Interview with Muriel Blake

Title

Interview with Muriel Blake

Description

Muriel Blake was born in 1922 in Oakham, Rutland. Being interested in flying and aeroplanes from an early age, Muriel volunteered when her job prospects ended. Called up in 1944, she joined the Women's Auxiliary Air Force. Being too short for driver, and turned down the job of mechanics, she became a safety officer. Throughout her service, she was posted to RAF Waterbeach, RAF Credenhill and RAF Mepal. Muriel recalls her time service stressing unpalatable food. She elaborates on different aspects such as service relationships, parties, celebrations, guard duty and having to wake people up, and finally packing parachutes and dinghies whilst working with 75 Squadron. One of her tasks was also to collect the list of crashed and missing aircraft to know how many parachutes and dinghies had been lost on operations and had to be replaced. It was tradition on her base that aircrew who had survived baling out would return, find out who had packed their parachute and along with their thanks paid the worker a pound. A slipped a disc ended her service in 1945. Following the war, Muriel moved around to several jobs, becoming a telephonist at the post office first, before eventually moving to a fire station

Creator

Date

2018-07-11

Temporal Coverage

Language

Type

Format

01:18:54 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.

Identifier

ABlakeMMD180711, PBlakeMMD1801

Transcription

HB: This is an interview with Muriel Blake [buzz] Harry Bartlett on behalf of the International Bomber Command Centre Digital Archive carrying out the interview. It’s [pause] looking at the clock —
MB: Oh no. Don’t look at that. No. No.
HB: Which is broken.
MB: It’s not [laughs] It’s so old I daren’t let it go.
Other: Five to eleven.
HB: Right. Five, its five to eleven now in the morning. Right. Muriel. Your chance to tell us your story. Can you just start off where, where where you were born?
MB: I was born at Oakham in Rutland. My parents came from Lincolnshire. Mother from Market Deeping. My father from Stamford. And they were married there and there’s lots of photographs. I’ve got the wedding photograph and everything there. But then my father went in the war, the First World War and when he came back they moved to Oakham. Father started up a business there and I was born there. My sister was born in Stamford during the First World War.
HB: Right.
MB: Because she was six years older than me and I was born in Oakham. Educated at Oakham Central School which was a very good school. The, took the eleven plus in those days but there was only one, one girl and one boy that passed every year to go to Oakham School which was the school.
HB: Yeah. Yeah
MB: And the Girls School at Stamford. So you didn’t get a chance and we were not Oakham people. My sister passed but they made some excuse because she’d made a mistake because we’re Catholics. And they said, my father said they said she’d passed you know and she was a clever girl and then they let my father know that she hadn’t passed. That [Monica Clark] had which was a very old Oakham very classy, you see the Oakham ones. And as I say Father wanted the investigation and they said she’d, her mistake was that she said who was the head of the church and my sister said the pope [laughs]
HB: Oh, right. Right.
MB: That was their excuse.
HB: So, did, did you what what year would that be as you were coming up towards leaving the Central School.
MB: About 1922. And I was eleven in 1933.
HB: About ’33.
MB: When I, when I took the —
HB: And were you, were you expected to go out to work? Did you look for work or what happened?
MB: I left school when I was fifteen wasn’t I? I was, what’s that? I was eleven when I was, ’33 wasn’t I? So how many years was that? Four years wasn’t it? No. I started off, I wanted to be a children's nurse. A nanny. My mother had been a nanny and my one ambition was to be a nanny with a posh family because they were all posh families round Oakham. Well, only for the winter. They came for the hunting season and all the big houses. Big estates. I wanted to be a nanny you see but I wanted to travel abroad with the children.
HB: Oh right. Yeah.
MB: And I was going to, I was hoping to go to a very posh nanny college to train you see. But then the war came out didn’t it and that spoiled a lot of us didn’t it? Then that’s how I went in to, my father was a plumber and decorator [squeaking] I think it’s my feet.
HB: Ah.
MB: And he got his workshops you know and then he got a front shop and he was about do it yourself wallpapers and all that and I went to work there to start with. And then unbeknown to me, you didn’t have a life of your own, well I mean I had a lovely life but we didn’t do what the kids do these days. I mean the man up the road came up and said to my father, ‘They’ve got a vacancy. They’d like to have your daughter.’ So dad said that was alright. Then when I went home at lunchtime he said, ‘You’re now working at Peasgood’s.’ [laughs]
HB: Right. Oh. As simple as that.
MB: There was nothing nasty about it [laughs] but, you know.
HB: Yeah.
MB: That’s how life was.
HB: Yeah.
MB: You did as you were told.
HB: Yeah.
MB: But I was still hoping to go and of course then the war broke out so there was no chance of ever going to a posh, to be a nanny, you know.
HB: No.
MB: All that sort of thing was going by the board and, and then my sister, Pete’s mum she was married and they lived in Leicester and they had a restaurant and they were really working at war work because they had a three rest, café rooms but when the war broke out all round East Park Road and as I say there’s [unclear] all around there and they were all factories in those days.
HB: Yeah.
MB: But they lived down the East Park Road. A big house on East Park Road and they cooked their dinners. They had the lower stairs rooms were for the females and two more rooms downstairs for the workmen and they, they were on rations. I mean, my mother never went without. I found a letter the other day, ‘Could you please bring, if Muriel comes home for the weekend could she please bring some butter. I’m running out.’
HB: Right. So, she was, so they were feeding the factory workers.
MB: Yes. Feeding the factory workers but not only were they —
HB: Right.
MB: Feeding them at lunchtime. And it was a hot dinner and maybe it wasn’t —
HB: Yeah.
MB: It was a hot dinner, and a pudding and a drink. And do you know how much it was?
HB: No.
MB: A shilling. That’s all it cost in those days and, and she had her rations of meat and of course they all came because they were getting these good dinners, you know off the ration and one day she had, they had to have rabbits. You used to get, the butcher used to deliver all these rabbits. I mean, I love rabbit but they used to do rabbit pies and steamed puddings and all that sort of thing.
HB: Right.
MB: But then and so I went to, by this time Pete, Peter wasn’t born then. His elder brother was who spent his life in the Air Force. He’d done his career as an airman. Pete’s dad had gone. I mean he was the chef but he went in the Air Force, you see.
HB: Yeah.
MB: And so I went to help her out. She’d got waitresses and all that sort of thing. People doing the cleaning and everything. So, I got [unclear] you know, I didn’t get called up for quite a while because of that you see.
HB: Yeah.
MB: And then —
HB: So, so how many were in your family then, Muriel?
MB: In my family?
HB: Yeah.
MB: Just my sister and I.
HB: Just you and your sister.
MB: Yeah.
HB: Yeah. And your sister was called —?
MB: Frances.
HB: Frances. Yeah.
MB: Frances Johnson.
HB: Yeah.
MB: And then Pete came along like so that made an extra one. And then, eventually I went in to the now, we’re getting desperate I think. It was a case of, ‘Do you want to be in a factory?’ ‘No, thank you.’ ‘Do you want to be on the land?’ ‘No, thank you.’ ‘I want to go — [laughs] I always wanted to go in the WAAF because while I was young they built Cottesmore you see.
HB: Right.
MB: So, I always associated with them.
HB: Yeah.
MB: The Air Force sort of thing. And one of my cousins —
HB: Yeah.
MB: He was, he became a wing commander in the Air Force.
HB: Right.
MB: And then he went out to Canada with the, after the war he transferred to the Canadian Air Force.
HB: Right.
MB: And spent the rest of his time out there.
HB: So, so you actually you were working in, in the restaurant but then as as the war was declared were you obviously you carried on in the war. Roughly when were you called up then Muriel?
MB: About, what’s it say on that mug, Peter. No this —
Other: This one here?
MB: Yeah. Tony did that for me.
Other: What would you say? The glasses. I haven’t got my glasses.
