Interview with Audrey Hazel Baker

Title

Interview with Audrey Hazel Baker

Description

Audrey Baker had been married to Gordon, her Bomber Command pilot husband for two years when he was killed in action. Gordon had been serving with 50 Squadron. She immediately joined the WAAF as a driver and was posted to Balloon Command. She drove for her Commanding Officer and also an ambulance during her service. She became commissioned and as an adjutant she was shocked when during wartime she had to discipline a WAAF for being seen on the Underground without her hat.

Creator

Date

2018-05-09

Temporal Coverage

Language

Type

Format

00:35:07 audio recording

Publisher

IBCC Digital Archive

Rights

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 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0/ and https://ibccdigitalarchive.lincoln.ac.uk/omeka/legal.

Contributor

Identifier

ABakerAH180509, PBakerAH1801

Transcription

PJ: My name is Pete Jones. I’m interviewing Mrs Audrey Baker. Other people attending are Sandra Jones and Jonathan Baker. It Is the 9th of May 2018 and we are in Mrs Baker’s home in Summertown, Oxford. Thank you, Audrey for agreeing to be interviewed for the IBCC.
AB: I’m not in my home.
PJ: Audrey, tell me about your early years in the war and during the war. Over to you.
AB: Well, during the war I joined up. Now, let me think. I was married in 1940. My husband was killed in 1942. I was then, went straight into the WAAF after that and I went in to Balloon Command. These Balloon Commands were all over London, in the tower of London and all the, where ever you, the most interesting places one normally could never have got a look in and we used to take either the rations around or the parson around. I was a driver by the way. I joined up as a driver and we just had to, because of the driving we had to go through the Driving School for the Services and we had to drive from fifteen hundred weight and they had tapestry covers over them. Roof. And then fifteen. And I’m not quite sure what the other one was. The heaviest one we could drive was three tonnes and that was quite a very very old, old wreck of a lorry, the three tonnes. It had synchromesh and if you had to reverse you just put it in to gear, stood on the running board and then twist it and turn around a corner. And from that I used to drive the CO most of the time but it was all Bomber Command err Balloon Command. And from there I went from, well I suppose I was non-commissioned for about two years or something like that and then I was commissioned and then I became an assistant adjutant and from that I was eventually discharged in 1946. Do you want me to go on any further? Well, when I was discharged I, I, you know, it was very difficult. Well, ’46 was neither war nor non-war. It was a funny sort of period. And I was a widow for five years and then I remarried and I remarried my husband’s brother which was a bit difficult isn’t it to imagine? But they’re both up there. Gordon was obviously the one above the other and he was my second husband who is the father of Jonathan and my other two daughters. We didn’t have any children to begin with. You know, with the 1940 marriage. So, from that on I had three children and in a very quick time because I was, by that time I was twenty eight, twenty nine, thirty. Something like that. And so we had these three children and I didn’t really do anything very much after that except after looking after my home and my children and I lived in the first house we ever bought for sixty nine years until I came up here. So, this is my home now but it’s not my home. I brought up that little bureau of mine which I love just to have it. Make it look homelike. And that chair you’re sitting in and that chair, that’s all I think I brought up just to make it look homely. And here I am just waiting for the end [laughs]
SJ: Can you tell us any, any stories from your time in the WAAF? Did you get in to trouble Mrs Baker?
AB: Did I get in to trouble?
SJ: Did you get caught being out late?
AB: No. But when I was commissioned and I was an assistant adjutant I had a sergeant brought in to me and she had been caught on the Underground with her hat off. And these two military police came all the way up to [pause] I could, I could tell you where. I’ve got it down somewhere, you know. Somewhere near Manchester anyway just to tell me that she’d been put on a charge for being on the Underground for having her hat off. Can you imagine? You know, this was in the war [laughs] So that’s the only thing that I can think of that — no. Oh yes. I did get in to trouble. I was at Croydon Airport, that’s right and there was a Polish squadron there. I don’t suppose you ever knew it was Polish. Croydon Airport. It’s non-existent now, and I’d had, there was this Polish thing and I was in charge of the vehicles. And because we were near London of course these Polish, they were after the girls and they wanted, they were always wanting to go up to London. And so anyway my, the senior officer was off and he said to me, ‘Now, on no account, no account are you to let those chaps have any of the vehicles.’ So, of course, when they rang up and asked for a vehicle I said, ‘I’m sorry. You can’t have one.’ And anyway, they tried to get it and then they said, ‘Well, we’ll put you on a charge for, you know disobeying a senior officer.’ So, I still didn’t and so I was put on a charge and I was marched in for not letting them have this and of course fortunately this senior officer for the cars and so forth he, you know he agreed with me that I should have, you know bided by his rules and not by their rules, you know. So that’s the only thing that I can ever think that I was ever caught out on. I mean some of the senior officers, not in the WAAF, in the RAF because the, two of their stations I was [pause] I had to go to Romsey. I was seconded there because Romsey was closing down the aircrews. All these disbanded aircrews. Redundant aircrews. And because, because they were closing down and the staff were being pushed away elsewhere and so they had to have an adjutant So they seconded me in to there for I can’t remember really how much, how long it was but that was a lovely house we were in. It was a flight headquarters and the, what was I going to tell you? The flight headquarters. Oh yes. That was the only RAF station that was, was by a woman. Head. She was the head. What do you call it? You know, when they run a thing? Anyway, she was the only one in the whole of the RAF who was in a position to be able to run it and so there were only about four others left on the site. I can remember the CO, and an accounting officer and myself and some other officer and they were, you know we used to have lovely meals from that. That was very nice to be there. And then of course I had to go back to my own place. But it seems amazing to me that these chaps, these aircrews were made redundant. There was a chap in here. He told me that, or somebody told me he was in the Air Force so I thought I’d go and make myself known to him and he said he joined up as aircrew but, you know then he couldn’t because they were all redundant as they came across. Unfortunately, he was given a commission, not a commission a [pause] oh dear what are these things where we get — anyway it doesn’t matter. It was so that he could go to university and so he went off to university in the Air Force. So, that’s the relation of my existence. So, I’m wondering what I’m going to get exposed to me when I get to the other side, you know. They’ll say, ‘Well [laughs] you’ve left that out. You’ve left that out.’ [laughs] Oh dear.
SJ: So, were you a driver or did you do other things in the WAAF? You were in the balloons.
AB: Well, I was a driver first of all and as I say I used to, I used to be the CO’s driver so that I always had to be in my best blues. And before we took a vehicle out we had always to check the oil and the water and so forth and this was always, you know, compulsory. But no, I didn’t do really anything much but driving because we used to drive the ration van if necessary to all the sites. Well, not all the sites but the sites that we were now. Take that down and had some, you know experiences with all the shrapnel coming down and watching it, you know as it hit the ground. All the sparks coming up. I remembering sheltering in the doorway, in a wall, you know. They were getting nearer and nearer. And then I was taking a chap who’d had a seizure of some kind to the hospital and we were, there was the air raid going on above and with this canvas thing over the top of the roof of the van, or ambulance. I had another girl with me, the nurse. We were sitting in the front. This chap was moaning and yelling and having something put through his teeth to stop him biting his tongue, you know. And then we saw on these cobblestones this shadow above, you know. We thought they’re following us. And of course, then we came to realise it was our own shadow [laughs] We got him to hospital anyway but that’s without any lights hardly at all. Little side lights you know. Had to, the girls, you know, the drivers you’d send them out because at that time London Airport wasn’t built and it was Northolt where things went out at that time and it was absolutely, you know awful really, you know. But the very senior officers sometimes being flown in. I don’t know where they’d come from but they were being flown in and they couldn’t get up to London because of the fog you see. The fog was absolutely terrible in those days and, and then the girls had to go out and go down to Kent to pick them up and bring them in, you know. Here was really he was poorly, you know. Absolutely thick fog where you couldn’t see the ambulance nearly went into a wall taking me into hospital. Yeah. Dear. Well, I think I’ve —
JB: Do you want to look at these photographs?
SJ: Yeah. Would you like to tell me about your first husband?
AB: Yes.
SJ: His time in Bomber Command. Is there anything you can tell us about Gordon?
AB: Yes. Well, I can’t really tell you an awful lot about him because we were married as I say in 1940 and I didn’t really know him very long before that. And it was a friend of mine, it was one of these what do you call it when you go out on a, perhaps you don’t call them now when you, when you are an odd one and —
SJ: Gooseberry.
AB: Girls.
PJ: Blind date. Yeah.
AB: I went out with him and at the time I was engaged to somebody else and anyway we had a very brief time so I didn’t get to know him terribly well. And then of course he was a sergeant pilot to begin with. He went in as a sergeant pilot and then he, of course started training. I think actually before the war then and so he was away a lot, you know. He was either, they had a very short time off in between, you know. I can’t think what the word is. Their leave. And so I really only saw him every time only when he came home on leave you see because we were only married two years. He had an accident coming home after a flight. His car, I think went in to a ditch or something and he was in hospital for a little while. And then he had to get fit before he could fly again. But I’m surprised that Jonathan’s got records of him doing twenty one flights but I wasn’t aware, you know he, when he wrote to me. He, you know he’d say we’ve been over so and so. We’ve been distributing these leaflets, you