Interview with Vera Willis


Interview with Vera Willis


Vera Willis nee Tomlinson volunteered for the Women's Auxiliary Air Force because she wanted to be a driver. Her driving career in the RAF involved driving long distances as well as driving aircrew to dispersal. Some crew gave her letters for safekeeping or to post.







00:44:14 audio recording


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VW: When you get to my age and you’re stuck in one place all the time you get rather sort of ugh don’t you and I love doing things.
HH: Well, Vera, thank you very much for agreeing to talk today to the Bomber Command project.
VW: Not at all. Anything. Anything to do with the air force I’m absolutely willing to do.
HH: So let’s just — thank you. Well that’s just completely wonderful. It’s lovely to meet you and for the purposes of the recording I’m just going to say that it’s the 28th of August 2015 and we’re sitting in Vera Willis’ lounge in Holton Holegate near Spilsby in Lincolnshire.
VW: Yes.
HH: Great. Ok.
VW: That’s super.
HH: And Vera, thank you again for chatting to us today.
VW: Well I’m here.
HH: Because you have so many stories to tell.
VW: Once upon a time.
HH: About your experiences as a WAAF with Bomber Command.
VW: I’ve got so many funny ones.
HH: Before we start off telling about the war itself.
VW: Yes.
HH: Would you like just to tell us a little bit about your younger years?
VW: Yes.
HH: Where you were born and brought up.
VW: Oh yes.
HH: And how come it was that you joined the WAAFs.
VW: Yes.
HH: So, carry on and tell us that.
VW: Right. When do you want me to start? Now?
HH: Yeah.
VW: Well I’ll go, I’ll start from when I went to school. I was born in Alford and then we moved to Thorp St Peter, to the rectory. Father isn’t a parson. He wasn’t a parson or anything. It was just, you know, a normal house. And I have to start from when I left school I suppose, won’t I? So, I left school when I was, I think I was nearly sixteen because I didn’t, I wasn’t, I was a country girl. Father taught me to shoot and I had a horse and I had that sort of beginning.
HH: Wonderful.
VW: It was lovely. But I didn’t want a job as such because I can’t be enclosed. I had to be somewhere where I was being out. Now, funnily enough I went for six months to be a nurse. To Louth Hospital. And that was a dead loss. To me that was hopeless. I mean, it was all wrong, anyway. So, I decided that I’d love to, I loved aeroplanes and I’d like to be in the air force. Well, mother said, ‘Oh darling, you’ll be leaving home,’ blah blah blah and daddy said, ‘What will I do?’ So, I said, ‘Well, never mind. I’m definitely going to be, I’m going in to the air force.’ So I made up my mind. I wrote and I went to Lincoln and I joined up. I said, and the only reason I’ll be in the air force is I’ll drive and I don’t want any indoor sort of — I don’t want a job indoor or anything like that. I want, I want to drive and I love driving. So that’s what they did. I went to Lincoln and I stayed there for quite a long time. I loved every moment of it. The food was marvellous. I loved all the people and I thoroughly enjoyed myself. And then I moved from Lincoln to Dunholme and Fiskerton. That’s a bit. I did, when I was at Dunholme, we used to have to go over the river in a boat that went regularly. It was so that we could go to Lincoln by a train and the station was the other side of the river. And I got there and I never wore a great coat because I hate heavy clothes. And we got half way across and the people that got on were so many and they were all stood one side of the ferry and we went in. Straight in. And having clothes on, I mean I can swim, like, well but I couldn’t and I yelled, ‘Help,’ and I saw somebody dive in from the bridge at the top and I thought, ‘Whizzo, I’m alright.’ But we lost, lost two airmen and it wasn’t very funny. And anyway, they got me out and they got back to the [pause] to my thingy, put me in bed and gave me a bath and rang mum. And not being very far away mother comes hot foot. ‘Trust you,’ she said, ‘Trust you.’ Anyway, that was only one thing that happened. All sorts of strange things happened to me but the — I don’t know. There’s something about the air force that — I’m sure there was something in my last life that was a lot like it because I had a wonderful time and I worked ever so hard and I drove all night and I did all sorts of rescue things but I’ll tell you about those when I, yeah.
