Interview with Bettie Bain


Interview with Bettie Bain


Bettie was born in Wakefield. The family moved to Doncaster when she was eleven and at 21 she joined the Auxiliary Territorial Service. While in Doncaster she helped at the YMCA café as part of the war effort and that is where she met and married Jim, who was in Bomber Command.
After training in York, Bettie was promoted to corporal and became a wireless operator. Following her posting to Trowbridge in Somerset she then went to the War Office Training Board in Leeds and then back to her unit on the Isle of Man. She was due to begin training for a commission when she became pregnant. Jim was posted to South Africa as a wireless operator and on his return became a pilot. Jim did 54 operations with Bomber Command.
Bettie lived in Doncaster with her parents when she had her first child, while Jim was away bringing prisoners of war back home. He was demobbed during that time and went back working for BP. Bettie and Jim lived in Stanwell for 18 months before moving to Nottingham for Jim’s work. He was promoted to administrative Director for BP at the refinery in Scotland. After spending time in Scotland they moved back to Purley, London. Jim left BP and worked for an American company in England until his retirement. The family then lived in Dorset, Minorca and finally Lincoln.







00:29:08 audio recording


This content is available under a CC BY-NC 4.0 International license (Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0). It has been published ‘as is’ and may contain inaccuracies or culturally inappropriate references that do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the University of Lincoln or the International Bomber Command Centre. For more information, visit and


ABainB160621, PBainH1602


HH: It is Tuesday the 21st of June 2016 and I’m Heather Hughes for the International Bomber Command Centre. And I’m talking today in [buzzing noise] with Mrs Helen Bain. Bettie Bain.
BB: Helen Bain.
HH: Who lives [buzzing noise] also present at the interview is Andy Bain, Bettie’s nephew. Thank you, Bettie for agreeing to talk to us today.
BB: Not at all.
HH: I wonder if we could start off with you just telling us a little bit about your very early life. Where you were born and grew up and how you came to be in the ATS during the war. But start from the beginning.
BB: The very beginning.
HH: Yes. The very beginning.
BB: Well, I was born in Wakefield of Yorkshire parents and I lived in Wakefield until I was eleven and then they moved to Doncaster. And I lived in Doncaster with my parents until I was twenty one. And at twenty one I joined the ATS. I couldn’t join the RAF which I wanted to because I’d already met my husband and I wanted to be in the RAF but they were not taking any new recruits. They were full up at that time. Mind you they were looking for them later on but they wouldn’t, wouldn’t take anybody in to the navy — into the what, the WRNS. And they weren’t taking anybody in to the RAF but they were taking place people for the army because that was the least glamourous of the, of the three you see. Or the uniform was the least glamourous. So I went into the army when I was twenty one and not before then because my parents weren’t very keen. And when I was twenty one I could do as I liked so I went in the army. And three weeks basic training.
HH: And where was that?
BB: In York. And then several of us we had to fill in lots of not certificates, lots of [pause] come on what is it?
AB: Forms.
BB: This is where my memory goes.
AB: Forms.
HH: Forms.
BB: Forms. Yes. Forms. And you were chosen for what you were thought to be more suitable for. And so they picked out certain of us and we were sent to Trowbridge. To the barracks in Trowbridge where they had SOBs. They had the Training Centre for the special wireless operators. And that took five months. After which I was, I could instruct in what I was doing to squads of girls. And some squads of men too which was rather nice. What next?
HH: So what was your rank, Bettie?
BB: Before I, before I left Trowbridge I was corporal and then I was sent to the Isle of Man. We all were. For six, for six, I was there about six weeks I think. And while I was on the Isle of Man I was put up for a commission. So I went off to Leeds and to this house in the depth of the country where we were put through absolute, it was hair raising. It was called a WOSB, which was War Office training board thing. And we were put through all sorts of things that we, I never expected. Anyway, I got through that and went back to my unit on the Isle of Man waiting for a call for when the next whatnot started. The next, you know lot of training started. And while I was there, oh in between then I got married. I’d forgotten about that bit. I got married when I was in the ATS and there’s the picture.
