Interview with Vera Clachers


Interview with Vera Clachers


Vera Clachers volunteered for the WAAF for the experience and the adventure. She was selected for training as an electrician and was trained at RAF Melksham. She was posted to RAF North Coates. At first she was given the poorest jobs but then began doing the daily inspections on aircraft. When she was off duty she enjoyed embroidery and knitting. After the war she was posted to Germany where she found the local population to be suspicious of the RAF and they went around in pairs. Vera met her future husband in Germany and after demob they returned to the UK.








00:27:47 audio recording


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AClachersV180328, PClachersV1802


JS: Right. This interview is being conducted for the International Bomber Command Centre. The interviewer is Jim Sheach. The Interviewee is Mrs Vera Clachers. The interview is taking place at Mrs Clacher’s home in Edinburgh on the 21st of March 2018. Mrs Clacher’s daughter Lilian is also present. Vera, thanks very much for agreeing to be interviewed today. Would you like to tell me a little about your life before the war?
VC: Well, going back my father died when I was fourteen, and there was five of us. My elder brother was in, went in to the Army. My second brother went in to the Air Force. And after a while I thought why not? I’m going in the Air Force. So that left mother with two. My sister Noreen and my brother Derek which were quite young and to start off with I doubted but then I thought it’s an experience and I would have had to go into munitions so I went in the Air Force for the experience was good. And then I got notice to go to, I can’t remember whether it was Morecambe or Blackpool to do my training. Then I did a month, I think a month’s training. In that wee while there was a famous picture on, “Gone with the Wind.” So, I managed to see the picture. Then from there I was sent to Melksham because they asked you different trades and they gave me electrician. So, I was sent to Melksham and I was there for nearly a year. I did training, a lot of training, a lot of theory and I was very lucky. I passed out as LACW. Not ACW. And from there I can’t remember exactly what station but I think it was North Coates which, when I first arrived they took me to the section. Two or three young men were there so I sat down and introduced myself and they introduced themselves. Then one of them said, ‘Well, Vera, we’d better show you the golden nugget.’ So, Vera innocently said, ‘I didn’t know there was one.’ But it turned out as you know what it was. It was, it was a great joke.
Other: [unclear]
VC: And from then on first of all they treated me as a woman because I was the only woman there and I wouldn’t say a woman, I’d say a young girl. Played jokes on me, gave me the poorest jobs and eventually I got to do the proper job which was daily DIs, inspecting the electrical works. And I was there for quite a while and, I don’t know how long, I really can’t remember how long I was there and then I was moved on. But I don’t, I can’t remember the stations.
JS: That’s ok.
VC: There I met a young man which was forbidden. He was an officer. We had great fun sneaking out. Then I was introduced, taken to his home, introduced to his father which looked down his nose at me. We spent quite a while in the house but he never appeared again, the father. Then the courtship went on. Took me flying which was an experience. Then eventually he disappeared, no explanation and that was the end of the romance. But I took him home too. Had great expectations but it fizzled out. I continued with my life.
Other: [Got drafted, didn’t you?]
VC: Which was just general duties. Anything that was going. Then I was approached if I would like to play, did I know what the game Shinty was? So, I said yes. So I was put on to the team. Went to play. Was playing, and I was bullying this chap. After it finished one of the men came up to me. He said, ‘Do you know who you were bullying with?’ ‘No. Just a chap.’ It was the group captain. So that was me [laughs] quite a good, another good joke. But apart from that I just continued my service. I taught ballroom dancing. Then unexpectedly they made me a corporal. I think it was mainly for admin purpose and I just went on with my service and the war finished. I think I signed on for a few more months and I was sent to Germany and it was an experience because I was on my own. I lost the kit [laughs] My earings come out. Anyway, it was found and then I had to go to Sylt and that was a long journey over the river, over a river. I was very frightened because I was on my own. And that was about the end. I came out. No. While I was in Germany I met my husband. How I met him I was in the NAAFI. Had an armful of cigarettes and he came up to me and I didn’t smoke. He came up to me. He said, ‘What are you going to do with those?’ And that was the start of a romance. Then I was demobbed, came out, got married. Just stayed in Darlington for a couple of years and then came up here and that’s me ever since. Not very exciting.
JS: What, you said what [pause] what was a normal day of duties? What was the sort of tasks that you were doing?
