Interview with Winifred Barker


Interview with Winifred Barker


Winifred Barker grew up in Yorkshire and worked in an office before she volunteered for the Women's Auxiliary Air Force. She served as a clerk at RAF Oakley, an operational training unit.




Temporal Coverage




00:41:46 audio recording


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JM: This interview is being conducted for the International Bomber Command Centre, the interviewer is Julian Maslin the interviewee is Mrs Winn Barker . The interview is taking place at Mrs Barkers home in Appleton near Chester on September the 12th 2016 .
WB: Appleton just, it was Upton.
JM: I apologise Upton, Upton near Chester thank you. Winn would you start by telling us a little bit about your life before you joined the Royal Air Force?
WB: Well, I was born at home at 29 Chellow Street in Bradford the eldest of three children and went to infants school and then on to a middle school and left school at fifteen, and went to work in an office in Bradford which is called the Bradford Dyers Association I started as a junior to work up to be a shorthand typist which I did attain slightly before the war started. I'm stuck now I don't quite know what else to say. I was seventeen years of age when war was declared so I wasn't eligible for the forces at that point. But I and a friend did join Civil Defence at seventeen and we were in a report centre when, if the alarm went off for air raids we had to report for duty and we were telephonists so that messages came through as to which type of bombs had been dropped and what services were required and we had to telephone for fire or the air raid wardens or the hospital or whatever was needed and then at that point I decided that I would like join the forces but I had to wait until I was older and then at nineteen years of age I decided I would like to join the Air Force and if I waited any longer I would be called up to do Munitions or Land Army both of which I didn't really take a fancy to. So at a few years before I was twenty I enlisted for the Women's Auxiliary Air Force now then I'm not quite sure where to go from there. I volunteered for the Women's Auxiliary Air Force on the 8th August 1942, just before my twentieth birthday I found myself in Morecambe for three weeks of square bashing on the promenade and getting initiated into service life this was after being kitted out in my uniform next I was sent a rail warrant to Doncaster and the service police on the station arranged transport up to RAF Bircotes a satellite of RAF Finningley where Douglas Bader was stationed I found it very exciting but I never met him. Soon after I was posted to RAF Oakley in Buckinghamshire a satellite of RAF station Westcott, my rail warrant meant travelling to London and changing on the Underground I found this very daunting as annual holidays from Bradford to Blackpool with my parents and siblings was as far as I had travelled by rail. Can I stop for a minute now....I soon settled into service life and made some lovely friends in K hut [?] of different trades and from many parts of the country Pat was born in New Zealand , Phyllis from Canvey Island, Ada from Walthamstow, Rita from Guernsey ,and Peggy from Oxford. We all went to Peggy's wedding to her Polish pilot Stefan and my husband and I visited them after the war. We all kept in touch after the war but sad to say Pat and I are the only two veterans left these friendships are precious memories. Can I stop now....Oh it's things that happened at that station. I celebrated my twenty first birthday at Oakley and the CEO noticed my cards and said I should have a treat, he reserved to seats at the local theatre in Oxford and paid for a meal for my friend and I to go to a hotel and then to the theatre.
JM: Go on then...
