB: Oh yeah ...the cookhouse but you really mostly kept to your own you know.
PL: So in your area what other roles were played by the WAAFs ?
MB: Erm Hiliary my friend she used to drive for the Officers HQ she might have done a bit on the
squadron but mostly she was driving officers around and then there’s drivers for all sorts of things
women didn’t drive the tankers it was men that drove them.
PL: Why was that?
MB: Where was it?
PL: Why was it?
MB: Well they were big things weren't they tankers.
PL: Is that the pet….Fuel tankers ?
MB: Yeah ...oh yeah you used to have to swing the lorries swing em with ....
PL: Oh....
MB: No automatic....
PL: A starting crank....
MB: And once I was on the cook's early morning and the old Ford lorries and it wouldn’t start and
you were swinging your heart out and they were sitting there waiting coz they go to go and cook the
meals got it done and going in the end.
PL: So you must have built up some pretty good muscles.
MB: [Laughs] oh yeah.
Pl: So what other memories might you have?
MB: Well you'd make a date with someone and they didn't turn up coz they didn't come back,
they didn't come back. The WAAF sights were in a woods or something, and they were Nissen
huts and you'd hear the rats running over the top at night and when it was raining you could hear
that on there you'd have to get out to go to the toilet in the dark the ablution but thats was all in
life you just took it as a matter of course.
PL: Did it feel...
MB: It was cold yeah....and know one wants the bed near the fire they was those big round
because everyone was sat on your bed when you had a bed near the fire.
PL: [Laughs] oh i see so it was it like a big pot bellied stove.
MB: Yes .
PL: My goodness ,so how many of you shared together?
MB: The hut was about fifteen or twenty something like that quite a lot, Friday night was domestic
night we had to polish the floor and do your buttons and everything.
PL: And was their a sort of a hierarchy amongst your group? Was there...were there different err...
MB: Like a Corporal you mean? That was in charge?
PL: Yes.
MB: Yes, but they didn't interfere with you really not with the MT girls because we didn't go on
parade or anything because we were always on demand.
PL: So I understand there was some sort of incident with an accident in a lorry.
MB: I was delivering shoes to a factory at Nottingham, a shoe factory all the factories were there
and I was called into the office when I got back, or a few days later said I'd hit a lampost or
something, that I'd backed into this lamppost but when he said it was I wasn't there that day,
anyway I was crying , he said what are you crying for he said so ‘cause I said I hadn't done it, he
said you may as well own up to it he said. Anyway a few days later it came back that it wasn't me
that I was telling the truth I wasn’t driving the lorry that day.
PL: So did you get an apology?
MB: Well no, he said you were crying for nothing that’s it, it wasn’t that but you were so annoyed
because knew you hadn't hadn't done it.
PL: Of course.
MB: They were accusing.... they were saying say you did it and that’s that but I wouldn’t say
PL: A tough life, disciplined.
MB: Oh yeah and another incident was, oh when i was learning to drive I came over the brow of
this hill and i came a little near to this car in the middle and the instructor wasn’t taking any notice
of me he said I was alright you know, course that upset me didn't it I didn't hit it but the other
driver got out and was effing and arring [laughs] that’s another incidence I had.
PL: But you didn't hit him?
MB: No, that’s all in learning isn't it?
PL: Absolutely, you was going to tell me bit about Kay
MB: Kay, I met her at...
PL: What was her surname?