HH: So, you started off in Lincoln and then Dunholme.
VW: And then, oh yes, then I went to Dunholme. And Fiskerton comes into it somewhere which is not very far from Dunholme but I was in that area. And in —when I was in Dunholme they had a lovely village and a village shop and the man who had the baker’s shop, you know, the food shop, he had a horse in the field not far away and I said to him one day, I said, ‘Somebody said that was your horse,’ I said, ‘Do you ride it very often?’ And he said, ‘No. I can’t,’ he said, ‘The poor thing,’ he said, ‘He never gets out.’ I said, ‘Well I’ll ride him if you give me the tie. I’ll deal with it and I’ll ride him.’ And I got permission to and I went down to the field and did him up and off we went and that was quite nice. And I stayed at Dunholme for quite a long time. But let me get myself straight. Now where did I go from there? Fiskerton. Where does Fiskerton come in? But I finished off [pause] yes. I can go from there because they had to, they moved you around to sort of get you in a place where you were doing the best. You know. And I loved driving and I didn’t mind driving a long distance and I didn’t mind driving through the night or anything, you know. And then I moved from there to, I think my best bet actually is to East Kirkby.
HH: So then you were stationed at East Kirkby.
VW: Yeah. And from there everything happened.
HH: Tell us about it.
VW: Yes. We [pause] how must — I’ve been going through it so much that I’m getting myself — I’ve got to get it right because it’s a hell of a long time ago.
HH: It is. And it’s fantastic that you remember so much.
VW: Oh, I’ve remembered lots more. From East Kirkby I did an awful lot. We had one or two rather nasty — excuse me, German thingies. They went all down one of the runways and that caused rather a lot of, you know, bother. But what did I do from there?
HH: So is it, is it at East Kirkby that the Germans actually bombed the runway?
VW: Yes. I think so because I remember. I knew the skipper who was — I think he’d just come from somewhere. They’d all come in and I think the Germans followed them in or something because they got out of the way. I don’t think they were any real, sort of — nobody was terribly hurt. I think it was just one of those sort of quick whizzes. But East Kirkby was really very busy and [pause] but I wanted to start from the beginning. You’ll have to come again.
HH: I can. With pleasure.
VW: Let me give you something that’s really sort of [pause] oh yes. Here at Spilsby.
Other 2: Alright. Just keep going.
VW: At Spilsby everything was going beautifully and I was whizzing along. I’d got something in the back of the, of the garry for the sergeant because they have, they are in the caravan at the end of the runway and don’t — and I’d got his tea or his dinner or something or whatever I had. It was for him. And I was tootling along nicely and all of a sudden there was a [whoo] and a sort of wind whizzed through my open windows and skitted by my ear and I got out. A bit like this, out of the van — but I waited. I thought well if anything’s happened and any of the men are hurt I’ll wait here and pick them up and take them back, you see. So anyway, Duncan Lawson, Squadron Leader Lawson who we knew very well — he used to go shooting with daddy. He came around. He said, ‘Vera, what are you doing here?’ So, I said, ‘I’m going to the — taking the food to the sergeant in the — ’ He said, ‘Go back to the — you shouldn’t be here.’ So, I said, ‘Well, what are you doing here then?’ I said, ‘I got here first.’ And he said, ‘Do as I say.’ I said, ‘I will. I’ll see you later.’ ‘Cause I knew him ever so well and he was very bossy on thingy and he went and picked them up and he got all the — you know.
HH: The credit.
VW: Oh yes.
HH: So, had there been an explosion?
VW: Oh yeah. They had one of the [pause] they were doing one of the thingies up, you know, and getting them ready.
HH: Yes.
