World War 2 Stories for Sheffield

Women of World War 2

Photo by Bill Ross

Unveiled on July 9th 2005

Quoting the BBC "The Queen has unveiled a £1m memorial in Whitehall to commemorate the role of women during World War II.

The 22ft-high bronze sculpture depicts the uniforms and working clothes worn by women during the war.

Former Speaker of the House of Commons Baroness Betty Boothroyd paid tribute to the contribution made by seven million women in the war.

Military helicopters flown by all-female crews flew past the memorial to mark the occasion."




The Sewing Ladies

By actiondesksheffield

People in story: Rose Addison
Location of story: Macclesfield, Chesire
Background to story: Civilian

This story was submitted to the People’s War site by Doreen Partridge of the ‘Action Desk – Sheffield’ Team on behalf of Rose Addison.

The Sewing Ladies

History had never been my strongest subject at school. I had heard all about the First World War or the 1918 war as it was sometimes called. My father had been in the trenches, or as some said, over the top, but as was the case with most young people, that didn’t mean much to me. He was at home now, fit and well, so what did it matter?
Little did I think that in later life history would mean much more to me, and that in 2005, I
would have the privilege of writing about the part that I have played in the 1939-45 war,
and paying my respects to so many others who had played a greater part - some with their lives, leaving behind grieving families and others suffering from the scars of wars.
There was a lot of talk about war in 1938, and as a 14-year-old country lass I was a bit

What part could Macclesfield play? It was very famous for its silk mills but nothing else

that would be of much help during the war. All at once I was 15 years old. War was declared and I was working in Catlow's factory with a lot of other ladies, some from London and the other big cities, all escaping the bombs. We were told that our work was to keep the forces warm and safe. So the first job was safety as we started to make camouflage coats for the army. It was hard work - the materials
and the oils that were painted on them didn’t agree with everyone’s skin. Still we carried on thinking of our men who had to be safe.

Later we were transferred to another factory - Belmonts. Here we made RAF uniforms.
Some of the girls put letters in the uniform pockets with their addresses on hoping to get a
reply. I doubt very much that they ever got outside the factory. Along with a friend. I did an extra little job to help in the war. We joined the Red Cross and after work, went into the hospital and gave what help we could with such a shortage of nurses. This was to decide my career when the war over because I loved nursing and caring for

My father was an air raid warden. He went out at night and often came home and told us

how bad the raids had been over Manchester and Sheffield. He made sure that all our
blackout curtains and blinds were tightly closed, 'the tiniest glint of light could attract
attention. We also had lots of refugees but apart from that there were lots of soldiers, the Y's (R.E.M.E.S and quite a lot of Americans).

Later on in the war we had some prisoners of war, mainly Polish but some Italians. These
young men were put to work on the farms. It was a great help to the farmers whose farm
hands had joined the forces. Some had gone as Bevin boys. It was pitiful at first to see the prisoners of war. They were so afraid of us; some were unable to speak English and it took quite a while for them to realize that we were their friends. Some attended our church and many said how grateful they were for our hospitality.

Now the war was over crowds gathered outside the town hall dancing, some crying, laughing and others very confused. Where would they live or when could they go back to their hometowns.
So although I had escaped the blitz or loss of family, my home and possessions, I did feel sad for those who had suffered such terrible losses. Quite a few of our boys and men from Macclesfield served in the forces. Sadly I pay my respects to those who did not come home, and also their families. But I feel that along with many more people, I did my little bit for the war, helping to clothe the armed forces, keep them safe and as some say, we were the forgotten ladies who worked behind the scenes, but I still think the sewing ladies did a good job, forgotten or not.




AFLAT Muriel Patricia 


By Actiondesk Sheffield

People in story: MURIEL PATRICIA ALFLAT (nee GILLIVER), Miss. E. Woodland,

 Miss J. Hague, Miss P. Hampston

Location of story: Sheffield, Sleaford, Lincolnshire, Helpringham

Background to story: Civili

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



In the autumn of 1944, a group of girls from Abbeydale Girls’ Grammar School, Sheffield, went to Lincolnshire to pick potatoes as part of the war effort. There was a shortage of labour in the countryside, as the young men had been called up for military service. We left Sheffield Midland Station on a Saturday by train, until we reached Sleaford. One of our party, Mavis Hurst, trapped her hand in the train door and was tended by some very kind American soldiers travelling on the same train.

On arrival at our destination, we transferred to a lorry and were taken to our lodgings. Up to that point, I was quite excited and eager to see what lay ahead. We reached our accommodation, which was an extremely derelict old farmhouse in Helpringham. To me it was horrific. We were allocated the rooms in which we were to sleep. We were about eight to a room. Mine was on the ground floor and others had to walk through ours in order to get to the upstairs rooms. We slept on sacks filled with straw and we had army blankets to cover us. If the doors of the rooms were slammed the walls swayed! We washed in water from the pump (queued up to do so in fact) and it was also our drinking water---that is until someone put their soap on the top (only there wasn’t one!) and it fell down the pipe! Next to the pump was a small static water tank with corrugated metal covers. When anyone lifted up a cover to get water, the midge larva at the top wriggled to the bottom! I’m afraid I did very little water drinking or even washing!

Our morning and evening meals, which were served in some hall or other, were brilliant and prepared by our accompanying teachers, Miss E. Woodland, Miss J. Hague (Maths) and Miss P. Hampston (English). Each day, a couple of girls were detailed to help with the chores, washing up, preparing meals, cleaning where the chemical toilets were. We mostly had cooked dried eggs and tomatoes for breakfast, which I quite enjoyed. Our evening meals nearly always included blackberry and apple crumble, the blackberries having been collected by staff and duty pupils. I enjoyed this too. The meal I didn’t enjoy was the mid-day one, a packed meal. Without fail it was fish paste sandwiches. I liked fresh salmon paste, but ours was, amongst others, bloater and mackerel from jars. To me it had a dreadful taste and I usually gave mine away. To supplement our meals, we were always hungry, we were allowed to go to various orchards and pick up the fallen apples to eat, even though the cows had had a bite of them first! Our other supplement was a tin of National Dried Milk into which we dipped our fingers and then licked it off!

One of the things I’d always wanted to do was to have a midnight feast. I had read a lot of Eleanor M. Brent-Dyer’s “Chalet School” books! Some of us had the odd food parcel from home and a “midnight feast” was proposed. I’m afraid I was too exhausted to stay awake and had to be woken up by someone. All I wanted to do was sleep---quite a let down!

Our daily time-table was as follows:-

- 8.0.a.m. we went to work

- mid-morning we had ¼ hour break

- dinner break for ½ hour

- 5.0.p.m. we finished.

We were taken to the fields on a tractor drawn trailer. The strip of field being harvested was divided into patches paced out and marked with sticks. The spinner (a machine that dug up the potatoes) was horse-drawn and went up one side of the patch and down the other. We collected the crop into some sort of baskets and left them at the edge of our own patch, to be collected by a man with a horse and cart. When the area had been cleared, the spinner was replaced by a harrow (rake), drawn by the same horse. This turned the soil again and we picked up any potatoes missed the first time. Then the whole process was repeated with a fresh strip of field. It rained nearly every day and was very cold, bleak and miserable. It was back-breaking work and I ended up working on my hands and knees. The older man who was in charge of the spinner was named “B dash” by us---as in “Get them B--- ‘taters picked”, and the younger one doing the collecting we called “Rosie” as he blushed when spoken to. I never did know their real names.

At one point, Italian POW’s were working in the adjoining field from where they cobbed potatoes at us with great merriment. Our pay was 9d. per hour (now the equivalent of 3 3/4p per hour and our keep was deducted from this. On our day off, Sunday, I would have liked to catch up on my sleep---but no, we were marched in a crocodile to look at the eight sailed windmills in the area. Some girls picked mushrooms---a variation to our diet---and some had assignations in the hay-stacks with the local lads!

Towards the end of our stay, I developed dysentry and was isolated. I presume we returned as we arrived, by lorry and train, but I can’t remember. My mother was waiting for me as were other mothers at the station. She was quite convinced I had someone else’s shoes on---they were so caked up with mud they were unrecognisable as mine! The following summer, some girls went fruit-picking, but I was not one of them!