MB: Oh, you haven’t got your glasses on. My nephew has done this for me. Oh, that is the right number. You can have a look at that if you like.
HB: So, this is, this is a lovely —
MB: Tony had that done at the museum at —
HB: Cup for a WAAF.
MB: Where was it at. What’s that museum called down in Shropshire? They have got —
Other: Near Telford.
MB: Yeah. Near —
HB: And you were right with your service number because this mug is, has got the crest.
MB: Yeah.
HB: With WAAF in the middle and it’s got 489709.
MB: I’ve got that.
HB: ACW1 Muriel Blake. Safety equipment worker. RAF Mepal.
MB: Yeah.
HB: January 1944 to February 1946.
MB: Yeah. Because then I came out sick.
HB: So it was the beginning of 1944.
MB: Oh, yeah.
HB: That you went in. So what was your, what was your, how, what was your process for joining?
MB: Well, as I say I’d always, when I was young I wanted to be in the Fleet Air Arm. Don’t ask me why because it fascinated me [laughs] Planes fascinated me and so I wanted to be in the WAAFs so I said I’d volunteer, to choose and go in the WAAF. So that’s where I went and that was when I down here I went down to Ulverscroft Road. Do ad they still do that there? We did all the recruiting. All these girls [laughs] all these girls.
HB: That’s Ulverscroft Road in Leicester. Yeah.
MB: Yeah.
HB: Yeah.
MB: I had a quiet life really and all these girls were all out of the country and that. I didn’t know Leicester people. I thought, well, a lot of Leicester people were awful you know. All these women used to walk about with their rollers in their hair. I used to say to my mother. ‘Do you know they go in to town on a Saturday afternoon. They’ve still got their rollers in their hair.’
HB: Oh dear.
MB: She said, ‘Yeah. But they’ll all be dressed up tonight in the pub.’
HB: Yeah. So, you went to Ulverscroft Road to sign up.
MB: Signed up there.
HB: Yeah.
MB: And —
HB: And what, what was that process like there?
MB: Well, it was alright to start with but we were all sitting there. There was two girls from Coalville and we, we all went for a medical and then the girl next to me they called her back and when she came back she was crying. So I said, ‘What’s the matter with you?’ So, she said, ‘They’ve just found out I’ve got TB,’ she said. So, I mean living in Coalville you could understand that really. All that dust. Can’t you? So, she said. Coalville. So, the next thing you know they called my name out. Muriel Blake. So, they said, ‘You’ve got to go back. The doctors want to see you again.’ I thought, ‘TB. I can’t have TB. I’ve lived in Oakham all my life. Nothing’s fresher than Oakham air.’ I was that indignant [laughs] I thought —
HB: Yeah.
MB: How can they call me back? There’s nothing wrong with me. I used to have rosy cheeks. So, I got back on the bed and I said, ‘Why have you called me back?’ He said, ‘It’s your hammer toe.’ [laughs] So I said, ‘It’s a family trait this is.’
HB: Oh right.
MB: It come from my mother and you know, goes through the family. I said, ‘I’ve always had a hammer toe ever since I was a child.’ So, he said, ‘Yes. But you can’t have a hammer toe. You can’t go in the forces with a hammer toe.’ I said, ‘Why not?’ ‘Well, you won’t be able to do the square bashing.’ So, she said, ‘You won’t be able to wear the shoes.’ I said, ‘I hope I’m not going to be square bashing all the time.’ [laughs] Anyway, all these doctors stood around me. They said, ‘No. You definitely won’t be able to go.’ So I said, ‘Don’t be so ridiculous.’ I said [laughs] ‘I’ve got through school and everything else. They aren’t painful.’ So, anyway, they let me go.
HB: Oh right.
MB: So then we went for interview for what job you were going to, wanting to do. So I wanted to be a driver and my father had taught me to drive through fields around, all around Luffenham and that. I mean they didn’t have to get licenses in those —
HB: No.
MB: In those days. So, I said, ‘I want to be, I’m going to be a driver. I would like to be a driver please.’ So he said, ‘No. You can’t be a driver.’ So I said, ‘Why not?’ He said, ‘You’re not tall enough.’ [laughs] I’m five two.
HB: Right.
MB: So, he said, ‘Anyway, you don’t weigh enough.’ I only weighed six and a half stone but I was as healthy as anything.
HB: Yeah.
MB: There was nothing wrong with me. So, I said, ‘Now, what am I going to do?’ I said, ‘Why can’t I drive? My dad’s taught me to drive.’ ‘No,’ he said, ‘You wouldn’t be able to pull the crew buses. They’ll be to big for you, you see.’ Well, that’s what I wanted to do, wasn’t it?
HB: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.
MB: So I said, ‘Well, what other trade can I do?’ He said, ‘We’ll put you down as a mechanic.’ So I said, ‘You’ve got to be joking.’ I said, ‘If I knock a nail in the plane the plane will fall to pieces.’ I said, ‘I haven’t the faintest idea how to do anything like that.’ Still haven’t. So, he said, ‘Well, I don’t know. What can you do?’ he said, ‘You could be set, we’ll try safety equipment.’ So they put me down. I’d no idea what safety equipment was but that’s what they put me down for. So offer came back, waited for the papers which eventually came and my dad, I went from Leicester and my dad, my mum and dad came over to see me off on the train. Very, we were all tearful and that you know like you would be. And I went to near, [pause] where’s the big training camp place. I’ve forgotten that now. Oh hell.
HB: There was quite a few.
MB: Yeah. Where they, where we all went.
HB: Was it up near Blackpool?
MB: Yeah. No, it wasn’t Blackpool. No. It wasn’t Blackpool.
HB: Yorkshire.
MB: Wilmslow. At Wilmslow.
HB: Wilmslow.
MB: Yeah.
HB: Right.
MB: We went to Wilmslow. And they sat, they all got on the train. There were a lot of girls on the station and we all got on the train and I thought coming from the country you see I thought all these city girls, they were born wiser than me and I thought well I’m not going to cry on the train. I wouldn’t let anybody know that I’m upset. So I sat in the carriage you know, I’m full of myself and all the rest. I looked at the rest of these Leicester girls and they were all crying [laughs]
HB: Dear.
MB: And we gets to the hut and they said, [unclear] to have something to eat. And we sat at these long tables. We’d always, you know done everything right because we was at nanny, you know. I mean at teatime we had an embroidered cloth and at lunchtime we had a proper, you know we used to have a dinner at dinner time. Everything was always very proper. And somebody said, ‘Pass the jam.’ And there was a big dish like that with all this horrible jam in it and they went whoosh like that and shot it [laughs] And I thought oh my mother would die.
HB: Yeah. Yeah. Not at home anymore.
MB: No. No. And they, they gave us all this stuff for carrying. You know, your uniform and your blankets and that and took us to this hut and just as we were going to bed all these girls were crying again [laughs] I thought they’re not as tough as they look, you know. They all looked as if they knew it all.
HB: Yeah.
MB: And that was it. We did they square bashing which I wasn’t very keen about really. I don’t think anybody was in those days. And then I got sent to [pause] Where? The one near Cambridge.
HB: Mepal.
MB: No.
HB: Mepal.
MB: No. The one at Waterbeach.
HB: Oh.
MB: Waterbeach, because Waterbeach was the —
HB: Waterbeach. Right.
MB: That was near Cambridge. That, that was the main one and Mepal and Witchford were new ones that had been built.
HB: Right.
MB: During the war, you know. Quickly.
HB: Yeah.
MB: They were the satellite ones but we went to the, I went to the Waterbeach one. I mean that was another thing. I mean people don’t understand in those days I mean it wasn’t that you didn’t have perhaps the money but people didn’t dash around on holiday and, I mean, we used to go out for days you know. Dad would take us to Hunstanton and things like that and I think I’d been to London a couple of times and he’d taken us round. But you hadn’t done things on your own so much. And there you were with a kit bag [laughs]
HB: Yeah.
MB: And a big paper telling you where you were going. And we got off the train at Cambridge and thought how the devil am I going to get to Waterbeach?
HB: Right.
MB: And then you see somebody in uniform, you know. They tell you what to do. And, and then of course I went in to the safety equipment section and they’d heard nothing about it. And there was mostly men in there in the parachute section and I was fairly new I suppose. A bit young and inexperienced. And there was one little fella and he, he was a lot older you know. He was a bloke in his fifties or forties I should think perhaps, been in the Air Force before but he was lovely and he taught, he was teaching me how to do them. A parachute. And I always used to forget the rip cord handle. The last bit you put on is the most important bit which pulls the parachute out and I always used to forget to fasten it, you know and me being anxious like. And I wasn’t there very long before I got posted to Hereford there, and Credenhill and he, and he brought me a little present, and inside the present, now that’s upstairs, I think, a scruffy little bit of paper like that, and it said, “Don’t forget the ripcord.” [laughs]