HH: Oh, that’s your wedding day.
BB: Yeah. Yes. And that’s when I first met Jim. That one there. When he looked so young. Yes. That one.
HH: And what was the date of your marriage, Bettie?
BB: It was the 19th of September 1942. And when I was ready to go to one of the new what do they call it — course, started for my training for, to be commissioned I was pregnant. Wouldn’t you know. So, I never quite got to the, to that stage. And then three months later I think my husband was sent to South Africa because he was a, he was a wireless operator in that one. But when he came from South Africa he was a pilot.
HH: Pilot officer.
BB: Which he’d always wanted to do. And where were we now?
HH: So, how had you met your husband?
BB: Oh, that was interesting. When I was, before I went into the army I used to work in an office doing dictaphone typing and invoicing and things. You know. General office secretarial work. And in order to do something to help the war effort, it was all war effort in those days, everybody had to do something for the war effort we used to go to — the YMCA had a café. It wasn’t a restaurant. It was a café. Near the station. Near Doncaster station. And I used to go twice a week with my friend and make cups of coffee and egg and chips and all this business for them or whatever they wanted. Sausages and things we used to cook. And the evening I was there, one of the evenings I was there Jim and his crew came in to Doncaster station about, I suppose it would be about 9 o’clock. And he, his transport to take him out to Finningley where they were going didn’t turn up so the five of them trooped into the YMCA which was next door to the station to get some food and drink. And there I was. And there he was. Love at first sight I’ll tell you. Boom. Just like that. And that’s how we met.
HH: And how did you manage to keep up contact and a relationship under wartime conditions when you were in the ATS and he was in Bomber Command?
BB: I was in Trow, I was in Trowbridge in [pause] I’ve lost the county. Not Dorset. Somerset.
HH: Somerset.
BB: In Somerset. And he was flying. He was on flying duties from Finningley. Well, I don’t know how we kept it up. He wrote to me at Christmas. Sent me a Christmas card. Wrote to me at Christmas. Well, we saw each other from that night. And I was having a difficult time because I was engaged to somebody else.
HH: That was a bit complicated.
BB: I was a quite presentable at that time [laughs] and I got engaged to this man. And I’d known him for four years and we had the ring since July and it was September and I didn’t want to be engaged really. I was enjoying myself too much. So I [pause] what happened next? Wait a minute. Oh, so we were having tea at my fiancé’s house one Sunday afternoon and I said to him, ‘Is this what you want?’ No. That’s not what I said to him that’s what I’m saying to you.
HH: Yes.
BB: ‘Is this what you want?’ And so, I said to him, ‘Let’s have a look at the ring,’ because it was an absolutely gorgeous ring. It was a lovely big [pause] not square. I was going to say perpendicular. I’ve lost the word.
HH: Oblong. Rectangular.
BB: No.
HH: Diamond shaped. I wonder what other —
BB: No. Like this you know.
AB: Oval. Oval.
BB: No. What was the other word you said? This is where you can tell I’m ninety six.
HH: Well, you’re doing better than I am.
BB: You know. The square. And then there’s — is that rectangular? Was it?
HH: Yes. It’s a rectangle.
BB: Rectangle. Yes. Rectangle.
HH: Which is longer in —
BB: Yeah.
HH: Longer —
BB: Longer going upwards than downwards.
HH: Yeah. Yeah.
BB: It was a beautiful ring and I thought, oh gorgeous. You see. We were lucky. And he said to me, ‘Why don’t you keep it on?’ So I’d got nobody else in tow and so I said, ‘Well why not? I might as well.’ He said, ‘Well then we’ll have to get engaged properly.’ So, I put it on and I kept it on. But the very next day I met Jim and it was a coup de foudre I’ll tell you.
HH: Wonderful.
BB: And so we had to struggle along with two. One was working in Peterborough and one was in the air force.
HH: You were in the middle.