My War Time Working

By Actiondesk Sheffield

People in story: Eugenie Balderstone (Nee Eley), Lady Ursula Manners, Ernest Hayden (Sonny), Kathleen Beesley

Location of story: Grimsby, Wroxham, Grantham

Background to story: Civilian

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

My War Time Working
Eugenie Balderstone (Nee Eley)

When the 2nd World War broke out in 1939, I was seventeen and working at Ticklers jam factory in Grimsby. My parents came from Hull. We had a shop, a general store, close to the 'Docks' in Grimsby.

My mother Amelia (Millie) made and sold hot cakes. I helped to deliver them on early mornings before going to work. My eldest sister Florence (Florrie)was married. My other sister Georgina (Ena), who was 18 months younger than I, worked locally as a braider for Sleights.

During the summer of 1940, a group of us girls from Ticklers, were sent to assist with the fruit production at Hoveton St. John nr. Wroxham. This was only for a few weeks because the people on the farms there couldn't get the fruit to Grimsby. Some of the jam made by Ticklers was for the armed forces. We hoped that soldiers in France ate our jam.

When I returned from Norfolk, I decided to join the ATS. My father Ernest (Tim) worked as one of the Recruitment Officers at the Duncombe Street branch.

During the 1st World War he was in France in the ASC, now (RASC) in transport, driving a lorry. Before that he played a piccolo in a military band. The Royal Warwick’s regiment (overseas). He objected to me joining the ATS being concerned about my health, since I had recently had meningitis.

Instead I went to work on munitions at British Mark (Marcos). In Grantham I was interviewed by Lady Ursula Manners, the Duke of Rutland’s sister. It was at her suggestion that I agreed to work in the loading sheds. My job was filling shells with TNT powder. I was paid an extra penny an hour risk money for this work. This was, I thought, my contribution to the war effort.

The munitions factory in Grantham was a large site. My sister Ena came to work at Marcos; she was on a milling machine. This was at a different part of the site from where I worked. The loading sheds were further 'up in the hills'. Sometimes we had to go down into the magazines (mags). Stored in the mags were two different types of powder. There was black powder for tracer bullets and yellow powder for filling the shells. I only ever worked on the high explosive (yellow) powder. This stained our hair and skin yellow. It It used to burn and sting. We got skin rashes, even though we wore masks and overalls.

The working conditions in the factory were strictly supervised. We wore protective clothing such as rubber boots and caps covering our hair. We changed and left personal items in our lockers. Cigarettes, lighters and matches were forbidden. Often, we were checked before going into the sheds to start our shifts. We worked 12 hour shifts; a fortnight on days, then a fortnight on nights. Later I went onto permanent nights. During the changing of shifts from one to another, sometimes we would take a long weekend break. On one occasion, whilst at home in Grimsby, I stood too close to the black grate's oven door. Catching my arm on it, the skin very quickly peeled away. I realised I must be more careful in the future. However, after it healed up I continued to work in the loading sheds.

Many people from Grimsby worked at British Mark. My future husband's mother, Cora was there as well as some of the girls from Ticklers. My father eventually came to work at Marcos since he was no longer needed as a Recruitment Officer. Despite there being a war on, the long hours and dangerous work, I made some good friends. Marcos had a big social hall. I enjoyed many a night out in the social club singing and dancing.

Towards the end of the war (around 1944), I had an accident. There was a routine before and after an air-raid. Once the warning siren went, everyone had to get out as soon as possible to the shelters. It was my job (as it was someone else's on another shift) to rush around and see that the machines were shut down before I could go to the air-raid shelter. After the all clear, it was my job to check that the machines were safe to start up again.

One night as the siren sounded, during black-out, whilst hurrying to shut the machines down, I slipped on one of the duckboards outside the machine sheds and cut my knee badly. It healed up quickly but my leg began to swell up. My father suggested that I needed a change. He said that I had worked long enough with high explosive powder. I joined him working in the bonus office.

My leg continued to play me up. I returned to Grimsby on sick leave to convalesce. On VE Day, 8th May 1945, when Churchill spoke at 3pm to say the war was over in Europe.
I was with my mother at Grimsby Hospital. My leg was so painful, there was a possibility of having my toe amputated. I thought I might lose my right leg. Fortunately, this didn't happen.

I married Ernest Hayden (Sonny) at Old Clee Church, Christmas 1945. My right leg was still stiff and I couldn't bend it. Even during the wedding ceremony. Ernie had come back after six years at war in October. (1945) Because he was a brick-layer he came out on 'B' class.

He helped me recover as did Mrs. Kathleen Beesley. Ena was home and belonged to Mrs. Beesley's keep-fit class/troupe. I went to her three times a week and she massaged my leg. By 1946 I was feeling much better and I made a good recovery and continued to help my mother in the shop. I never went back to Ticklers. I left it to others to make the jam.



BEDDOW Barbara 


By Actiondesk Sheffield

People in story: Barbara Beddow, Frank Dennis
Location of story: West Riding of Yorkshire, Forest of Dean, Fearby in North Yorkshire, Swinton Estate, Markington, Middleham, Carlton, near Selby, Foggathorpe
Background to story: Civilian Force

This story was submitted to the People’s War site by Julie Turner of the BBC Radio Sheffield Action Desk on behalf of Barbara Beddow.


Barbara Beddow

I grew up in a country village in the then West Riding of Yorkshire. I was an only child, quite bright, gained a scholarship to a Grammar School and was academically inclined but my father, who was an electrical engineer working with a firm of gas engineers, became a victim of the 1930’s depression and I at 14.1/2 yrs left school and got a job in a rather up market shop – a children’s outfitters. We catered for children going away to Prep School and sold the local Grammar School uniforms. Later I moved to a very select ladies fashion shop. In April 1939 I married a boy I had known from school days – in September 1939 he was killed – he was in the Irish Guards, in barracks in Dover where they were shelled from across the channel.

Later in the year, my husband’s sister, who was about to go to University saw an article in Punch about the Land Army and the mention of the forming of a Corps of women to work in the Forestry Commission.

Eventually with the help of someone in the BBC we were given an address in Harrogate, we wrote off for information and within a week we were in and had our instructions and travel warrants to go to the Forestry Training College in the Forest of Dean. (I must add at this point, that my mother was horrified and forbade me ever to darken their doors again). Here we were billeted in a hostel and as the male students had only just moved out we had then tutors for lectures, in tree recognition growth and uses. We were also taught how to measure trees, both standing timber and felled trees. We also went out on practical experience with the staff who did the felling, and re-planting, so there was nursery work experience as well. After six weeks we were allocated a place of work, we were sent to Fearby in North Yorkshire, our overseer was a Canadian lumberjack, very introverted, certainly not use to having women working for him – so he had as little to do with us as possible. Not so the local village boys, we caused quite a commotion, the wives were very suspicious and not at all friendly. We were staying on a small holding with a couple and their two young children but we were soon asked to move - we were like beings from another planet to them. We both went to stay in the village Pub – we went to bed carrying a candlestick and in the morning washed ourselves in a basin – having carried the jug of water up the night before.

Nancy and I soon parted company, she had fallen in love with an ex Geordie minor and later became pregnant and married him much to her parent’s horror. She was critical of me because I flirted with the boys, so soon after being widowed. I soon moved again to the Sawmill House on the Swinton Estate, pheasant were still being raised when I arrived and the Keepers “bothie” was attached to the Mill House. The mill was working (by water wheel) for the little Swinton estate. Viscount Swinton from the Castle brought venison round to his employees. Lady Somebody, who was President of the local L.A. branch invited me to afternoon tea – with the silver tea service, cucumber sandwiches, strawberries and cream served on the Sheraton, or was it Munton china – very impressive. Big snow, completely cut off, down to a bag of turnips.

From Fearby I moved to Markington where I continued to do the same job – timber measuring, starting at daybreak and working until dusk or 5.30p.m. whichever came first. Drinking bottled cold tea and eating doorstep sarnies of home cured bacon, or maybe ham or cheese. Sausages to roast on sticks over the tortoise stove were very tasty. We were not allowed to go home whatever the weather – we would sit in the hut and play cards or yarn.

