World War 2 Stories for Sheffield

                      Elizabeth Ann Cook

The W.A.A.F. Driver and the Pre-Select Gears

By Actiondesk Sheffield

People in story: Elizabeth Ann Cook, Squadron Leader Shields
Location of story: RAF Coltishall in Norfolk
Unit name: W.A.A.F
Background to story: Royal Air Force


I, Elizabeth Ann Cook, was born in 1920, in a little village called Paulers Pury, which is in Northamptonshire, I stayed there until I was 16 when I went to work at the John Lewis shoe factory in Northampton.
In 1941, I decided to join the W.A.A.F. and after some initial training in Birmingham, I was sent to Blackpool to be trained as a driver. We were based at Ribble Bus Garage and besides being taught to drive, we were given lessons in map reading and routine car maintenance. From there I was posted to Pwllheli in North Wales, then we moved onto training in driving lorries, anything up to 3 tons. We also had to know how to change a wheel, not an easy job in those days.
The training lasted for about 3 months and it was a great day when I received my first driving licence. After a couple of weeks leave, I was told to report to a Depot in St John's Wood. The depot they used was actually Lords Cricket Ground and we were billeted in beautiful big houses in the area. It was only a brief stay though because within a month, I was sent to RAF Coltishall in Norfolk where I was to be stationed until the end of the war, although there were times when I would be sent to other airfields around the area.
By this time I was mostly driving an ambulance, and one night we were told to go and find a bomber which had come down at Cromer, on the coast. There were no road signs during the war and I had to go and ask the Officer in charge to give me rough directions. He pointed to
the place on the map and told me to look out for a mushroom cone of smoke. A Squadron Leader and a medical orderly accompanied me, but sadly when we found the bomber all the crew were dead. This was quite a common job for me, and looking back, I realise how I just accepted the horror of it all. We just had to get on with it!
Although I didn't know it at the time, that night was a very special night. After we had finished our work at the bomber, Squadron Leader Shields suggested that we go up onto the cliffs. Looking out over the North Seas, we were amazed to see hundreds of ships sailing towards France. Later I was to discover that this was the beginning of the Normandy Day landings.
One day I was sent with 4 other WAAF's to Ludham airfield. This was where 610 Squadron was based. They acted as escorts for the bombers, going out with them and meeting them coming back from their missions over Germany. We were billeted in a farmhouse quite close to the airfield but there were no toilet facilities for us on the base until much later, and I suppose we had to go back to the farmhouse if we were desperate.
It was quite common for me to take badly injured pilots or crew to a Hospital in Ely, where they specialised in skin grafting. One day I had to take a Redcap to an isolation hospital near Sandringham. The poor chap had jaundice, which he had picked up during a spell in the Middle East. When I got back to base at Coltishall, the orderly said that he would have to fumigate the ambulance and all the bedding, as the Redcap had a highly contagious disease, (known now as Hepatitis) I said, “Well, what about me?” He replied, “Well stay in the ambulance and I'll fumigate you as well,” which he did!
Arriving at the officers' mess one day, one of the batmen informed me that a young officer had mentioned that he wanted to see me. The batman said, “Will you hang on a moment and I will see if the aforesaid officer was in his room?” He was and came out with the batman. He said that he had been given my name and would I be free on Saturday morning to help him out. “Of course, if I can help you,” I replied. So I met him at the WAAF compound and went up to Norwich Railway Station with him. He was going on a course, it would be something to do with flying but we did not ask questions. On arriving at the station, he got out of the car, picked his bag up and disappeared. I got into the driving seat, turned the key and started the car. To my amazement it was the first pre-select gears I had come across, so you can imagine it was a new experience for me. I was very relieved when it was in the garage and the door closed. It was a new trial and the loveliest MG sports car, and I still like the gear stick after 60 years on the road.