Interview with Fiona Andrews


Interview with Fiona Andrews


Fiona mainly lived in Southampton. On leaving school she had a job for two years but as soon as she was 17 and a half she volunteered for the Women's Auxiliary Air Force and became a wireless operator. She was posted to the far north of Scotland with Coastal Command, remaining there until the end of the war. After the war she worked at RAF Cranwell, near Lincoln, in the sergeant’s mess until she changed to general office duties. Whilst at RAF Cranwell she joined in with shows and also started a cycling club.
Fiona met her husband in 1946, left in 1947 and married in 1948. Their daughter was born in 1949. Fiona met up with some of her RAF colleagues once a month.




Temporal Coverage




00:18:58 audio recording


IBCC Digital Archive


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AAndrewsF160514, PAndrewsF1601


HH: So today is Saturday the 14th of May 2016 and it’s Heather Hughes speaking and I am — I have the pleasure of talking to Fiona Andrews in [buzzing noise] Southampton. Did I get that right?
FA: Yes. It’s the old part of Southampton. They call it the old.
HH: The old, the old town.
FA: The old town.
HH: The old part of Southampton. Fiona, thank you very much. I know you’ve already shown us through your photograph album and all the wonderful memories that that recalled. I just thought it would be lovely for you to be able to talk a little bit about your time in the WAAF. But before that if you could just briefly tell us about where you were born and grew up and how you came to be in the WAAFs.
FA: Ah. How I came to be in the WAAF. I was evacuated to Tunbridge Wells in September 1940. We went hop picking. Supposed to be our war effort but we were paid [laughs] a little bit. And the dogfights were overhead and I thought wait ‘til I’m old enough. I want to do something about it. But I had to wait a long time before I was seventeen and a half and old enough to join up. I volunteered at seventeen and was told to go back and I had to wait six months which I was furious about. So, I was at Tunbridge Wells for two years. And then I went to work for two years. And then finally I was old enough to join up. Very good years. The friendships. Sadly now coming to an end because I’m getting this magic age of ninety. And so that’s how it is.
HH: They were long friendship and they were formed under quite different conditions to the ones we have now.
FA: Oh yes. We cared about each other. Really cared about each other. And Sylv and I — seventy years.
HH: That’s a long time for a friendship.
FA: And she lived in, she lived in London and I lived in Southampton most of the time. And it was letters.
HH: Now, tell me where and how did you meet?
FA: When we were doing our wireless op course. She was in.
HH: Where was that?
FA: Blackpool.
HH: So that was when you went for your initial training.
FA: No. The initial one you were square bashing part.
HH: Yes.
FA: That was at Wilmslow.
HH: That was at Wilmslow.
FA: It was.
HH: And then you went to Blackpool.
FA: Blackpool. To do three months. Six months training for wireless operator but three months at Blackpool and three months at Compton Bassett.
HH: Right. Ok.
FA: So Blackpool was quite an eye opener. Yes. Civilian billets. The ladies, the landladies really and truly resented us girls [laughs] They, because they were having customers and obviously they didn’t get paid for us so much. The thing I always remember was we used to like the radio on. So she said, ‘If you want the radio on for breakfast —thruppence a week each.’
HH: Wow.
FA: And there were six of us [laughs] So, we made sure I had. It was on first thing in the morning.
HH: And that’s, that’s where you met your friend.
FA: Sylv.
HH: Sylv.
FA: Sylv. Yes.
HH: And what was the training like? Was it very difficult?
FA: Well, I had done a bit of Morse training at the Girl’s Training Corps that I was at, at Newbury. So I had a basic. Sort of a little bit of an understanding but you had to know all the technical things about the radio. How it worked and the input and output and all the rest of it. That I did find difficult. Yes. And you had to send the Morse key. I wasn’t very, I wasn’t very fast for the Morse key but, and the Morse code. Yes. That you sort of learned. I can’t remember it all now though.
HH: And then you were posted to the far north of Scotland.
FA: Yes. Oh, that was hilarious. They said on the form and I just put south coast. So Carol who was, came from Reading and myself we got posted up to Tain. North of Inverness. And halfway between Inverness and John o’ Groats really. But it was lovely up there. Full of snow to start with. Snowing like mad.
HH: And at that stage you were with —
FA: Very cold.
HH: Coastal Command.
