Interview with Joan Watson


Interview with Joan Watson


Joan Watson went to Bracebridge School and then worked at Ruddock’s of Lincoln as a printer. Joan discusses evacuees, the bombing war, home font (local men doing fire watching at work), and social life in wartime: dancing, cinema and gatherings. Talks about prisoner of war working as farmhands. Reminisces multinational allied forces in Lincoln, an air crash and war damage. After the war she married and went to live in Cornwall, at St Eval.








00:26:20 audio recording


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JM: This interview is being conducted for the International Bomber Command Centre. The interviewer is Julian Maslin and the interviewee is Mrs Joan Watson. The interview is taking place at Mrs Watson’s home on the 4th of September 2015. Mrs Watson, Joan, I wonder if I could ask you to start by just telling us a little bit about your background, your family history, etcetera.
JW: My name originally was Joan Betty Watson and I lived, I lived at, in Maple Street, at Bracebridge. And very often we’d go into Lincoln for dances and whatever. There was quite a few aerodromes around Lincoln and lots and lots of airmen. I really don’t know how many but I think there were twenty five thousand airmen that were killed in the war there. By then I was about eighteen but still very young. What else?
JM: Where did you go to school?
JW: Oh I went to school at Bracebridge. The Bracebridge School. Until I was about eleven and then I went to work at Ruddocks in the centre of Rugby.
CW: Lincoln.
JW: Hmmn?
CW: Lincoln.
JW: Oh Lincoln. Yeah. And then on to Rugby.
JM: And Ruddocks you were saying was a printers.
JW: Yes. I was in the printing room and, and also in the packing department. I was there until I was about twenty six. Yeah. Earning six shillings a week. So it worked out about tuppence an hour. Hard labour [laughs] but we enjoyed it. We enjoyed life and although these bombs and things were being dropped I don’t think you realise. You don’t.
JM: Did you have a blackout at home or at work and did that affect you?
JW: Oh yeah. You used to have your curtain, all your curtain, black. All your windows were on a frame or we did and with black. Blackout on. And if anybody, you know, shone a light or anything there’d be wardens about and they would tell you to come and put the lights out so that it wouldn’t show. For the planes to see that were coming over. But Lincoln were very lucky. They were very lucky. They didn’t, they only got — I think there were three bombs. One in the lake, one on the nurse’s quarters but no one was killed or hurt. And then a house which was bombed. But not actually bombed. I think crashed or something into it but no one was killed. So they were very very lucky in Lincoln.
JM: Very fortunate. Yes.
JW: Yes.
JM: Yes.
JW: Not that you want to have a bombing session anywhere but —
JM: Did you have any evacuees coming up from London?
JW: Yes. My, my mother had two children. Two girls from Sheffield.
JM: From Sheffield.
JW: Yeah. They were, you know, quite good little girls but when you think they came all the way more or less on their own. Well, with, people brought them but they had to stay with us, just strangers. It was marvellous really how it all worked out.
JM: How long were they with you for?
JW: Oh. I think about nearly a year I think. Some of them. Yeah. But they weren’t very old. They were only about seven. Seven. Probably ten year old. Very young.
JM: Did they have any contact with their families from Sheffield?
JW: Only once. Because when they arrived they hadn’t got many clothes. My mother said, ‘Well, you know, I can’t give them clothes,’ because we was on rations.’
JM: Yeah.
JW: And coupons. So finally my mother wrote to them and said, “Well, will you bring them some clothes because I can’t afford my coupons to buy them clothes.”
JM: Yes.
JW: Yeah. But anyway —
JM: Yeah. And after they went back was there any further contact with them.
JW: No. No. Because years went on. No. We didn’t. we didn’t keep in touch at all with them.
JM: Did you know anybody who had a job as an air raid warden or a fireman? Or anything?
JW: Oh well all the men up the road. Up the road. I lived in Maple Street in Lincoln. And all the men took their turn at fire work. You know.
JM: Fire watching.
JW: Fire watching and things. Even I went out with my dad at 3 o’clock in the morning because we all had our turn to go to work.
