Interview with Alma Leedham


Interview with Alma Leedham


Alma Leedham grew up in London and worked for Hawker aircraft on the Hurricane at the start of the war . She later trained as a driver in the Women's Auxiliary Air Force. She served at RAF Scampton driving tractors taking bombs to the aircraft. Mentions various episodes of her service life: a flash accidentally blowing up a fully bombed Lancaster and setting fire to other nearby aircraft; delivering post from Scampton to Waddington; meeting her husband, a flight sergeant; her tractor being targeted by a German fighter plane. Describes the relationships between the WAAFs and the ground and aircrews at the base. Remembers the night the Dam Busters went on their operation. Tells of her family life after the war.




Temporal Coverage




01:24:34 audio recording


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HH: Ok, it’s Saturday the fourteenth of May 2016 and I am Heather Hughes and I am conducting an interview for the International Bomber Command Centre with Alma Leedham and also present at the interview are Alma’s son, Richard and daughter in law, Jane. Thank you, Alma, very much for agreeing to talk to us today. We are in Richard and Jane’s home in Holbury, Southampton. Alma, I wonder if we could start off this interview with you talking a little bit about your very early life and where you were born and grew up and went to school.
AL: I [unclear], well, I was born in Fulham, which is just outside London, actually South Wessex, and of course I stayed there, I was more or less still there when the war started and when I joined up all I wanted to do was drive. I loved driving and I still do. But I was sent up to Blackpool and we had civilian teachers which turned out to be a bit of a mistake because three or four of them got picked up on a smash-and-grab raid one night [laughs], well, we didn’t know anything about it, us girls that were lonely we were being put up in local houses up there and that was the first time I saw a ballet, there was a ballet on at the theatre up there and a couple of lads took me to see it, so that was the first time, but I’m digressing now, but
HH: Not at all.
AL: You know, being there and thinking about it now, it’s way back in my past really see, so if I jump about you’ll have to excuse me.
HH: Not a problem.
AL: So, the thing is, I did have a boyfriend who was in the RAF and when he disappeared I joined up so I’m trying to remember how old I was then, I was think of I was probably eighteen, possibly nineteen but I think it was more like eighteen, and they send me up to Blackpool and that’s where the drivers were, learning to drive. I had a father who was mad about motor and always had been, he’s always been in the business so he told me how to double declutch, which some people these days have never heard of, but in those days we did, anyway, now where have I got to? This is it, my memory’s sort of, it collapses from time to time and I go from one bit to another. The thing is when the war was starting I was already working for Hawker aircraft on the Hurricane. So, I was already slightly involved with the war but when, I’m just thinking, when I decided to join up, they sent me up to Blackpool to learn to drive properly and that was absolutely beautiful because it was the springtime and we were doing most of our training in the upper areas of North Wales and it was really wonderful up there, Rhododendrons all the way, you know, because it was sort of, really, this time of the year, May, and then of course we had a bit of collapse because the trainers, the drivers that we had, who were civilians, several of them got picked up on a smash-and-grab raid, so the whole thing started to collapse and then, there’s a famous comedian who was a sergeant and he used to take us in the basement.
US: Max Wall.
AL: Max Wall, that was him and he was our sergeant at the time and he wasn’t always funny, I’ll tell you that, but you see, the thing is there were breaks and us girls when we had a break, we used to pop into Woolworth and buy music and sit at the back we’d all [unclear], you know, going like this [unclear], not listening to him at all, but, anyway, that’s beside the point and so eventually of course we all got posted off to different places because there was a break when they decided that because of the disruptive learner, teacher drivers that we had, we would have to start again so we all gone, there were more than fifty of us and we went south somewhere and I can’t quite remember but it was sort of somewhere, sort of [unclear] with northern Wales that we went and they put us through psychology test, so we were sort of listening for noises and we had pieces of paper in front of us with a pencil on one hand and a pen in the other one and so, you had to do all the movements that you were doing if you were driving, so for instance if you were, if the instructor at the front sitting on the [unclear] left hand turn, because he was facing you, it was a right-hand turn for you, so [laughs], so we had pieces, it must have taken about three or four days when we were going through this business of the paperwork and to test what you, how good your sight was and how good your hearing was cause you had to listen for a horn and well, things like that and if he suddenly put his hand out, you put a right hand turn because he was doing a left hand turn, but it was alright for us. It was quite interesting but we were only there four days and then we got sent off again and so I went to, where did I go to? I went to Blackpool. We were, yeah, that was, I think I got a bit mixed up somewhere there but anyway when we finished our training I was sent with three, four other ladies, we were all new to the RAF and we went up to somewhere on the east coast of Scotland where we were collecting new lorries, there were new lorries who were just going into use so when we got up there, the first thing we had to do was to clean the lorries cause you couldn’t see through the windows or anything so we had to clean them up and when all these lorries were ready, they were about, I think they were about six, seven or maybe even eight and we had the business of keeping the right distance outside town from each other and the right distance, when you, you could close up when you, and I can’t remember what the distances were, so you could close up when you were in town but all this time we were normally driving just lorries, small lorries, what you call a thirty-hundred-weight, and then of course the news eventually came through that the postings were coming, when everything went wrong, they were going to send us down to London but before we could go, they stopped us and said, we are sending you to somewhere else and I can’t remember where that is now, but when we finished our training there and they decided we were ok, that’s when I got sent to Scampton but there were only two of us went to Scampton and I can’t even remember the other girls name and of course it was when I got there 83 Squadron were in the process of moving south cause they’d been at Scampton and they were with 39 Squadron. 