VW: And turned the thing around the wrong way and the bloody thing went up in the air. it was terrific. I mean, I wondered what had hit us. I sort of sat there and I was quite ready and I thought, ‘Oh the poor boys,’ and I was all ready to pick them up but no. I didn’t get a chance so I went straight to the hospital and I was there and I said, ‘I’ve come to help you because I know there will be one of the boys, or some of the boys will be badly hurt,’ because, you know, they were quite close. And, so I stayed there and I said, anything I can do? I’ll be with you in the operating theatre. Anything you like. And I stayed there and helped them and quite a few people came in. Some of the girls came, sat in the van, the garage and just sat there. I said, ‘What the hell are you doing sitting there. Come in and help.’ ‘Oh no. We’re not going in there.’ Honestly. We did come across some funnies. Honestly. And I had, I don’t know what father thought because we only lived a little way away and our rectory at Little Steeping was just like from here to the bottom of the drive and poor daddy, ‘I hope Vera’s alright.’ But they might have known I was alright. I mean I always managed to scrape out of all sorts of funny —
HH: Yeah.
VW: Position.
HH: Yeah. And was it, Vera, when you were at East Kirkby that you got to drive some quite remarkable people around?
VW: Oh yes. And I did and I would have loved to done more about it but I had to pick up this bloke and I picked him up and I can remember going through East Kirkby and I said, ‘Who are you?’ You know, ‘Would you tell me who you are?’ And he said, ‘Yes, I’m Mussolini’s son.’ Now, I’ve got really worried about that. How could he possibly be but he looked sort of, he did, he just —
HH: Extraordinary.
VW: But I can’t even remember where I dropped him off but I picked him up on the airfield so he must have been somebody that somebody knew something about. And he was only — he wasn’t very old. But how could he have been Mussolini’s son?
HH: What a puzzle. And was it also at East Kirkby when you took a rather important person to Gibraltar Point?
VW: Oh yes. Yes.
HH: Tell us about it.
VW: Yes. We took him up to — it was for the bomb. You know the [pause] to see how, when they dropped the thingy if that —
HH: It was the bouncing bomb wasn’t it?
VW: Yes.
HH: Yes.
VW: And they went up there to sort of do some try outs and thingies.
HH: And how did you discover who it was that you were driving?
VW: Oh, because they, they told me. Yeah.
HH: And it was Barnes Wallis.
VW: Yes. And I’m sure it was Barnes Wallis but [pause] because there was everybody there doing the thing. All of the talk of the — everybody was —
HH: So, you also would have then witnessed those tests wouldn’t you?
VW: Yes. I did all sorts of things. I just kept my mouth shut. I mean they knew whatever they wanted me to do I’d do which I did and I didn’t ask questions.
HH: And you had a bit more to do with the squadron which was finally involved with the Dambusters raid because you knew Guy Gibson.
VW: Yes.
HH: So, tell us about that.
VW: Well, how did I know Guy Gibson? It just happened. And I drove them. I took them into Lincoln. And — I don’t know. I just, I was always around. I was there when I was needed because I just loved doing things that, you know. And I, and I loved that dog.
HH: So, you knew the dog as well.
VW: Ahum. Yeah. And somebody let him out and he was killed on the road and everybody cried. Poor old boy.
HH: Yeah.
VW: Silly me.
HH: Well it was a big thing wasn’t it? Yeah. Yeah.
VW: I’ve got loads of things to tell you. I really have. And I can’t. Where am I now? I’m at East Kirkby now aren’t I?
HH: Yes. Yes.
VW: Sorry. Forgive me.
Other: Oh you silly sausage.
HH: Well these memories are very strong.
Other: They [pause] you still remember them going off, don’t you? In the evenings.
VW: Oh, I met —
Other: And other things. And you always used to say some of them — they knew that they weren’t coming back didn’t they?
VW: Oh yes. I used to drive them to the kites at night. You know. To go on. That really —
Other: To their sorties.
VW: I didn’t enjoy that.
Other: No.
VW: And they would give me letters and things to post and tell me about their wives and their children. And you’d wait. One night, somebody I liked very much and we had, we had a place where we could iron our trousers and I ironed mine every night. I liked to be smart and there were lace curtains in this room and the window was open and I was thinking about him and I thought, ‘Oh gosh I do hope he’s ok and he’ll come back,’ and all of a sudden, the curtains went [whoo]. Like that. And I knew he wouldn’t come back. And the sort of [pause] things were felt very deeply in those days. You didn’t sort of brush things off and I didn’t have anyone that I was really sort of, I wasn’t silly enough to fall in love with anyone that was flying because that was sheer and utter misery but I knew this person because I knew he was married and he was very fond of his wife and his children. You were involved in so much, how can I say — ?