JM: And was that a —
JW: Because you all still had to go to work in the morning.
JM: Yeah. And was the fire watching — were you walking round the streets or did you have go to one particular place.
JW: Pop in. You’d pop in home. Have a cup of tea and then out again. Cheated a bit. And, yes, I mean really, I know it awful to say but the war to me didn’t affect me like, well, Coventry or Birmingham. It wasn’t, I know it’s awful to say but it wasn’t as bad for us.
JM: But you must have been aware of all the airmen.
JW: Oh yeah. Oh gosh. You used to go to a dance and really enjoy the dance. And you’d say to this airmen, ‘Oh, see you next week.’ Of course they didn’t come back. Loads. What was it? Twenty five thousand wasn’t it?
JM: From Lincolnshire. Roughly. Yes. Yes.
JW: Yeah.
JM: We often read of girl’s putting gravy browning on their legs and drawing — did you do that?
JW: Oh yes. Yes because no — I didn’t do that. No. No. And yes because we didn’t have tights or anything then. The Americans brought the tights in but we, you know, one thing you couldn’t afford them sometimes. Sometimes you had to give coupons for things like that. So clothing, I used to, oh we used to make underwear out of parachute silk. You know, nice underwear.
JM: Where did the parachute silk come from?
JW: Well, I don’t know. It must have been perhaps from the aerodromes, maybe. I don’t know.
JM: Yeah.
JW: But yeah.
JM: Now, you said there were lots of different nationalities including Americans.
JW: Oh yes.
JM: How did you get on with those? Did you see them?
JW: Oh fine. Fine. I’ll tell you what did annoy me a little bit. My brother was a prisoner of war and you’d have Germans and they’re prisoners of war. Because my brother was shut away kind of thing and they were free. And it used to annoy you a little bit. I mean we didn’t treat them nastily. I don’t mean in that way but you used to think well my brother’s shut away in — you know.
JM: Those enemy POWs must have been doing some work on the farms or whatever.
JW: Yeah. They went on the farms and different things. Yeah.
JM: Yes.
JW: Yes. Yes.
JM: Did you speak to any at all?
JW: Oh yes. We used to speak to them because well some of them couldn’t speak English anyway but you know you’d make, you’d make yourself known and whatever. And if you were dancing anyway you just used to jump and jitterbug about. That’s it.
JM: So you’re saying that these prisoners of war might have been in the dance halls.
JW: Oh yes. They were.
JM: Really.
JW: Yeah. And in the cinemas. You’d sit next to one in the cinema. Yeah. That was strange wasn’t it?
JM: That’s very strange.
JW: Yeah. Yeah. Yes, you could. You know they were free and you know I used to think well my brother’s locked away. I think he was on the Malta convoy. Remember the Malta convoy?
JM: Yes.
JW: He was on that. When the ships, a lot of ships were sunk. Weren’t they?
JM: Yes.
JW: But yeah because yeah they were on the land. They were working on the land these Germans. They used to have these big coloured patches on them to show that they were prisoners of war. But —
JM: And how did these young men seem to you when you spoke to them.
JW: Well they were friendly. Just — you know. Just as though they were English quite honestly.
JM: Right.
JW: Yeah. But –
JM: So they weren’t Nazis.
JW: Oh no. No. Well I didn’t meet any anyway. Perhaps with Lincoln, Lincoln might be more sociable from other places but —
JM: Would you tell us what it was like living on the rations that you were?
JW: Oh terrible. Terrible it was. You weren’t starving. You weren’t starving but you didn’t get — I mean you got an ounce of butter each. Everything was rationed. You was alright if you were probably on a farm because they’d have the butter and the different things. And clothing. I used to make my own clothes out of whatever or you’d have an old coat and you’d cut if up and make a skirt or [pause] you’d manage. But —
JM: Did you get any extras from the farms in Lincolnshire?
JW: Oh no. No. We didn’t live, well Lincoln, well it is farm land I would say but no. No, you didn’t. But my dad had a couple of chickens or so. And he had them in the garden. So we got eggs alright. But yeah. Henrietta. Do you remember Henrietta?
CW: I do. I do.