39 Squadron were flying Manchesters which only had the two engines, they weren’t as good as the Lancasters, so they went out of action fairly soon and I never really had anything to do with those but when we were posted to Scampton there were the empty, that’s the motor place where the, all the girls and the men who were drivers went down there and you would only do half a day because you’d be, you’d have two, at least two other drivers, learners, same as yourself, and we’d have one teacher each, they were civilians and we had one teacher each and you, he decided when you got out and come, somebody got out the backseat and came in and did the driving, so he decided all that sort of stuff and because at that time we were living in what you would call holiday houses, you know, the people went to stay on a holiday at Blackpool and there’s all these land ladies with all their open doors and of course the RAF and the army, they just overtook all the places over and I remember the first time we went, we were right up in the loft area so when I woke up in the morning, I’m trying to stand, trying to sit up, and I hit my head on the [unclear] ceiling but I mean there were seven of us in that attic and so we did get a big post. And then there was the night when we got, I can’t remember her name, one of the other girls, at night we had to be in by ten, but there was a fish and chip shop down the road and we could get lemonade there as well, so we used to get the stuff and take it back but the lady who was in charge of the house, it was her house, she had very, very strict rules about being back by ten and we were only about one minute past ten and she wouldn’t let us in, so the girls who were in the top floor so [unclear] stream down we passed fish and chips and bottles of lemonade up to them but we couldn’t get in ourselves and there was a corporal who was supposed to be in charge of us and she was very weak, she, when they, the owner of the house sort of told her, you can do this and you can do that and can do the other but not this, you know, and so she laid the law down and of course we got to this point where we couldn’t get in one night cause we arrived back one minute after eleven so we had to go three streets away to one of the houses where we had a WAAF office there with officers and sergeants and all that sort of thing, tell them what had happened to us and so they said, well, we will get that sorted out so, they sent for a lorry, it was an RAF lorry to come and pick us up and take us back [unclear] that they let us in [laughs] and that’s what they did, they did [unclear] but as I say, that was just the early days and then once we got posted, we all went different ways so, some of the girls that I knew then I never ever met again. So, you just sort of accepted what came, there was nothing else you could do anyway but I think when you are young, that doesn’t matter, does it? And you know, we more or less behaved ourselves and as I say, that was the first time I saw a ballet, there was a ballet in Blackpool on at the theatre and two of the lads decided to take me and I don’t remember much about it, it was Swan Lake, that’s all I know but from then on you know, you saw, you just waited to see what was gonna happen and when I got sent to Scampton the first thing I had to do was not driving a car anymore, you’re driving a tractor, so that’s when I started taking the bombs out to the Lancasters, so.
HH: And you used a tractor for that?
AL: Yeah. So, I’d have, the maximum number of trailers on the back was six, you weren’t allowed to have more, with six could do you two bombloads, see so when you went up to the bomb dump my mate she worked in, Vivian, she worked in the bomb dump, she knew where we were going, we weren’t told, we were just told which aircraft to take the loads to and you could pick up two loads on six trolleys, so you had a four thousand pound bomb on the trailer behind you and the other two trailers would have incendiary bombs on them, crossways on the trolleys. And so you took out six and you delivered them to the two aircraft that they told you to do and then you went back again, collected another lot and that sort of thing. But I suppose really if you jumped far ahead there was a night when we, you know, we had a fog, and we blew up one of our Lancasters, it was fully bombed from the night before [laughs].
HH: What happened?
AL: Well nobody was hurt or anything, in fact it was rather funny because when this aircraft, you see the aircraft had been lined up on the sort of semicircle ready to take off the night before and of course the rule was that if the Germans got [unclear] that we were coming, it would be cancelled. At this particular night it was cancelled and when we went out the next morning, fog everywhere, you couldn’t see a hand in front of your face. And so there were people doing [unclear] and what we didn’t know at the time, we found out about later was that one of the lads and armourer, he got into the aircraft because when the aircraft was taking off and it was fully loaded, it also had a flash, now the flash came from a chute near the back end of the aircraft and when, I don’t know about the timing and all that sort of thing but that flash, when it went, gave them the light to take a photograph of what they had hit, so it was all very complicated really, but anyway that’s who I was. Oh dear, I’m running out of breath I think. It’s, you know I’m trying to go back to those days cause it’s a long time ago.
HH: It is a long time ago.
AL: And now I’m trying to remember.
HH: So, how, were you just at Scampton or did you serve at any other base? You were just at Scampton?
AL: I was just at Scampton because
HH: So you got to know it very well.
AL: I did. That was, we used to have a dance, it was generally on a Sunday night, this was the non-officers, they had their own particular areas, the same as they had their own officer’s mess, we wouldn’t expect to go up to any of those places, and so we sort of all bumped in together and it seemed to work out quite well. It was.
HH: What were your living quarters like in Scampton?
AL: Oh wait a minute, what was that like? I’m just trying to think where I slept in, oh, yes, it was nearly two miles down the road off Scampton, coming out of Lincoln it would be on the right, I’ve forgotten the name of the village but a lot of us slept down there in sort of Nissen huts and that was a bit awkward because if you wanted to go to the loo you’ll had to, put your shoes on of course, you had to get out of the Nissen hut that you were in, you had to walk across a ditch which had a white plank on it, so you walked across the ditch [unclear] on and though that was sort of loosely put up, you know, for the first to use and that sort of thing, so no problems there expect the girl in the bed next to me had [unclear], I mean, she was a fat girl and she came from Bradford, and I remember she used to call it Bratford, I said it’s not Bratford it’s Bradford, there’s a d in there, anyway she had a [unclear] and they cartered her off but I never knew what happened there but you see, she was a tubby girl and most of us and so most of us didn’t even realise she was expecting, things like that do happen, you know.
HH: And what was the food like?
AL: Mh?
HH: What was the food like?
AL: As far as I remember, it was acceptable. We had a sort of, there was a general, in the main building there was a cooking, really, not cooking, ah, what’s the word?
HH: Canteen.