HH: Heartache.
VW: You took on a lot of people’s worries. Especially when you were driving because they would talk to you and tell you all sorts of things that really meant an awful lot. They knew that you would never sort of, you know. They talked to you and it would never come back. But it was a very emotional time because you took on an awful lot of private stories and worries. Anyway, let me tell you about the fun things. Now, let me think.
Other: You used to have parties down — because mum lived with her mum and dad at Little Steeping rectory.
VW: Oh. Yes. I used to come. Well we had tennis courts you see and father put a notice in the officer’s mess and said that if any of them wanted to come down and play tennis. And some of the boys used to come down because we had a lovely pub and they used to come down to the pub and they used to pop in and mum would make them a cup of tea and it was, it was a very happy place and they could come from [pause] from —
Other: Spilsby.
VW: No. Down the river to come from [pause] oh crikey the next village to us. And come down the river to us at Little Steeping.
Other: Yeah. Great Steeping.
VW: Yeah.
Other: Yeah.
HH: Is that rectory still there?
Other: Yeah.
HH: Is the house still there?
Other: Yes.
VW: Oh Yes. Yes. Oh we had some lovely times. And mummy used to play the violin in the garden and the cows and the sheep used to come and there was a big hedge and you’d see a row of cow’s heads and mummy was there sort of playing the violin. Honestly. And they never took a photograph and we should have done because it was hilarious. And the boys used to say, ‘Elizabeth,’ mum, ‘Come and play the violin. See if the cows will come up,’ and they did. Stupid, silly things.
Other: But mum used to bike didn’t you? From home to the —
VW: I cycled because mummy was very ill and I was stationed at East Kirkby and I cycled form East Kirkby to Little Steeping every morning and every night until one day the little man who collected the letters and things — he had a, oh what do you call it? A three-wheeler. Oh.
HH: Sort of tricycle.
Other: Motorbike.
VW: Yes. A motorbike.
HH: Oh motorbike.
VW: Yes and he’d stop and he’s say, ‘Come on Vera. We’ll get your bike on here somehow,’ he said, ‘I’ll take you. I can’t see you going up that hill again.’
Other: Motorbike and sidecar.
VW: That’s right.
Other: Yeah.
VW: Yes. Yeah. And so we tootled and he was ever so good and mum used to have something already hot and ready for him. Coming to do it for me. But I did it for a week. It nearly killed me ‘cause I had to come up the hill.
Other: And then you —
VW: And I took the short cut.
Other: Yeah. And then you were transferred to Spilsby weren’t you?
VW: Then I came to — I had a whale of a time at Spilsby because I lived at home.
Other: So —
HH: Fantastic.
Other: Have you said anything about the bomb dump going up in Spilsby?
VW: Yes. Yes.
HH: That was Spilsby. Yeah.
VW: Gosh. It was a bit of a shock though. It was a hell of a bang.
Other: They lost eleven ground crew didn’t they?
VW: Yes. They did.
Other: Yeah.
VW: No. There were only three killed. There was three killed.
Other: I thought they lost eleven.
VW: No. No. I don’t think so.
HH: Yes. It’s a terrible thing though isn’t it?
VW: Well it was something that was ready and waiting to happen ‘cause all they did was to turn the fuse the wrong way on and it just sort of —
HH: Yeah.
VW: One bloke went into little pieces.
HH: Exploded. Yeah.
VW: Not funny. But anyway, we got through all sorts of things at Steeping. At East Kirkby. All sorts of odd things happened. You know. But —
HH: So, you, can I just go back and ask. You were, it sounds like you spent quite a lot of your time in the WAAFs at East Kirkby and then Spilsby. Is that right?
VW: Yes. East Kirkby was first because I was quite a long time at Lincoln and I —
HH: Before that. Ok.
