World War 2 Stories for Sheffield

Irene Bennett

Irene Shaw's Story

By Actiondesk Sheffield

People in story: Irene Bennett
Location of story: RAF Finningley South Yorkshire
Unit name: 25 OTU Squadron
Background to story: Royal Air Force

 Cpl. Irene Shaw Finningley 1944

Irene as a People's War volunteer in 2005


Irene Bennett’s Story

In 1941, shortly after the Sheffield Blitz, I joined the WAAF. I was 26 years old and engaged to be married. After a month’s training in Signals at RAF Cranwell, we were sent home on leave and I remember thinking I would probably be posted to somewhere like the wilds of Scotland, so it was a great surprise to hear that I’d been posted to Bomber Command at RAF Finningley in Doncaster, South Yorkshire.
As my home was in Sheffield, the posting to Finningley suited me perfectly and sometimes I was able to sneak home between watches, but I was always careful to avoid being seen by the Redcaps, or Military Police as they are now called.

The office I was assigned to was also inhabited by about 5 other men who were the Morse Code operators; One of my jobs was to hand out information to the navigators who would come in to find out where they were being sent to that night. Although most of them were from the British Isles, there were also men from the USA, Poland Australia, Norway, Sweden and Canada.

I got on well with the my colleagues, and sometimes, when we were off duty, we would find a Pub in Doncaster where there was a piano. I would be sat down to play and they would gather round and have a sing-song. The Landlords loved it as it brought people into the Pub and we would all get free drinks.

This particular day in 1942, I was working in the office on a 12 - 4pm watch. A signal came through on the teleprinter giving details of the bombing target for that night, which was Essen. The message gave information on the number of aircraft going out from different airfields in the region, and the bombs they would be carrying. I didn’t realise it at the time but this operation was part of the now famous ‘1000 per night’ bombing raids which Air Vice Marshall Harris had instigated to target the cities of Germany.

I took the signal into the Operations Room and handed it to the Sgt. in charge. Shortly afterwards I was called into the office and asked, "Corporal, did you read the message you just brought in?" He seemed rather annoyed. I replied, "Partly Sir," to which he said, "I’m afraid you will be confined to camp this evening, because this is a terrible breach of security." I was surprised and wondered what was so special about the message. I told him that I had planned to go out with the boys that night. He explained that I could be talking to someone in the village and as it was a lovely moonlit night, I might innocently mention the bombing raids. I pointed out to him that I had signed the Official Secrets Act, but he still insisted that I stay on camp. Of course, then I couldn’t wait to get back and read the whole transcript.

Looking back, I now realise how serious it was, and why the Officer was so concerned. The message should have been in cipher.

I left the WAAF in 1944 to have my first child, but I still look back on those times at Finningley as the most memorable times of my life.




P.C Robert Black's Story

By actiondesksheffield

People in story: Robert Black
Location of story: Sheffield, Canada, Scotland
Background to story: Royal Air Force


This story was submitted to the People’s War site by Roger Marsh of the ‘Action Desk – Sheffield’ Team on behalf of Irene Bennett.

P.C Robert Black's Story.

Irene Bennett

When war broke out, policemen were not allowed to join up unless their Chief Constable agreed, and the one in charge of Sheffield did not. In late 1943, the Sheffield Chief Constable did agree and therefore P.C. Black immediately applied to join the RAF as a pilot.

Not long after the training started, they were sent to Canada for actual flying training, but in the meantime, they did preliminary training in Scotland. One day the squadron was on the beach in Scotland doing exercises. One exercise consisted of one man being carried on the other man's back, kind of "piggy back".

Robert stumbled with another man on his back and the airman being carried, fell awkwardly with his knee digging into Robert's back. Some damage must have been done because Robert could not get up or move at all.

The consequence was that for about ten months, he had to wear a kind of stiff corset from his shoulders to below the hips. His wife Joyce went up to Scotland to be with him for most of the ten months. They both thought that would be the end of his ambition to take part in the war. Much to their surprise, when he had the dressing removed and was declared fit, the Officer sent for him and told him that while he could no longer be accepted for training as a pilot, he would be accepted as a Navigator which Robert thankfully accepted.

Robert went out to Canada to commence training as a navigator in the bomber command in 1944. The training took 6 months which meant it was early 1945 before they got back to England to find out which RAF station they had been posted to and where they would have to report to after 28 days leave. By this time the hostilities were just about over, so the consequence was that he never actually did any flying, as the war was over before he was even posted to a station for duties.