JW: My dad had a chicken. Henrietta. Because she was on the seat with him. Then when the poor old thing died nobody would eat it [laughs] but yeah. I mean really as I say I don’t think I realised and a lot of young ones didn’t realise it was a war. Yeah.
JM: What age would you have been when the war started?
JW: Fourteen. So I was about eighteen when I was dancing and getting out at night you know. But no —
JM: Were you ever frightened?
JW: I used to be a bit frightened walking home. Because you’ve got to go near The Common. You remember The Common? And, you know, it was all very open land. Mind you you didn’t read things in the paper like you do nowadays with these murders and things going on like that. It wasn’t like that then, it was, it was quieter. Much quieter.
JM: So your fear was more as a young girl rather than from enemy action.
JW: Oh yes. Yes. Yeah. But we used to meet all these people and the lads were lovely, you know. You’d have a dance with them and whatever and they were lovely most of them. Of course the Australians were here, the New Zealanders were here, Canadians, the Poles. They were all here. In Lincoln there was a bit of everything I think.
JM: Yes. There were Australian squadrons.
JW: Oh and the Aussies yeah.
JM: And Polish squadrons, nearby.
JW: Yeah.
JM: Yes.
JW: Yeah. Yeah. A bit of everything.
JM: Yes. Did you ever go to a very famous pub called the Saracens head? Do you remember?
JW: Yes. Yes. Not very often because it was very posh.
JM: Was it? It was where the officers went was it?
JW: Very posh. Yes. Yes. No we didn’t go there very often.
JM: So where were your —
JW: But I didn’t drink in those days anyway. Well, I don’t drink now but I mean I didn’t drink then. Probably somebody who drank a lot might go to any of the pubs. They were quite popular the pubs were.
JM: How much would it cost for a fruit juice or something a lady would drink?
JW: Oh I don’t know. I’ll tell you what the cinema was. The cinema was sixpence, nine pence and one and sixpence. So no wonder we had low wages. Because —
JM: So was sixpence at the back?
JW: One and sixpence you were posh. Yeah. Yes it was.
JM: What sort of films did you watch?
JW: Well it varied really. I can’t remember now what they mainly were.
JM: Were they Hollywood Films?
JW: Oh yeah mainly, mainly Hollywood.
JM: Yes.
JW: Because in those days they were mainly. But they were good films. Good. Or Charlie Chaplin. That’s what they were. And, ‘Old Mother Riley.’ That type of film there used to be.
JM: Did the glamour of Hollywood. Did that help when you were living on rations?
JW: Not really. Because the clothes. You think of people in Hollywood. The lovely clothes they had. We didn’t. We was kind of — I don’t mean we were untidy. I mean I used to make all my coats or change them from one coat to another. You just, you just accepted it.
JM: What did you think when you heard the aircraft taking off to go out on a raid?
JW: Well Clive knows that Waddington, which is on the hill, you used to go. Posted there wasn’t you Clive? And that was above where my mother lived. So if you’re hanging out the washing and these bombers were going over. Oh terrific noise. Terrific noise. And I was talking to someone — oh Margaret from Grantham the other day and she was saying a lady she knew used to count how many bombers went out and how many bombers came back. You know. But I wasn’t, I wasn’t in that area. That area. Type of thing
JM: You wouldn’t know whether she was upset if she realised that some had been lost.
JW: Oh no. No. I mean you’d hear them coming back but well unless they came right over us — they might be coming in from a different direction might they? So they wouldn’t probably be going back over the hill towards. But they were noisy. And the Vulcan. Very, very, very noisy. But yeah, I think, I don’t think we ever realised there was a war on in Lincoln. I mean you did if you’d lost someone. Naturally. But —
JM: Did you know people who were in that situation? Who had the telegrams?
JW: We had a telegram from my brother. About my brother. And no [pause] well you can’t really explain what it’s like. You think they’re a long way away but, and you know you can’t see them but there’s nothing you can do about it.
JM: No. No. No. Were you aware that the war was going well as the years went on? Did you think that we were going to win?
JW: I don’t think, I don’t think we even thought about that. You kind of live from day to day.