AL: Yes, they turned it into a canteen up there, so that we could use it and of course in the evening it was used as a theatre, so we had a big screen put up in one corner and my friend Vivian, the one who did the bomb dump, I remember one night, she was sitting there, she was sat on the window sill and there was this cowboy thing on, there was this white horse and somebody was shouting something about the horse and Vivian stood there and she said, come on [unclear]! [unclear] this white horse. And so everybody started laughing so, they said, do you want us to start again? We said, no, carry on from where you are [laughs].
HH: And how much, how much did you have to do with the ground crew and the air crew?
AL: The only relationship, oh, we can’t call it a relationship, but the only people I really knew were, I didn’t know any of the air crew but we all thought that was a good idea because they didn’t always come back but the ground crew, we got to know those that especially the armourers that worked on the stuff because we used to take the bombs out on the trolleys and but you should hear their language if you hadn’t got the trolleys straight when you had to load them out, right under the bomb bay, see, so you took the tractor right the way round and you came in from the side towards the front end cause you couldn’t get out the back way anyway. And so that was my [unclear].
HH: And you said that you’d met your husband as a result of being in Bomber Command.
AL: Oh yes, now, I did know him because he was a flight sergeant and he had sixty men working for him and he was in the armoury department, you see, because I was on the bombs and that sort of thing so I didn’t get to know him and it was so sad one morning, we were, the girls were in the hangar, some waiting to go out on different jobs and he came in and there were tears, I said, what’s the matter? Cause I didn’t even know that he was, that his name was Terry then, I called him the same as everybody else cause he, he was this big lad, he was six foot two, and I sad, what on earth’s the matter? He said, I have just been round to one of the planes that was out last night, he said, the rear gunner was shot up, he said, and I went round the back and there’s just bits of him. He said, I couldn’t bear to look at it and there were tears and he was a flight sergeant but there you are [unclear] sort of thing but over the years, you know, we sort of got to know each other, especially if I was on night duty and he was on night duty too. So, out on the airfield there were three huts, hut number one, two and three, and you could always go to one of these huts because they had these stoves and the stoves there were on the top and I used to go down the cook house and get some bread and we made toast up there, you see, so we were never short of something [unclear] and they used to say when I got, when I used to get down the cook house, you didn’t come for more bread? I said, yes [laughs]. And I don’t remember whether we ever managed to get any marge to go with it, certainly wasn’t any butter. [unclear] got some marge sometimes. But, you know, it’s, I’ve gone off my track again, haven’t I?
HH: You were talking about getting to know your husband.
AL: Oh yes, he, well, mainly I suppose it was because he was working on the, he was, you see, there were four hangars but it was hangar number three and hangar number four were where the armourers worked, he was a flight sergeant at the time and so the only time he ever had to bring his lads in, he would sit in the front with me, in the front, that’s the lorry I was driving and [laughs], one night he came back with the lorry and while I had been out on the airfield, they’d taken one of the Lancasters and they towed it by the tail, put it in the hangar and the doors, the hangar gates or doors, which were, they were normally open when I left, when I came back they were like this and I got, I got probably about twelve armourers in the back of the lorry with all their gear, you know, the winding and bits, so I got them and when I had got round to the hangar and the hangar which had been wide open there was a [unclear] one so I didn’t realise that what they’d done was to tow a Lancaster in there by the tail, so when I drove in [unclear] my lads that were in the back of the lorry got the propeller piece that was in the downward bit, it went over the roof and where I was driving but the covered bit where the lads were [laughs], it went back and it bent all the way [unclear] shouting at me [unclear] [laughs]. But things like that happened.
HH: I’m sure. Well, things were not as well-lit in those days apart from everything else, weren’t they?
AL: Most of the time you couldn’t see where you were going.
HH: Exactly.
US: You were going to tell the story of flash?
AL: Flash? Oh yeah.
US: Who [unclear]
AL: When we the, when we blew him up?
US: Yeah. When you blew the Lancaster up.
AL: Oh, well, this, on this particular night there was going to be a raid on Germany and the aircraft, we got them all loaded up and everything and whether the news, cause sometimes the news of what we were doing would get through to the Germans and if they found out, I mean, we never knew any details or anything but if that happened, the whole thing was off and everything like that, so on this one particular night, everything was ready but there was a very thick fog the next morning and when we got to work, there was, it was a bit difficult, we had to go out onto the aircraft, we had armourers and I mean, I didn’t even know about it at the time but in the aircraff where the bombs are, they are in sort of the middle of the aircraft but behind that towards the tail, inside there’s a chute and the chute had, I suppose you could call it a bomb, it’s like a small one
US: It’s a flash [unclear]
AL: But it was the flash really and it went, it went into a chute so that what happened, when the aircraft were in the air and they got the place that they were gonna bomb land, this flash, I mean I don’t know any of the details, but the flash was what gave them the light to take a photograph of what they’d hit.
HH: That’s it.
AL: So, as I say, I don’t know any of the details there.
HH: What happened to it in the fog?
AL: Eh?
HH: What happened to it in the fog?
AL: Well, this was the problem, the whole thing was cancelled the night before, when we got to work the next morning, Cookie, who was the warrant officer in charge of the armourers and the, what we called the downstairs people [laughs], in charge of me as well, he had got very drunk the night before, which wasn’t unusual [laughs] and he sent, which he should never have done, he sent some blokes out to defuse the flashes, see, so, there was a case, they, so they had to get into the aircraft and the flash was, long thing about that, and it was about that wide and it went, and that was what took a photograph of what they hit and what he did, Cookie sent one of the blokes out to defuse one of these things or more than one but he ignored the fact that no one below the rank of corporal was allowed to do that and this bloke, he was just a leading aircraftsman, he was no rank at all and he put the switch the wrong way and he fired it so we had, he shouted as soon as he’d done it, now we had at that time because it was the next morning there was fog everywhere and there were the lads who had all the instruments and stuff and they were, had trolleys and when I was driving the lorry, I was seeing somebody running across the ground towards the hangar, two blokes and they hadn’t got the sense to leave the trolley and go [laughs], they were still pushing the trolley along [laughs], running across the grass towards the hangar with this trolley, I thought that was really funny [laughs]. But I’ve lost myself again.