FA: Yes. Yes. We were Coastal Command. Because you see you got Greenland and Iceland not far from you as well. And Tain was in a peninsula that jutted into the water. So when the weather was bad they could, because of the water each side they could see to land. So we had quite a few sent in from Iceland and Greenland. And every man Jack was called out to clear the runway. Not us girls. I’m afraid we worked and went to bed and slept and ate and basically just survived. And the water was frozen. And you’d be surprised how little water you get from a bucket of snow. You had to have two buckets I think to get enough to have a wash. But I can never remember the ablutions. I suppose they must have been working. I can’t remember that bit.
HH: Yeah. And how long were you in Tain?
FA: Tain. I was there from January when I got posted there and the war ended in September. So early September we were all made redundant and sent to Cranwell. RAF Cranwell.
HH: So, you were in Cranwell a lot longer than you’d been at Tain.
FA: Oh definitely. Yes.
HH: So tell us about your time at Cranwell.
FA: Well, it was civilian time wasn’t it? And the services hadn’t really got into civilian mode had they? We were put in old fashioned married quarters. Three in a room. When you see the little — and the bucket of coal a week which wasn’t enough. Sylv and I got quite good at going out with a piece of stick. One would hold the wire up and the other would, with the piece of stick pinch a bit of coal. We got chased a couple of times with our bucket of coal. But one bucket of coal wasn’t enough. And we were sort of out of the camp but then later on we got posted to a proper hut on the edge of the airfield which was better then. Nearer the mess and nearer where you worked and everything like that. Because Cranwell’s a huge camp. It goes, I wouldn’t like — almost a mile from top to bottom. It’s a long time since I’ve been there. A very big camp. So —
HH: And were you still a wireless operator?
FA: Oh no.
HH: What were you doing at Cranwell then?
FA: First of all we were put in the sergeant’s mess to be useful bodies. That was awful. Yes. We had a terrible dishwasher. I would never have one if I could afford one. And then hoisting the, with the pulley to get the plates up and plates down. So we decided we had a long time to go before we’d be demobbed so we changed our trade. So we all went into general duties clerks. Sylv went to the Medical Centre, Carol went into the registry offices in the station headquarters and I ended as a P2 clerk which was doing the officer’s paper work. And of course I’d never used a typewriter so it was two fingers and a thumb. Very slow. But the officer that was in charge was above me was an ex-flying fellow so he was very good and didn’t complain too much. That’s when you had to do these skins for — what’s it called? When it was [pause] duplicating. When they duplicated them. And you had pink stuff if you made a mistake.
HH: That was the Xerox. Was it like —
FA: It was like a yellowy thing. And the typewriter punched holes in it.
HH: That’s —
FA: You had pink stuff if you made a mistake and believe me there was more pink than there was anything else to start with. I gradually improved. He’d say to me, ‘Oh getting better. You’re getting better.’ So, yes. Because a civilian had done that work you see and there was no passing on.
HH: No.
FA: We, we had to be worked. They had to find us employment or keep us occupied. So I presume the civilians were made redundant. I don’t really know.
HH: But you made, you did amuse yourselves in all sorts of interesting ways. By putting on shows and then taking them around to various places.
FA: Oh, I didn’t. No. I didn’t put on. I joined in.
HH: You joined in.
FA: I joined in.
HH: You joined in.
FA: They had a couple of shows. Yes. Because civilian service hadn’t really started. It was in sort of limbo.
HH: Yeah.
FA: A very funny period of time really. And so I joined in a couple of chorus shows and we went around the different places in Lincolnshire. And then the padre said to me, ‘You’re always on your bike. What about starting a cycling club?’ So I started the cycling club and they called it Cranwell Crawlers because I was one of the crawlers at the back. No gears on the bike of course. No gears. And somebody used to push me up the hill, some of the small ones and the rest of them you got off and walked. And that’s — we had a lot of fun. We cycled to Skegness quite often and went swimming and we’d go outside Lincoln. We didn’t go in to the towns. In the same as we cycled outside Nottingham but we never went into the towns on the bikes. But that was very enjoyable. It was mostly Sundays because people were sort of getting working in the week. Oh no. They were good times.
HH: And you finally left Cranwell when?
FA: October ’47. I went in at seventeen and a half and I was twenty one when I came out. So that was the time. And I met my husband when he came home from India. Must have been ’46, I think. I met him when he came home from India. He was sent to Cranwell to do an instructor’s course which he didn’t want to do. He preferred doing the job properly and not teaching it. He was only twenty one and a bit. So, he didn’t really want to be an instructor. So [pause] but he was at Cranwell for a bit longer while they found — they sent him to Calshot in the end which was near home. They sent him to Calshot and he did the job that he was supposed to do which he wanted. That he wanted. And we could only afford to meet up once a payday in London. And he stayed at the Union Jack Club and I went back to my parent’s house. We spent the day in London on Saturday. If it was find we walked the parks. If it rained we’d have to go to the pictures which cost a lot. And then Sunday he was allowed to come up to my parent’s house. So, this is how we carried on for quite a long time.