In Markington I stayed with a family, Mum and three daughters – mum was having fun with the local army lads. Someone wrote to her husband, he came home and chased her with an axe (mine, used for chopping firewood). I moved out pretty quickly and was moved on to Middleham, after a few weeks in Wormald Green, where I stayed with the local Doctor and his wife, who adopted me and taught me to play bridge. In Middleham I worked on Witton Fell, counting pit-props and riding the wagons to consign loads away at the station. Varying it with taking the articulated lorry loaded with telegraph poles. We had many C.O’s here, some homosexuals of both sexes and also men from the Durham pits. Lived here on the banks of the River Yore in a beautiful house which had been Middleham Vicarage – or maybe the Vicar just lived there. His daughter, a victim of sleeping sickness was the owner. She had a cook and a housemaid and as her war work she was the local post lady. She was a man eater, and her men ate all our rations but she had a boat on the river and we had many midnight parties. Used to see otters playing on the river bank.

On the move again, to Carlton, near Selby. My supervisor – a Yorkshire cricketer called Frank Dennis asked me if I would be a forewoman in charge of operations and as it meant better pay and a new challenge I accepted.

I was to find and extract a shrub called Alder Buckthorn (Ramnus franguli). So off I went to the New Forest to see a project already set up and working, stayed in a small Hotel almost filled with retired “ladies” – one was an ex head Mistress of Girton. There was a commercial traveller who came regularly, and the “ladies” almost fought each other for who should warm his slippers and fetch his drink etc. I learnt that the gypsies worked this Alder Buckthorn in peacetime.

I settled into digs in Carlton, was issued with a bicycle and given several possible locations to search – small woods. The owner had hen to be approached and informed. I had twelve girls sent to me, straight from home and I had to find billets for them and did I have problems, from bed wetting, stealing, staying out all night to dirty habits etc. I was issued with a hut for an office, and an open sided shelter for the girls to work in. Some bushman saws to cut out the branches. We bought a set of cobblers knives – we chose to erect the huts on the bank of a stream on the edge of one wood. We soaked the branches in the water, then scraped off the bark. I managed to beg from a local farmer some sheets of corrugated iron, which we laid over stakes in the ground. We lit fires underneath and dried the bark – then filled the sacks with the end result and sent them off to be turned into Cascara Segrada. The sticks were cut into equal lengths and labelled and bundled and sent to be used in high precision work in the making of ammunition.
Here in the village, lie was fairly normal, cricket on Saturday afternoons in Summer and Carlton Feast just as it always had been. Whist Drives in the Village Hall and plays by the Drama Group in the Winter. I remember running Aid to Russia dances, helped by the baroness Beaumont and trying to skate on the ponds in the grounds of Carlton Towers. I remember rabbi ting with ferrets and seeing herons fishing and watching a family of kingfishers grow up.

The agent for the company who owned all the farms where we found Alder Buckthorn, invited me to his home and he and his wife often took me visiting the farms, where we would always be given fruit or beg or pork sausages, bacon, eggs etc.

I remarried during my time in Carlton – someone from my hometown that I had known over the years. The family I lived with were very good to me and I have remained friends with the children as they have grown up. My landlady taught me to bake bread – to cook Sunday dinner, including Yorkshire puddings, apple pies, cakes etc. We had no shortages, one Grandpa had a farm and they killed pigs (illegally) and made butter and cheese. The other family had an orchard with apples, pears and plums, he grew asparagus and I will always remember the slices of thick home cured ham and bundles of asparagus dumpling with butter and home grown new potatoes. We had masses of soft fruit in the garden and had raspberries and strawberries with everything, made dozens of pounds of jam and bottled it in kilner jars. Blackberries grew down the lane which we gathered and the children went gleaning after the peas and beans had been harvested, bringing basket loads home to be eaten or put down in jars layered with salt. Eggs were put in a big crock with isinglass.

The R.A.F. boys that I knew provided the dried fruit for my wedding cake, my landlady baked and iced it. I bought remnants of ivory, shell pink and pale blue satin and we all sewed my wedding underwear and nighties. The gypsies down the lane sold me clothing coupons for my outfit and a family in the village, whose husband was a farm labourer and had ten child sold me butter, marg and sugar and anything else on ration to take home to my mother (who had by now quite forgiven me).

The wedding over, with a honeymoon in Scarborough where my husband’s Battery were stationed and a great party in the Mess, then back to work and another move to Foggathorpe, between Selby and Holme-on-Spalding moor. Here I rented a small cottage sandwiched between the Post Office and the Pub. Mother ran the Post Office, owned my cottage and had two bachelor sons. Daughter and son-in-law had the Pub – I could go out of my back door and knock on the bar window, whereupon they would open up take my order and serve the drinks. A toad lived in the wall opposite my back door, and the Post Office had a lovely garden with a lily pond with lots of carp, and frogs sitting on the water lily leaves. A small hut with a paraffin oven and a rickety table was my kitchen. In the cottage was a stone sink with a slab and that was all – no hot water, I use to go to friends in Selby for a bath.

Here we felled two 12 acre woods, it was only small stuff so the girls managed, we walked to work. When we arrived in late June, down the side of a bean field, which is the most heavenly perfume I know, and facing us was a field of flax, if you have never seen the blue of a flax field you have missed a treat. Social life her was very good, we had five aerodromes, all fairly near – so I wrote to ask the Station Commanders to invite the girls to their social activities with the result that the girls had plenty of parties, dances, concerts etc. They were also allowed to use the N.A.A.F.I. at Home on Spalding. I was invited to many of the Officers Mess parties etc. where crews brought back exotic foods from visits to Africa, Australia etc. The Lord of the Manor was a disabled Army Officer – he had been injured playing polo – he still kept some of his polo ponies and a retired jockey to care for them. I learned to ride with him and enjoyed early morning trots around the village.

I had more problems when I was told that I was being sent Italian prisoners of War to work with the girls. The problems I leave to your imagination.

Eventually my husband came on leave, my old jockey friend, as a great treat arrived with a hen in a sack – after trying hard to pluck out the feathers – we had to pack up and take it home to mother! Not before I had given my husband a treat – I had made some jam tarts but sadly I had greased the tin with fat from a joint of pork which I had stuffed with sage and onion. After that leave I found myself pregnant and so I resigned.

I feel that we were so busy adjusting to a new way of life that the War for us only became real when it affected us personally – a period when my first husband died – when a bomb was unloaded on a corner of Masham (2 miles from Fearby), when a plane crashed in a field at Carlton, scattering bits of bodies around. Counting the bombers out at night over my cottage at Foggathorpe and counting them back in, in the early morning. We didn’t talk about the war much. I think many of us enjoyed the freedom from parental discipline and wallowed in friendships of all kinds – girls together – boys and girls, girls with older married landladies etc. I think older local people saw us as a threat, bringing a challenge to their own young people, who were still under discipline, the young ones were jealous of our freedom. We were probably seen as being a bit wild and too free.

As far as I can judge we were not exploited – rather the opposite. We had no supervision (only a visit about every 3 months) so I was entirely free to work or not.
I loved the work, I’ve always had a feeling for nature and the outdoors and I revelled in the countryside, learnt many of the birds and much country lore which has remained with me, as I have continued to be a bird watcher and walker. Living with and working with and having to relate to such a variety of people developed in me an interest in what makes people tick – so when I came home to start a family I soon became involved in voluntary work, Sunday School, Brownies, Guide Commissioner, Youth Club Leader, Youth Tutor, Marriage Guidance (now Relate) Counsellor. After my children were at school into full time work with the Education Service, establishing Community Service with 4th and 5th Years. After retirement at 59 I went on to start and Chair the Calderdale Volunteer Bureau for ten years. At present I am British President of an organisation “Internationally Yours” and a Women’s Friendship Club founded during the last War, aiming to help establish peace through interaction with women of different cultures. I also run a Probus Widows S& Wives Coffee Club in Halifax. I am also involved in a scheme to help young people which is being sponsored by Prince Charles Prince’s Trust and the Wakeham Trust.