BB: I was in Somerset. But it worked out anyway. And I had a bit of a job with my parents because they kept saying, ‘You don’t know this man. You don’t know this man. You don’t know this man from Adam. He could be married with three children,’ Blah blah blah and so on. And they weren’t very supportive but they were when they, once met him. You know, once he came. They were so nice, you know, ‘Come in James. Have a coffee James,’ Oh yeah. Having put me through agony. So, that was the difficult bit. That was the difficult bit. After that it was fairly straightforward after I’d got my engagement broken off and we sort of got properly together.
HH: And then after your marriage. How did, how did you manage?
BB: Well, we were always apart.
HH: Yeah.
BB: Apart from when we had leave.
HH: That must have been very tough.
BB: For quite a while while the war was in the early stages if your husband had leave you were allowed to have leave at the same time. But it didn’t last through ‘til the end of the war when things got more and more difficult. That’s, that’s how that happened. So, well we managed. We managed to get leaves together. Or Jim, if Jim had, he got more leave than I did with being on Bomber Command and he used to come down or get a flight down that was flying down to Trowbridge or somewhere near Trowbridge and hitch lifts to come and we used to see each other like that. And I was still doing my job and we sort of met in the evenings when he was on leave but it wasn’t easy.
HH: No.
BB: But then it wasn’t easy for anyone.
HH: No. But it must have been especially difficult having a husband in Bomber Command.
BB: It was.
HH: Because everybody knew how dangerous it was.
BB: Oh, it was terrible. It was terrible. Every single — Jim did fifty four trips. Sorties. Fifty four over Germany or occupied France or where ever and every single trip I thought was his last. Truly. I thought that was the last trip. Every good bye we said in the evening.
HH: Yes.
BB: I didn’t think he’d be here the next day. And he always turned up. And he used to say to me at night when we left each other. ‘My lucky.’ I used to cry you see. And he used to say, ‘Come on. Cheer up. My lucky star is always shining.’ And it was.
HH: Yeah.
BB: Now, you’ll probably want to cut this bit out. Am I telling you what you want to hear? Or is this —
HH: This is wonderful. No. This is absolutely perfect.
BB: Is this what you wanted.
HH: Yes.
BB: Oh. That’s alright then.
HH: And what about after you had had your child, your first child?
BB: Yeah.
HH: Where did you then settle?
BB: Well, I was settled in —
HH: To make your home.
BB: Doncaster with my father and mother.
HH: Ok. So you went back to Doncaster did you?
BB: Yes. I went back to Doncaster.
HH: Ok.
BB: I had Christopher while I was with my mother and father and when the war ended, of course first of all Jim got back from South Africa and he went to Harrogate for some leave. So I left the baby with my mother and father and went up for a week or a fortnight or a weekend. I know they thought it was too long for me to have stayed away and that didn’t go down very well. But anyway and then after some time when he got to a permanent station he found some rooms for us in the local [pause] what do you call the house that is attached to a church? Not the monastery.
HH: A sort of rectory.
BB: Rectory. Yes. A local rectory. And she was a widow in this rectory and I stayed there for about, oh it must have been six weeks or a couple of months while he was at a place called Blakehill Farm. That was the name of the station. Blakehill Farm it was called. And while I was there he was getting up at four and five in the morning. Getting to the station for six. And I had Christopher with me. I had the little boy with me. Getting to the station for six and he was in the air at seven picking up twenty or so — as many prisoners of war as he could cram in to this Dakota and bringing them home again. Most of them in tears when they saw the White Cliffs of Dover. You know. It’s quite true what you see on the, on the thingy. You just can’t take it in today. And anyway eventually he was demobbed.
HH: Was that at the end of war?
BB: He then went on. After he’d brought the prisoners of war home and the war was nearly at an end he [pause] what did he — oh he flew long range to India. Bringing soldiers back also and taking stuff out and bringing stuff back and whatnot. And he was demobbed while he was doing that sort of work.
HH: And what then?