know to the French people the German people and so forth. So I, I can’t really. But he used to like football. Or rugger rather. And that’s really, you know it sounds silly now after all these years that I, it wasn’t as if you’d been married for five years even but just two years. It seems such a short period. Short period. We had quite a nice wedding but I was telling Jonathan we just had a wedding cake and sandwiches and that was, and you know we were married in a church and my recent husband he, he was one of the grooms, or the best man and his brother, well you know these two were brothers and his other brother he was a prisoner of war in Singapore and so he, he died too. He was taken away to Japan and the boat was sunk by the Americans and it went down with all these prisoners. But he had been on the railway for a long time. So, is that enough?
JB: Well, you can tell them a bit about Gordon. He was quite a character, wasn’t he?
AB: What?
JB: Gordon was quite a character.
AB: Oh yes. A very nice character. He was very amusing.
JB: Shall we pause there?
AB: Yeah. Ok.
JB: Yeah.
[recording paused]
SJ: Ok.
AB: But I don’t think I’ve got anything more of interest to say.
JB: Well, tell them about Gordon. We were saying what a character he was.
AB: Well, I mean all the time we were in a sort of air raids and things and going up to London. We used to go up to London when he was home on leave. Go to the theatre. To begin with when an air raid warning went off there was going to be an air raid they used to close the theatre and you had to disperse. But after a very short time you used to carry on regardless. They used to come and tell you there was an air raid and everybody was so used to them by that time they just, you know, ignored them. I remember slipping down one of these bomb things. It was, gas was escaping because I couldn’t see where I was going, you know. I could have thought I could because it was the gas and it was alight but anyway. That’s the only thing we ever used to go to.
JB: Well, tell them about the glitter ball.
AB: The what?
JB: The glitter ball.
AB: Oh that. Oh yes. Well, that was just a little bit before the war. We went to a local dance and this dentist was having, on a chair to get this thing to work. And I don’t know why Gordon did it but he made a running tackle at it and of course brought him down solid in the room. Everybody was friendly, you know. They were ha ha ha ha. Any other way it would have been quite serious because I remember this chap had very protruding teeth. I think they must have rather offended Gordon. But other than that we used to go up on the train and and then there would be a warning, oh excuse me, a warning and the train would stay outside the station for hours and he was always very amusing. You know, these things which we were stuck in and all the trains had this mesh stuff across the thing and then there would be a bit tore out and I can always remember one at Dulwich. It said, it had, there had been a little poem written about touching this thing and the covering of the window and I can, I think I can remember. It said, it was something about, “I thank you for recitation but I can’t see the bloody station.” [laughs] Oh dear. There were some very comic things on the train you know. You could sit there and laugh. You’re not laughing. Yes. Well, I think that’s about all my repertoire.
SJ: So, what plane did Gordon fly in?
AB: Hmmn?
SJ: What plane did Gordon fly in?
AB: Well, he, he had flown a Hampden. I remember that. But it was a Manchester wasn’t it, you said that he was actually —
JB: The one he was killed in.
AB: Yes. But I think they used to fly these little planes which they used to break up like you know when they were training. They were always sort of crashing them and so forth. But I don’t remember. I remember the, what was the other old sort of transport plane?
JB: Peter probably knows.
PJ: A Dakota? A Dakota was it? A Dakota.
AB: What?
PJ: A Dakota.
AB: No. No. It doesn’t matter anyway. When I came out of the Air Force they were applying for flying officers from the two Services. This is the Air Ministry. Well, I don’t know if it was the Air Ministry but it was when the air, London Airport was being built and this was at Northolt. I was at Northolt and these had the stewardess on these planes and at the end of the journey when they got to Northolt you had to sort of just say goodbye to them and see them in the coaches and so on. But I got bored with that because Northolt was so out of the way anywhere, you know and you only had a half a day off and to get in to London and get back again and so forth. I gave that job up. So, I don’t think I had really another job after that. I looked after my children.
SJ: Tough enough.
AB: Well, I thought at that time we were both quite old. I was getting on for thirty and Paul was five years older than me so he was thirty five. So, we sort of had these three children more or less altogether. And after [unclear] but Jonathan’s the youngest. Yes.
SJ: And what squadron?
JB: He was in 50 Squadron. It was the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve, isn’t it?
AB: Yes.
JB: Yes. And he was based, well when he finished his career based at Skellingthorpe and that’s where he was flying out. He was doing a bombing mission over Hamburg, wasn’t it?
AB: Yes.
JB: And they set off at, I think I’ve got it here, 23.40 hours and they crashed at 03.55 hours, wasn’t it?
AB: I don’t know.
JB: But who was it who met one of the, because there was Gordon the pilot, he was killed and who was, it was his —
AB: Rear gunner.
JB: Rear gunner.
AB: They couldn’t get out of them.
JB: The rest of the crew managed to evacuate and somebody met one of the other crew.