HB: I like it. I like it.
MB: And so then I went to, we went to Credenhill which was terrible. Horrible. Half way up a mountain.
HB: Where was that? Grand hill?
MB: Credenhill.
HB: Credenhill.
MB: Is it still there?
HB: I don’t know.
MB: No. It’s outside Hereford. It was halfway up [laughs] halfway up a mountain somewhere.
HB: Yeah. Yeah.
MB: And it was absolutely isolated and it was freezing cold and they, that’s where we did the training, you know for the, it was, there was, it was a big place.
HB: Did the, did they fly from there or—
MB: No. No. No.
HB: No. That was purely —
MB: That was just pure training.
HB: A training place. Yeah.
MB: It was a mixed. There wasn’t just parachutes and dinghies and, you know it wasn’t just safety equipment. I tell you who were there, not that you saw them because it was so big except if you happened to be in the same section, you know, training on, on the same things was the paratroopers. They’d never let anybody pack their parachutes. They packed their own.
HB: Yeah.
MB: And of course, they used to have to have them for you know all the materials and that that they dropped.
HB: Yeah.
MB: I mean their parachutes were much bigger and much more complicated than ours were. And so we went on and of course we went from one section to another and we marched all the time. We had this awful [laughs] awful sergeant. Auburn haired she was. And she marched us. Marched us there and she marched us there and because we were all new you know and a bit rebellious so when she wasn’t looking we used to nip between the different buildings and come out the other side and so she used to lose us. In the end she bought, got herself a bike.
HB: Just so she could check if you were.
MB: She got track.
MB: Yeah.
MB: Cycling round these buildings. ‘There you are. What are you doing?’ ‘Oh, well we just went around that way. We thought it would be quicker.’
HB: Dear me. So, so you learned you, what you’re learning then is, is packing the parachutes and getting them ready.
MB: Yeah. And the dinghies. And the dinghies.
HB: For the crews to use.
MB: And the big dinghies.
HB: I was curious about the dinghies because I don’t think people really think much about the dinghies but —
MB: Well, they were, that was what did my back in. That’s why I had to come out you see.
HB: Right.
MB: Because I slipped my disc. They were the hardest and especially if you got new. You see, when a plane crashed you lost everything so it all had to be replaced.
HB: Right.
MB: And the dinghies you’d get the rubber so they were really hard but we used to have to go every so often. The parachutes we kept you know. They came and collected, as they were going off on the ops they’d come and collect their parachute. But the dinghies were always in the plane and then we did this big one in the wing as well.
HB: Yeah.
MB: We used to climb out on the wing. But they, we used to have to fetch them out every so often and replace them and bring them back in to the, there was, there was a parachute section and a dinghy section. They were separate. They weren’t —
HB: Yeah.
MB: They weren’t all in the same building. And the dinghy section it was you had to wear, well they were made I suppose, blanket slippers over your shoes. You weren’t allowed to go without anything on your shoes and everything was absolutely perfect because when you blew them up you blew seven parachute err dinghies up. You know the least little bit of petrol or anything would make a hole in it.
HB: Yeah.
MB: So —
HB: Yeah.
MB: We used to have to, and we’d blow them up for so many hours and then we used to have to repack them again and then we used to have to let them down again. But they went in a pack, like a parachute pack so and we used to have to, used to, we used to get literally there was three, three girls in our section. The rest were men and we used to literally have to kneel on the table you know to get our balance to get them done.
HB: Right.
MB: And you’d get to the last bit, you know and you’d be bounding away. And then we used to have to take them back. And we used to ride all round the perimeter tracks, me and another girl and there used to be a fella used to go with us and we used to have one across the handlebars and one on each handlebar cycling round the perimeter track because all the planes were all the way around.
HB: Yeah.
MB: So you’d go from one bay to another.
HB: On bikes.
MB: Yeah. On bikes. So, you’d have, I’d have three, Vi would have three and the other, the fella, I can’t think what his name was. A Londoner, he was lame. And he, I think he had two. He were in charge I think.
HB: Yeah.
MB: Or he probably only had one knowing him. And then we would have to replace them. But then we would have to bring the others back you see as well.
HB: Did you, did you actually go in to the aircraft and go out on the wings to do it?
MB: Yeah. Yeah. Yes, so then we used to go in the, used to go and get in the planes you see and sometimes you used to be, they used to be revving them up. The engineers did and that.
HB: Yeah.
MB: The mechanics. And Vi and I used to hide you see. We used to put them in, put one in and then you think how manys going off any minute now. They never did. And we’ll hide and perhaps we will get a ride. And they used to be, ‘Come on you two.’ ‘Oh, I thought we were going to get to do, you know circuit and bumps around the camp.’ But no such thing.
HB: Yeah. Right.
MB: And we used to come. Yeah. We used to put the big ones —
HB: So that was at, that was at Mepal.
MB: That was at Mepal on the way back. Yeah.
HB: After you’d done your training at Hereford. Yeah. Yeah.
MB: Yeah. Yes. As I say I didn’t go back to Waterbeach. I went back to Mepal. And there was Mepal. Witchford was three miles from Ely and Mepal was six miles from Ely.
HB: Right.
MB: So, we used to —
HB: So, what, what sort of aircraft were they, were they flying out in your particular —
MB: Lancasters. When I first went, when I went to Waterbeach they were Stirlings.
HB: Right.
MB: But by the time I got back, we got back, well I got back, I don’t know where the others went. I expect they were spread all over. They were Lancasters.
HB: Right.
MB: They’d got Lancasters. It just, you know. They were just becoming very popular like everywhere.
HB: Yeah.
MB: Yeah.
HB: So you, so you would go out. So you, although you were doing the dinghies you, were you still doing the parachutes as well?
MB: Oh yeah. Yeah.
HB: Yeah.
MB: We used to swap over.
HB: So you’d swap over.
MB: You see. Yeah. We used to fetch the, we always used to have to hang the parachutes every so often. You had to unpack the parachutes and in a parachute section they had what they called a well, like that. They had this huge table and then there was, they called it a well and then there was like, like pulleys like you had for washing lines really.
HB: Yeah.
MB: And we used to have to take the parachutes out and hang them and hang them for so long so to get the creases out and that. And then we used to have to take them down and repack them but the tables were, well the length of the whole parachute really.
HB: Right.
MB: And you had to get the top of it and hook it on the top end and then spread it all out. There was all the silks, you know all on panels like that. Then there was all the cords and then a pack at the bottom and you were at the bottom with this length and you had to shake, shake all your cords out like that and then separate them and separate all the folds and then get them all perfectly straight. And then in the pack it was all zipped like that and you had a big hook and he had to say you had to start with the cords and hook that way in, out, in, out. Well, if you didn’t get it in out right the parachute wouldn’t come out. You’d got to get it —
HB: Right. Yeah. Yeah.
MB: You’d got to get it perfect. So then you’d do that, you’d do that and then you’d pull up again and you’d keep doing it. I mean, it wasn’t just a little length it was, well, you can imagine. It was quite long and you’d got all these cords that you had to have in the right place. Well, that was alright when you got that. But being small and the table was high we used to sit with our bottom on the side, the side of our bottom on the table.
HB: Yeah.