Looking back I am amazed at what I was expected to do at 21 years of age with no training in how to manage relationships or people’s problems. No-one to turn to for guidance – no guide liens at all about employee’s rights or where legal responsibility lay. How different it is today. I have a book which was published, written by members of the Timber Corps – poems, articles, jokes etc. Skipping through it again I am sure we had no idea of the variety of jobs that the Timber Corps girls were doing and we had none of the referred to training. I was made a forewoman when I went from Middleham to Carlton mostly by postal communication. If I had any real problem I could contact the supervisor but one lived in the Midlands, another up North and seldom visited. As long as my weekly returns were correct and my accounts I paid the tree fellers who were on piece work (some of them could not read or write but knew their earnings to a penny) and the girls – and again I had not done any office work or dealt with finance in any way. I indented for the money I would need – it came through the Post Office – then I placed it in a Bank Account. The girls did understand the use of pip props and large timber in the mines and knew the straight trees with a circle of white paint were to be telegraph poles.

We were told that usually soft wood was used for pip props but it was becoming short in supply, so it was hard wood being taken from the woods in Foggathorpe.

I believe we occasionally had a news sheet of some kind but I cannot remember the format.



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 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.


My Little Bit

By Actiondesk Sheffield

People in story: Rita Beresford

Location of story: W.A.A.F. Unknown base

Background to story: Royal Air Force

This story was submitted to the People’s War site by Bill Ross of the ‘Action Desk – Sheffield’ Team on behalf of Rita Beresford.

We three joined the W.A.A.F. (now the W.R.A.F.) in February, 1943, as vary naïve girls. We had ups and down, laughter and tears as many others did and I suppose it could be said that we, on the whole, had a good war. One great thing that came out of it was our firm friendship. We are still here for each other and we are very lucky to live near to each other. Many bonds of friendship made then are still tightly sealed.

In spite of the sadness and heartache, I consider I had a good war if that is an appropriate phrase. When I joined the W.A.A.F. in 1943, I couldn’t understand why my country needed me; five feet 2 inches, seven stones in weight, but, I still wore my uniform with pride and I did my bit. I also made genuine friendships and four of us are still here for each other at the tender ages of 82 year.



BLAND Hermine 

I escaped the Russians and met my husband

By actiondesksheffield

People in story: Hermine Bland and Jack Bland
Location of story: Graz and Klagenfurt Austria, and Sheffield Yorkshire
Background to story: Army

This story was submitted to the People’s War site by Alan Shippam of the BBC Radio Sheffield Action Desk on behalf of Hermine Bland.

I was born and living in Graz in Anger,Austria 1945 at the end of the was but was quite fortunate because when the Russians invaded, the Nazis ordered me to go to a family (whose husband was quite a big noise in the German Army) and got a job looking after their three children. The woman was Austrian and very nice to me really, and then when the Russians came, she said to me, “I don’t think you should stay here, come with us and we will try get to the American zone.” So I got to the American Zone in January 1945. We walked on Easter Monday, all night and next day, which actually was really the worst time, because of bombing. We finally managed to get a cattle train, with hundreds of other people who were fleeing, and we finished up at a place called Schladming, which was in the American Zone. I stayed in Schladming, which is going towards Salzburg, but by the end of August, I decided I wanted to go back, because I hadn’t heard from my family since January onwards, and the Russians had practically gone by then. There were just a few left. My mother and sisters told me it was a good job I wasn’t there when the Russians were there, because everybody had had a terrible time. They had even had to sleep up in trees and among haystacks to escape, because the soldiers did a lot of raping.

It was Christmas 1945 and I was walking along the road to go and meet my brother because he was playing the accordion, and whenever he was playing, we always went, my sisters and I to dance. All of a sudden, a big British lorry stopped, a soldier got out, got hold of me and threw me in the back of the lorry. I found out there were lots of girls in the back. The lorry was going round to different villages collecting girls so that there would be girls to dance with the British soldiers, and that’s how I met my husband. From then on, we just carried on courting and then in August 1946, it came out that British soldiers were allowed to marry Austrian girls. So my husband applied a number of times, but because he was so young, they didn’t think he ought to. But anyway, we finished up finally getting married on December 14th 1946.

From there, my husband had to go to Klagenfurt, and we stayed there together because we were married then, and he got demobbed in October. He then came back to England and I stayed on for about a week before I got sent for and shipped over from the Hook of Holland to Dover.

The journey across for me, was terrible because we were a very close family and I missed my mother and my sisters and my brother terribly and because I couldn’t speak the language, it made it a lot worse, but when we got on the boat the British nurses (because I had a baby), were marvellous to me. They took the baby off me and told me to have a right good sleep all night, and they brought her to me in the morning. Then, of course we got off the ship and my husband was there with my mother-in-law and we travelled up to Sheffield.

I couldn’t speak the language which made it twice as bad and my mother-in-law wasn’t very pleased. Jack was her only son, so you could imagine, marrying an Austrian girl, when she wanted a British girl. But, she loved the baby, and by then I was expecting another child. So, we got on by then and lived with her for two years, with three children.
Well, if I hadn’t have met my husband, obviously I wouldn’t have come to England, but it’s been a lovely time. We’ve been married for 58 years and we’re fine together. We’ve got lovely children, grandchildren, great grandchildren and it did change my life obviously, because I missed my family terribly but as time got on, it just became alright. We keep going back regularly now. We couldn’t at first, because we couldn’t afford it for the first 14 years, but my sisters, my mother and my brother kept coming across, so we could keep seeing each other, because as I said, we were a very happy family. After that, in 1969, we started going every year, by car and the others came across every year, so we saw each other twice a year, so things are fine and everything is lovely.




BLORE Doreen

A Day in the life of a N.A.F.F.I. Girl

By actiondesksheffield

People in story: Doreen Blore (Nee Taylor), Miss Gerrity

Location of story: Weidenbruck, Badenhousen, Germany

Unit name: N.A.F.F.I.

Background to story: Civilian Force

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

A Day in the life of a N.A.F.F.I. Girl

Weidenbruck 1945

Doreen Blore (Nee Taylor)

I Became 21 years of age as the `Second World War' was ending, and volunteered for service abroad, as a N.A.F.F.I. cook. We sailed from Dover to Calais, then boarded a train that did not have any glass in the windows. After a long cold journey, we arrived at Badenhousen, in Germany. The weather was very bad, with snow and rain followed by floods, until Easter time when it began to improve.

Another N.A.F.F.I. girl, called Peggy, and I were pleased when two German ladies, who worked at our Hostel in Weidenbuck, offered to lend us their old bicycles to go out one afternoon. We said that we would just ride as far as the petrol dump at the end of the road and back again.

When we arrived, my front tyre had burst, but the soldiers at the dump offered to help. As they inspected the damage, there was a telephone call in the office from an Officer, to say that someone was coming, to raid the dump, to get the petrol. He was told about our presence, and that we were stranded. He said that he would come over to return us to our hostel, and that they were to keep us in the office until he arrived. We could hear a lot of banging, like gunfire and voices shouting. Through the crack in the hut, we could see dark figures running about in the twilight.

Our Manageress, Miss Gerrity, was very angry with us, when we returned, but she knew the Officer and he calmed her down. He suggested that in future everyone should sign a book to say where they were going, and at what time. I must have been frightened, because in my hand, I had two buttons that I had twisted off my jacket while we were hiding in the hut. A couple of days later, the bicycles were returned, with the tyre mended.




My War Work, Royal Artillery Searchlight Division

By actiondesksheffield

People in story: Joan Boult (nee Bluett)

Location of story: Bournemouth

Unit name: Royal Artillery Searchlight Division

Background to story: Civilian Force

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

I was about nineteen and living in Bournemouth when War broke out. We saw little direct action, apart from one occasion when I was walking with a friend in Talbot Woods above the town, and there was an air raid. It was mid morning and quite unexpected. We knew from the commotion and the pall of fire and smoke that damage had been done. Of course, on our return, we saw the extent of it. One of the big West Front hotels had suffered a direct hit.

There was nothing to bomb Bournemouth for. We had no naval base; we didn't manufacture armaments or anything like that. Instead, the town became a centre for sort of office-based manoeuvres, 'strategic planning', that kind of thing, because it was deemed to be safe 'ish'. As a young woman I was working in a draper's shop, selling.

When the War came, quite a lot of women went in the forces. There was something about women under twenty-one and over forty. I don't think they were allowed to join the 'regular' forces.

