World War 2 Stories for Sheffield

Joyce Ethel Wycherley 

My War

By Actiondesk Sheffield

People in story: Joyce Ethel Wycherley
Location of story: West Malling, Kent
Unit name: WAAF Telephonist
Background to story: Royal Air Force


This story was submitted to the People’s War site by Katherine Wood of the ‘Action Desk – Sheffield’ Team on behalf of Mrs Joyce Ethel Wycherley.

Like any of life's journeys we take, we start at the beginning and try to remember as much as possible, sometimes our memories play tricks on us. Anyway here I am, I’m 17 ½ years of age, a hairdresser's apprentice. The war is on and not going very well for us. My then boyfriend was in the RAF and I thought I wanted to become a WAAF. My parents were very much against it and my boyfriend also, but at 17 ½ years of age that was what I wanted to do.

We had no fears and really thought we would change the world. I was very spoilt as a child and no one would change me. However came the day in 1941, I arrived at Innsworth Lane, RAF; it was such a shock! But the next day there I was resplendent in my WAAF uniform, so proud! ACW2, the lowest of the low, I remember the first time I put my uniform on and polished the buttons, they did shine! Our issue was two uniforms, shoes, Lyle stockings, gas mask, our irons (knife, fork, spoon), beaker, ground sheet, overcoat (mac), gloves and hat (which blew up when it was windy!).

Six weeks on, square bashing began, how to fold your bed and make it ‘service style’. I was always worried that my feet would hurt with the heavy shoes, but surprise surprise, they were comfortable. Came the day of posting then to our various stations, I decided I would like to be in signals, my boyfriend was, and he must have thought I‘d be ok and so, up to London first, and then they sent me to be taught how to be a telephonist by the GPO. I was then posted to West Malling in Kent, II group under the umbrella of Biggin Hill, it was a night fighter station. The battle of Britain had just finished but the station was a considerable mess.

Life began to settle down, on duty, coming off, sleeping. They said the only time we service personnel had any free time was from 23:59 hours to 00:01, but life was how you made it, I still have a WAAF friend from West Malling days, and that friendship will continue till one of us dies. The cinema and tea dances were the thing to do in off duty periods, so into Maidstone we would go, but there was one night a week, if you weren’t on duty, you had to clean your bed space and do your chores.

Coming home on leave for the first time was so memorable, feeling so important in my uniform and I know my parents were proud of me, my boyfriend was in India by then. But going back was an ordeal, I had two miles to walk from the station to the camp and mustn’t be late, otherwise you were on a charge. It was WAR TIME.

I was only in trouble once and that was for wearing my stockings inside out, the military police stopped me and I had to go before the CO who was Peter Townsend. Unfortunately I was caught again and for my pains, I had to do 7 days CB. I had the cooks' toilets to clean when I was off duty- silly girl! I just thought they looked finer inside out!

If I get dates wrong, forgive me, but 1944 I was posted to Bushey Park for 6 weeks with the Americans, we were so envious of the American girls in their uniforms which were just like our officers; Silk stockings, silk underwear, we shared the telephone switchboard with them and shared their food, no shortage there I can tell you. General Eisenhower was the overall CO and I can honestly say I spoke to him (Just to say ‘number please’).

Back to West Malling for a time and lots happening. One night, we had a German Aircraft land. They thought they were in northern France. I believe the aircarft is in the Imperial War Museum now. I also remember we had to ‘man’ a single position in flying control and could have lots of dog fights over the channel. Quietness was when it was foggy (no flying). Another famous flyer at West Malling was ‘Cats eye’ Cunningham who I believe became a test pilot after the war.

The Allies by now were getting the better of the Germans, but of course on came the ‘Buzz bombs’ followed by the pilotless bombers. I was posted again for the last time, to Stanmore Fighter Command Headquarters. Our billets were in a Dr Barnardo's home that had been requisitioned for the war. It was very run down but we just had to get on with it.

Came the landings in Europe on D-Day, I will never forget the aircraft going over in droves- it never occurred to me that we were sitting in an aircraft ready to be dropped in France and probably never coming back. The station commander came on the tannoy to tell us what was happening, how wonderful it all was. I’m glad I lived in that time, I’m very prejudiced of course because I think the RAF was the best. But the down side was that you would see men one day and the next day they weren’t there. I remember the medical orderly used to have to go into the morgue with the MO and have to make the faces of Air Crew ‘presentable in death’. He could never come into the cookhouse for a meal. He couldn’t eat it, so there were people other than the Air Crew who knew how to do ‘their duty’.

Then came the atom bombs being dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the war was finally over. On VJ day a fellow WAAF and I went up to London from Stanmore and were outside the palace when the King and Queen, Princess Elizabeth and Margaret came onto the balcony. Fireworks were being let off down the Mall, it was wonderful, I will never forget it.

Then came Demob day, I could have gone on to India or Germany, but truthfully, I’d had enough, and off to Birmingham they sent me, like Innsworth Lane, but this time, it was to hand in my uniform etc, and then back home to pick up on my job again. It was very hard, everything had changed, I had to adjust yet again. I had to learn how to ‘perm’ again, styles had changed, but with the backing of my parents they, set me up in a hairdressing shop of my own which I had for years.

I became a Parish Councillor in Peace time, in fact I still am, and was the first lady chairman of the Parish Council and once again went to the Palace, this time as a guest at a Gander Party, unlike VJ day on the other side of the fence.

That is my story of my ‘War’, to which on Armistice Day I wear my 2 medals with pride and present the Parish wreath at the war memorial on behalf of my ward on the Parish Council.