MB: And when Tony’s brother went for the same thing which was completely different, you know. With ejector seats and everything else in his day. I, he, he took me one day to one of the, he said we’ve got, we’ve got another section with the old stuff in. I’ll take you. Well, some of the fellas because he was a sergeant, some of the fellas that were working in the section when they came to look and I couldn’t even get up on the table.
HB: No. No. No.
MB: They said, ‘Oh, you’re rubbish.
HB: Yeah.
MB: But then when you’d got all the cords all in perfect then you started bringing in the silks you see. But you had to, you had to have two hands for the silks. You got them parted like that. They were narrow at the top like that sort of thing.
HB: Yeah.
MB: Like that curtain. Then you took the one panel over, then you took the other panel over, and then you took them over until you got it down to about as narrow as, like that.
HB: To, to about what? Just over a foot wide.
MB: Yeah. Yeah.
HB: Yeah.
MB: And then you’ve got to start bringing the silks in on top of the cords.
HB: Ah right.
MB: But you’d got those in at the certain way, you know.
HB: Yeah.
MB: Wave them in a certain way and then you got those all in and then you’d got side panels and you brought the side panels up and, like that and then you brought the second lot of panels up and then you’d got this little pack at the back with the rip cord in you see [laughs] That was the one I always forgot.
HB: Yeah. Yeah.
MB: Because after you’d got that hold of you used to have these like concertina elasticy things with hooks on you know put over and then you had to do this little pocket thing for last with the ripcord handle and make sure you’d got the rip cord handle in right. So that when they ripped it open they just got the handle and as they pulled so they pulled it, pulled it all out sort of thing.
HB: Right. Yeah.
MB: And if they did it and if they, you know well landed in the, in the Channel like or they landed on this side because a lot of them did, got shot down you know.
HB: Yeah.
MB: And managed to just get here before they crashed and parachuted out. And then we used to have to sign for them all and when they carried them, because they came back to work they’d come to the girl and they’d look in the book to see who had done it and they’d give us a pound [laughs]
HB: Would they?
MB: Yeah. The crew would give you a pound. And a pound was a lot because we only got —
HB: Wow. Yes.
MB: Two pound fifty a fortnight [laughs]
HB: Yeah. Yeah.
MB: And they’d say, ‘Thank you very much,’ you know, ‘For packing my parachute and here’s a pound for you.’
HB: Yeah.
MB: It wasn’t on all camps but it was on ours you know. We used to be chuffed to death. Not we weren’t chuffed to death. The poor bloke got shot up.
HB: Yeah. That’s right, but a pound for a life isn’t a bad price, is it?
MB: No. Not for a life is it?
HB: Yeah. So, so yeah so, so that was I mean that was quite well it wasn’t just a responsible job, that was very obvious it was a responsible job.
MB: It was a very responsible job but I don’t think it was ever recognised. The funny thing is that Tony I say is at, where is he now? Shropshire, isn’t it? What’s the, what’s the name of his camp?
Other: Cosford.
MB: Yeah. Cosford, he ended up at, he was, he’d been in ever since he left school. Well not quite as soon as he left school.
Other: Yeah.
MB: But when he was old enough. He was the last of the conscripts Tony was. Not just him but his [whole] crew.
HB: Yeah.
MB: But he, as he said they, when he went to Germany, Malta and Cyprus and I think he went to Iran with the, either Iran or Iraq with the crews, you know. His wife didn’t go there. I should think she’s stayed in Cyprus. But it, as he said the thing is that everything was so different now isn’t it? I mean there’s the ejector seats and the, they had to be in charge of them. And, and —
HB: Well, if somebody, somebody had probably still got to pack the parachute and —
MB: Yeah. Yes. Oh, yes.
HB: And that, and that wouldn’t and that still wouldn’t be a lot different to what you used to do.
MB: They used to sit on the parachutes, the parachutes. They used to sit —
HB: Yeah. Yeah.
MB: No, they didn’t. They sat on the dinghies. That’s it. They had the dinghies round the bottom. They sat, because we used to have to take them over when we took the dinghies in and out. We had to go to each section. We used to have to go to the rear bomber you know at the end and the rear gunner and put in his. I mean he had a very isolated job really. I mean, it was right at the other end and he was completely shut off. We had one lad, he got shot up and the, the plane got back but he’d been shot in the eye. You know, the plane had been shot and he’d got shot in the eye and we had to go and fetch the parachutes and it was absolutely covered in blood you know because basically it was on his front. And he lost his eye. He was only nineteen but he came back and he came back to you know to see us all it was. That was rather nice but I never liked this. It hung up for ages this bloody parachute. You know. With all his blood on it.
HB: Yeah.
MB: I suppose it was all [unclear] but it —
HB: So what would, what would happen with that then? Would you, would you have, would your team have cleaned it and —
MB: Well —
HB: Got it ready again or —
MB: No. No. No. They wouldn’t have used that one again, no.
HB: No.
MB: But it was, I suppose it was all a bit, you know they had these consultations and God knows what because I mean when they come back from bombing raids we, my friend and I she was a tailoress and of course she was very popular because if a crew went missing they had to keep up the, you know sergeant’s and officer’s —
HB: Yeah.
MB: And that sort of thing. They’d got to keep the compliment up all the time.
HB: Oh yeah.
MB: How many at each camp. So, if a crew, two or three crews went missing then there would be an officer, sergeant and corporal and they’d all want their flashes altered on their uniforms.
HB: Oh, right. Yeah.
MB: So, they’d be all, I used to go in to the tailoring jobs. She wasn’t the only one. There was a man in charge. He was a tailor as well. And they’d all be in there with the uniforms and, ‘Oh look, can you put my sergeant’s on.’ Can you do this? Can you do that?
HB: Oh right. Right.
MB: She was always very popular.
HB: Yeah.
MB: And as for going out on leave we used to get, I used to get heading out the gates it would be [laughs] —
HB: Yeah.
MB: She was so popular and I was. We used to go out at night. We never used to sign out. They used to say, ‘All right, girls you can come in.’ Us two.
HB: Yeah. Oh.
MB: Everybody else used to have to go around the other side.
HB: I see.
MB: Oh, she was a very popular girl she was.
HB: Yeah.
MB: But, yes —
HB: So, so you were, you were at Mepal. That would be what? 1944 through to ’45.
MB: Yeah.
HB: And you didn’t go, you didn’t go anywhere else other than Mepal until —
MB: As I say I came out then because I slipped my disc doing the parachutes.
HB: Right.
MB: And I get a pension actually.
HB: Oh right.
MB: And I was ill for about two years. Not ill ill but I —
HB: No.
MB: I couldn’t walk you know. I was in a terrible state really.
HB: Yeah.
MB: But —
HB: Well, put that to one side and we’ll go back a little bit to the happier times. So, what was the social life like?
MB: Well, it was good. I mean that was the, everybody was friendly and that. We used to go to the sergeant’s mess and as I say we used to go to the dances at the sergeant’s mess but you see we were on, I was on a New Zealand squadron and it was, I didn’t realise that, I think I read it somewhere a little while ago. That the New Zealand squadron was already here before the war. Whether they’d come like when Tony went to Iraq and Iran, one of those countries he went to and he went with the crews to, you know kind of a practicing for good,, you know fellas appearing, and when the New Zealanders belonged to or were part of us anyway weren’t they —
HB: Yeah.
MB: New Zealand and the Australians. And they apparently, they were already over here. They’d already set up a base here and —
HB: Right.
MB: But how they got up to Mepal I suppose they moved them there when they’d come.
HB: And that was 75 Squadron.
MB: Yeah. That’s right. Yeah.
HB: Yeah. The New Zealanders.
MB: But they were, they were nice. They were very nice. Nice, the new Zealanders were but we also had Australians and South Africans as well. So but, because one of the girls in our hut where I was they sort of all the trades were in huts you know. Were together in huts. I mean, the cook, the cook, cooks oh, it’s awful really but I mean the girls were probably ever so nice but the cooks were in completely different huts to what we were because, well they had to get up at the crack of dawn, didn’t they? You know.
HB: Yeah. Yeah.
MB: Get the breakfasts and that.
HB: Disturb everybody if they didn’t.