VW: And I was posted. I can’t remember. I’ve been trying to remember if I was posted to Dunholme and Fiskerton. The only thing that I remembered was that I was nearly drowned in the [laughs]
HH: Trent.
Other: Yeah. Going over Dunham Bridge.
VW: Yeah. Yeah.
Other: What? So, what was the incident you had to get under the truck. You were having, cooking sausages.
VW: Oh yes. Well this was, this was when I was, now let me think now because there was one or two times when I —
Other: Well it was down the bottom of the —
VW: It was at the bottom of the runway. There was a caravan at the bottom of the runway and I was tootling along. Oh, this was, yes, I had to go back again because Duncan made me go back from what I was doing and I went down there and then I went back and picked up some food for the sergeant on the runway. And he came out and it just happened he turned around and he was standing in the, in the doorway with a frying pan in his hand. He’d been cooking some sausages [laughs] and then, oh this was when the aircraft was bombing the runway.
Other: Yeah.
VW: That’s right. Oh, that’s a different time. That’s right. Yes. We both finished off underneath the caravan.
Other: He was still holding his frying pan with those sausages wasn’t he?
VW: Yeah.
Other: But yeah. Mum just pulled up and he was at the door and —
VW: Yeah.
Other: The aircraft came over and machine gun fire and mum and him were underneath the caravan.
VW: We were. Yes. We were. Those sorts of things went by and you didn’t worry. It was part of the way of living. You know. There were lots and lots of silly, silly things. What else was there?
Other: Well they used to ring you up and you used to end up going on long drives didn’t you? With the —
VW: Yes. I used to have to go down south. I used to have to go. Probably, oh I’d start out at midnight to take somebody down south. I can’t remember the places but a heck of a long way away it was. In the dark and you got to know the places so well that you didn’t really worry. I mean it didn’t bother me. Night driving.
HH: And how did you find your way Vera because a lot of places.
VW: Oh we did.
HH: The places of villages and things were all removed weren’t they?
HH: Yeah. But there were a lot of signs. They were very good. And you had — they did their best to give you a sort of, a help. If we had the marvellous things we have today to get us to places we would have been fine wouldn’t we? But we had to sort of just hope we were on the right road. We managed it. And the people we took were very good because they knew we were tired when we got to where we were going and they found — because there were also places for the WAAF’s and the army. For the women to go if they were, you know, what do they call them?
Other: When you were on to stay.
Yes. And —
Other: Billets.
VW: And we were always sort of given the help. They gave you what they could. They helped you to get to where you were going but you managed it. It’s surprising what you did manage actually but you had to come back alone which wasn’t very funny because there’d be all sorts of upheavals and things and planes coming over but you took everything as a matter of course. I mean if anything funny happened you just crossed your fingers and hoped for the best and said, ‘Please God get me home.’ And that was it. But you didn’t think about it because the boys were killing themselves, weren’t they? Doing the best they could. So we had to do the best we could, didn’t we?
HH: Indeed.
VW: And I’d go back and do it tomorrow. I would.
Other: But you used to drive the tractors with the bombs on, didn’t you? And go and —
VW: Oh. Yes. Yes. Well they used to get the aircraft from the, from the —
Other: Hangars.
VW: Out of the —where they keep them.
Other: Hangars.
VW: Yeah. Now, this [pause] I was, I was driving the tractor and I was pulling this aircraft. There was an awful lot of whatsit between us. And Violet was yelling at me from the top, saying, ‘Don’t go that way Tommy. Go the other way.’ ‘Not that way.’ ‘Go to the left not to the right.’ And there was a taut thing and if it had, I mean if it had gone it would have whipped my neck off. We did all sorts of amazing things. I mean we bombed up. Put, this we nearly finished up nearly in a dyke. I stopped and the aircraft kept coming but managed to stop in time but that was rather sort of hmmn. But yes, where was I? Now then.
Other: You were going to say about when you bombed up.
VW: Oh yes.
Other: The bombs.