VC: Right. When aircraft came in we had to go and do a DI which was inspecting the electrical parts with the conduits, and the acid in the battery had to be tested and then the tail lights and wing lights. I always remember the instructor at Melksham used to say, ‘They are not bulbs. Bulbs go in the ground. They are filaments.’ That always stuck in to my mind. And that was the general way because when the aircraft came in, came in, you used to, and in between time you were doing whatever was necessary in the section which was mending things, testing acid. That sort of thing. That was the general day.
JS: So, the the aircraft would be back before you started in the morning then.
VC: Yes. Sometimes, and then during the day at all different times you couldn’t, you really didn’t know what time they were coming in and it was very sad sometimes because aircraft would just land and then burst into flame. And that was the crew. Losing the crew which was always very sad. Of course, you didn’t, you weren’t allowed to mix with officers so you really didn’t know them personally but you knew them by sight. So, it really was, excuse me, sorry.
JS: So, you were working on a number of aircraft or —
VC: Yeah.
JS: Or just a specific aircraft?
VC: Yes.
JS: Right. So, how, how many others doing the same task as you would there be on your base?
VC: Well, there was the wireless operator. There was the mechanics. And then there was the, I forget what they call them. Looks after the structure of the aircraft to see if it was fine. So, it was a matter of about six of you. So, but you had to sort of base it so you weren’t in each other’s way.
JS: How did you get on with the others in, the other ground crew?
VC: Oh, just, you know, ordinary. You know, ‘hiya,’ and a talk or whatever was going on but whatever function was interesting.
JS: And, and how did you [pause] how many other WAAFs were there as well as you doing that role? Or you spoke earlier when you started you were the only woman. Was that common throughout your service or were there, were there —
VC: No. I was the only one because it was the start of training women to do mechanical work so quite wherever, well actually whenever I was posted I was the only woman.
JS: At, you spoke about Melksham which I think is near Bath. Is that right? I think. Melksham.
VC: Yeah. Melksham.
JS: Where you did your training.
VC: Yes. Ah huh.
JS: I think it’s near Bath. I think.
VC: Bath. Wiltshire.
JS: Wiltshire.
VC: Yeah.
JS: Yeah.
VC: Ah huh.
JS: So, in your class there, and your training there was it mixed between men and women?
VC: Yes.
JS: Or was it —
VC: Mixed. It was the RAF and it was rather strange because when I was down there I met a chap who I’d known who had been at [Middleton Monro?] whom I had known at that so it was rather, rather strange. So, you meet. You don’t know where you are. You meet up again sometimes and you don’t.
JS: How did you, how did you find the training? Was it interesting or —
VC: Very interesting. Very interesting. But I’m a, I can’t spell. And I thought it would be about, you know —
Other: Dyslexic.
VC: Anyway, I managed through. I took a dictionary with me.
JS: Good. Good. What, what type of aircraft was it you were mostly working on?
VC: I worked on the bombers. Hurricanes. Hurricanes. Then a smaller one at first. You know, to get used to it. But mostly the four-engined ones.
Other: Lancasters and that.
VC: And when you saw the carriers fetching the bombs it’s a funny experience.
JS: How did you —
Other: [kettle hissing] Sorry, that’s making a noise.
VC: Turn that off please.
Other: I didn’t realise it was that loud.
JS: No. That’s ok. Just have to go. You mentioned that you went to Germany. You went to Germany.
VC: Yes. That’s right.
JS: At the end of the war.
VC: Yeah.
JS: And you said that was a, in some ways a frightening experience.
VC: Yes.
JS: Because you were on your own.
VC: Yeah. Yes.
JS: How much, how much of the, the what you might say the damage to Germany did you see when you were there? Were you in cities? Or were you in —
VC: Yes. I was in Cologne. I managed to get to Cologne for the cathedral. There was quite a bit of damage and the people were a bit well naturally offish so, you didn’t go on your own. You had to go in pairs. So, and the boys did some dirty tricks to them. They used to do exchanging with cigarettes. As soon as they’d left they’d phone the gate and the cigarettes were taken off them. So, they did some dirty tricks but I suppose that’s a part of life. But that photo was taken in Germany when I was twenty five.
JS: So, how, how, how long were you in Germany before you were —
VC: I was trying to remember that.
Other: 1948?
VC: I should imagine it would be under a year. It wasn’t long because I didn’t sign on for long really. It was just to have the experience which was very good.
JS: But, but when you were in Germany you were doing the same role.
VC: Yes.
JS: That you had been doing in the UK.
VC: I was on some of their planes that were there which was also ours and a funny experience —
Other: We’ve got pictures there.
VC: How can I explain it? You weren’t welcomed. You weren’t welcomed. Naturally. Looked down their nose.
Other: So, by the time I was born—
JS: It must have been very difficult. Yes.
VC: Yes.
JS: To, to be there but —
VC: It was really, yes.
JS: An experience.
VC: I think that’s somehow I lost my equipment. I thought, you know shouldn’t think these things but you did. Anyway, turned up eventually after months. Nothing exciting really. Just an ordinary life.