My sister joined the ATS (Auxiliary Territorial Service). She had to go to Hastings. I remember her being in uniform at my wedding, towards the end of the War, so she must have been in a while.

We got these letters, I remember, a little bit into the War (I think I was twenty one by then), advising us that we should apply for work to support the war effort. There was a choice I think, but most of them were clerical type jobs, all for the War Office. Some of them were quite high powered, like code breaking. A lot couldn't tell their families what they were engaged in, until after the War was over.

I applied, successfully, to work for the Royal Artillery Searchlight Division. They had a sort of 'operations' room in one of the hotels on the West Cliff. All the big hotels had been requisitioned. We were on the top floor I remember. I suppose it had been a lounge for guests, or even a bedroom.

It was interesting work. My job was to organise a sort of 'recall' for men on the searchlights, to do civilian work for short periods.

These were men billeted in Britain, but all over the country. Every so often, certain of them would be allowed so much leave, fairly short bursts. They'd be required to help with a sugar beet harvest or in a coal mine. It was usually agricultural or industrial work of some sort, when there was too much work for the regular workforce. Their numbers would be depleted, because of the number of hands that had gone off to fight.

The Land Army and the Bevin Boys would be doing their bit, but from time to time they'd need reinforcements. Whether these reinforcements we were sending were farm workers or coalminers in civilian life, I don't know. I'd imagine they would have to be, because there would be skills involved and no time to train someone up in just a few weeks. Whether they were going back to their own home area, I'm not sure. It'd be interesting to know. It'd make sense if they were. My job was to co-ordinate all the arrangements for this leave. I suppose I'd worked from a list. I don't recall quite how the men were selected to come out, but I had to write to their regiments and work out all their movements and so on. Strangely, I always remembered organising someone to come to the coalmines in Clay Cross. A funny name for a place, I thought at the time, where an earth is it? Never realising I'd be living just up the road from it all these years later!

There was a huge map on the wall, of the whole country. I became quite good at map reading. If you give me the name of a town in Britain, I can usually tell you what county it's in. I got quite good at geography, it stuck with me. Even now, when we're driving round the country, I can beat some of the youngsters at navigation. I've my wartime service to thank for that!



COOK Elizabeth Ann 

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.




Oh Happy Days

By actiondesksheffield

People in story: Mary Cooper (nee Bell)
Location of story: Oxfordshire, England
Unit name: Women's Land Army
Background to story: Civilian Force

This story was submitted to the People’s War site by Bill Ross of the ‘Action Desk – Sheffield’ Team on behalf of Mary Cooper.

By  Mary Cooper (nee Bell)

The year was 1942, everywhere was uneasy and we were already at war. Naturally, in the unease, we were wondering what would be happening from day to day. All able men and women were called upon to do their duty. We had a choice: army, navy, air force, land army or munitions. Even housewives with children were asked to help their country in various ways, one of which was to take in evacuees from London and other cities.

I elected to join the Land Army; first, I had a medical, then my uniform was posted to me, and I was told to report to Slough in Buckinghamshire. There was to be a team of us who were required to live in tents and do fruit picking. However, a last minute telegram arrived, instructing me to report to Oxford where I was to be met by a Land Army representative.

At Oxford station, I met the lady who was in charge of the Women’s Land Army. She informed me that I had to go to Waterferry Horticultural College, in a small village not far from Thame in Oxfordshire. She put me onto a coach and told the driver where to drop me off.

When I got off the bus, I felt like weeping. I was in the middle of nowhere; there were just trees and fields. I looked around and spotted a chimney smoking, so I walked towards it and there, amidst all the trees, was a bungalow. As you can imagine, it was quite a relief. A maid answered the door and I explained everything to her, and asked her if she knew where the cottage was. Suddenly, Arthur Askey was standing there. He said, “I’m sorry, but I’m on my way to London to do some recording, but our maid will take you to where you need to go.” I was extremely grateful. I wonder if you remember Arthur Askey; his “Busy, Busy, Bee” song that he used to sing. He was a great entertainer (Playmates). During my stay at the college, at weekends, we would see Arthur, his wife and daughter strolling though the grounds.

After the stint at college and having been trained to do all the jobs on a farm, plus market gardening, I was sent on my way to Oxford once more. There, I was met, along with another W.L.A. girl, by the agent and his wife. They took us by car to a little village called Swalcliffe, and showed us around a very large estate, where we were to be working. This was a very large house that had been given over to the Red Cross, by the owners, for the duration of the war. It was to be used for the benefit of wounded soldiers, R.A.F. and navy personnel.

Our job was to cultivate the land and the garden, and to produce fruit and vegetables etc. for the wounded and convalescing people.

We were billeted with a farmer and his wife in the village; they were a couple of old miseries. All we got to eat was bread and jam and fatty old mutton. Being farmers, they had plenty of everything, but we never received any of what they had. We had been picking sprouts with frost on them, and our hands were blue with the cold all day. We would have welcomed a nice hot meal of some kind, but it never happened.

We did get a bit of social life however; we were invited once in a while, to a dance at the big house. Matron was very strict; the ladies had to sit at one side of the room and the lads at the other. We could dance with them, but then it was back to our places. There was the Village Hall, where the locals held dances and we could have a few laughs and make friends with them. I once won the Spot Waltz; my partner and I were given five Woodbines each, but as I didn’t smoke, he claimed them all.

Our job was to cultivate the land and the garden, and to produce fruit and vegetables etc. for the wounded and convalescing people.

We were billeted with a farmer and his wife in the village; they were a couple of old miseries. All we got to eat was bread and jam and fatty old mutton. Being farmers, they had plenty of everything, but we never received any of what they had. We had been picking sprouts with frost on them, and our hands were blue with the cold all day. We would have welcomed a nice hot meal of some kind, but it never happened.

We did get a bit of social life however; we were invited once in a while, to a dance at the big house. Matron was very strict; the ladies had to sit at one side of the room and the lads at the other. We could dance with them, but then it was back to our places. There was the Village Hall, where the locals held dances and we could have a few laughs and make friends with them. I once won the Spot Waltz; my partner and I were given five Woodbines each, but as I didn’t smoke, he claimed them all.

The local bus ran once a week and went into Banbury at 2 p.m. It returned at 6 p.m. That was the highlight of the week, but more often than not, we’d miss the bus and then we would have to walk the six miles home. Oh, what happy days.

We changed our digs and made a good move. I was billeted with a lady and her three boys. Her husband was in the R.A.F. They had left Chesterfield for work in Banbury. We all got along very well; she was a good Yorkshire cook and she looked after me very well. In return, I did baby sitting for her and helped around the house. We became good friends, which we are to this day; I still go to Banbury to visit her. When I lived with her, her boys were aged 2, 4 and 6. Today (2005) they are family men in their sixties with children of their own. I have such happy memories of them all.

Whilst on a neighbouring farm, I learnt to milk, and the minute the W.L.A. Headquarters heard of this, they started to send me all over the county to help out with milking. I would have to be up at 5.30 to milk 100 cows, up to the knees in muck and slosh. For some reason, I loved every minute of it.

One place I was sent to go milking was for a General. He was an old tartar who lived in a converted barn. He had his batman to look after him; the poor man, he was terrified. Although the General had a false leg, he could still do things such as ride a horse, drive a car and a tractor. Sometimes I had to go with him, either on horseback or in the car, to round up the cattle on his land. Being a typical General, he would get very cross, then he would soften up and say, “Go and make yourself some butter in the dairy and send it home for your parents.” It went all the way from Chipping Norton to Barnsley.

My final move was into a hostel where I became a forewoman in charge of forty girls. I had to learn to drive a little Hillman Minx van. Just two weeks on the road and I was away, driving in the blackout, with only tiny slits of light being allowed to show during the blackout.

We received lots of invitations to the R.A.F. and Army camps, to their dances and parties, where we had a wonderful time. I had to drive the little van which was supposed to hold only eight people, but more often than not, there would be twelve piled in, all coming home from the dance. One night, we were all singing away merrily, when suddenly, there was a flat tyre. I was dressed in my party dress, but I had to get out and change the wheel. As it was in the blackout, the only light I could use came from a tiny torch. The matron was waiting and she accepted no excuses. We were grounded as punishment for being late.