MB: The awful breakfast that we used to get but and so if you, and us girls used to have to be on, used to have to do duty you see in the office, in the what do you call it by the guard gate there and if you did, if you were on the night there you had to wake the [laughs] you had to wake the cooks up and you used to get a list like this of the huts in the dark with the flashlight. You daren’t make too much light, you know. And hut so and so. We had to find that to start with. It was quite a big camp and then, and then you had to go in and it was the third bed on the left. On the left. At 4.30. Right. 4.30. Off you’d go creeping, frightened to death of frightening anybody. Go one, two, three. ‘It’s 4.30.’ ‘What?’ ‘It’s 4.30. 4.30. You’ve got to get up at 4.30.’ ‘It’s not me. It’s her over there.’
HB: Oh no.
MB: By this time they’d got the whole hut up and they could swear those girls I can tell you.
HB: Yeah. Yeah. I can imagine.
MB: ‘It’s not me. It’s not me. It’s her over there. Why did you wake me up for?’ So, I used to, used to go and ask the others and I used to creep out and used to look. There was six there. Oh God, it’s the same hut.
HB: Oh no.
MB: I used to hate that. When we used to be on guard duty. That was the worst bit when and then when you used to go for breakfast you know we used to have to go down for, used to go down for breakfast.
HB: You said, now you said something earlier there. You said about the horrible breakfast. What did you used to have for your breakfast then?
MB: Constipated egg.
HB: Oh right.
MB: Dried egg.
HB: Yeah.
MB: You see and that was the other thing that when the aircrews were you know they had an idea when they were going off and they and they’d get, they’d get a meal you see. They always had egg and chips. Egg and chips. I mean, that was a luxury for us.
HB: Yeah.
MB: Egg and chips. So they got egg and chips when they got bacon or whatever they got but they’d go in the sergeant’s mess and they’d have all this lovely meal. I mean they were entitled to all this lovely meal but we girls, us girls in the parachute section when they used to go we used to say, ‘Why do you get egg and chips every time?’
HB: Yeah.
MB: ‘It’s not fair.’ ‘Well, we’re, we’re entitled to it.’ ‘No. You’re not. We never get fresh eggs.’
HB: Oh dear.
MB: Makes me laugh really. And then perhaps it would be scrubbed and, you know they were going later so they would probably get another meal before they went.
HB: Yeah.
MB: They’d probably get two lots. And we used to cycle six miles to Ely just to stand in a queue, now you won’t believe this down the street at this little café that used, where she got her eggs from I don’t know but she used to serve egg and chips and there’d be a great long queue of people and you’d probably stand there an hour because the place is only tiny and it would be full. You had to wait until they’d ate their egg and chips and then you’d move forward.
HB: Wow. Yeah. I can believe that.
MB: Just to get [laughs] get a fresh egg.
HB: Yeah. So, you used, you used to, you used to cycle to Ely.
MB: Yes.
HB: Did you used to go to Ely for dances and things like that?
MB: Yeah. No. No, because we used to have the dances on the camp. We had enough dances on camp. We were allowed in the, we didn’t go in the officers we were allowed in the sergeant’s mess, you see. We used to go to the sergeant’s mess to the dances. But we used to go to the pictures at Ely. We used to go to the pub and we used to go to the pub at Mepal and Sutton. The nearest village was Sutton and if, if a crew had finished a tour of ops which was thirty then they would, it would go around the camp such and such you know they’d only got their own markings. K for Kiddy or whatever they were. They’d finished their tour of ops and having a do at the pub at Sutton they’d say and off we’d go.
HB: Right.
MB: Someone would get on the piano you know and they used to drink. They used to have this, I didn’t do it but they used to have this, I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of it, they used to have pints of beer and they used to sing this song. And I can’t remember that now but it was all about a good old fella and so and so and every time they said something they all, they had to drink, you know.
HB: Right.
MB: I think they were about sloshed by the time they’d finished.
HB: Yeah.
MB: But that used to be good because they’d be finished then. They’d be going off the camp, you know. Another crew would be coming.
HB: Yeah.
MB: But when they, we, I used to have to go. We used to have to go, well I used to go down to the office, the main office to pick up the dead list in the mornings to see, you know it was to find out how many parachutes and dinghies we’d lost you see. So that used to be —
HB: Of course. Yeah.
MB: Used to get down and pick up the, pick up the list but it used to be when I think about it now I mean of all the computers and that well they used to have a kind of a machine with the photographs because they always had cameras on their planes and they’d, they’d spot it, you know. One would be on and I’d be waiting to sort, and I would be looking and somebody goes. ‘What are you doing? Leave that. You’re not looking at that.’ You know.
HB: Yeah. Of course, you don’t, you know people like us we don’t, we don’t relate that, you know. Obviously, planes had been shot down. Crews had been lost.
MB: Yeah.
HB: And as you say you need to know.
MB: Yeah, because we’d got to know because I mean and it’s, I mean it, I think people that made the Lancasters, the bombers during the war, they were fantastic because I mean as soon, you weren’t, again you’d got to keep the number up all the time and the thing is that as soon as you’d lost a plane or two or three planes overnight. Whichever. They’d have to be replaced. You’d get a new crew in.
HB: Yeah.
MB: You see. That was the thing because you’d got to keep the number up of the squadron. You’d got to keep the squadron number up all the time.
HB: Yeah.
MB: Apart from the sergeants wanting to be promoted.
HB: Yeah.
MB: I mean those that were left you had to get new crews in. When you think of all these young girls that were making all these Lancaster bombers. I mean you see pictures of them now hammering these great big bolts in. Well, now it’s all done by electricity, isn’t it?
HB: Yes. Yes. Yes.
MB: I mean, I think they, you know they should have had medals as well.
HB: So, you’ve got, you’ve got 75 Squadron and, and you know, you’re coming towards obviously 1945. You’re coming towards the end of the war.
MB: Well, that’s why we were so busy, I think. You know.
HB: Yeah.
MB: You see, that’s when the Lancasters first came in to themselves, didn’t they then?
HB: Yeah.
MB: It was the Lancasters that really helped to finish off the war, wasn’t they?
HB: Yeah. And you had other squadrons at Mepal then towards the end of the war.
MB: Well, not on our camp where I was.
HB: Did you not, did you not have the Rhodesia Squadron? 44. 44 Rhodesia Squadron because weren’t they going out to the Far East or something.
MB: I don’t know. Don’t know. Not while I was there. It was still —
HB: Right.
MB: But they were, they were, it was a mix. They weren’t all New Zealanders, you know. I mean they were, I say they were from South Africa, Australia and all over the place.
HB: Yeah.
MB: But in our hut we had the Met girls. They were very posh you know. They were really posh well you know I suppose but they were all college girls. Clever girls you know.
HB: Yeah.
MB: The Met sort of thing. I couldn’t have done it. But they were, they were smashing girls. They were all very well educated. I mean again everything is done on computers now, isn’t it?
HB: It is. Yes. Yeah.
MB: It was all the weather and that you know but they were ever so, they really were friendly. And I I used to go home. We used to go home at weekends and without a pass and they used to put the, they used to put all sorts of things. Your kit bag in your bed you know and make it look like you were asleep when the sergeant came.
HB: So, you went absent without leave were you?
MB: Yeah. Well, we had the Armstrong Siddeley men came to mend the planes. They didn’t mend all of them because I mean they all had the —
HB: Oh the civilian contractors.
MB: Yeah.
HB: Yes.
MB: They were in the next group to us and they came from Coventry. Well, they knew that I came this way so if they went home, they used to go home on a Friday so they used to say they’d give you a lift you see. So there used to give me a lift. So there used to be two of them. One used to give me a lift and the other one used to take me a weekend case so I didn’t have to go out with a weekend case.
HB: Right. Were you in uniform?
MB: Yeah. Of course, I was. Yeah. They used to, they used to drop me off at, before Market Harborough for some reason. And that was it. That’s where they dropped me and I used to stand there, you know, thumbing it.