JS: But it, it certainly sounds like for you it was a good experience.
VC: It was. A very good experience. Yes. Ah huh.
JS: Super.
VC: It taught me to be independent. Which is a good thing.
Other: Plus, you worked with the men so it was more superior wasn’t it? That’s how [unclear] do you know what I mean?
JS: No. It, it —
Other: You were doing a man’s job there.
JS: It sounds like you were a in many ways a forerunner to what many women do today.
VC: Yes.
Other: [unclear]
JS: You know and an opportunity to be, to be trade trained in a —
VC: Technical. Yeah. Yeah.
JS: Technical sphere. And then to go into a role that as you said you were doing the same job as the other male —
VC: Yes.
JS: Electricians from the squadron that were doing whatever. So, accommodation on RAF bases. So, what was it like? What was the accommodation that you stayed in like? Was it —
VC: Well, you were in sort of long tin huts with the fire in the middle and, I think ten each side. Yeah. There was about twenty of you and there was a special room for NCOs to share. And it was basically up in the morning, across the field, ablutions. General, you know, and it just depends on what you were doing whether you got for a meal at the time that was stated. If you didn’t you had to do without. Not that they were exciting but there was food so that was the main thing. You often got a treat but not very often but often but. Let’s say that it gave me an experience of life for the working class not the, not the officer’s that were waited hand and foot on by WAAFs. Which, and the food which they got was entirely different which natural, they were doing a different job.
JS: So, in your Nissen hut of twenty WAAFs what were the main roles that the others were doing?
VC: Well, there was the waitresses. There was the ones that cleaned. Officers. Then the plotters. So, you weren’t, you were mixed. You weren’t individual of what you were. Yes. And you met ladies. You met ordinary people. Working class people. You mixed and you really met some very interesting people.
JS: And if you went out socially what was the, the opportunity for going out socially and who would you normally have gone out with?
VC: There wasn’t much chance of going out socially. Occasionally shopping but not that you go out very much because you don’t have the money to to go out socially really. As I said we went to, I saw, “Gone with the Wind,” in Blackpool but I think that was the only time I ever went to a film. But it was a good film.
JS: So how did you spend your time when you weren’t working?
VC: Well, I did a lot of embroidery. We did a lot of chatting. And I never used to read a lot but I did. I have done lately. But it was mostly embroidery we used to do or knitting if you’d got the wool.
JS: That’s good. That’s been super. Thank you very much. I’ll just stop this.
[recording paused]
JS: Ok.
VC: This I must tell you. I was picked to be in Ralph, Squadron Leader Ralph Reader’s Gang Show and he did the show, “Air Force Through the Ages.” And it was produced and put in the Albert Hall in London and I was one of the crowd. [laugh] They dressed you up in the old style which, he was a man that had hundreds of men and women in a hangar. One word, silence. Not a word was spoken. He could hold a crowd and he was marvellous. It was a really good experience. It really was. That was one privilege I had. The next privilege I had, I had, I was picked to put in the parade end of the war parade in London and that was two really special occasions. But Ralph Reader was a marvellous man. He really was. The way he could control a crowd and the way he produced that show was marvellous. It really was. It was a great experience.
JS: What year was that? Do you remember?
VC: I can’t remember the year. It must have been towards the end of the war because it was, you know, through the ages. So, as I said, it was a marvellous experience.
Other: What age were you?
JS: That’s great. You said you took part in the Victory Parade.
VC: Yes.
JS: In London.
VC: Ah huh.
JS: How, how was that? How —
VC: That was a great experience. There was just so many WAAFs and so many of each Forces. There wasn’t a lot of us and marching was a great thing, it really was and the reception you got was great. It really was.
Other: Recognition.
JS: There would be very large crowds.
VC: Very large. Very noisy. But you were sort of in yourself. You can’t, you don’t see them. You just see the noise because you’re concentrating on your good marching and your arms are going proper. You had to aim, you know the arms like this. It was disciplined which was good. Very good. And I met some nice people too. Very interesting people. So that was my two main things that happened to me in the Forces.
JS: Very good. Magic. So, was there a party after the parade?
VC: Yes [laughs]
Other: And —
VC: There was. And there was a great after the show in the Albert Hall. A massive place. What an experience. And you had to dress. You didn’t know where you were there were so many dressing rooms, so many corridors but we got there. It really was good. So, I can’t say that I’ve gone through life without any experiences. Nice experiences.
JS: Indeed. That’s great.
VC: Ah huh.
JS: That’s super.



James Sheach, “Interview with Vera Clachers,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed June 20, 2024,

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