Interview with Vera Chard


Interview with Vera Chard


Vera was born in the Myrtha Tydfil area of Wales. Vera went to the grammar school at Chepstow before getting work in the cashier’s office at the Royal Navy Propellant Factory. After joining the Women's Auxilliary Air Force, Vera was posted to various locations until she volunteered to go to Singapore when the Malayan campaign was still in force. Vera and her colleagues stayed in accommodation previously used by the prisoners. She then went to the Cameron Highlands and then on the train to Kuala Lumpur. She was in Singapore for 13 months and she remembers the Britannia being in the harbour for the Queen’s honeymoon in 1947. They had quite a social life and she enjoyed dancing. On her return from Singapore Vera became a corporal pay clerk, then got to work with the Ministry of Health in London. She left the job when she married Douglas whom she had met at an RAF Association dance. Her husband, Douglas, had been in Bomber Command as a rear gunner. He started on Wellingtons and then Halifax aircraft. He did a total of 41 operations and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Medal. When the war ended Douglas was posted to India as equipment assistant. After leaving he found work near Southampton. Vera occasionally attended reunions but Douglas did not.




Temporal Coverage





00:24:28 audio recording


IBCC Digital Archive


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AChardV160515, PChardV1601


HH: Ok. So, it’s Sunday the 15th of May 2016 and I am sitting chatting to Vera Chard. My name is Heather Hughes for the International Bomber Command Centre and we’re in Richard and Jane [Leadham’s?] home in Holbury, Southampton. Vera, thank you very much for agreeing to talk to us today. I wonder if we could begin by you just telling us a little bit about your early life before you joined the WAAF? And then, how you came to be in the WAAFs.
VC: I see. Yes. Well, actually I was, I was born in the valleys of Wales. My parents came from Birmingham but my father was on the Great Western Railway for forty three years. And he got sent to Wales and having gone to Wales he couldn’t get out. And every time he got promotion he moved from one place to another. So, I was born in the Valleys. Merthyr Tydfil area. After that we moved to near Newport. After which we moved to Severn Tunnel Junction and I went to school at Chepstow. That was the Grammar School. I got transferred there from the Grammar School at Risca. We [pause] we actually, part of the time only went to school half a day because we had evacuees from Dover. I got my school certificate and there was a Royal Naval propellant factory at Caerwent, near Chepstow which came under the Admiralty and I went there in the cashier’s office to work. And this was in the wartime and then we were controlled and even though I was, when I became eighteen I couldn’t join the services because we were controlled anyway. And then the war ended and in ’45 ’46 they brought the exam back for the Civil Service which I did pass but they said that I, when I became — I was joining the Women’s Air Force. I didn’t join the WRNS like my friends because my surname was Wren. I went in the WAAF. They said if there was a vacancy when I became available for civilian employment that they would take me on. And so I went in the WAAF as a pay clerk. Did my training at Wilmslow like everybody else. Got posted to Gloucester, Barnwood and Innsworth and then I [pause] we had very very bad winter there and so when they asked for volunteers to go to Changi, Singapore I volunteered. The Malaya campaign was going on. There was bandit trouble. But anyway I went there and I I went to base accounts in Changi which in some ways was quite pleasant. The heat.
HH: Had all the prisoners left by that stage?
VC: Oh yes. Yes. But we were in accommodation that they’d been in in the blocks and whereas there were only, it was divided in to four, the floor. And there were about four of us in each quarter they say that when the prisoners were there there were about a hundred on the floor. And of course there was only one row of toilets and things anyway. So, that would have been quite different. It was easy to feel, you know that they’d been there. And anyway, as I say in some ways it was quite pleasant. The heat. It was quite hot. Everybody else seemed to get prickly heat but I didn’t. But I got it when I came home. Around about Christmas time. Sitting by the fire I got the prickly heat. And then I, I did learn to swim out there. A fellow did teach me to swim. That was as a result of a bet between two fellows. Myself and another girl were taught to swim and so I was one.
HH: Was that in a swimming pool?
VC: Pardon?
HH: Was, did you learn in a swimming pool?
VC: Yes. It was called a [unclear]. Not in the ocean. In a [unclear] And a lot of people spent a lot of time in there. And then I went — went on leave up to the Cameron Highlands. And we went on the train to Kuala Lumpur and then we had to go in a garrey around the, around and around and around to get up to the Cameron Highlands. Which was mainly golf up there but I wasn’t interested in that. There was a centre, a Women’s Centre and the, even ATS went there from another station as well as us. And then when I came, was due to come home the — they wouldn’t let me come because they didn’t have armed guard to go on the train. And there was no mobile phones in those days. I couldn’t get in touch with my unit. I was the only one from my unit and I went missing for three days. And eventually I got back and they were pleased to see me. And then, as I say that’s that.