US: The flash went off at the Lancaster, set it on fire.
AL: Oh yes, this was when
HH: Set the aircraft on fire.
AL: The switch, this switch that was supposed to switch the flash off, he turned it the wrong way apparently. But he knew what he’d done as soon as it happened because the flash dropped out of the bottom of the aircraft, it was at the tail end, and you shouted, jump everybody, the flash is gone! You see, we had the instrument people working up in the, where the pilot and the navigator, where those people would be, and the mid upper gunner, he would be up there and there was another one, there was the front gunner, he would be up there and these men were up there, you see, and the aircraft was on fire down the bottom with this thing, see, so, they jumped out where they were and people got away from the aircraft and of course in no time at all, not only was this Lancaster on fire but because overall wing to wing, the Lancs on either side were on fire.
HH: And were they are still fully bombed up?
AL: Oh yeah. And but you see, the thing was, because we couldn’t see properly because the fog was so thick and the airfield at Scampton is like this so that if you are on the far side, you can’t even see the hangars. So, it was more than a little difficult but when people realised what was happening, they sent a message out to the pilots to come and move their aircraft, so we did get most of them moved but the middle five, the three of them didn’t belong to us, they belonged to 120 Squadron [laughs], which is a bit of a laugh to start with if it did belong to us and you know, so it was sort of case of blowing up and all this sort of thing and of course in those days Perspex in the [unclear] windows was absolutely marvellous stuff and the lads used to make all sorts of things [unclear], cigarette lighters and stuff like that, and cigarette cases, they used to use this stuff like as I saw any, you know, there was a smash, they pick up the bits and take them home and use them. So, I mean, not everything went to waste, but they were exciting days.
HH: So there a lot of aircraft, lot of aircraft got lost in that incident.
AL: Oh yes,
US: Three, wasn’t it?
AL: Mh?
US: You lost three.
AL: Yeah, we did, we lost three, because, you see, the thing is when the first thing went down the chute and the bloke said, bombs away, clear it everybody, everybody was jumping and running but we were in thick fog and so because the aircraft from wingtip to wingtip, once the centre one which didn’t belong to us, was on fire, the ones on either side were in no time at all were on fire as well and what we had to do, we had to send for the pilots, to come and take the aircraft on the edges away, so we were left with, I wonder if three or five, I think it was five aircraft there, they wouldn’t, they couldn’t get on the, sort of the end of the [unclear] because they were too near the ones that were burning, so I had taken the four thousand pound bombs out the night before and what happened, we had the three centre ones blew up but the ones that were burning on the outside, we’d got the fire hoses putting them out and Vivian, she was out there with me on her tractor and we were waiting for the bombs to cool down so we could take them back to the bomb dump afterwards.
HH: Quite a dangerous job.
AL: We didn’t think so at the time [laughs].
HH: What was it like, Alma, on operation’s nights, when there was an operation?
AL: Well, was no different to any other night, really.
HH: Did you tend to be more tense, to wait for planes to come back?
AL: No. No, the thing is, we had to get used to the way things were, that was it, uhm, I mean, most of the girls like me, we had an unwritten law, you don’t get involved with the pilots or the navigators, people like that, cause they may not come back and a lot of them didn’t. And you see, as I say, there was this one night when Terry or morning when Terry turned up and there was only bits of this bloke because the Germans had got, you know, a really good bomb and, but you see, the aircraft itself was so near landing that it managed to land but of course the back end of it was in bits and so was this bloke. So we never got involved with the aircrew, safest not to, the same as when, you see, you had different jobs, sometimes I’ll be driving the tractor and taking the bombs out, sometimes I’ll be driving a lorry and taking the men out or bring them back. I just did what I was told.
HH: And you said that you also did the post run between Lincoln and Waddington.
AL: Oh that was, yes, I did, there was, I’ve got some idea that Scampton was a sort of, not exactly a headquarters but it was a bit sort of more up than some of the others so a lot of the secret mail that used to come in it would, I don’t know how it came, whether it was a bloke on a motorbike or something but this mail that came in could not go through the normal post and it had to be taken, see, so, there were occasions when it was my job to take the stuff over to Waddington and sort of drive through Lincoln to do it and then all the way back with fish and chips and they were all waiting in the empty room when we got back [laughs], all waiting for their fish and chips [laughs].
HH: What was, what rank did you obtain, Alma, what was your rank?
AL: [unclear], leading aircraftswoman, that was all. I never even got to corporal.
HH: And your, can you remember your service number?
AL: 455833 [laughs].
HH: Everyone can do that, it’s quite extraordinary. Yeah, it’s wonderful. And how much, what did you do when you had leave duty?
AL: Uhm, leave, I’m just trying to think, I don’t really remember doing anything.
US: Did you go and visit your mum?
AL: Eh?
HH: Did you go home
US: Did you go [unclear] and visit your mum?
AL: Oh I did go home, there was an uncle, actually he was an uncle and aunt of my mum, they lived in Lincoln and I used to go down and have a meal with them sometimes and because of where he was he got some placards which advertised the local theatre in Lincoln, sometimes he would say to me, would you like a couple of tickets? And I’d take on of the girls with me, we’d go down and see a show down there.
HH: It’s lovely.
AL: So that happened several times and do you know, I can’t even remember his name, nor his wife’s name or what they looked like. It’s a long time ago.
HH: Long time ago.
AL: I can’t. No, I don’t.
US: Your great uncle.
AL: Eh?
Us: That would have been your great uncle.
AL: Yes, yeah. But, they were my mum’s uncle and aunt and because when she heard where I was, she sent me out their address and so I went round to see them so when I was going out in the evening going into Lincoln to get fish and chips, oh, actually, I wasn’t going for the fish and chips, I was going to Waddington to deliver their mail and there was a fish and chips on the way back, but you see, all the girls in the empty, they all used to give me a list of what they wanted, now I used to come back with loads of fish and chips [laughs].