JM: So even when the Americans arrived they weren’t in Lincoln but they were in Lincolnshire.
JW: Yeah.
JM: How did you feel, other people feel about that?
JW: Well you felt that they’re helping anyway. And I’ll tell you what. They did send a lot of stuff. Foodstuff to us.
JM: So you got the chocolates and the stockings.
JW: Yeah. And the tights.
JM: The stockings.
JW: We’d never heard of tights until the Americans came and I mean I used to buy tights from the market with little ladders in and I had a little hook and I’d do my ladders all the way up. Well until you could see where it came to. Then I’d sew them up the rest. But yeah. Oh we managed. We managed. Yeah.
JM: Now we’ve just commemorated VE day this year. Do you remember what you were doing on VE day?
JW: Yes. I went around the Stonebow in Lincoln. And loads of people were there with drink and whatnot. I didn’t drink at the time but they all got in to Stonebow which is — Do you know Lincoln?
JM: I do.
JW: Yeah. Well you know the Stonebow there.
JM: I do.
JW: Well everybody was accumulating there.
JM: Right.
JW: Because Bracebridge, where I lived was about two miles from Lincoln I think. Wasn’t it?
JM: Yes.
JW: But we used to walk all over, we didn’t, or bike. Get a bicycle. But really as I say I don’t think you could realise it. I would hear about Coventry and places and Birmingham. How badly it was bombed. But you don’t realise. You feel for them.
JM: Now you say that you lived at Bracebridge.
JW: Yeah.
JM: And we know there was a factory there that repaired Lancasters.
JW: Yes.
JM: Did you ever see any of this?
JW: No. Would that be Waddo?
JM: Yes. It was.
JW: Yes.
JM: Not far from Waddo and they would trundle down the road there. Down the A15.
JW: That’s right. Yeah.
JM: But you didn’t see that yourself.
JW: No.
JM: No.
JW: No. Because that as over the hill to us.
JM: Right.
JW: Yeah. And we didn’t go over a lot that way did we? Because that’s where you were wasn’t it? Waddo.
JM: Would you say that, from the point of view of a young woman did the war help you in any way? Did it give you skills or opportunities that you wouldn’t otherwise have had?
JW: I don’t think so. Not, not in my age. I don’t think so. No. I mean the job I did was printing at Ruddocks. And I was saying I think to you the other day you’d got about two hundred and fifty sheets of paper and you fed them into this machine individually to be folded into books and different things. But, you know, every day was much the same more or less. Yeah.
JM: When the war was over Britain went through quite a difficult time. Rationing continued etcetera. Can you tell us a little bit about what it was like in those in those days. In the days immediately after the war was over?
JW: Well I we went down from Lincoln because I got married to a Lincoln man. And we got married and then we went down to live in Cornwall. Not St Mawgan [Pause] St Eval. Down there and there was a little village and everything was rationed still but gradually we’d get a banana each. Or we might get an apple each. Or — that was a treat to us. A banana was a treat to us.
JM: But that was down in Cornwall.
JW: Yeah but you know they only had so many. So if they ran out that was it. If you weren’t there or then there was another man in Lincoln where I worked. You’d look out the window and he — Mr Cammack. He was just like Santa Claus and he’d come tottering along and he’d got a sweet shop. And he’d put his hands up to let us know he’d got his sweets in. But he, we’d have to get coupons for them. But it was a treat to have perhaps a kitkat or something like that. But I think it perhaps did us good. Really. You know. Everybody was treated the same. So, it was, it was good.
JM: Do you remember being surprised when Mr Churchill was voted out of office in 1945?
JW: I don’t remember much about that. I don’t. I don’t. I can’t remember. I can’t remember that I don’t think. Probably at the time I’d have thought about it but it wouldn’t be in my mind really.
JM: Yes.
JW: I’d be probably too young to be thinking about politics then. So –
JM: Let’s stop there for a minute shall we?
[recording paused]
JW: Windows out. Yeah.
JM: Joan I believe you witnessed an air crash at Waddington. I wonder if you could tell us about that.