AB: Four. Four of the, four of the crew survived but the rest of them, the rest of the crew there was only one. The rear gunner was shot and Gordon apparently was able, somebody went in to a pub and he was talking about this I think and he said how he’d kept the aircraft, you know tried to keep it steady for them to get out but obviously, you know he couldn’t get out. And the rear gunner I mean that’s a terrible position to be in, isn’t it? Yes. I mean, they were just a sitting duck. So that was rotten. But I think, I think he should have got a DFC for that.
JB: But of course, they didn’t get anything, did they? They didn’t get any medals at all.
AB: No.
JB: We’ve, we have, I’ve applied for them posthumously, you know just recently. I expect you have as well, have you?
PJ: We got them. Yeah.
AB: You’ve seen the thing in London have you, to Bomber Command?
SJ: Yes.
AB: Yes. It’s rather impressive, isn’t it? Yes.
SJ: Perhaps you’d like to —
JB: Do you want to have a pause for a minute?
AB: What?
JB: Have a pause for a minute.
AB: Yes.
[recording paused]
JB: Sorry, it says, start again. Go on.
AB: They had all Nissen huts in the grounds and we used to sit at these desks with rugs around our legs and the ink pots used to, there were no biros then and the thing used to freeze.
SJ: This was your officer training.
AB: Yes. There was this hotel which is in Windermere. It’s still there. It’s a hotel now but before that it used to be, you know for the WAAF as training and that’s why those pictures. I think some of them have the white things around.
JB: That was it, wasn’t it?
AB: Yes. That’s it. With the white bands around the caps. Yes. So, and when I was in London we used to live, flight headquarters used to be in this road by Seven Sisters Road. I think I used to go out to Victoria and go across to Finsbury Park and from there up to Seven Sisters and at the back of these houses which were very big detached houses with lots of ground around them. But at the very back there was a huge reservoir and we used to get from one house to another by walking down the garden, walking along the reservoir. And I used to think that when the planes came over I would jump in the water until somebody told me that that was the worst thing I could do because if a plane landed in the water it would kill me [laughs] you know. But anyway, our CO there on this particular thing, he was a playboy in London. I did remember his name funnily enough the other day. Sir somebody or other. And I used to take him around and he used to bring friends up to go duck shooting on the reservoir. And I used to drive him in London. He used to come up and go to White’s Club. You know, it’s just by the Ritz and I used to sit out there whilst he went in and had his lunch. Then he used to come out and go down sort of Piccadilly and there used to be a little chemist at the bottom at Piccadilly. And I keep on whenever we go out which is not very often I would see if it’s there still. Doubt it. And he used to go in there. He would be in there for hours. Hours. And he’d come out and bring me some soup or something, you know as a present. What he used to do in there I’d love to know. I think it must have been, you know a dive of some kind. And then he used to let me have the car occasionally because I used to go around knowing from the ops room where he was going, you know. And they would tell me where I was going to drop him off at various places and he used to say to me, I was corporal driver by this time when I first joined up and he used to say to me, ‘You can have the car but don’t get caught.’ And I used to go then back to the billets and pick up my girlfriend and we did, oh he used to give me a pound and we did all the shows in London and we’d go to the Corner House and for one and thruppence we would get a lovely meal. Or one and sixpence in the Corner Houses and then go to a show. And we saw Moira Shearer in, “The Red Shoes,” in person. That was rather lovely. I mean we didn’t know what it was going to be like, you know. Looking back on it now if I tell anybody I’ve actually seen Moira Shearer in, “The Red Shoes,” they can’t believe it. But she’s dead now poor soul. But it was, it was quite an interesting time and I used to know London really like the back of my hand by all the roads and that. People said, ‘How can you know London so well?’ [unclear] any traffic, you know. I know people weren’t allowed to have petrol for private cars and I don’t think many people had private cars. Not ordinary people, you know. When I think of our house with the gates down the bottom of the drive you know we used to keep the gates shut so that every time we had to open the gates and shut the gates you know. But nowadays there’s about three cars aren’t there in the drive? Terrific. I mean something’s got to be done hasn’t it about that awful clogging up. Yes. It’s only because they can’t be bothered to come down and see me. Well, that’s not true. They used to come down and see me in London but it’s the journey down to London which is so horrid so don’t worry. Well, I hope I haven’t been too much of a disappointment to you.
SJ: No. We’ve enjoyed it.
PJ: I’ve enjoyed it. It’s interesting. Very interesting. Good. On behalf of the IBCC I’d like to thank you, Audrey for allowing us to interview you. Thank you.
AB: [unclear]
JB: Well done.
SJ: Thank you very much.
PJ: Very good. Very good.

Collection

Citation

Sandra Jones, “Interview with Audrey Hazel Baker,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed December 1, 2022, https://ibccdigitalarchive.lincoln.ac.uk/omeka/collections/document/9234.

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