VW: Yes. Cookies. You would take a whole load of cookies and incendiaries and things. I mean if you’d gone over a bump and one had fallen off it, well it would have been curtains wouldn’t it? But we used to take those around as if they were bits of nothing. It was amazing. Honestly. And when I look back and what we did do. But a lot of the girls didn’t like driving and I was pleased because I got all of the nice tricky jobs I did.
Other: You enjoyed driving.
VW: Yeah. I did. And the more difficult they were the better I liked them.
Other: Just a little ditty if I could.
VW: Yeah. And honestly I’d still love to go back. If I could take, get some of my life back — if I could get another fifty years back and there was a war on I’d go tomorrow.
Other: When I took mum to the Spilsby aircraft —
VW: Oh, it was marvellous.
Other: Commemoration of the new memorial a couple of years ago mum was asked to put a wreath on and I was sitting in the stands and I was sat next to an elderly gentleman and he said to me, he said, ‘I know that lady,’ he said, ‘That’s Tommy Tomlinson.’ And I looked at him and I said, ‘It is Tommy Tomlinson.’ ‘My God,’ he said, ‘I would know her anywhere. She hasn’t changed a bit.’ Bearing in mind it’s seventy years.
VW: Oh no.
Other: And it turned out that he was the little lad that used to live at the local shop a little way up from where mum lived.
HH: Gosh.
Other: And he told me he could still remember her cycling every morning to go to the camp in her uniform. And, yeah, Tommy Tomlinson. And they all remember her as Tommy.
VW: And then the lovely man in the wheelchair. We had a little —
Other: Yeah. We went to —
VW: That was lovely wasn’t it?
Other: We went to the three Lancs get together at East Kirkby.
VW: Yeah.
Other: And mum was invited as a VIP because of her veteran status.
VW: Yeah.
Other: And we were walking along and a lady had heard me saying that mum was in 207 Squadron and a gentleman in a wheelchair that she was pushing, he said, ‘Oh. Oh,’ he said, ‘My God,’ he said, ‘It’s Tommy. It’s Tommy.’
VW: I had a big hug.
Other: They hugged in wheelchairs a
VW: Yeah.
Other: And they reminisced and he, he’s ninety six and he hasn’t seen her since she was stationed here.
HH: Amazing.
Other: And he still recognised her. And I think that’s pretty marvellous.
HH: It is indeed.
VW: Oh I’d love.
Other: What other things can you remember? What —
VW: Oh, I can remember so many things. I lay in bed at night and go back.
Other: You met, you met dad on Spilsby didn’t you?
VW: Yes. Yeah.
HH: Tell us about that.
Other: Tell us how you met dad.
VW: I wasn’t particularly enamoured with him at first because he was a bit sort of — you know — I didn’t.
Other: The first time you saw him he came to get some petrol one night, didn’t he?
VW: Oh, this was — no. This was at another aerodrome. Ages ago. Where was I? I must have been at Dunholme and he was in his private car and he wanted some petrol and it was midnight and I remember, I remember doing my hair that day differently and I was ever so pleased with myself and it was, it was midnight almost. I was on night duty but I had to look smart, you know, and he came in to the, he came in to the office and he said could he have some petrol. So I had to ask the sergeant if it was ok if he had some petrol. And he said, ‘Take him Tommy and see that he does,’ you know. Gets what he wants.
Other: Yeah.
VW: And, oh, we just said, ‘Hello,’ and ‘How are you?’ and how’s your father and we said goodbye, good night and I didn’t see him any more for ages. And then I saw him again one day and he said, ‘I know you don’t I?’ I said, ‘I don’t know. Do you? ‘Cause I wasn’t particularly bothered about men. I was enjoying myself doing things, you know. And I didn’t like to get interest in any of the flying types because it was asking for trouble that was. But I had some nice boyfriends.
Other: So, what, what happened then? When he, when he met you again?
VW: Oh, when he met me again, yes. I think we sat in the big, sat in the garry with me and we talked. But the time I really met him properly was at the Revesby Show. And I’d been up to London and I’d been to this place and ordered a load of super stuff. Shooting stuff and from one of these big shops.
Other: Shows.