It was a good thing we had a bit of social life because we really had to work hard for our 25 shillings (£1.25p) a week. We ploughed the land, milked the cows, did threshing, thatching, hedging, ditching, in fact, you name it and we did it. We also had to work with the German and Italian prisoners; they used to share their food with us. They were treated far better than we were.

I could go on and write a book, but I will stop now, but I would just say that after all the hard work, I regard my days in the W.L.A. as some of the happiest days of my life. We are still in touch with each other and remain friends. I will finally add that I have sung in the presence of the late Queen Mother at the Royal Albert Hall in London. We sang the songs, “Run Rabbit, Run Rabbit” and “The White Cliffs Of Dover” at a Land Army Reminiscence, comprising of five hundred Land Girls.

The above photo is of a Driving Licence issued by the Oxfordshire War Agricultural Executive Committee.

The text is as follows and is as "warts 'n' all", as originally printed (note the spelling mistake in clause 5):

Drivers Authority.
Must always be carried when driving any vehicle of the committee's.

May only be drawn from the following garages.
Bates, Cowley Road, Oxford.
Griffiths, Stone, Aylesbury.
E.H. Sumptier, Southcombe Garage, Chipping Norton.
Durrants, Garage. Kidlington.
Youngs, Service Garage, Banbury.


Drivers must obtain the following.
1 Witnesses.
2 Exact location, time and date.
3 Position of vehicles concerned.
4 Report all accidents on forms provided within 24 hours.
5 Report accidents to Police immediately.

The following constitutes on offence under the O.W.A.E.C. Regulations.
1 To use a vehicle after 7 p.m. or before 7 a.m. or on a Sunday, unless special authority has been granted.

2 Utmost economy must be observed in the use of petrol and unnecessary journeys must not be made.

3 On no account shall speed exceed 30 miles per hour and on farm roads extra care must be exercised

4 To run a vehicle with incorrect tyre pressure.

5 To break violently or drive in such a manner to cause unnecessary wear to tyres.

6 The above offences are punishable by instant dismissal and prosecution.

Crown vehicle exempt under Part 2 Road Traffic Act, 1930 - 34.



FELL Peggy 

Entertainmaent During The War

By Actiondesk Sheffield

People in story: Peggy Fell----Blue Sparks and The denys Edwards players
Location of story: Sheffield
Background to story: Civilian                                                        A4557152

This story was submitted to the People’s War site by Bill Ross of the ‘Action Desk – Sheffield’ Team on behalf of PeggyFell.


In 1941. the late Mannie Levy, then in charge of the Northern Command Volunteers Entertainment Services (Sheffield Area), set in motion a movement to present plays to the Troops. He enlisted the help of Denys Edwards, a welt-known amateur player, who though rather sceptical of the idea, was persuaded by Mannie to undertake the project. A little group of Amateur Thespians in the city was formed, without a name and with Mannie in charge. One-act plays were performed in support of Variety Artists. The first play, at Croft House Garrison Theatre in Garden Street, was Amazons on Broadway with an all girls cast among which were three of Denys Edwards Players founder members. 

These short plays neither “got the bird” nor made any particular mark, so encouraged by the absence of any active hostility, a full length play was presented in June 1942 by the nameless group. The play was a comedy, Yes and No; it ran for seven performances but it was the start of a snowball which rolled on to great success during the wartime years. Members of that cast, now in their 70’s and 80’s, are still with us, Lorna Beard, Myra Gray, Peggy Fell, Greta Waterhouse and Fred Corbridge, who whilst not active on stage still maintain support of the society. In spite of the diffidence of the Army Entertainments Officers, the company’s efforts were so successful that each subsequent play showed a steady increase in the number of performances and the last play to be done under wartime auspices in 1945 recorded a total of 40 performances at different establishments of the Army and R.A.F.

During these years of hard work, playing In Nissen Huts, Army Canteens, converted farm buildings, even stately homes, travelling home on a Corporation bus in the small hours often three times a week, it was natural that a team which had functioned so well together and had benefited from fellowship should stay together when the call for troop entertainment ceased. D.E.P. So at the end of the second World War, after giving 160 shows at military sites within a wide radius of Sheffield, it was decided that as soon as our commitments permitted we would inflict ourselves on the general public, led by Denys Edwards, and be known as the Denys Edwards Players, D.E.P. It was with some pride and no regrets that we started our public performances with not a single penny to our name and everything we have acquired has been earned by our own work and encouraged by donations from our patrons. 

We rehearsed in one anothers’ homes, paid a small amount into a “kitty” at each rehearsal, built our first set for the cost of 30/- (old money), assisted by redundant tram canvas indicators, and our first audiences in December 1945 suffered the hard seats of Croft House without a murmur. Since those days, we have come a long way; we still build our own sets but after a series of rented workshops and studios we now have our own premises. This has been achieved by hard and dedicated work by members past and present in fund-raising and giving time and talents to keep D.E.P. in the forefront of Amateur Theatre in Sheffield. So, led by Denys Edwards, who prior to taking up a business appointment in London was a leading amateur actor and producer in Sheffield, the company first performed at Croft House Settlement and then in 1947 moved to the Library Theatre, where, apart from one play at the Y.M.C.A. when the theatre was being re-furbished and eight plays at the Merlin, they have been to the present day.

The total number of plays performed to June 1995 is 210 and there have also been a number of One Act plays entered in Play Festivals. This is quite an achievement due to the hard work and enthusiasm of past and present members and the leadership of the D.E.P. Chairmen. The Society is fortunate in having over the years excellent producers and a body of competent actors and actresses, the make-up of which has changed over the years. It has been supported also by those members who help backstage with scenery, properties, wardrobe, lighting, effects, ticket sales, publicity and front of house management. Whilst again the personnel in these jobs has changed, many people have given dedicated and continuous service which has helped greatly to maintain the high standards of the society. The policy of D.E.P. has been to present plays of every type and these have included in recent years musical plays. Over the years we have been fortunate to have had the support of patrons who are regular attenders at our shows and who we consider as our friends. 

A society as big as D.E.P. needed somewhere to store and prepare scenery, to keep its properties and wardrobe and if possible a room for rehearsals, under one roof. In the early days, after a spell of “home” rehearsals, the upstairs room at the West Street Hotel was the venue and scenery preparations were carried out in a hay loft above an old coach house in Filey Lane. Because of subsidence and war damage, the workshop was dirty and draughty and in cold weather the distemper brushes froze to the scenery. In November 1959 the building was declared unsafe and a long search for a suitable place began. As a temporary measure, a barn belonging to CannonHall in Ejutt Lane, Totley, was rented in November 1960 but the distance from the City Centre was a drawback and the search continued.

Eventually the society managed to buy out old Mr Harrop and take over the tenancy of his workshop behind the Leavygreave Hotel by arrangement with the Sheffield Hospital Board for probably ten years. After a lot of hard work cleaning, clearing, decorating and building a rehearsal room in one corner, the place named The Goodwin Studios was opened for use in September 1962. At last D.E.P. had a home. However, the Hospital Board brought its plans forward and in two years we were asked to leave so that the ante-natal clinic to Jessop Hospital could be built. Thus the search for workshop and studios was on again! Eventually, two rooms on the second floor of a building in John Street were leased for five years to D.E.P. in September 1964. 

Although two sets of stairs caused difficulty when moving scenery, the place was never cold because the ground floor housed annealing furnaces which seemed to work continuously warming the building. D.E.P. stayed almost 20 years at John Street but towards the end of this period it became obvious that the premises were not adequate to accommodate all the theatrical and social activities and larger premises were sought. To this end, an unused Methodist Chapel on Norton Lees Road was purchased in 1984. Again hard work by dedicated members of the society has made the Norton Lees studio and workshop a building to be proud of. Extra rooms for storage, props and wardrobe have been built, central heating installed, inside toilets, fitted kitchen and green room created. Some outside help was obtained but most of the re-organisation has been carried out by members, who have applied their skills and dedication to the taskswhich needed to be done.

Mention must be made of the late Sir Stuart and Lady Goodwin, whose generosity in 1960 and 1962 augmented greatly the money raised by D.E.P.’s own efforts. This financial background made possible the furnishing and maintenance of the studios at Leavygreave and John Street and laid the foundation for the requisition of the building on Norton Lees Road which is now paid for in full. 