BB: And what then? Well, he had a job you see. He worked for BP. British Petroleum. And they kept his job open for him so when he came back he had, we had some leave together with Christopher and what did we [pause] I’m just trying to think of the sequence. We had some leave together in Doncaster and then we went down to Ashford where Andrew’s grandparents were living. Where Jim’s mother and father were living and we got —there was no houses. I mean anywhere near London was bombed to bits and there just weren’t. You couldn’t buy a house. We had some money to buy a house. We’d saved up to buy a small house. Anyway, the local council gave us a prefab. And that was a, that was an experience in itself.
HH: That was in, was that in Ashford?
BB: It was in Stanwell, which is the next village to Ashford. But it really was quite a super little place. It wasn’t really big enough for four. But we had, we had everything. We had a wonderful kitchen. Three dish kitchen. And we stayed there for eighteen months. And then Jim was, got some promotion and was sent up to Nottingham. And then from then on we, he was not in the forces anymore and I was out of the forces of course when I had my first baby. But I did have another one. I had another one when we were [pause] when we were living in Peterhouse. Do you remember Peterhouse?
AB: No. I don’t, Bettie.
BB: No. I’m thinking. I’m thinking that you’re Christopher and you’re not are you?
AB: No. No [laughs]
BB: You’re a generation down.
AB: I am. Yes.
BB: Or two.
AB: Yeah.
BB: Is it one or two?
AB: It’s one generation.
BB: One generation down. Yeah.
HH: One generation down.
BB: And then, you know it was just an ordinary civilian life. But we went slowly up the ladder until he was administrative director for BP.
HH: Gosh.
BB: At the refinery in Scotland.
HH: Is that up near Aberdeen?
BB: No. No. It was in —
AB: Grangemouth.
HH: Grangemouth.
BB: Grangemouth. That’s right.
HH: That’s Edinburgh way.
BB: Grangemouth. Yeah.
HH: Yeah. Yeah.
BB: And so on and so on.
HH: Yeah. And so you moved around quite a lot did you?
BB: Yes. We did. Yeah.
HH: In your, in your civilian life after the war.
BB: Yes. We did. We were in — where did we start? We started in this prefab and then we went into a house in Ashford. And then when he got this promotion he was sent to Nottingham where they have — in Kirklington Hall in Southall. Near Southall. They have [pause] they used to have, not a research station. They used to have, you know where they had all the nodding donkeys?
HH: Oh yeah. The little kind of oil wells. Yeah.
BB: Oil wells. Little oil wells. Yes. And he was sent up there and he never really looked back after that. We went from there back to London and then we went from London, that was Purley. Then we went from Purley to Libya.
HH: Wow.
BB: And we spent nearly five years in Libya. And then we came back and [unclear] to Scotland.
HH: You’ve been around.
BB: Yes. And then when we left there we went back to London and back to Purley and it was about just, Jim had got to his pension time by this time. I mean this didn’t happen in a tiny space of time.
HH: Yeah.
BB: And he decided to leave BP and he was offered a job with an American company in England. And he decided to leave because he had got his pension thing and he left and he went to this company and it was called the Ralph M Parsons Company. And he became administrative director there.
HH: Wow. Did that involve travelling?
BB: And then he got fed up.
HH: Oh. Did that involve travelling to the states at all? Or was that —
BB: No. No. He didn’t. He would have done if he’d stayed much longer. He stayed with them about six years I think. And then he thought he’d had enough and he would pack up.
HH: So, how did you find your way to Lincoln?
BB: Well, you see we were, when Jim retired from civil life, civilian life — no. Do I mean that? Yes. And he retired completely we were living in Purley where we’d lived twice before and liked very much at the time. I had a good circle of friends. But just a minute. I’m getting lost. But he retired. We didn’t want to stay in Purley when he retired, we wanted, it was too near to Croydon and so on and so on. Although I liked it there. But we went to Dorset. And we had a lovely house in Dorset didn’t we?
AB: You did. Yes.