HB: Did you?
MB: And I used to get I thumbed down to Leicester to my sister or if I was lucky I got further on to Oakham. That was on a Friday and I used to come back on a Sunday. I used to get the last train from, from Oakham to Stamford and Peterborough and then from Peterborough to Ely. I used to have to change and I mean they grumble now but Peterborough Station was down there and the station that was going to take me to Ely was right the other side of Peterborough town. So in the pitch dark you used to have to walk there to get this last train which was about ten, half past ten at night and I used to get on this train and get off at Ely. But now that’s what the other fella used to do. He used to take my bike and he used to put it in the pub. There was a pub right on the station at Ely.
HB: You got it all sorted, hadn’t you?
MB: And no, not me, not just me. I mean all the airmen used to do it. It used to be full of bikes and they never charged us. So you used to get off. You’d see, this was Sunday night. You’d get off about 11 o’clock at night and in the pitch dark. You’d have a little torch and you’d go around until you found your bike. You’d get your bike and you’d creep out of the station. Get on the road and there were no lights and it was all fenland, you know.
HB: Yeah.
MB: There were no trees or anything and you’d be cycling all along all on your own and then suddenly an airmen would catch you up and he’d say, ‘Hello. Are you alright?’ So, ‘Yes, thank you.’ ‘Where are you going?’ ‘Mepal.’ ‘Oh, I’m just going to Witchford. Do you, shall I ride at the side of you?’ ‘Oh, thank you very much.’ So they’d ride along you see chatting away and he’d say, ‘I turn off here for Witchford.’ Because as I say we were all groups. Off he’d go and then I’d be cycling along again and you couldn’t go in the main gate so you used to have to go around and creep through a hedge. And I just got in. Got in through the, there was a hedge between the WAAF site and one of the bays. And I just got in one night and I heard this woman say, ‘Airwoman,’ in the dark. ‘Yes. Yes.’ ‘Where are you going?’ ‘I’m just going in.’ ‘Where have you been?’ ‘Oh, I’ve just had a little ride around.’ [laughs] ‘Come and see me in the morning,’ she said. So of course, I went in.
HB: Was that one of the officers?
MB: Yeah. And I woke up. I woke my, I think I must have woke the hut up, you know and got, ‘Serves you right. You’ve been doing it for ages.’ [laughs] I got no sympathy.
HB: So, you got caught.
MB: And I got caught.
HB: Basically.
MB: I can’t remember what happened. I got away with it I think in the end.
HB: I don’t know. I don’t know.
MB: But we, where the WAAF site was we weren’t on the main camp. That’s another thing you see. They kept the women away from the men.
HB: Yeah. Yeah.
MB: I mean it’s, it’s so different now isn’t it? I mean we were only sort of outside but they were big these camps were, you know so we, there was a hedge there where our hut was and we used to creep through the hole on the hedge and we were on the perimeter track and we used to watch the planes take off at night. So, it was a fantastic sight really because all these Lancasters would be coming round and as they got to each bay they felt they’d got in to the queue.
HB: Followed on.
MB: Until they got to where they took off you know. And I mean when you see the, when we used to fetch take the dinghies and that I mean when you see the amount of armoury that went in you’d wondered how they ever got off the ground because they were big enough without all the bombs that went in.
HB: Yeah.
MB: And the girls, two of the girls in the armoury in our hut and I mean more female girls you’d never know but they used to ride on the bomb trains. They used to sit astride the bomb trains going around from one. They used to be ever so long you know.
HB: Yeah.
MB: Sort of, they went all the way around and that.
HB: Yeah.
MB: But its as I say you know nobody, nobody took any notice really. But one night there was one night we got bombed. One of the German planes had followed our planes in.
HB: Right. Yeah.
MB: And started firing and I think they got rid of them in the end. But then one night I was fast asleep and everybody was screaming my name. ‘Wake up. Wake up.’ So, I said, and they kept saying, ‘Wake up. Wake up.’ And there was this terrific bang and I opened my eyes and being a good catholic I thought I was dead and I’d gone to hell. Now —
HB: Right. Right. Yeah.
MB: I really thought I was on my way to hell. It was everywhere in this camp, in the hut was bright red and they, they, it was before the invasion really. They they’d taken, it got there was going to be a raid, there wasn’t going to be a raid. There was going to be a raid. They kept on and on and they kept taking the bombs off, putting them back, feeding the what do you call it’s with their egg and chips.
HB: Yeah.
MB: And that. And then this one particular night they decided that they weren’t going to take the bombs off so they left this time the bomb on and it was the plane in the bay. I say it was just a matter of over there and through the, through the hedge and this one, the time itwent off and we went over to see the next day and it was just a hole in the ground and nothing left of the plane or anything else. There was a wonder there was anything left of us.
HB: So, that just, the bomb just went off.
MB: The bomb on it
HB: It wasn’t a raid or anything.
MB: The timed bomb went off on the plane and it just blew the plane to pieces. But the funny part of it was which it was funny I mean the fact we all got when we realised what had happened you know eventually. Nobody dare move to start with but we all got outside in our striped pyjamas you know shivering like but not one person came to see if the WAAFs were alright.
HB: Right. Oh, I bet that didn’t go down well.
MB: No [laughs] Pitch dark, freezing cold, in your pyjamas. Everywhere was red.
HB: Right. Yeah.
MB: Yeah. They never came to say, ‘Are the WAAFs alright?’ Perhaps —
HB: So did you, so actually so Mepal got attacked then. It was actually attacked by the Germans. The airfield.
MB: No. Only that once.
HB: Oh, just the once.
MB: This one fighter, German fighter. When the raid was on his way, I think he was on his way back from bombing, you know. Coming over here and he got caught up with ours coming back. I think that’s what they said.
HB: Right.
MB: So he thought he’d make himself followed them in and get himself a bit of glory but what happened I don’t know.
HB: Right. Yeah.
MB: But, but then we had an American got bombed up when they landed on our camp so great excitement. ‘It’s a Flying Fortress. Goy a Flying Fortress got bombed up last night.’ The crews have landed here. So we all went to see it. This Flying Fortress. A lot of us anyway. And the airmen were coming out. So we were counting them. They’d got, was it eight or nine. I said to one of them, I said ‘How many, how many crew have you got in your van?’ ‘Nine. We only have seven in our Lancasters.’
HB: Yeah.
MB: And right next to them they had their own feeding waggon. They didn’t eat our horrible food. Never once did they come in. And they used to have all these hot dogs and all this lovely food.
HB: Yeah.
MB: Being fried. And then the crew because obviously the crew went away and the mechanics came to repair the plane and they had this. It was right next them, this waggon that they were serving all this food to them [laughs] They never gave us any of it.
HB: That would be a popular job that would. Yeah. So so you got to you got to 1945 and you’ve got to around about May, June, July time and war’s coming to an end and finishing. So, what did you, what were your feelings then?
MB: Well, I came home at Christmas. That’s what I did I, as I say it was through the dinghies that I had my, I got this bad back but I came home at Christmas. Yeah. Because Pete and [Bar?] I brought them some toys because they, some of the mechanic ground crew used to make, make toys. They made lovely toys. I’ve got some pictures of Pete with one horse and cart thing they used to make and I came home with them because I went to Oakham first and then came back. Came around to Leicester because my sister had got all the Christmas dos to do, you know and I thought I’ll help her. I’d only come on leave but I could hardly walk and then I got said I couldn’t go back and that was it. I I went on the sick and then I had my, I ended up going to one of them, I can’t think where that was. Went to a big RAF hospital to start with and, and then they put me on sick leave again and then I ended up at the Royal here. Mr Morrissey. He was a wonderful orthopaedic surgeon at Leicester and he sent me to Oxford. To the Radcliffe Hospital there. That was the leading hospital for orthopaedics and that was when they decided that I’d got this. I’d slipped this disc. You know. I’d pulled a disc out. Of course, it comes out as a big nerve that it sits on but then that nerve split so that was split all the way in.