WB: Err we walked into the hotel to have the meal, the waiter came to ask us what we would like to drink, well at this point Phyllis and I were so surprised as we had never been into a public house in our lives and hadn't had anything to drink so the waiter suggested a sherry which we agreed to and then we had a lovely meal then off to the theatre [laughs]. When he said what sort of birthday, you know, fancy you shouldn't be having your twenty-first birthday just doing your ordinary duties you need an occasion so I thought it was extremely you know great of him to say to do that really for a little junior you know Stenographer [laughs] oh dear. So then the other things now after this are I don't whether my duties would have been interesting at that particular station? Right I'll talk about this then, are we right? My duties included typing station routine orders once a week which were recited by the Warrant officer on parade reading, oh errm all the camp service men had to parade apart from the aircrew and the Warrant Officer knew the station routine orders off by heart because he was semi-illiterate so I was asked to read letters for him and reply to letters for to his wife, he had joined the regular RAF as a young man he had a fantastic memory and was well liked. I also made out leave passes and rail warrants typing flight instructions for the training flight crews on rice paper which I found very exciting in the event of bailing out and getting captured it could be eaten. The aircrew trained mainly on Wellington bombers at Oakley 11OTU which was the final training unit before the crews were posted for operations, I'll stop there a minute cause yes [pause]. Pay parades were every fortnight on the parade ground, names were called from the registrar and we marched to the paymaster and saluted saying our rank, surname and last three numbers of our service number the loose money was handed to us and we marched back into line [laughs]. My husband and I found on reflection that we once went to the same camp dance at Marham in Norfolk but we did not meet so it was not until after, after we were demobbed and met that we started courting [laughs]. My cousin who was in the REME, the Royal Electrical Mechanical Engineers stationed at Weymouth in Norfolk took me on the pillion of his motorcycle to Leicester to a concert on a twenty-four hour pass when I was stationed at the time at RAF Marham it was a nice wartime treat for us both. Well I want to stop now because errm. The repatriation of prisoners: one morning I joined some airwomen who had to report to a hanger on the station, a plane had landed with a group of servicemen from various branches of the armed services who had been repatriated from prison camps as we welcomed them we noticed they seemed surprised not quite able to comprehend what was happening, they were then given a full english breakfast which turned out to be too much for them to digest after their treatment as prisoners of war the medics were called and it was an exciting episode for everyone and especially for us a memorable diversity from our everyday duties. Some of them had a number on their arms, I was quite surprised because I thought they had come from ordinary prisoner of war camps but I don't think I imagined it but they were very reticent to really say very much about what had happened to them but they were just pleased to see errm to see uniformed members of the forces mingling with them, and talking with them.
JM: Do you know what happened to them, did they go on to other places?
WB: I think they were sent home for an extended from there...I think that's what they were looking forward to, they were all male but they were from lots of different parts of the armed forces.
JM: Did they look haggard and tired?
WB: Errm they looked rather tired, but most of them were in uniform so perhaps they hadn't been in prison too long .
JM: Or maybe they had been given fresh uniforms ?
WB: Maybe yes, I don't know really.
JM: Ok.
WB: They were certainly pleased to talk to some females [laughs] from the camp who were very pleased to speak to them.
JM: Thats good, thats very interesting thank you.
WB : I can't say much more about that 'cause that episode is a little bit vague understandably really, oh there's another interesting bit here about this, yes shall I start again?
JM: Please.
WB: We often had practice air raids on the camps air crew were immediately sent to the underground shelters but certain air women designated as wardens had to don gas masks and gas capes and started to take gas precautions against possible gas attacks it was a serious business but it did produce lots of laughter [laughs] that's all about that, that I can think of really.
JM: Was it the wearing of the gas masks that produced the laughter ?
WB: It was the fact that all the men were underground and the women were having to deal with it.
JM: Very good.
WB: Because we had to, we were given large buckets with some kind of liquid in and some long handled brushes and we had to start decominis.....whats the word.
JM: Decontaminate.
WB: Decontamination of the walls and lots of laughter was coming from the underground positions whilst we were dealing with all that, but we joined in with the laughter as well of course.
JM: Good, good.
WB: Now then there's just something here, I'm not sure about this one at all really 'cause it's very vague, am I still on tape now? One night there was a loud bang we had just settled down for the night and we were not called out, it seemed there had been a crash with two planes but we never found out what really happened so we kept quiet about it.
JM: Were you aware of how many crashes took place at an operational training unit.
WB: I don't think we had any crashes on our unit apart from this particular event but it wa kept really quiet.
JM: Did you get to know any of the flying personnel?
WB: Oh yes, yes I could mention something about that yes we intermingled with them quite a lot the quota from males to females it was about five to one [laugh] because the length of training was only six weeks and the aircrew were constantly coming in and moving out. They practiced on Wellington bombers on night flying operations and then the next thing was operations.
JM: Do you remember any of the aircrew in particular?