VW: For the show. And poor daddy had to deal with it. Anyway, and some friends came up and they were with Bill. And he said, ‘Hello Vera.’ I said, ‘Hello dear.’ He said, ‘Would you like to walk around the reservoir.’ And I said, ‘Not particularly but I will if you want to.’ So we walked around the reservoir and talked.
Other: ‘Cause was that the time that he said that he was going to marry you?
VW: Probably. One or two of them said that and I wasn’t interested thank you.
Other: So, what —
VW: And then, then, oh he came to Steeping. We got together and we found we liked one another and, you know.
Other: It was just funny that you happened to be stationed at the same aerodrome.
VW: Yeah. Yeah.
HH: So were you married during the war? Or —
VW: No.
HH: Or after the war.
VW: After the war. No. That’s asking for trouble. No. No, I filled in my time doing really interesting things. I got nearly killed two or three times but I mean that was ok. They didn’t manage it quite. But —
HH: And so, Vera tell us how you got to fly over Germany.
VW: Oh yes. Yes. Yes. One day I walked into the MT office and the officer said, ‘Tommy I’ve got some news for you.’ So I said, ‘What’s that?’ And he said, ‘Would you like to fly over Germany?’ I said, ‘Yes please. When?’ So, he said, ‘Well the CO has had notice to say that any of the drivers who have been really super,’ because we worked really hard, and would they like a trip over Germany? It was over [pause] not right in to Germany. What was name of the place? Anyway, and I said, ‘Yes please. I’d love to.’ So they rang up and said would I go down two or three days later and get my [pause] –
Other: Flying gear.
HH: Flying gear.
VW: Yeah.
HH: Parachute.
VW: Parachute. Yeah.
Other: Parachute.
VW: So, I sat outside the thingy waiting and they brought it for me and I went off the same day and nobody else wanted to go. ‘No. No. No. We don’t want to go flying thank you very much. No.’ Lily livered lot. Oh no. Nobody else wanted to go and I thought what a marvellous thing to do. But I’d done lots of trips. I flew quite a lot because I used to take them in the garry and they’d say, ‘Come on Tommy. We’re only going across to do a survey for about two hours just to test everything for the night.’ And a lot of the girls used to go. Nobody knew of course. We used to hide. Hide in the garry. Wherever we could. And one day we went and we were doing a lovely, a super, it was a really lovely ride and the weather was marvellous and I was in the front turret and it was really nice. And suddenly the skipper said, ‘Bloody hell,’ he said the — whatsits won’t come down.
Other: Flaps.
VW: ‘The flaps won’t come down,’ and we couldn’t —
Other: Land.
HH: Land. Yeah.
VW: So we were circling away and everything. And I thought oh bully for us. How do I get get down? I haven’t got a parachute. Yeah. I didn’t bother. I mean I wasn’t really that bothered. It got a bit, sort of — anyway, eventually they did and there’s a photograph somewhere of me coming down out of the aircraft and sitting on the grass like that. I was so pleased to be on terra firma that I didn’t realise that we got down alright. And that’s the only time. But I used to, I did quite a lot of flying that way but we always managed to come down alright. And what else? What else? There’s something else on the back of my mind.
HH: You mentioned earlier that you had met Ian Smith.
VW: Yes. Mr Smith.
HH: Was that through driving as well? Was that through your work as driving.
VW: Yes. I was driving it. Yeah. Yes. He was in my garry. Yes. I picked him up. I can remember where I picked him up with somebody else. Yes. Oh yes. That is definite. Because I didn’t know who he was until later on. He was ever so nice. But you got all sorts of jobs that you don’t remember because they happened quickly and you had to sort of get cracking and do they wanted to do and it didn’t really register until later. But oh, I’d go back tomorrow. I would. Honestly. I really would. I won’t be able to now will I?
Other: So what —
HH: Well you can do it in your —
VW: In the next life I can.
HH: You can do it in your thoughts.
VW: Oh, I do. All sorts of things.
Other: What [pause] what other special things happened at — when they had special sorties that they had to d? There was a lot of the Lancs, a lot of the squadrons went out on the big shouts didn’t they?