BB: A lovely house in Dorset. And we stayed there for ten years. And then we had a brainstorm. Both of us. And we sold the house and all the furniture and everything and we took off for Majorca. And we, that was when I was, I think I was sixty seven then and Jim would have been sixty eight. I wouldn’t swear to that but I think that’s about what we were. And we lived there for five years. And then I very much wanted to come home and I had to have — I had two knees which needed completely replacing and we didn’t fancy Spanish hospitals. Either of us. And we got a good offer for the house and, the villa they called it. The villa there. And we didn’t know where to go because I never believe in going back although I love Dorset. It’s a lovely county. And we were sitting one night wondering what we were going to do and I said, ‘Well, I’d like to live in Harrogate. I’ve always wanted to live in Harrogate.’ ‘Oh. Harrogate.’ Hmmn. You know the, you know — yeah. Anyway, he said, ‘Well, I’m not going any further north than Lincoln.’ You know. Foot down. ‘I’m not going any further than Lincoln.’ I said, ‘Oh. Lincoln. I have very happy memories of Lincoln because you were there. That’s where we were married and that’s when you were flying.’ ‘Well then,’ he said, ‘Why don’t we go to Lincoln?’ So, we came to have a look and we had a look at all the villages and what not but we couldn’t find a house. But eventually we found a house. You came to the house didn’t you?
AB: Yes. Yes.
BB: We found a house in Lakelands. Where all the lakes are. And we were in that house for ten years. Then I got itchy feet and I got tired of the traffic so we moved again. And we only moved about a mile away to a house that backed on to one of the lakes. A really nice house and it backed on one of the lakes and I could really have stayed there forever. Until my husband died. And that was all very sad. I think that’s about all I can tell you.
HH: Well, it’s, it’s an, it’s an interesting life you lead.
BB: A very interesting life.
HH: Well, you’ve lived a lovely life and it sounds like you know you’ve got fantastic memories.
BB: I have.
HH: Yeah.
BB: Yes. I have.
HH: Wonderful memories.
BB: And I’ve still got the memories. I mean I’ve still got enough to remember them.
HH: Wonderful. Yeah.
BB: But I do lose my way occasionally. You know, I am ninety six.
HH: It’s remarkable. Yeah. Well, I hope I am as fit and as in control of my memories as you.
BB: As I am.
HH: If I ever get to ninety six which I doubt.
BB: Well, I never thought I would. Never did I ever think I would.
HH: Yeah. It’s wonderful. It’s a real achievement. Yeah. You must be very proud.
BB: I’m not. I don’t even think about it really. I don’t think about it really.
HH: Yeah.
BB: But that’s how it happened. I may have left some little bits out but that’s, that’s how it was.
HH: Did you —
BB: We had, you know after all that, after that, after all that we had sixty seven years of marriage.
HH: Happy marriage it sounds like.
BB: Happily married weren’t we?
AB: Sixty seven years.
BB: Jim worshipped the ground I walked on.
HH: Sixty seven years.
BB: And I thought there was nobody on earth like him.
HH: You see that’s, that’s a very high recommendation for love at first sight isn’t it?
BB: Yeah.
AB: Yes.
BB: Yeah. My parents were very concerned about him though. Until they got to know him a bit more. They thought well you see I was a northerner and he was very much a southerner and they’d never met him. And I’d never met him really until that night. But it was just like a bomb.
HH: You just knew.
BB: Yeah.
HH: Did he ever talk about his experiences in Bomber Command after the war?
BB: Not very much. No. Not very much. I think that was one of the things that Christopher didn’t like. That he never sort of sat down and told him all about it. But then they didn’t. Nobody did.
HH: No. It wasn’t. People didn’t. People didn’t.
BB: The soldiers and the Dunkirk people and the people who went to you know get us back from France and all this business. They didn’t talk about it.
HH: No. No.
BB: You know it was over and done with and —
HH: And I think people —
BB: And I think that’s one of the things Christopher resented.
AB: Yeah.
HH: I think people had also just seen too much.
BB: We seemed to have had enough of it.
HH: Yeah.
BB: After all before you got settled down again it was seven years really. Because it was, I mean there was rationing after the war for a long time.
HH: Did he enjoy being in South Africa?
BB: Oh yes. He loved it. He wanted to go and live there. And now, we did go, when he retired and we went to Dorset we went to South Africa for a month and, because he was always talking about it and I thought we’d get it out of his hair. So we went for a month and I didn’t like it. Well, I mean I wouldn’t say I disliked it but it did nothing for me at all. And I caught every bug that was going.