A tribute must also be paid to the Fund-raising Committee who between 1982 and 1991 organised Payres, Jumble Sales, Games Nights, Bring and Buys, Raffles, etc. to achieve ownership of the studio. Since the days of Croft House we have progressed a long way, we still build our own sets, we have no income except legitimate profits which goes back into the company to support its work. DENYS EDWARDS Among the many amateur players in Sheffield and District during the late 20’s and 30’s, Denys Edwards’ name was in the forefront. Sheer ability and hard work made him an outstanding actor. His introduction to dramatic art was kindled at the Central Secondary School for Boys. In 1927, the school produced King Henry the Eighth, with all the women’s parts played by boys mainly from the lower school. 

The school magazine, The Sheaf, of April 1928 recorded that he was already making his mark. His rendering of Queen Katherine was outstanding, entering into the part to a degree which made many of the audience incredulous when told he was one of the pupils. The remark that Edwards was indeed a “find” for the society was the foretaste of things to come. After school he continued with many groups, the Works Operatic Society of which his father was a member, Sheffield Playgoers, Y.M.C.A., Hucklow Players and the Old Sheffield Repertory Company, which at that time consisted mainly of amateur players. He played in pageants, straight plays, musicals, pantomime, cabaret, concerts, open air theatres and broadcasting, all of which gave scope to his talents. 

The ability to play comedy and tragedy equally well was his gift and as a producer he gave help to any member of the team without stint but with unfailing tact and kindliness. His sense of reponsibillty, dedication, inspiration and infectious enthusiasm brought together, after their Wartime Voluntary Entertainment Duties, the band of players who were to form D.E.P. and he always inspired confidence in his fellow players. When he was transferred to London by his company, he still wholeheartedly supported D.E.P.,attending the shows on a Saturday night. Other groups in London were fortunate to benefit from his talents and experience, while the older members of D.E.P. who knew him valued his friendship, his impish sense of humour and his concern and kindness for anyone who needed a helping hand. He died very suddenly in 1982 in the week when we were performing Man of La Mancha at the Library Theatre.

THE SCENES No society can function without a strong back- up team and D.E.P. over the fifty years has been fortunate to have had the support of people with skills and talents to enable the production of plays to attain a high standard of presentation. What made D.E.P. different is summed up by a former member in the words Attention to detail. Playing a part he had also played with D.E.P. as a butler, the sherry was served in brandy glasses, the sherry was an unconvincing colour and the audience was aware that a poisonous powder didn't dissolve in another drink. 

All these points were picked up by the SADATA critic. As he points out, it wouldn't have happened in D.E.P. Over the years, furniture, china, clocks pictures, linen, knick-knacks, light fittings and many other oddments have been collected and stored away. Some may rarely see the light of day but they are there "just in case". The wardrobe too has a good range of clothes from Victorian, Edwardian, the 20's, 30's and 40's to the present day. Articles tike top hats and bowlers, antique accessories such as evening bags and shawls are things to be cherished and cared for in this world of disposables. We have a first class workshop and are able to build our sets with the expertise of the people who work on them. By the end of 1995, we will have presented 212 three-act plays, and apart from five at Croft House, eight at the Merlin Theatre and one at Frecheville, all have been staged at the Library Theatre.

The February performance in 1979 was cancelled owing to a strike at the theatre and another show which hit difficulties was during a Big Snow. Members of the cast and backstage slowly drifted in, having walked most of the way from the suburbs. An audience of six turned up and joined the cast for a coffee backstage. A quick conference decided to call it a night and all set off back home. "We had a good laugh and shut up shop," to quote one member. D.E.P. have also toured with One Act Plays to enter drama festivals. Sets had to be portable and recruiting a second team when Three Act Plays were on the go at the same time often presented difficulties. Setting up a portable set capable of being erected and struck within a given time limit presented a challenge and the ingenuity of all who took part in these presentations deserves a whole- hearted Thankyou for their efforts.

A list compiled by Terry Mounsey can be summarised as follows: Producers Chairmen Secretaries Treasurers Ticket sales Publicity Front of house Prompt Stage directors Lights/effects Scenic artists Stage managers Wardrobe Properties 11 13 27 6 14 19 12 It would be impossible to mention everyone who has helped over the years but the following have worked for many years, up to 25 and over in some cases, and in more than one of the above disciplines: Keith Allchin Doreen Bell Anthony Brookes Bernard Braiisford* Roger Bingham Mary Bradley Frank Cooke* Maggie Collins Charles Coltey Joyce Col ley Connie Coldwell Janet Coldwell John Eaton Hazel Eaton Ronald Fell Peggy Fell Don Garlick W. Jenkins Gibson* Freda Gray Vera Gregory* Joseph Hampton* Roy Jeffrey Bess Jeffrey Edward Kain Mannie Levy* Laurie Ungard* James Marsland Terry Mounsey Bernard Neild Mary Newey Bill Peacock* James Price* David Shaw Judith Shaw John Shelton Joyce Tomlinson Michael Trott Colin Windle* Charles Wright Linda Wright Those members marked* are unfortunately no longer with us. 

When we moved to our present home at Norton Lees, funds were required to be raised to pay off the bank loan. A sub-committee to promote fund-raising was formed and their sterling endeavours, bright ideas and hard work involved in promoting efforts to clear our debt deserve the heart-felt thanks of all present and past members of the society. D.E.P. ON TOUR - ONE ACT PLAY FESTIVALS Festivals were always a mixed blessing. On the plus side they were a way of "blooding" an aspiring new producer and of showing the D.E.P. flag. On the other side there were several difficulties to be faced! Firstly, there would usually be a mainstream play in rehearsal at the same time. This meant not only a problem finding a suitable cast but, even more difficult, that of finding a second backstage team and building a second set in the same workshop.

To add to the challenge, the set had to be easily portable and capable of being erected, and struck, on a strange stage within a given time limit. A suitable play was difficult to find. Adjudicators seemed to favour plays which many of us considered to be rather weird. I remember at one festival laughing long and loud at a play about a compost heap in the middle of a living room carpet. (The play was, I think, We'll be in Eastbourne in Ten Minutes by N.F. Simpson). Having found a cast, a backstage team and a play, rehearsals could commence. These were often rather dismal affairs because the cast was usually small and we were the only people in the studio. We were very much low priority and few came to see us rehearse. This did have one very desirable effect, however - the cast became a very close team. I remember Graham Anthony, with that hilarious play Love All, determinedly setting out to encourage team spirit by booking a pub for our rehearsals. It worked - see below.


The February performance in 1979 was cancelled owing to a strike at the theatre and another show which hit difficulties was during a Big Snow. Members of the cast and backstage slowly drifted in, having walked most of the way from the suburbs. An audience of six turned up and joined the cast for a coffee backstage. A quick conference decided to call it a night and all set off back home. "We had a good laugh and shut up shop," to quote one member. D.E.P. have also toured with One Act Plays to enter drama festivals. Sets had to be portable and recruiting a second team when Three Act Plays were on the go at the same time often presented difficulties. Setting up a portable set capable of being erected and struck within a given time limit presented a challenge and the ingenuity of all who took part in these presentations deserves a whole- hearted Thankyou for their efforts.  

A list compiled by Terry Mounsey can be summarised as follows: Producers Chairmen Secretaries Treasurers Ticket sales Publicity Front of house Prompt Stage directors Lights/effects Scenic artists Stage managers Wardrobe Properties 11 13 27 6 14 19 12 It would be impossible to mention everyone who has helped over the years but the following have worked for many years, up to 25 and over in some cases, and in more than one of the above disciplines: Keith Allchin Doreen Bell Anthony Brookes Bernard Braiisford* Roger Bingham Mary Bradley Frank Cooke* Maggie Collins Charles Coltey Joyce Col ley Connie Coldwell Janet Coldwell John Eaton Hazel Eaton Ronald Fell Peggy Fell Don Garlick W. Jenkins Gibson* Freda Gray Vera Gregory* Joseph Hampton* Roy Jeffrey Bess Jeffrey Edward Kain Mannie Levy* Laurie Ungard* James Marsland Terry Mounsey Bernard Neild Mary Newey Bill Peacock* James Price* David Shaw Judith Shaw John Shelton Joyce Tomlinson Michael Trott Colin Windle* Charles Wright Linda Wright Those members marked* are unfortunately no longer with us. 