HH: So how long were you in Singapore, Vera?
VC: Thirteen months.
HH: Thirteen months.
VC: Yes. Funnily enough, when we arrived in Singapore and that was in [pause] coming up to Christmas ’47 there was a boat in the harbour. And that was the Queen on her honeymoon [laughs] Yes. Yeah. Yeah. But you know we had quite a social life. We got garreys sent for us to other stations for dances and things and I’ve always been in to dancing.
HH: What kind of dancing?
VC: Oh ballroom. Latin. Everything. Yes. My daughter is a dancer. She’s got a dancing school in Tampa, Florida. And all these on Strictly — she grew up dancing against Anton and Ian Waite and Brendan and all those. So, I’ve met most of them.
HH: Wonderful.
VC: Yeah. Up at, you know up at Blackpool and things like that. They danced up every year. They even came over from America. And now they, they judge and all sorts. Yes. So —
HH: So, what happened when you came back from the, from Singapore?
VC: When I came back from Singapore I still had three months. I still had a few months to do. About five months. And we all came back to the PDC at RAF Halton. And they wanted, they wanted someone in my rank and trade, a corporal pay clerk there. And so they kept me there which was quite handy because I could nip up and down to London and different things like that. And I — and then after that I came out of the, when I came out of the WAAF in the May I took up the opportunity of the Civil Service that I’d sat for before and I went to work at the Ministry of Health in London. And that was about it really.
HH: And how did you come to be in Southampton?
VC: Ah. Well, I stayed there for a while but then eventually I went out on hospital order and came to Southampton and we used to travel around. Stay overnight at, stayed four nights at Dorchester, four nights at the Isle of Wight and at [unclear] the same and then we used to have to do Bournemouth and Portsmouth daily for the week. But — and I left there when I got married because I couldn’t do the staying away. Later I went back in the Civil Service.
HH: But it was in, while you were in Southampton that you met your husband?
VC: Yes. Yes.
HH: Tell me how that happened.
VC: Well, I went to the RAF Association and he was there and that was it [laughs] He was opposite and I was sitting with some other people which I’d only just met anyway. And one, one was a policeman and he had to go away. There was, they had to do something down the theatre and he had to go away. And I think he would have probably taken me home but anyway I met Doug. He came up to me and asked me to dance and then I was going out of the door with him when this other fellow came back. And as I say that’s how I met him.
HH: Was he a dancer as well?
VC: Well, he could get around. Yeah. Yeah. And he did. We did go to, to him — we did go on a dancing holiday for him to learn to dance but, and then when we came back a fellow he worked with said to him oh that he went to a place for dancing near there. And I said, ‘Well, why don’t we go?’ And he said, ‘Oh, do you think I’m going to make a fool of myself up against people I know?’ [laughs] So, we didn’t go. But I was in the dancing world because I took my daughter all over the country and it was quite easy because I’d been, I’d lived in London. I’d been to the Hammersmith Palais and the Streatham Locarno and the Royal at Tottenham and I knew all the places and I, so it was quite easy to take her around. You know. I knew them from when I was up there. So, that’s it.
HH: Now —
VC: And my husband was on shifts as well so, you know when he was on two to ten and nights he couldn’t really go around. But we did do some social dancing but —
HH: Now, your husband Douglas Chard had been in Bomber Command.
VC: Yes.
HH: Hadn’t he?
VC: Yeah.
HH: So, he must have related some stories to you about his time in Bomber Command and you’ve subsequently — you know, you know quite a lot about his service in Bomber Command.
VC: Yes.
HH: So, tell me about that.
VC: Well, I don’t know a terrible lot but I do know that he flew with the same crew. He started, he started off on Wellingtons. And later he flew on Halifaxes. He was in the same crew and I know that after they’d done quite a few operations they tried to put him with another crew on a mission because the fellow reported sick. And in actual fact he wasn’t happy about the way they were flying and so he actually refused to fly. And he was going to be on a court martial. And he’d done a lot of operations but they said it was a lack of moral fibre and, but luckily the fellow was pronounced fit to fly. And the, he didn’t come back. The plane didn’t come back. So, I wouldn’t have met him in actual fact. That’s, but that story and all of them are in here. He was —
HH: What position was he? What was he on the aircraft? Which, which, what position in the crew?
VC: Well, he was the rear gunner.
HH: Rear gunner.