HH: Which doesn’t help does it?
BB: No. No. No. It was very nice. I’m sure it’s very nice but I didn’t like, this sounds racist and I don’t mean to but I didn’t like living the rest of my life in a country full of black negroes. It sounds racist doesn’t it? But I’m not really. I mean I’m not anti them at all but I just didn’t. I just didn’t like that for one thing and I didn’t like the way they treated the blacks at that time. You know there was all this apartheid business. And you got on a bus and there was these seats for blacks and those seats for whites and all this business. And I really didn’t like the atmosphere. The whole atmosphere.
HH: No.
BB: In that country. I didn’t care for it.
HH: No.
BB: No.
AB: Jim wasn’t meant to go to South Africa, was he?
BB: No. He was meant to go to Canada.
HH: And how come he went to South Africa then?
BB: Yeah. And we bought, I said, ‘You’ll need some long johns you know, for Canada. It’s very cold in the winter.’ So, we bought him some sort of woolly vests with little sleeves. He thought they were dreadful. With little sleeves in. Little, fine wool you know. And some long johns and heaven knows what we thought would be for a cold climate. And they got to the middle of the Atlantic turned left and went straight down to South Africa. So, when he came back your father had those. All that underwear because he used to feel the cold. Not your father. No. Your grandfather.
AB: Grandfather.
BB: Yes.
HH: Yeah. I don’t think he would have needed it in South Africa.
BB: He wouldn’t need it in South Africa.
HH: No.
BB: No. No. He rather liked it but then they were an English bomber crew in South Africa and they were feted and looked after and you know, all the rest of it. And he thought it was great. Well, it probably was but it wasn’t for me. And in any case there was no BP. And there was no BP in South Africa. He would have gone there without a job. So, there’s one country that didn’t have any, you know, BP in all the countries you can think of but they didn’t have any at that time in South Africa.
HH: Yeah. Yeah. Well, I was born and brought up in South Africa.
BB: Were you? Oh. I shouldn’t have said I didn’t like it.
HH: No. No. No. No. Well, I mean I spent a lot of my young adult years on the streets fighting apartheid. Because I didn’t like it either.
BB: I didn’t like it.
HH: No.
BB: I —
HH: No. And coming to Lincoln was our big adventure.
BB: Your big adventure.
HH: Yeah. Just recent. In recent times.
BB: You left South Africa.
HH: Yeah.
BB: You were living in South Africa.
HH: I was but now we’re living here.
BB: Now you live here.
HH: Yeah. So people find it very strange us coming to Lincolnshire and us calling that our big adventure after being in South Africa. But it is a big adventure for us and it’s been a really enjoyable one.
BB: Of course it is. It’s just as it was for us.
HH: Yeah.
BB: As we went the other way.
HH: Yeah. Exactly. Yeah.
BB: Yeah. But I really didn’t care for it. There was a certain atmosphere there.
HH: It’s awkward. And —
BB: Yeah.
HH: Yeah. Just an unhappy atmosphere I think.
BB: Yes. Yes.
AB: Especially during that time.
BB: And the way they seemed to —
HH: In that time. Yeah.
BB: I won’t say push the blacks around. Not that they did really —
HH: Well, it wasn’t, it wasn’t a good system.
BB: It wasn’t a good thing to see.
HH: No.
BB: And Jim would say to me, ‘Don’t interfere.’
HH: He would be quite right.
BB: ’Don’t interfere.’
HH: Bettie, thank you so much for telling all of those wonderful stories. They’re wonderful. It’s just lovely to hear them all and I think that, I think you’ve worked quite hard and I think you deserve a little visit outside now. In the garden.
BB: It would be lovely to have a trip around the garden.
HH: Let’s do that.
BB: Shall we?
HH: Thank you so much. Thank you, Bettie.
BB: Oh, it’s a pleasure. A pleasure.



Heather Hughes, “Interview with Bettie Bain,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed September 25, 2023,

Item Relations

This item has no relations.