HB: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.
MB: You know, this leg. It’s funny now now I’ve got an ulcer on it but it was, I couldn’t walk. I couldn’t feel it, you know. They were sticking needles in and all sorts of things.
HB: So that would have been what? Christmas 1945?
MB: Yeah.
HB: Right. So, what happened? What happened in camp when, when you know they said, ‘Right. That’s it. The war’s over.’
MB: I don’t know because I wasn’t there was I?
HB: You weren’t there.
MB: I was still at home.
HB: Right. Right.
MB: It, so I don’t know. It was quite a, when I when I did go on leave I went back to say, and I went back in the were there [unclear] and went back in a civilian coat and to say that I was, you know I was on this permanent sick. They made such a fuss of me because I was in, in civilian clothes. You know, they hadn’t seen a girl in civilian clothes for years. I bought these clothes from Adley’s shop was in those days. My mum went with me, bought this tweed coat. It were very posh that was.
HB: Right.
MB: I thought it was. But as I say I don’t know. I don’t know what happened on the, on the camp but I think eventually where, next to our bay there was another bay that never had its doors open. But one day I was outside doing something and the doors were open and so being nosy I went, I said to one of the airmen that was there. I said, ‘What’s in this? They never open the doors at this. I’ve never seen anybody in here.’ ‘Oh, you can’t see what this is,’ he said and it was all those strips of silver that they, they [pause] for the radar wasn’t it?
HB: Window.
MB: Yeah. The Windows, yeah.
HB: Yeah.
MB: That’s where they kept it. Next door. I didn’t realise that.
HB: Oh right.
MB: I never realised that. It was all full but they used to drop them to —
HB: Yeah.
MB: Do something to the radar according to a woman I worked with after the war. She, she was in the WAAF and she was on the radar section and she went blind and it was through the job that caused her eyes to, she lost her eyesight.
HB: Oh dear.
MB: Not during the war. It was after the war.
HB: Yeah.
MB: Her eyes got so bad but that’s what they put it down to.
HB: Yeah. So, we’ve got to, we’ve got to what? 1946.
MB: I think so. I don’t know. Don’t ask me.
HB: Around about 1946 and you’ve been invalided out. You’re coming out.
MB: Well, that was ages before when I was invalided out. I mean —
HB: Yeah. So you, so obviously all your kit had to go back. What did you do? Did you —
MB: No. Yeah. Well, that’s why I went back eventually. To take my kit back. What did I do then? I stayed at my sister’s until Dave,‘til their dad came back and then I went to, eventually when I could walk I was still lame but I went to the Post Office to train as a telephonist. They were advertising for ex-Service girls and because they were on war work. The telephonists were, you know. They couldn’t leave but when, that was funny it was the other day they was on about that. Yesterday. That even then they were civil servants. When you got married at the GPO you had to leave because you might one day have a baby.
HB: Yeah.
MB: And so you know if you got engaged well you know it was pretty short when you got married. You’d have to leave the job and so of course all the girls during the war, or a lot of them had got married to Forces and things like that and so their husbands were coming back and I suppose they wanted to set up home.
HB: So where did you do your training then, Muriel?
MB: Free Lane.
HB: Oh, yeah. Yeah.
MB: You remember Free Lane.
HB: Yeah. Yeah. The big, the big exchange. Yeah.
MB: Yeah, and yeah, we did. That’s where I was but we did our training on London Road. They had, down London Road they had like big offices there and that, that’s all gone now. we did a lot —
HB: Yeah.
MB: Of training down there. They had a big training section and so we did all the writing down there and then we used to come up on to the Exchange and used to sit behind the telephonist, you know and listen in and then they’d let you up on the board and somebody would be used to be sitting at the side you know in case you made a mistake and oh it was ever so strict that was and there was it was quite nice because there were all these girls, ex, I had some good friends. I had a girl, well one girl she’d been in the Army and she’d been down Bournemouth way and she was all involved in the invasion.
HB: Right.
MB: She was a telephonist on that.
HB: Yeah.
MB: And she was saying while before the invasion she said all along the roads there was all the Army and the Americans all camped, you know. Sort of in fields and that all waiting to go abroad you know.
HB: Yeah.
MB: All the ships were all waiting and that.
HB: Yeah. Yeah.
MB: And another one, another friend of mine she, she was in the Wrens. She was in the Wrens. She was in the sea, at the sea and I was, there was me from the Air Force and. There was crowds of us and it was good really.
HB: Yeah.
MB: It was funny I was saying the other day you didn’t, you didn’t talk about your experiences like they say men don’t talk about it but my dad never talked about the First World War although you know he was out there all that time but I suppose this sort of thing, you sort of want to forget really.
HB: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.
MB: But it —
HB: So just go back a bit. D-Day. June’44. What, how did you get the message that they’d actually landed or did you know it was going to happen?
MB: Well, I don’t know. Like everybody else I suppose. I don’t know. I know [pause] I was at my sisters I know because I know mum and dad, my dad went out for. I remember my dad going out for a drink at Oakham and my mother’s next door neighbour said, ‘Has Mr Blake gone out for a drink?’ So mum said, ‘Yes. It’s the usual thing. Left the women at home.’ So he said, ‘Come on then.’ So they went down the George which is the, was a good hotel down there and they walked in and my dad was there and he nearly fell on the floor when he saw my mother walking in, you know. It wasn’t the sort of thing ladies did in those days on their own.
HB: Yeah. I like it.
MB: But then they were, I can’t remember really. I can remember the, we had a big party and was Dave, Dave was born then and Dave was only a baby. That was another one of his brothers.
HB: Yeah.
MB: But show them the picture, Peter.
Other: Which one?
MB: You and Dave, you and Tony but we used to have a neighbourhood, we used to have neighbourhood league teams you know.
HB: Yeah.
MB: In the streets.
HB: Yeah.
MB: They all used to look after each other. They were good. We used to do all their apart from, well my sister did. She used to do weddings.
HB: Yeah.
MB: She used to do no end of weddings. She used to make beautiful wedding cakes. Her brother in law did because he was a chef because but then of course he came home so it was better but yeah, it suited them doing the catering for the weddings.
HB: [It would be] yeah.
MB: You see, it was good to get a wedding to get all the, you know nice food sort of thing.
HB: Yeah. Yeah. So, I mean, I mean it’s a really really impertinent question to ask a lady but, so you never married.
MB: No.
HB: But did you have any near misses?
MB: [laughs] I’m not talking about them.
HB: You have then, right
MB: I laugh at that little book. It says something about, “I don’t know where Ron is tonight. I think he’s gone off me.” I said, who the devil Ron was I’ve no idea.
HB: That’s your little diary.
MB: That was at Hereford.
HB: Yeah. That was your little diary. Yeah. Yeah. So, right. Well, we seem to have come to a sort of a bit of a natural conclusion Muriel. When you, when you look back at your time in the WAAF what what do you think your best memory is of it?
MB: Well, I don’t know. The companionship. I mean my one regret is I mean I would have gone back if it hadn’t have been that I was no use to them because I just couldn’t.
HB: Yeah.
MB: I couldn’t. You know, I was, I was absolutely lame. I was in terrible agony. Firstly, they were going to operate and my niece who lives in South Africa she has had the operation. I think it’s a family trait and she can’t walk now.
HB: No.
MB: At Oxford they said that no way. They said, ‘She’s much too young to have a, have the operation.’ Have you know the disc put back. What they did they put me in plaster from here to here. Pulled me up on like, on ropes so that just my toes were on the ground and slapped all this plaster of Paris around me.
HB: Yeah.
MB: I was in that for months with just my head sticking out.