VC: Yeah. Yes. He was the rear gunner. And he did the, he did the full thirty ops and that is why he got the DFM. But they sent him to another station and I, I think it was Morton in the Marsh on training. And he didn’t get on with the person in charge and he volunteered to go back on ops. And he did another eleven. And I think it was 78 Squadron. It was 78. And he did another eleven ops. And I think, from what he said that he only flew once a month because the CO had to fly once a month and he actually wanted an experienced crew. But he did, did the other eleven. And when the war ended they sent him out to India after all this cold. And so they re-mustered them and he was re-mustered. They kept the rank for so long but they re-mustered him as an equipment assistant and that is the reason they sent him to India. And it was so hot was why he came out of the RAF because otherwise he might have stayed in. He reached the rank of WO1. As I say, they did, they did keep the rank for so long and that, that was it. And then he came out. Ironically, I did part of my training at Kirkham near Blackpool and ironically he was near there coming out as I was doing my training. But I didn’t meet him. But he was coming out and it was near Kirkham. I forget the name of the thing. So —
HH: And what did he do when he came out of the RAF?
VC: He went — well the only thing he was trained for really was storekeeping and he went to a place near Southampton for Vosper Thorneycroft’s. And it was a smaller, a place with smaller craft than they had at Woolston. It was at Northam. And he stayed there for a while and then later on they started the power station at, down at Fawley near Southampton, near where I live now and he managed to get a job there. And that is how we moved to Holbury near Southampton. And we lived there for forty seven years actually. I’ve only recently, in the last eighteen months moved. But yes. So, you know we did manage to get a job.
HH: And [pause] did he keep in touch with his fellow squadron veterans? Did he go to reunions?
VC: No.
HH: How did he, how did he feel about the way in which Bomber Command was remembered after the war?
VC: Well, I know that he tried very, very hard to find one fellow who came from Liverpool. And it’s, it’s only since he’s gone that I found out that he’d died actually. Somewhere in the things I’ve kept it does tell you what happened to them. I think one went back to another country and all that. But he was looking for this one particular. Jimmy Beck his name was. But, as I say I found out that he’d died anyway. After Doug had died.
HH: What was his name?
VC: Jimmy Beck he used to call him.
HH: Ok. And, and did, so did he attend reunions and things?
VC: Well, not really. Not really. I do. But you see the crew’s list there and Kennedy was the pilot. And they only list the pilot from the book. And [pause] yeah Jimmy Beck.
HH: So, just for the tape this is a book that Vera’s looking in which is called, “The East Moor Experience,” by Brian Shields.
VC: Yes. And there is another smaller one. It doesn’t, it hasn’t got so much in it, “Life of an Airfield.”
HH: Is that also about East Moor?
VC: Oh yes. I’ll tell you what. I’ve got to put my glasses on.
[recording paused]
HH: We just had a pause for Vera to look at her glasses. Vera, in what year did your husband, Douglas die? When? When did he —
VC: It was New Year’s Eve between ’97 and ’98. So, they call it ’98 but I call it ’97. Yes. New Year’s Eve it was. Yeah. And he had emphysema and we had oxygen in the house. And it was due to smoking but you can understand that.
HH: Had he smoked ever since the war?
VC: Yes. Yeah. And I kept putting leaflets in front of him but he took no notice. But anyway, I didn’t say anything about it but he took no notice.
HH: And you wrote. In the letter that you wrote me you said that the church — what had happened? Didn’t want to know anything after he had, after he had passed on.
VC: No. Not the church. The —
HH: Oh, was it the Association?
VC: The Association. Yeah.
HH: Yes.
VC: Yeah. I mean I’m still paying but I hardly exist if you know what I mean. You know. It’s, you see it started off in Southampton and that’s easy to get to and everything.
HH: Right.
VC: But now they meet for one hour in a pub outside Southampton. Out West End. And it’s, as I say I’ve got two buses to get there and it’s 11 o’clock in the morning. And I’ve either got to go on a bus and get there too soon or I’ve got to, I get there after it’s started. But I have been the odd times lately but as I say they don’t really want to know. But it started in Southampton and then it moved to another pub and I used to go there but no, they don’t want to know. But I think, you see the main thing of it is because people are getting older and you see now it’s more or less run by a lady. And I mean they’re wives. They’re not. They haven’t even been in. Do you know what I mean? Not even been in the WAAF. But I still stay in because I never know if I might move somewhere else where there is one. This has happened to everything. I mean I belonged to the British Legion Women’s Section and that folded up. But I still pay in to that because when I’m away if I want to go in the British Legion I can. And the same — that’s why I stay in the RAF Association. Because like I’m going next Friday to, for a weekend to Weymouth. Well, in Weymouth they’ve got an RAF Association and I can just pop in. That’s all. And on the odd occasion I’ve been to Eastbourne just for the day and they’ve got one there, you know. And other than that, I mean I’ve had nothing. All those years, you know. So, in some ways you know the way they’re always talking about you know to be fit for heroes, and heroes and all that. Well, I think my husband was a hero but what did they ever do for him?
HH: Indeed. Vera, thank you very much for talking to me.
VC: That’s alright.
HH: This morning.



Heather Hughes, “Interview with Vera Chard,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed January 29, 2023,

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