WB: Yes, I'll just tell you a little episode now that might be interesting, I had my first proposal of marriage at twenty years of age from a navigator but I refused him I was very fond of him he was a very nice person but not fond of enough to get engaged we did keep in touch when he moved on to operations and I heard from him that on one occasion he had been sick so he missed that operational sortie that particular time his crew flew without him and were shot down all lost their lives, it had a profound affect on him he survived the war. The same person who had courted me for quite some time we were on the camp together, took me to his home in North Norfolk and his family were very nice they were farmers and everything was very homely and the table was a white washed table which could be scrubbed as you can imagine in a farmer's family and when it came to tea time the bread was brought the homemade bread was brought and laid on the bread platter and then I was wondering what I was going to have for tea, the next thing that came on the table was a big pan and erm something inside this pan, I thought it might be stew but it didn't turn out to be stew it turned out be winkles [laughs] which I had had never ever had in all my life and I thought to myself however am I going to eat these winkles. Well his mother started to butter some bread and the plates came out and a spoonful of winkles was put on my plate and I had to look at the family to see how to eat them and they all had a pin and you had to take the winkle out of its shell on a pin and eat it and I said to my friend Leslie, I don't think I can eat these would I be allowed just to have the bread and butter and he said yes [laughter]. Oh that's it, oh dear I think I've missed alot out of this, but this is all I've got to say.
JM: Would you tell us what happened at the end of your service, when you were de-mobbed?
WB: Oh well, yes I did move around from various stations for short periods, but most of these memories are from when I was stationed at RAF Oakley, because I stayed the longest period there and made the most friends but eventually I was demobbed on the 8th May 1945 after serving for three years and eight months at the point here I would like to mention is that, no one who has been in the services forgets his service number which is quite remarkable. So I went back home, we had moved house by then to a different house but we were still in Bradford and my position at the firm where I was when I left was still open for me and by that time I had, I'd gone up from the junior to a shorthand typist so I took my place there and stayed there for quite a few months and then someone from the Land Army came back into the typing pool and was made the chief typist, and I was rather cross about that so I gave my notice in and then went to another firm as a shorthand typist.
JM: So would it be fair to say that your RAF experience had toughened you up?
WB: Possibly, yes I took umbridge I was disappointed really.
JM: And I get the impression you look back on your RAF service with a great deal of affection and regard.
WB: I definitely do yes, I had a very happy time making a lot of very new friends and yes I had a happy time.
JM: Could I take you back to the beginning of your story, you've told us about your background growing up in Bradford was joining the RAF, going through the training was that quite a shock was it a different environment from where you grew up or did you adapt to it quite easily?
WB: It was a different environment in the sense that life was different,we were living the women were sleeping in Nissen huts separated from the other parts of the aerodrome, for instance the mess where we ate and the headquarters where I worked so we had, so we were given bicycles so from then on we had to cycle from one part of the aerodrome to the other and soon afterwards I found out I had increased two stone to my weight from all this cycling around but I settled to it quite easily really, because it was exciting and what I wanted to do be in a different environment. The vicar from my church wrote to some friends that he knew in Thame which was the local village from where the camp was and they invited me and a friend to go and visit them and stay overnight in their beautiful cottage which had a lovely garden so we had passes to go there and that was really nice because these two maiden ladies treated us as their own and they said any time we had a short pass we could go and stay with them which we did so that was something that was really nice. And at another point another friend in our hut, she'd come over from America and her mother had hired a cottage somewhere near the station we could also go there on weekends and they had a beautiful garden with an orchard and plum trees and she said you can pick as many plums as you want so my friend and I picked as many as we could and put them in a parcel and sent them home they were Victoria Plums.
JM: Lovely, in my researches before meeting you today Winn, I've read that some of the the young ladies who joined the WAAF found it quite difficult to mix with girls of a quite different background and also the idea of living communally was a shock to many of them. Do you remember any of that at all?
WB: I don't remember it been a shock to me because I settled to it quite easily to it really. The ablutions were a bit peculiar because they were stone like troughs on a long err you know position and we had running water but we had no plugs so we all had to buy a plug and carry it around with us in our kit bags when we moved because otherwise you just had running water to wash your face, and your hands and your body so that was funny really because you needed to have a few inches of water to use your ablutions ,do your ablutions properly. But I don't remember finding it difficult personally no. I wanted to be in the forces, I wanted to be doing my bit for the country.