HB: Right.
MB: And my legs sticking out and that actually cured me and I know when I went again a few years later and I went back in to them again and it cured it again but that’s gone.
HB: Yeah.
MB: They don’t do that.
HB: No.
MB: They do this operation and my niece has had a steel rung cut up in to her spine and she’s in such agony now and they can’t even x-ray her because of this steel rod —
HB: Yeah.
MB: That she’s got in. So the old ways were [pause] better.
HB: Yeah. So obviously you’ve had this fantastic companionship and what not. What, what do you think was probably your worst memory? What was —
MB: The food.
HB: The food. Yeah.
MB: Yeah.
HB: Yeah. That’s a bit of a theme.
MB: Yeah. I suppose being away from home. I mean, you know although you had, I suppose it was so stark. I mean the hooks were cold and you had these old blankets and and we weren’t I mean when we got up in the morning everything had to be folded up you know and put in a heap on top and we were in the middle of fields and your windows were open and when you went back at night you used to pick your pillow up and it would be full of black beetles. You used to have to knock all them off. You know.
HB: Yeah. Yeah.
MB: And the toilets and the bath things you know I mean they were so stark.
HB: Yeah.
MB: There was no comfort whatsoever. I mean it’s the, it’s the thought. You made the best of it, the fun of it and they used to have these little round fires you know. Little stoves. I mean that was all that kept you. Kept you warm. And I remember at Hereford at Credenhill a friend of mine we decided, we thought I mean people you were innocent in those days. I don’t care what anybody says. I mean even though you were in the Forces. We decided that if we put two beds together and then we’d have a double layer of all these blankets and we’d be really warm. She’d been in her bed, I’d be in my bed but we’d have all these. So we carefully did it during the during the day one day. We put the beds together and put all these blankets in and we were just about to get in and suddenly this, there used to be a sergeant at the end. She had a little room at the end of the huts and they were always a bit [unclear] so she came out, ‘Airwomen, what do you think you’re doing?’ ‘Oh, we thought it would be a good idea because we’re so cold that we could share the blankets.’ ‘Get those beds put apart,’ she said. Well, I’d no idea. I’d never heard of homosexuals or, or whatever they called women. It really never entered my head [laughs].
HB: Oh dear.
MB: And I don’t think the rest of the girls had. They just laughed because they thought we’d gone to so much trouble. And then I met another girl at another camp and she was the hairdresser. She was doing my hair and she was moaning and groaning about a friend who’d been posted. Well, you never got posted, you always got posted on your own and I mean you always had to pick up your stuff and go from one end of the country to the other and make your own way and find out, you know how you were doing it. And they, she kept on about her friend who had gone to Oxford and Oxford way and she so missed her and she was going to like, meet her halfway and if she’d got a day’s leave. And I thought what’s she making such a fuss about, you know, because you moved and you, you made new friends. Everybody immediately made friends, you know.
HB: Yeah.
MB: You weren’t isolated unless you were pretty horrible and, and that never failed. And then these two girls that worked in the armoury now they, they were ever such nice girls and they, they were very good friends but the sergeant she was a real mannish, very good looking blonde but she was like that apparently. She took one of these girls it was just like well I can’t explain what it was like. I couldn’t believe it and I still didn’t know what was going on [laughs]
HB: Yeah. Yeah.
MB: I mean you can’t believe in your early twenties you’d no idea what was going on.
HB: No. No. That’s very true.
MB: Now they’re flaunting it in front of you all the time.
HB: Yeah.
MB: But then when I, when I was at the Exchange the police wanted, the police advertised because they wanted some, they were going to have girls in their switchboards. So we all applied because we were all, you see there was, a lot of girls it was a big place Free Lane was, you know, it went all around the room, and of course we all worked shifts and but we always had you were on the board and then behind you was a supervisor for so many girls. Behind her was a Class 1, and then behind her was Miss Huddlestone who was in charge and she sat there in the middle of the room watching everything. She never missed a thing. And if you put your head like that to talk to the girl next to you, a hand would come out, take up a peg and plug it, and of course there were lights everywhere. Plug it in. You weren’t allowed to talk to anybody and if your wanted to go to the toilet you had to put your hand up and if there was anybody else had gone you didn’t go. You had to wait. It was ever so regimental. It had been like that since before the war, you see.
HB: Yeah.
MB: And I think they didn’t, they’d never met girls from the Forces before.
HB: Right. Yeah. So you didn’t get a job with the police then.
MB: Well, there was seventy tow when I went for the, Mr Cole it was when I went to the interview he said to me, ‘You talk to me,’ he said, ‘He says Now, I’m fed up.’ He says, ‘Do you know,’ he says, ‘I’ve had seventy two interviews from the girls from the Exchange.’ He said, ‘What’s the matter with the Exchange?’ So, I said, ‘Oh, I don’t know,’ I said, I said, ‘Most, a lot of them are ex-forces now.’ I said, ‘They’ll, you know they’ve got to get settled down I think.’ ‘Hmmph,’ he said. Anyway, the next thing you know I’ve got a notice to say to go for a second interview and there were six of us out of the seventy two and I was one of the six. And they, the four, they wanted four and then the four that got it had all been telephonists in the Forces. They’d all, and I’d not done PBX telephony.
HB: Yeah. Yeah.
MB: I’d done the GPO ones and that was, but I hadn’t done the private work and she said they didn’t think that we were experts and me and another girl there was. So we went back the next morning and she said, ‘No. She hasn’t got it.’ And I hadn’t got it. And within a week we had a letter from the Fire Service to say that they’d got two vacancies in their control room and we’d both got the job if we wanted it. We’d been recommended by Mr Cole.
HB: Wow. Yeah.
MB: So we were back in uniform then.
HB: Oh, right. Yeah. Of course, you would be. Yeah.
MB: Back in to the [unclear] uniform and stayed there until they brought the men back. Then of course —
HB: Yeah.
MB: Eventually they brought the men back. There used to be eight girls and then it got down to there was two of us eventually because the other girls spread out you know eventually but yes it was a good job that was. I cried my eyes out when I had to leave there.
HB: Oh, right.
MB: I had to leave because the men were coming back, you know.
HB: Yeah.
MB: Eventually. But —
HB: Well, I’ll tell you what Muriel you’ve got a good memory.
MB: Have I?
HB: Yes, you have. You have. Yeah.
MB: I’ve got a good tongue as well.
HB: It’s a shame we skated over a couple of bits I think but never mind. [laughs] We’ll, we’ll not go back to that.
MB: Oh right.
HB: Muriel can I thank you ever so much for that. It’s been really interesting. It’s a whole different aspect to what, you know to the normal sort of interviews you get and, and I really have enjoyed it. It’s been really good.
MB: Personal life.
HB: Yeah. So, if I thank you for that, Muriel.
MB: I’ve got a New Zealand button there.
HB: Sorry?
MB: I’ve got a New Zealand button there.
HB: Oh yeah.
MB: I cut it off his uniform. He wouldn’t give me his badge, cap badge so —
HB: Oh right. Ok. Well, we’ll draw a veil over that as well then. We’ve got stolen property, absent without leave.
MB: He said he wanted to take it back to New Zealand and I said, ‘Well, I want one.’ But, anyway he gave me a button in the end. He cut a button off his shirt.
HB: We’ll just have to check up on the regulations about whether or not you’re still wanted for being absent without leave. I’m going to stop the interview now. It’s, what time is it? I can’t see the time.
MB: No. No.
HB: Quarter past twelve.
MB: Is it? I don’t know. None of my clocks, oh it is. Yeah.
HB: Yeah. Quarter past two so I’m going to terminate the interview and thank you very much Muriel.

Citation

Harry Bartlett, “Interview with Muriel Blake,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed September 24, 2022, https://ibccdigitalarchive.lincoln.ac.uk/omeka/collections/document/9286.

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