JW: It was just below Waddington. On the hill. And my sister lived in cottages which was at the brickyard at Brant Road. And this bomber came back with its bombs on. Which sometimes they used to get rid of before they came back to Lincoln. But this one couldn’t get over the hill I suppose and it hit the hill and it blew all the windows out of my sister’s house. And so she couldn’t go back to live there until they got the windows in again.
JM: Did she —
JW: But nearly — sorry
JM: Did you find out what happened to the crew?
JW: No. No. Didn’t. No. I mean at the time I might have done but I can’t remember. I mean things are fast aren’t they? You know.
JM: Where did your sister go to live?
JW: Well it didn’t actually affect her living. It was just that she stayed with us. My mother. With us.
JM: Yeah.
JW: I know we were a three in a bed kind of arrangement until they got the windows in. Because if it was raining and things there was nothing to stop the rain coming in.
JM: Whose responsibility was it to put the windows in?
JW: I don’t really know. Unless it was the brickyard company. Because it was where the bricks were being made with these kilns.
JM: I wondered if it might have been the local authority.
JW: I would have thought it was the London Brick Company. I would have thought.
JM: Right. Right.
JW: Because they were the people who rented the cottages so I would imagine.
JM: When the aircraft blew up it must have made a huge noise and it must have frightened people.
JW: Oh yes. Oh and my sister was. Really frightened. And she’d got a boy of about oh three I think. And he was terrified. I suppose, really, it did affect the really young ones. What was going on. And I mean it was just down the road to where Glad was wasn’t it? No more than probably just over the road. Down here. So it must have been a terrific noise.
JM: Yes. Joan did you get the opportunity to travel around Lincolnshire much during the war?
JW: No. No.
JM: So you were always —
JW: Because of the petrol you see. Petrol was rationed and even aircrew got a little bit more but other people didn’t. Yeah. So.
JM: And bus travel and train travel.
JW: Yeah. Bus travel was ok. Yeah. For local. Like going into the city and back and forward.
JM: Yes.
JW: You didn’t go far in those days. No. I mean the furthest I went to after the war was out to Blackpool. But that was after the war. Rationing I think was fair but you didn’t get very much. There wasn’t, I mean an ounce of butter was nothing really wasn’t very much. You got one egg. Jam was rationed. Everything was rationed. So — but the Americans sent a lot of food over.
JM: They did.
JW: You know. So that was a big help.
JM: Now you said you were fourteen when the war started. So you would have been at school at that stage. What age did you —
JW: Yeah. Well at fourteen I left school. You did in those days. It was after I left school that you started work at sixteen. But I mean I went to work at fourteen.
JM: And did you deal with the war at all at school?
JW: No. No. No. We didn’t, Nothing. You know, you just went home on the bus. You went in in the morning on the bus. As I say Lincoln didn’t really get affected too badly really. So —
JM: Even though it was such a main centre for the Royal Air Force.
JW: Yes. And when you think, when you think, I don’t know if I’m right I did hear once there were forty ‘dromes in Lincolnshire. I don’t know if you know that. I don’t know.
JM: I have heard that figure mentioned. Many of them were built during the war weren’t they?
JW: I don’t know but I know I’ve heard that there were forty dromes and that’s why, although it didn’t get a lot of bombs on it. They said that’s why it got bombed but they didn’t get a lot of bombs on it.
JM: You didn’t see the aerodromes being built at all?
JW: Didn’t see what?
JM: The aerodromes being built at all.
JW: Oh no. No. As a matter of fact we used to go to Waddington for Open Day before the war and you know the buses and everything used to run up there. Up to Bracebridge Heath and there used to be an Open Day there for —
JM: So they had a funfair and things like of that sort.
JW: Oh yes. Yeah —
JM: And did they put on a flying display.
JW: Yeah. Well I can’t remember now. But I always remember the buses lining up for people to get in. To go home kind of thing. Take them up there. Yeah.
JM: Joan, thank you very much. It’s been, it’s been lovely to talk to you. Thank you for your contributions.
JW: Yeah. Thank you.
JM: Let’s turn it off now.



Julian Maslin, “Interview with Joan Watson,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed November 29, 2023,

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