VW: Oh yes. You’d get, you’d get quite a lot of them but they didn’t do it too often because you lost too many kites doing it that way. If you, if you sort of sent out, they used to have big raids but they found that it wasn’t really very clever because the —
Other: Losses were too high.
VW: The Germans would send out their — yeah. Yeah. Yeah. They had some really ropey dos. The really did.
Other: Did you often get the Germans come here to bomb?
VW: Oh yes. Oh, they used to have a lovely time. They never did any good though.
Other: And at Spilsby and East Kirkby.
VW: Yeah. I remember East Kirkby because I had a great friend. He was absolutely super. Now, he came from South Africa and he’d lived there for a long time. He was white. He wasn’t a South African and he had a terrific sense of humour and I remember he was on duty that night when they came over and he said, ‘I’ll pay them back.’ I forget what he did but he bombed somewhere. They bombed somewhere and gave it a hell of a do, you know, with that feeling behind it. Oh, he came to Steeping to see me. I think he brought his son and I remember seeing him walking up the drive. Now that’s — I haven’t thought about that for ages. And I can’t even remember his name but he was ever so jolly and ever such a nice person but he came to England to see some relatives or something and he came to see us.
Other: How lovely.
VW: Yeah. Bill was ever so pleased to see him. Yeah. Yeah.
HH: So, after the war when you returned to civilian life did you continue living in Steeping then?
VW: What did I — I didn’t really do a lot. I was at home.
HH: But was it in Steeping?
Other: Yeah. You still lived with your mum and dad at Steeping. At the rectory. Didn’t you?
VW: Oh yes.
Other: After you’d left the air force.
VW: Oh mum and I did all sorts of things. I played tennis a lot.
Other: But you also went to London to do some modelling didn’t you?
VW: Oh yes. Yes, I did.
Other: With your sister. After the war.
VW: Yes. I did. I did. Yes.
Other: And then you trained as a hairdresser didn’t you?
VW: Yes. Oh. Yes. I did. I did. And mummy had three hairdressing salons and I just had a natural sort of something for it and I used to go down occasionally and do a bit here and there and then I bought a business. I had a big double fronted shop. And —
Other: It’s on Roman Bank in Skegness.
VW: And a successful business it was too.
HH: In Skegness.
Other: Yeah. Yeah. Called du Barry wasn’t it?
VW: Du Barry. Yeah. Double fronted. And I had a peacock in the window. And a lady came in one day in the summer and she said, ‘That’s my Henry.’
Other: This woman remembered her peacock.
VW: And she remembered her peacock. There was something about him that she remembered. So I said, ‘Well I’m taking care of it.’ I think it finished up at the 30 Club. They bought it when I sold the business. But I did, I did very very well. I don’t know if it’s —
Other: But you always remember your war years don’t you? You, always, with great, great happiness and great sadness. Mixed feelings really.
VW: Yeah. I’m really, really — I was thrilled to bits when I knew you were coming.
HH: Well it’s such a, it’s just so lovely to be able to sit here and hear all these memories.
VW: Anything I can do now, if there is anything I can do.
HH: Well I’ve —
VW: Wherever you want me I’ll go.
HH: Well Vera what I would suggest to you is that we can, we can pause the interview now because one of the things that tends to happen actually is that when people start remembering they don’t, they can’t stop.
Other: No.
HH: So —
VW: They can’t stop what?
Other: Remembering.
HH: Remembering.
VW: Oh no. No.
HH: And so, I think that one of the things that might happen is that you will start remembering a lot more than you ever thought you could. Having had this conversation.
VW: Yes. I probably will. Only I’ve been worried.
HH: And we can come back and do another one.
VW: I’ve been really worried because I’ve known — I don’t know —
HH: Well what —
VW: I remember bits and I remember ever so much more than I’ve told you today because it just hasn’t come back.
HH: It will though and so we can come back and talk some more.
VW: Yes.
HH: So, shall I say thank you very much for the moment.
VW: Yeah.
HH: And we’ll switch the tape off.
VW: Yeah.
HH: But we’ll carry on where we’ve left off.
VW: Yes.



Heather Hughes, “Interview with Vera Willis,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed June 16, 2024,

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