HH: Now, you stayed in Scampton till the end of the war, did you?
US: No.
AL: No, no, I didn’t. Cause I got married and had my first baby, in 1944.
HH: Ok, so you got married in, so you, when, after you were married you left Scampton, is that right?
AL: Uhm,
US: No, no, hang on, [unclear] If you want to get things in chronological order
AL: What?
US: If you want to get things in chronological order, you were sort of telling us that, although you’d worked with dad, he was very shy and you didn’t really sort of make that much contact with him although you’d been out, you know the WAAFs and the lads used to go to Lincoln together
AL: Yeah, we did.
US: But you’d always been a bit shy and you never really approached him and then one night there was that incident with the, [unclear] where the undercarriage collapsed and you had to go out, the night with the torch, that story.
AL: I don’t remember an awful lot about it. He was, he and another bloke, were digging underneath
US: The Lancaster, the undercarriage collapsed from take off
AL: The Lancaster, collapsed, the wheels had collapsed and there was, there were loaded bombs in there and so he and a couple of lads, I remember I was driving a lorry that night because somebody was shouting for a torch and there was an officer sitting with me and I said, there’s a torch there and I drove to and he, do you know, this officer got out of the lorry, round the front of it and disappeared and these blokes were down there so I got out of the lorry, picked up the torch and went over to the lads that were working there trying to dig the, you know, the bottom of the aircraft where the bombs were and they did do it, they defused the four thousand pound, but you see, the others
US: They were on time [unclear] the [unclear] had gone off even though
AL: See so, he did that but you see the incendiaries that were all around, I mean, the, [unclear], eleven, eleven boxes of incendiaries right round the main bomb, and of course they weren’t timed or anything, it was just a big bang on the earth that opened them up and that was it. Long time ago.
HH: Indeed.
US: That was the first you really had any real sort of contact with that, wasn’t it? And after that, you got talking or something.
AL: Yeah. And then I discovered he was jealous. And when we went to, we had a dance in the corporal’s mess and one of the blokes that I knew on a flight came across and asked me for a dance, so I went to dance with him, when I came back there was no sign of Terry. And I thought, that’s funny. And I said to one of the blokes, where did Terry go? Don’t know, he said. So I said, oh, never mind. And he turned up about twenty minutes later and I said to him, where have you been? He said, I couldn’t bear to see you with him, he said, I’ve been for a walk. That was it. He was very jealous. So, that was it. But he was lovely.
HH: Good.
AL: yeah.
HH: And you got married in ’43?
AL: Yeah. Twelfth of September.
HH: And where were you after that?
AL: Do you know, you’ve asked me, I don’t really know. I mean, as soon as I started to expect Leslie I had to leave anyway. But
HH: And where did you live when you left the WAAFs?
AL: I must have gone back to Kingston, to mum’s.
US: You did eventually, but after, you talked about living in Nissen huts of the base, at one stage you moved into married quarters at Scampton, didn’t you?
AL: Oh yes,
US: Was it number 18?
AL: Number 18, yes,
HH: So you stayed in married quarters at Scampton for a while
AL: [unclear]
US: And you were back in the same house that you
AL: Yeah, they gave me same house after the war.
HH: Gosh!
US: Oh yeah, that was after the war, that was the same house where you’ve been billeted with all your mates. Yeah, so Leslie was born
AL: Yeah, Leslie was born in a hospital in Birmingham,
US: Oh, ok.
AL: And it was dreadful. They were awful people.
US: So after you were married then, before Leslie was born you then moved to East Kirkby, didn’t you?
AL: The name is familiar, I can’t put a, I can’t remember what it looked like. East Kirkby, the name is very familiar. Was it round the back of the aerodrome?
US: No. No, it’s South Lincolnshire.
AL: South
HH: It’s near Spilsby.
AL: Yeah, I know.
US: Woodhall Spa.
HH: And Woodhall Spa.
AL: I just can’t remember that bit
US: After Scampton, I can’t remember whether you were married at Scampton or not.
AL: No, we were married at my mum’s place.
US: Alright, ok.
AL: [unclear].
US: Yeah, but I can’t remember whether you were still living at Scampton at the time when you were married or not. But at some stage, 57 Squadron transferred from Scampton to East Kirkby.
AL: Ah yes.
US: And you would, If you would remember you were driving the lead lorry that was coming [unclear]
AL: We had no road signs in those days.
HH: They’d all been taken down.
AL: [unclear] didn’t know where you were going and I was driving the lead lorry, I think there was anything up to fifty vehicles and we’d go down all these country lanes with no road names or anything and every so often I’d stop and there’d be a lot of shouting going on behind and they’d say, let us know when you want to turn because we can’t oversee you when you slip off or something and was something about it and I can’t remember that. But
HH: You got there safely, did you?
AL: Yes, yeah. I don’t even remember, I know I was driving lorries then not, I wasn’t driving in fact the only time I ever drove the CO’s car was to turn it round in the CT garage [laughs]. Yeah, I turned it round that’s all. But I did take two officers down to, they had to go to a meeting somewhere and it was south of Lincoln and I remember there was a river nearby but there was a, where you came round there’s a very steep road and then you turned in and I had to stay there, they gave me the money to go to the pictures, and I don’t know where they went for the afternoon and when I got back to the car, they were both waiting for me so I just took them back to camp. Just one of those odd things that happened.
HH: Yeah.
US: When you got to East Kirkby, you were living off the base there, weren’t you? You remember you were living at that pub called The Vanguard?
HH: The Vanguard pub?
US: Across the far side of the airfield.
AL: Yeah. I don’t remember too much about that.
HH: And then after the war, where were you, where did you?
AL: Went home.
HH: Also to London.