MB: Harrison, Kay Harrison at Scunthorpe ‘cause she was sent from one of the other aerodromes
that had closed down they were all closing down up in Lincoln and erm we got very pally she come
from Huddersfield, was it Huddersfield? Up north somewhere and we were , then we went to
Lindholme and then when I rejoined we both went to Manston in Kent and we used to go up, get
lifts off Officers that were going up, that were living up there to go home to our homes, as I say
she married an airman as well. Oh yeah when we used to be driving in the lorry along the high
street and the men were with their wives she'd wink at them and they'd wink back at her [laughs]
we used to laugh our heads off you watch me she'd say and she'd do that. She went to Canada
she became a nurse the last person on earth I thought would be a nurse, but we never met after
that we just used to write we hadn't got the money in those days to travel had we . [pause] Then
when I met my husband I was a Roman Catholic and he was a Protestant, he came from
Roscrea? in Ireland and they were dead against Catholics and Protestants marrying so erm we
parted for ten months because his Father wouldn't have it you know and then when I was at
Manston , when we rejoined at Wilslow in the NAAFI club in Manchester was it we used to go
there Kay and I, before we went down, and we met this fella and he knew my husband Joe he
said, I said has he got a girlfriend and he said no he's always on his own now so we sent him a
card from Wilslow and he said he went down to Wickford where I lived and kept looking for me
couldn't see me anyway when I was at Manston this other airman that came he said about him soI
wrote to him we wrote to him and then from then on we got together his Father was upset because
he wouldn't go home he stayed on in the air force ‘cause he said i was going to be the only one and
he lost contact with all his family because they were dead against it you know but then in years to
come before Dave was born wasn't it he came down and stayed with us, and he doesn't know
why he was like that really , but this is what goes on in ....we were married sixty five years we
don't regret it at all he passed away February '13, two years ago so then I came to live here with
David we only used to live down the road.
PL: So how many children did you have?
MB: Only the one, I lost two yeah.
PL: Did you want to say something about Ernest, do you remember Ernest ?
MB: What about? Oh Ernest yeah, when we was at the reunion cause every year we go to a reunion at
Elsham Wolds I've been going there for about twenty three years I only missed last year because I
had a knee transplant and course we met up with this Earnest he lived in Barnetby that's near the
aerodrome he was only about thirteen I suppose, him and his friends used to come and look in the
WAAFs through the keyhole, he told us didn't he yeah they're all young lads, used to look through
the keyholes when we was having a bath and everything and the err he said they used to go up on
the aerodrome and get on the Lancasters
PL: Really?
MB: Yeah we don't know how they done that
PL:What? Get actually into the planes?
MB: Yeah.
PL: My goodness a dangerous game I would have thought!
Mb: But they've joined the reunion now so, there's not many of us left now but all they young
nephews and sons and that have all joined to keep it going, so every year it's always a weekend
isn't it we go up and have a reunion it's a hectic weekend we have, we all meet together and have
dinner in the evening Saturday evening then Sunday we have the service and we go up to the
aerodrome in front of the waterworks where we've got a memorial and the Lancaster flies over if
the weathers suitable and it comes swooping in it goes all ways we're all waving at it.
PL: How wonderful.
MB: That the highlight of the year that is, going to the reunion then the memorial on armistice day
we go, the week before we all meet there as well, I can't think of anything else.
PL: Could I just ask a little earlier we had a conversation about Bomber Command and how its
been remembered would you like to share your own thoughts about Bomber Command
MB: [pause] I don't know what to say....
PL: Do of the things that you said was you felt it had been a long time coming the
MB: Oh the recognition of the Bomber crews which has taken a long while mostly they said it was
because of us bombing Dresden but then they bombed London first and Coventry so why it was
put against us I don't know but at last they're recognising all what the young lads went through. I
remember once a Lancaster landing and the rear turret was hanging from the back of it and the rear
Gunner right down his side and the crew didn't know it was hanging there they thought it had
come off you know . That's one memory, then we saw them bailing out over because the
aeroplane was too damaged to land and all the crew would bail out on the aerodrome. I mean you
were young then you didn't take things so seriously did you, you should have done really you just
thought well this is what we've got to isn't it and you did it. But I, we all enjoyed our times you felt
like you were doing something it was either going in munitions or land army or something like
or the army and I chose the Air Force. And being in the Air Force was the best time of my life
because I was that age met plenty of friends. It was hard to settle down when you come out. But
we all kept in touch with all the friends WAAF drivers and my husband used to come with me,
they used to come to reunions and we went to all their funerals gone, there was Jean Clacker she
was a driver and she went out to one of the dispersal and she saw this airman there and she came
back and said "I'm going to marry him" and she did! [laughs] 'Oh I'm going to marry him' she
PL: What was the dispersal?