HH: Yeah. And you married in which year?
FA: ’48.
HH: ’48.
FA: My daughter was born in ’49. So, yes. We knew each other a year. But it was letters again. Used to write letters every day and put a number on the back. So, if you got two together you knew which one to open first. So it was all letters which I’m afraid I haven’t kept.
HH: Now, what about your keeping in touch with other —
FA: Girls.
HH: Friends from the WAAFs. How did you manage to do that? Did you join the WAAF Association?
FA: Well, in Southampton I didn’t hear about it ‘til — I’ve been here twenty years. I came here ’95. Must be ’94. I didn’t hear about the WAAF Association ‘till about ’94. So then I started. One of my old neighbours at Church Farm where we were living she, her husband was a Burma Star man and so she went to the, we used to have an Ex-Serviceman’s Club in Southampton or a house that was an old club that was used. So, they used and Dot told me about it. And we came over and met the WAAF. Oh yes. That was great. That was really great. Because we all knew the same language and it didn’t matter what — because Sylv and Carol both ended up with the stripes. I’m afraid I didn’t [laughs] So, the WAAF in Southampton. Yes. Now, we’ve been together now for oh what are we now? 2014. So, it’s been quite a long time. And sadly there’s only four of us left now.
HH: Yeah. And you still keep meeting which is wonderful.
FA: Yes. We just meet each other for coffee once a month. The first Friday in the month is written in my diary every time unless something happens. So, we still meet. But in days gone by we used to go around. We decided, when the Association folded up because the secretary didn’t want to carry on and neither did the treasurer so some of us were determined that though the Association was folding up we wanted to keep in touch. So, for ten years we’ve been meeting each other in each other’s houses in the summer. If it was two buses to get there and two buses to get back. And I often had them in the winter because I lived in the town and everybody could get to me on one bus. So I had them often in the winter. Oh yes. I bought two basket chairs to make room and fished out the garden chairs. I’d have, I’d have twelve in here sometimes.
HH: Wonderful.
FA: There’s always room if you want people to come. You can always make room. That folding stool there. And yes we had some good times. And then Christmas time we used to all bring something and have a shared Christmas as we called it. Yes. We’ve had some very good times. It’s just sad that it’s all folding up now because we’re all getting too old. You know.
HH: Do you think that women’s effort, contribution to the war has been adequately remembered in this country?
FA: I don’t think we ever thought about it. We just wanted to do our bit to help.
HH: Yeah. Yeah.
FA: We didn’t really think about the contribution or anything. I have been up to the Remembrance Service in London twice. Very moving occasion but so much standing about. Stand for hours. So, I’ve done it twice and that was [pause] it was getting there you see too. It’s getting there as well. But we used to have, one of our presidents, Joan was very good. We’d always go to Clement Danes every year. We’d have a coach in those days. And my husband in the wheelchair came too. And we’d go to Clement Danes service and then Joan always arranged something afterwards. We went to Runnymede. We had a coach. We had a ride in the canal boats in London. And what else did we do? We’d do all different things. Another time we had a river, a trip up the Thames with one of the organized things and photographs somewhere of us all sat there eating ice cream because it was a hot day. All in our uniform with our kilts. Yes. I’ve had some very good times. And the reunions I started going to when my husband was in the nursing home. The family said, ‘Oh,’ I said, ‘I’d love to go to a reunion.’ I wouldn’t leave him before. They said, ‘Well it’s only a weekend mum. We’ll see to dad. You go.’ And because it was girls only it was so easy. You weren’t feeling that you hadn’t got your husband with you or anything. So it was very good. So, I went for about six years I think. But I can’t do it now. Age creeping up on me.
HH: Well, you’re doing extraordinarily well. You are.
FA: Well, you just have to grit your teeth and get on with it.
HH: Yeah. And thank you very much for gritting your teeth and getting on with it. Thank you very much.



Heather Hughes, “Interview with Fiona Andrews,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed December 1, 2022,

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