AL: Yeah. Or more or less Kingston-on-Thames.
HH: Kingston-on-Thames. Is that where you were living?
AL: Yeah.
HH: Ok.
AL: Yeah, my mum and dad were there, you see, they moved from Fulham up to Kingston.
US: Well, mum had to leave when sort of, I don’t know whether she declared or whether it became apparent that she was expecting, so she had to leave the WAAFs.
HH: Yeah. And then you had a family after the war. And did you stay in Kingston?
AL: Don’t know [unclear]
US: I don’t know what you did, I think you moved back up to Scampton after the war.
AL: Oh probably we did go back to Scampton.
US: Because wasn’t Valerie born at Scampton?
AL: Mh?
US: Wasn’t Valerie born at Scampton or in Lincoln?
HH: Did your husband stay in the armed forces after the war?
AL: Well, he was a permanent man, he joined, he joined when he was sixteen.
HH: So, he stayed on, ok.
AL: Oh yeah. So, wherever he went, I went, so I’ve been to Iraq and
HH: My goodness. Interesting life.
AL: And Singapore, we’ve lived in Singapore and Iraq. And several different places. [unclear] we just moved from one place to another. And if the people who just moved out didn’t wash the pottery and everything properly, you sat [unclear] and did it yourself.
HH: Amazing, yeah.
US: I think, after going back to Scampton, I think your next move was to Iraq in about 1950.
HH: Gosh!
AL: Yes, sounds about right.
US: To a Place called Habbaniya.
HH: Habbaniya. Ok.
US: Which is just outside, which is actually Bagdad. It’s now Bagdad international airport for two years I think.
HH: And did you have your family with you? You took your children with you to Iraq?
AL: Yeah.
US: The girls. I wasn’t born then.
AL: The girls. I had Leslie and Valerie, and Valerie was a little devil. Used to tell her off for swearing. And she would drop something deliberately and then she would look at me and she would say, shit! [makes a spitting sound] [laughs]
HH: [laughs] So you would, a couple of years in Iraq, so you would seen the world, have you?
AL: Yeah, and Singapore, we lived in Singapore for a couple of years.
HH: And then mostly back in this country.
AL: Yeah, but. I’ve had a good time really.
HH: You’ve had such an interesting life.
AL: Yeah.
HH: Well thank you very much, shall we stop the interview now and we thank you, you worked very hard, I’m sorry that you worked so very hard but thank you for all your wonderful stories.
AL: Well, the thing is, I mean it’s, there were probably others that, you know, if I was nudged I would probably remember them.
HH: Well, if you do we can talk some more. Thank you so much. Thank you.
AL: But, such a long time ago, I remember [file missing]
HH: So you dared to walk on the wing of a Lancaster.
AL: Yeah.
HH: And?
AL: Not while it was flying [laughs]
HH: And did you?
AL: Eh?
HH: Did you?
AL: Yeah. I walked out to I suppose within about two foot of the end of the wing.
HH: Quite a long way out.
AL: I was young and daring then. They said to me, you won’t do it, I said, oh yes, I will [laughs].
US2: Did you tell them about the night when the planes flew off to bomb the dams?
AL: The what?
US2: Did you tell Heather about the night when the planes went off on their mission to bomb the dams?
AL: Oh when they did the Dam busters, yeah [laughs]
US2: [unclear] your friend Vivian.
AL: No, when you say my friend Vivian, she worked in the bomb dump, she knew where aircraft were going. We never did. We would just, we just took the tractor and we would pick up the trailers and Vivian would say, well, you take this to F for Freddy, or G for George or whatever, and you took it to that aircraft and just left, left it there and after they had bombed up the aircraft after the, the lads that did the, oh, the armourers. After the armourers had finished doing their bit, I forgot what I was going to say now,
HH: This is about the Dam busters and your friend Vivian.
AL: Yeah.
HH: The dams raid.
AL: Yeah, because I said to Vivian, when the Dam busters went off that night, there were nineteen of them and only eleven came back and I can remember, I got a photograph of, I don’t know where it is of Vivian stood there, somebody took a photograph, wasn’t me cause I didn’t have the camera, yeah, she, cause I said to her, she was out there the next morning and when we heard that nine hadn’t come back and I remember saying to Vivian, you didn’t tell me it was the real thing! She said, well, I wasn’t supposed to. That was it. I’m sorry really that I’ve didn’t keep up with her cause I’d like to, you know, I’ve liked to keep in touch after the war but we didn’t, we just went our own separate ways, very well. But, very well.
HH: Can you remember what was Vivian’s surname in those days?
AL: Winsome. Yeah. She’s very tall, she’s much taller than me. And she was the one who found out what bit of the tractor engine you had to tie a string on if you wanted to go faster than five miles an hour. And so she [unclear] my mind up, so that I could do it but you, you could only get up to, it was only two or three miles faster than we could normally do. And
HH: I also asked you what your maiden name was and what were you known as in the WAAF.
AL: Turner.
HH: Because some people had then, you know, were known by nicknames, weren’t they?
AL: Yes, they were. I don’t think I was.
US: Well, Dad had a nickname, didn’t he?
AL: Ey?
US: Dad had a nickname, he was Lofty, wasn’t he?
AL: Yeah, dad was Lofty, because he was so tall.
HH: Because of his height, yeah, yeah.
AL: But I don’t think I had that. Oh, you got some of the pictures in there?
US: Remind you of something, these aren’t in order.
AL: Well, that’s me when I was young [laughs].
US: It’s true, just about the right time.
AL: That’s me when I was fifteen. And that’s me with Gladys. She was our lodger, she came from somewhere on the east coast and that’s Terry.
US: That was the wedding. Yeah.
HH: 1943.
AL: Oh yeah, there’s Terry and there’s me. And that’s his brother, who now unfortunately has died. That was Leslie as well and that’s my dad and that was my friend Norma. And that was next door’s little girl. There’s my dad and my mum and that was Auntie Madge and Uncle Tom, Auntie Eva, don’t know her name, that was me. That, I think that was Terry’s dad.