MB: Oh that was where the aircraft drove in to be parked and there was a nissen hut there and we
all used to get in there waiting, to go off the crews to go off and that.
PL: Do you remember any of the others that were in your group?
MB: Err there was Margaret,
PL: The two Margarets [laughs}
MB: Yeah another Margaret, Margaret Hawkins and Eric that's her husband now Hawkins I can't think of his name but we always went to the reunion but they've both passed
away so nearly all my friends have gone, Rose lived at err Ipswich.
PL: Is there anything else at all that you would like to share with us before we conclude the
MB: Only that I was glad I was in the RAF I enjoyed it although there was sad times and good
times and when we go to our reunion it brings back alot of memories although we all look a lot older
now. Oh I had my photo taken it's at Manston Aerodrome and a documentary a Spitfire was flying
in with a pilot and I was standing waving, distracting him and it's on a film but I've never seen it but a
friend of ours joined the RAF and he they were showing it to him and he recognised me
PL: How wonderful and when was that? When was the film taken?
MB: That was about 1948 or 47.
PL: Goodness, so somewhere there's a film of you,
MB: Yeah Somewhere....
PL: Somewhere your fame, fame at last
MB: You tried to get it did you? So, I know it's there ‘cause he's seen it when they joined up they showed
them all these films for accidents and all that Kay was there aswell but they picked me out , i don't know
why but they picked me out to do it.
PL: So you were told you had to distract him?
MB: Yeah.
PL: So this is Health and Safety 1940's style?
MB: [laughs] Yeah this is what they are teaching the trainees and all that what they shouldn’t be
PL: Well Margaret that’s absolutely wonderful thank you so much for sharing your....
MB: Sorry, I can't think of anything else but...
PL: I think all those memories are absolutely wonderful thank you so very much indeed
MB: You're welcome ...oh another thing I remember is when the aircrew the Lancasters were
taking off it didn't matter what time of the day or night we'd all be out there waving them off so
that made them feel good as well all waving and one airman that i was friendly with he err , we
used to meet up and go to the pictures and that and he said to me ‘we're all frightened we're all
scared none of us are you know….’ ...however young and boisterous and that when they went on them
operations they were really frightened, he never came back either and a lot were taken prisoner of
war and at the end of the war the Lancaster went out to bring them back from prisoner of war
camps and they said you wouldn't recognise them they looked so old been in a concentration
camp, so it was hard for them wasn't it.
PL: Very hard , do you know those concentr.....where they they sent?
No, i just know that they brought them back. I think that's all I can't remember anything else
PL: That’s wonderful thank you.
DB: He was a pilot wasn't he Mum?
MB: I think he was a Gunner......
PL: So tell me who Ken Duddle was
MB: He was the.....
DB: He was the chairman of Elsham Wolds
MB: He was the chairman of the Elsham Wolds but he's retired now?
DB: But in the war he was a pilot wasn't he?
MB: No i think he was a Gunner
DB: He was a Gunner was he?
PL: So what was his role? He would include the WAAFs in the memorial services?
MB: In everything, he included and we Hiliary and I appreciated that because the others I think they
think they are above you don’t they the Aircrew and they've got ranks Sergeants and warrant officers
and all that but then that goes on in everything doesn't it?
PL: So we've just been looking at some of your wonderful photographs and you've got a lovely
photograph of your wedding but tell...just share with us how you got your dress.
MB: Well when a WAAF got married and they, the Air Force lends you a wedding dress the
Americans have given these wedding dresses to the Air Force and we've borrowed them we had to
pay a pound to have them cleaned when we handed them back, as you can see it's a beautiful dress
PL: Oh when you handed them back?
MB: Yeah when you handed then back
PL: Not to get them cleaned before you wore them?
MB: No I expect the person that handed them back had it cleaned, they cleaned them I suppose but you
paid a pound.
PL: Wonderful.


Pam Locker, “Interview with Lillian Margret Bailey ,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed June 16, 2024,

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