JM: And so it follows that the idea of military discipline was not difficult to adapt too?
WB: Oh the discipline you mean, yes I didn't like I didn't like parading I definitely didn't like parading and I did baulk at the idea that in station routine orders you were not allowed to wear greatcoats until a certain date of the year whether it was cold hot or what and you weren't allowed to wear gloves at a certain time, so that did err me very much I did think oh dear this is silly but of course you had to do as you were told, so that was a little bit hard for me but on a few occasions when there were general parades and the WAAF had to join in the WAAF officer let me off [laughs].
JM: How did you get on with the WAAF officers and NCOs ?
WB: Oh very well, yes very well the WAAF Officer was very kind, I think she was I think her rank was Pilot Officer because it was a satellite and when she went on her leave she always sent me a postcard and it was the comical Lucy Attwell's postcards with the shining face and the little blue eyes she was blonde with blue eyes she very pretty and we talked to each other just on an ordinary basis it wasn't as officer and airwoman she just spoke to me as an ordinary person a friend you know she was friendly. The Station Officer was friendly as well because we all worked in close proximity to each other but of course on duty on parades it was different.
JM: Mmm good, did you ever think about remustering in other trades, or were you quite happy to be a clerk?
WB: No, I was quite happy I knew I wasn't good enough to be in control in the control room or anything like that and I didn't fancy the mechanical side of it because after leaving school I always wanted to be in an office so that was why I took to it quite easily most of these friends I made were in different trades one was a parachute packer and another was a tailoress who mended uniforms and another was an engineer so you know we mixed quite well really but I was quite happy in my job.
JM: Did you talk about the way the war was going and your work on the station did you talk shop as it were or did you talk about other things when you were off duty?
WB: I think we talked about other things, I think we talked about dances and clothing [laughs] and clothing points and that sort of thing we went to, we could go to dances in the local towns with transport from the camp and this very nice warrant officer said to us don't wear your uniforms wear your civvies he said “I won't tell” [laughs] so that was quite...
JM: Did you adapt your clothing, did you make your own clothing or did you use your points to buy ready made clothing?
WB: Well I seem to remember we had a fancy dress party once and I wrote home and my Auntie made me an outfit for that and sent it on to me and it was a draught board with a very short frilly tutu skirt [laughs] but I didn't win a prize but I did take my own civilian clothes not a lot of course you couldn't get much in your kit bag could you? But I did wear a skirt and a nice frilly blouse for dancing and we did wear our nylons, well not nylons it was silk stockings then wasn’t it?
JM: That reminds me to ask you, talking about nylons did you ever have any visits from the American servicemen who were in that part of the Midlands?
WB: No, no I didn't come across Americans much being on a RAF station really there were on different stations mostly I think, so amongst the aircrew there were people from Canada, Australia and New Zealand but we didn't have any Americans.
JM; No, no, I wondered if any had visited from other nearby bases but you say not.
WB: I don't think so no, I can't remember that when I was at Marham it was an American station so there was some Americans there but I was only there a few months so I didn't get to know anybody there.
JM: What about sporting activities?
WB: Sorry?
JM: Sports, did you play much sport?
WB: I played hockey against a men's team, and we won because we got them on the ankles [laughs] but that was all, I don't think I did anything else any other sport my sport was dancing.
JM: And you'd go regularly?
WB: Oh yes, I'd never miss a dance went to all the dances.
JM: Were they on the camp or in the local town?
WB: They were...we did some on the camp but mostly they were in Oxford we were taken to Oxford most of my memories were from Oakley really from that area.
JM: I want to ask you quite a difficult question in some respects you mentioned the possibility of getting engaged to the Flyer.
WB: Leslie.
JM: Yes, did many girls get engaged or get married to flying personnel and did they have many losses ?
WB: Well my best friend Peggy did marry the Polish Officer, pilot officer and we all went, we as friends we went to her wedding she got married during the war and her Father wouldn't go to the wedding because he didn't want his daughter to marry a foreigner and Stefan was a very nice person he really nice, but her Mother went and he did survive the war because my husband and I went to visit him after the war and she wrote and told me with all these friends that I corresponded with we knew all about each other's lives after the war because we wrote to each other and told them about our children and what we were doing and everything but another friend did marry a man from the ground staff and she kept in touch with me and told me that they'd had a son called David and I knew all about her and Pat of course who is still the surviving member now with me she wrote and told me all about her family she didn't go back to New Zealand she stayed in London and she married an airman from the camp but they all survived they all survived the war the ones my friends that I remember survived the war.