US: Looks like him.
AL: Yeah, I think that one was Terry’s dad, because that one is Terry’s brother, that’s Terry. Auntie somebody but she wasn’t a real auntie and there is Graham, my brother.
US: [unclear] So, what was, say a little bit about that.
AL: [laughs] we had a [unclear] and we were in the concert
HH: This is in Scampton.
US: I think so.
AL: I think it was, yeah. But I don’t remember the other two girl’s names. There’s [unclear] was, I did remember it the other day, but it’s gone again and it wasn’t spring is in the air but it was something like that, no. No, we put on a concert.
US: I remember you still had that jumper years later.
AL: I did [laughs]. Yeah, that’s when Leslie was born.
US: Scampton, was it?
AL: No, was Auntie Eva’s place.
US: Ok.
AL: Auntie Eva’s place that was.
US: And then there is a reference here to RAF Cardington.
HH: Gosh!
US: Were you there?
AL: No, I wasn’t there, Terry got posted there.
US: Maybe you were in London.
AL: No, I don’t think, that was 1945. So it was two years after we got married. He probably, he was probably posted.
US: Looked like you were in Scampton in ’47, with your dog.
AL: That’s N*****, not allowed to call them N***** now, are you? That was our N*****, he was lovely. And that’s Leslie, that’s Leslie with N***** when he was, we really got the dog for Leslie because I was shopping down in Lincoln and I went into the butcher’s and I was, you know, just getting something, was it the butcher’s? No, it wasn’t the butcher’s, it was another shop because Leslie was sat in the front seat and I had her, that’s right, and this fellow came out and he said something about a dog, he said, we found a dog in a field, that was it, it wasn’t very far away from Lincoln, his son was in the army and they bought him this puppy and his son was in the army, went to Germany and was killed and they couldn’t bear to look at the dog. So I said, I’ll take him home and so I did, so I had N***** for, how many years?
US: You must have had him from, well, I don’t know when you first got him but you probably had him to about 1950, ’51, ’52?
AL: He was quite young when I got him.
US: What happened to N***** when you were in Iraq?
AL: Mum looked after him.
US: So he was, he was still there when you got back?
AL: Yes.
US: Was he?
AL: And he went mad when he saw Terry. He suddenly realised it was Terry at the bottom of the garden.
US: And did you have him at Winterbourne Gunner as well?
AL: Yes, yeah, we did.
US: Ok. You must have had him at least ten years then.
AL: We did, he was, I think he was about ten or eleven when he died. It was a shame really, cause he was a gorgeous dog.
US: What else we got here.
AL: We got some more pictures. Do you know, I was looking at that and I was thinking, oh, I ought to know.
US: Ok.
AL: I don’t know him but I should know her.
US: Ok. [unclear] written on the back, what we got here, oh, we got Newark there.
HH: Oh yeah.
AL: Oh yeah. It’s me and Terry with Leslie, our first baby.
HH: Lovely.
AL: That’s me and that’s Terry. And that was our first one. And this is N***** as well with Leslie.
US: Scampton in ’46.
AL: Yes, Scampton 1946. It was an awful cold winter then, it really was. That’s a nice photograph of Terry.
US: Still 1948.
AL: Yeah. We were there quite a long time, weren’t we?
US: Mh.
AL: Oh, that’s when the [unclear] was in London.
US: 1951 then.
AL: We took the kids down.
US: Might go back, these are not in chronological order. Just family photographs.
AL: That’s N*****. He’s gorgeous.
HH: Lovely dog.
US: That must have been when we were at Winterbourne Gunner, old Sarum.
AL: Winterbourne Gunner.
US: Well, it must have been
AL: Ruins, Old Sarum, yes, it is.
US: Oh, tell them about the caravan.
HH: You’ve got a caravan story, have you?
AL: Well, the thing is, we went back to Winterbourne Gunner, when we were stationed there and there were no married quarters available so we bought this caravan [laughs]. And we lived in the caravan on the hill, about half way up from where the, what was the name of the unit where we were staying then?
US: Well, Boscombe Down.
AL: Boscombe Down. And she remembers more than I do.
HH: So what was it like living in a caravan?
AL: Oh, it’s quite ok.
US: See the size of it.
AL: We watched the big, when they were electing the mayor, not mayors, the
HH: General election?
HH: General election?
AL: Yes. We went to a general election while we were there because we sat up at night with the television on and everything you know. And that’s when we went down to Cheddar Gorge. Weren’t you with us then?
US: No. Wasn’t born then.
AL: Mh?
US: Wasn’t born then.
AL: Oh, it must have been a later time. That’s Winterbourne, Janet, Janet and Susan they were [unclear] children not mine, who’s with Janet?
US: That’s your niece. Graham’s daughter.
AL: Who?
US: Graham’s daughter.
AL: Oh, is it?
US: yeah.
AL: Well, I’ve forgotten. That’s Cheddar Gorge. 1952, that’s the girls, Leslie and Valerie and that’s them again with the dogs.
HH: I want to take a picture [unclear].
AL: I think that’s it, is it?
US: That’s it for that album.
HH: I’m just going to take a nice picture. I’m going to say thank you again and turn this. So tell me about flying in a Lancaster.
AL: [unclear] after the war, wasn’t it?
US: No, it wasn’t. I don’t think so.
US2: Your mum’s [unclear] taxi right now. Rich is thinking about the time
US: The time when, do you remember the one about the pilot who had to do his retaining because he had a problem with landings?
AL: Oh, yes [laughs]
US: There you are, in your own words.
AL: That’s right, uhm, now, we were on night duty and what had happened? This particular pilot was having problems landing at the right place at the right time. And when the aircraft came back from the raid that night, the officer that was in charge of that group, he said, you need some more basic training, he says, so it’s ok of [unclear]
HH: Circuits and bumps.
AL: Circuits and bumps, I was trying to think of, was a case of circuits and bumps for him and of course I was on night duty then and, O for Orange he drove, he was in O for Orange because the funny thing was when he came down, my friend Vivian, she was running the flight path from her tractor, some sort of car tow, thing that was out on the aerodrome, and she was working on that, I was down, I was down the front, oh dear, a very difficult time for me, he came, that’s right, the night before there’d been a bomb raid on and when he came back, he made a bad landing and I remember that the rear gunner, he was so worried about it that as the plane hit the ground, he spun it round and jumped out. He did
US: Spun the turret round
AL: And, yeah, he spun it round, he jumped out [laughs]. Mind you that the aircraft was practically at the standstill by then so he didn’t come to any harm but he said I’m not going with that [unclear] any more [laughs].
US: So you were gonna say what the CO did to him? He made him do circuits and bumps and how did you end up being in the aeroplane?
AL: [unclear], yeah, I was just on duty that night, I can’t remember, I think I was driving a lorry. Trying to think what his name was but I can’t remember it. No, it’s gone, I can’t remember it.
US2: I think you and your girls were off at a ride, weren’t you?
AL: Mh?
US2: You and some of the other girls were off at a ride.
US: Yeah, how did you come to be off at the
AL: What?
US: How did you come to off at the chance to go up in the Lancaster when you were [unclear]?
AL: Well, that actually was a deliberate thing, the CO was very good, several of the girls asked could they go up on one of the Lancasters and on this particular occasion he said, yes, six of you can go. And six of us went, and we didn’t realise until after we took off that it was the bloke who was not doing his landings very well the night before [laughs], the first time he came down, we bounced nine times [laughs], and we were all in there and one of the girls was sick, I know, I was sat in the wireless operator’s seat and when we hit the ground the first time I left the seat [unclear], my head was practically on the ceiling [laughs], but you know we all had a good laugh out of it [laughs]. That is the sort of things that happened.
US: And do you remember anything else about the flight in the Lancaster?
AL: Which one?
US: How many times did you go round and land?
HH: Did you have to do lots of circuits and bumps with him?
AL: Yeah, I think we went round four or five times. But, you know, we were more or less prepared [coughs]. I know I stayed by the bomb aimer’s table [laughs] but I think two of the girls were sick [laughs] when we hit the ground but
HH: Dear, dear.
AL: It’s a long time ago.
HH: I’m gonna take another pickie. That’s a nice picture of you in your uniform.
AL: Oh yeah.
HH: I’ll send you these in an email. No.
AL: I mean, I’m gonna be ninety four next month.
HH: Which is wonderful, yeah.
US2: I’m not sure if I heard you say at the beginning about when you were having your driver training.
AL: Mh?
US2: I’m not sure whether I heard you say at the beginning when you were having your driver training, that you used to have, you were telling me the other day about the lectures that you were going to and you and your friends used to get [unclear] music [unclear]
AL: That was when Max
US2: Wall
AL: Max Wall, he was our sergeant in those days, and because we, half way through, I mean, he was really keeping us occupied cause he didn’t know what else to do with us, because some of our group were, who said they were willing to do desk work, they got send down to London so the group got a bit smaller, I’m trying to think what happened to the rest of us. I know the group did get smaller, we had to go, we had to go on this test to see where, it was a weird test, we had, there was a woman there and she had a, she had [unclear] in each hand and we had sheets of paper in front of us with a pen in one hand and a pencil in the other and every time she went sort of like that, we’d do a sort of a round and we had to listen for a horn so if the horn went, there was a little circle in the middle and you had to squiggle in there so and then well afterwards they would check all these pieces of paper to see how close to the truth you were, we were.
HH: So that sounds like today the equivalent of today’s theory test.
AL: Would it?
HH: I don’t know.
AL: I don’t know.
US2: [unclear] wasn’t it, called [unclear]?
AL: [unclear] was lovely, uhm, because that’s sort of round the curve and they were just round the, we were round the top a bit round the curve and at tea time [coughs] we saw the, [unclear] the fish, they’re not fish, the well-known, well, I suppose they are fish really.
HH: Dolphins.
AL: Yes, and it was beautiful sort of spring evening with low sunshine and they used to come around [coughs].
HH: Lovely.
AL: Some of the girls took photographs, I didn’t have a camera. And, a long time ago now.
HH: It is. Thank you Alma. [file missing] Ok, tell us the story of how you got bullets in your tractor.
AL: Well, what had actually happened was I had the tractor out in the daytime, doing the usual jobs, you know, [unclear] bombs about and that sort of stuff and that, was it that evening? I put the tractor away, when I got back down the next morning, I discovered that the armoury, what’s it, I’m trying to think of his rank, I can’t think of it anyway, eh?
US2: The rifle sergeant or something?
AL: No. No, he wasn’t as high up as that, [laughs], no, what happened, he, I don’t know why he had my tractor but he did, now, earlier on we had a raid over Germany, and I mean, at this time of night, I was either in the pub or gone to bed. So, it was quite late. And apparently what happened was that our blokes went over to Germany, did their bombing and everything but while they were there a German fighter plane tapped on the back end of them when they were coming home and it was when they got back to the airfield, the corporal who had borrowed my tractor for whatever reason I don’t know, cause I wasn’t even on duty then, but he borrowed my tractor and started off to get it back to the, you know, sort of empty headquarters but he didn’t have enough sense to turn the lights off, you see, so the German aircraft came down and started firing at him and he just got off the tractor [laughs], he just ran away but the tractor was there with the lights on, see so, the fellow who was bombing the tractor, there was only a tractor, see so he didn’t bomb and he finally disappeared. That was it. It was hardly worth mentioning really [laughs].



Heather Hughes, “Interview with Alma Leedham,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed July 24, 2024,

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