JM: That's good to hear .
WB: They were very lucky.
JM: I've also read that perhaps unsurprisingly some WAAFs fell pregnant during their time on camp do you have any recollection of anybody that you know having done?
WB: Yes, one.
JM: And what happened to them?
WB: one, one WAAF that I only knew not really personally but she did fall pregnant and her husband she was married and her husband was an MP so I don't know really what happened to her but they were all discharged as soon as they were made pregnant and of course most people who joined up I believe we not married, unmarried so there weren't very many that wasn't married. But there was only one that I remember.
JM: Alright.
WB: She was discharged immediately so we lost touch with her.
JM: Did you ever get the chance or want to want to have the chance to fly in any of the Wellingtons?
WB: Oh I didn't get the chance to fly but my name was on the list because I did want to go in an aeroplane but apparently there had been some accidents somewhere around the country I don't know where and so it was not allowed anymore. But one of the friends that was in my hut did manage to get up unbeknown to the authorities what she was doing and she did have one or two little spins up did this girl.
JM: I expect you were quite envious was you?
WB: I was really yes, but I was disappointed I did want to go up in a plane.
JM: In a way Winn you were living the life which was in advance of where we are now of the women doing special jobs while the men were in the cellars you were living a life where women had extra responsibilities and duties, would you say that women were treated fairly during your time in the services as women or was there discrimination?
WB: I think so I don't think there was any discrimination really because the jobs that airwomen could do were very you know there were lots of jobs they could do that were similar to the men, the could be drivers, definitely engineers, parachute packers and that sort of jobs so they were not limited the jobs that you could do as a woman.
JM: And were women officers able to give orders to male airmen.
WB: I don't think so I think they were just in charge of the women, they were, there was a WAAF officer in every headquarters in every station but I think they were for the women that were serving really I think the men officers took command really.
JM: When you look back on your service you obviously feel that you did do your duty.
WB: Yes, I'm sure I did all I was asked to do yes.
JM: And do you feel a member of the extended family of Bomber Command which you really are?
WB: I definitely do yes I do because we've already been on one holiday to Bomber County which is in Lincoln and we've been around quite a lot of memorials that's why we went and we to the one where was the Dambusters headquarters.
JM: That would be the Petwood hotel.
WB: Yes and was it the 107 squadron Dambusters?
JM: 617.
WB: 617, and we went to all the memorials in the area around about there and that was a special holiday that my daughter and husband took me on, we all enjoyed that and we're going again this year on my birthday to go to this new memorial that going to be built there.
JM: Good, good.
WB: So I'm very much involved in it I feel.
JM: Good.
WB: I was very pleased to be asked to have these memories voiced.
JM: Well they are very important you have told us a great deal that I'd not heard before about life as a WAAF and I'm sure that the memories that we have recorded this morning will be of great interest to people researching the Second World War and Bomber Command for years ahead and so thank you very much it's been a marvellous interview thank you very much indeed.
WB: Thank you.
JM: Winn, I gather that you have thought of two other stories you'd like to record so please tell us.
WB: Yes, on one occasion I do remember being stationed at RAF Oakley and for some reason I decided to take a shortcut across the parade ground to the other corner where I was intending to go and I got roundabout the middle when a voice yelled out “airwoman” get off the parade ground and I nearly fell back in dismay because I thought what on earth have I done so I was taken to account for why I was crossing this and I was told that I was never ever must you walk across the parade ground unless you were detailed to be on parade. Another occasion was that I remembered that periodically the WAAF officer would distribute some Helena Rubinstein lipsticks and face powder compacts to us freely which were given by the company of Helena Rubinstein in America so we were all elated to have this free makeup which was a very expensive item.
JM: Thank you Winn.



Julian Maslin, “Interview with Winifred Barker ,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed April 19, 2024,

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