When we moved to our present home at Norton Lees, funds were required to be raised to pay off the bank loan. A sub-committee to promote fund-raising was formed and their sterling endeavours, bright ideas and hard work involved in promoting efforts to clear our debt deserve the heart-felt thanks of all present and past members of the society. D.E.P. ON TOUR - ONE ACT PLAY FESTIVALS Festivals were always a mixed blessing. On the plus side they were a way of "blooding" an aspiring new producer and of showing the D.E.P. flag. On the other side there were several difficulties to be faced! Firstly, there would usually be a mainstream play in rehearsal at the same time. This meant not only a problem finding a suitable cast but, even more difficult, that of finding a second backstage team and building a second set in the same workshop.

To add to the challenge, the set had to be easily portable and capable of being erected, and struck, on a strange stage within a given time limit. A suitable play was difficult to find. Adjudicators seemed to favour plays which many of us considered to be rather weird. I remember at one festival laughing long and loud at a play about a compost heap in the middle of a living room carpet. (The play was, I think, We'll be in Eastbourne in Ten Minutes by N.F. Simpson). Having found a cast, a backstage team and a play, rehearsals could commence. These were often rather dismal affairs because the cast was usually small and we were the only people in the studio. We were very much low priority and few came to see us rehearse. This did have one very desirable effect, however - the cast became a very close team. I remember Graham Anthony, with that hilarious play Love All, determinedly setting out to encourage team spirit by booking a pub for our rehearsals. It worked.


FISHER Clarice 

Clarice's Most Memorable Years

By actiondesksheffield

People in story: Clarice Fisher
Location of story: Huddersfield, Nottingham and Berlin.
Unit name: Duke Of Wellington's
Background to story: Army

This story was submitted to the People’s War site by Bill Ross of the ‘Action Desk – Sheffield’ Team on behalf of Clarice Fisher


When the war on Germany was declared, in September 1939, I was almost 15 ½ years old. I was away from home in domestic service in Huddersfield, which was usual for most girls at the time. I had two sisters who were already married.

The man whom I worked for was a mill owner. In the following year, older women were being taken out of the mills and they had to go making ammunitions, which led to shortages of workers in the mills. The mills were producing khaki and other materials for the uniforms. Everybody was doing their bit for the war effort. The lady of the house took in three small boy evacuees and I went to work in the mill. I lived with my sister who had had a baby; the other sister was on munitions and both of their husbands were in the army.


By this time, my younger sister came up to work in the mills. When I was turned 17½, I decided that I was going to join the army, so I went down to the enrolment centre and volunteered. By the time I’d had my medical etc., I got my call up papers. I was 18 on the 11th of April and on the 17th of April; I was on the train to Halifax where I had to report to the Duke of Wellington Barracks. My new life had just begun; I was waking up to the sound of the bugle, followed by training, square bashing for six weeks, then I went to Dagenham on a clerical course. Why, I don’t know, because I wanted to go onto the Ack-Ack or lorry driving, but for everything I wanted to do, I was too small at 5 feet tall. We had to be 5’1½”. Eventually, I finished up in the catering corp. I was posted to Nottingham, in the cookhouse of the grounds of Trent Bridge Cricket Ground.


We were billeted in some of the big houses that had been taken over by the army. I had two special friends there for 18 months, when we decided to volunteer for overseas duty. That was the beginning of our parting as we were all cooks and we couldn’t all go to the same place. We have still kept in touch though, over the last 60 years (now 2005). One of them has just died and the other is in Bournemouth. Being as I wasn’t 21, I had to have a letter of consent from my parents, which caused a bit of trouble with the family. Some were saying that I should go; Mam wasn’t too keen to sign, but dad said, “You may as well, because when she is 21, she will go.” So the consent was given. 

I came home on embarkation, and then I was posted to Versailles in France. Whilst travelling across the North Sea, I noticed that the sea was covered in ice. We had a long train journey and arrived at camp at 2 am. I was given a meal of eggs and tinned tomatoes, on American rations. The camp was in three sections, English, Russian and American. Later I was moved into Germany: Bad-Oeynhausen, then up into Berlin (Charlottenburg). We were in a big billet in a block of apartments with a big guard dog fastened on a chain ay the entrance. We were told we were the first English girls in Berlin. There were two good clubs that we could go to when we were off duty: the Jerboa Club and the Winston Club. We used to go down to the lakes sailing. 1945 winter: 40 degrees below freezing. The German ordinary people must have found it very hard. The women worked on clearing the debris from the bombed buildings, cleaning the bricks etc.

I stayed in Berlin for 22 months, after which I took demob and I arrived back in England in April and came home on the 16th. I went in the army on the 17th of April 1942, and came out on the 16th of April 1947. I had just done five years, which were the best and most memorable years of my life.



HALL Jessie 

Nursing in a convalescent home for servicemen

By Actiondesk Sheffield

People in story: Jessie Hall, Miss Warmold, Miss Barlow
Location of story: Nun Monkton Priory, between Harrogate and York
Unit name: St. John Ambulance Brigade
Background to story: Civilian Force                                           A4590506

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

Nursing in a convalescent home for servicemen


Jessie Hall

When the war broke out I was in the St. John Ambulance Brigade. My call up was to be sent to a place called Nun Monkton priory, which was and still is in the village on Nun Monkton which is between Harrogate and York.

The staff was made up of St. John Ambulance Brigade and the Red Cross. The Matron and Sister where hospital staff. For the Red Cross Miss Warmold was the quarter master and for the St. John Ambulance it was Miss Barlow who was the Commandant. There was also a corporal and a P.T. Sergeant who where army personnel.

The army personal had their quarters up in the attic in the priory its self. The senior staff down stairs in the priory and we nurses stayed in the cottages. The Priory was quite big; it housed 50 Servicemen, many from the "Nabum Hospital" in York.

After I had been at the priory for about one month nurse Brown and I where sent on a refresher course the York Country Hospital for two weeks. While we where there w stayed in a vicarage, we had to sleep in the attic which was rather scary as on a couple of occasions the sirens sounded.

I remember I was on duty one afternoon where a new intake was due, I got rather a shock on opening the door to be faced with twenty or more black faces and in the centre was one white face - he was the driver. The soldiers had arrived in this country from Jamaica in the winter and promptly went down with flu. There was not a lot of actual nursing, but more giving medicines and dressings, but we did have other jobs to do.

We nurses sometimes let the men borrow our bikes to go into York. On one of the occasion's when we where looking out for them to return, three of them weaving from side to side on the bikes, it looked obvious that they had had a drop to much to drink.

On one occasion we had a garden party, with different Stand's, one was a coconut shy with heads of Hitler and Mussolini. After the party was over some of the men then dressed one head in a pair of pyjamas, stuffed the legs in a pair of boots, then sat them on a chair at the bottom of one of the men's bed, with the hands laid on the lap with a book hopping that I would jump when I made my night round, but I was half warned what was in store for me. But I must say I looked very real.

Over the years I was stationed there we had some happy times with all the men going back to their units, as we did not lose any to death.

I enjoyed my time at "Nun Monkton Priory" we had good food even though we had rations the same as everyone else. The Priory was roughly about two and a half miles from the main road so it paid to have a bike so that on your day off you were able to get to the main road to catch a bus into York or in my case to Harrogate.



Soldiers Die in Train Disaster

By Actiondesk Sheffield

People in story: Soldiers Die in Train Disaster

Location of story: Beighton, South Yorkshire

Unit name: Dronfield Civil Defence Ambulance Station

Background to story: Civilian Force

This story was submitted to the People’s War site by Julie Turner of the ‘Action Desk – Sheffield’ Team on behalf of Eileen Hayward.

Title: Soldiers Die in Train Disaster.

Names of people in story: Eileen Hayward, Phyllis Simms.

Location: Beighton, South Yorkshire.

A report written about the incident years later in 1984.

A steel plate protruding from a goods train from a goods train ripped through four carriages of a passing troop train at Beighton in February 1942, killing 14 soldiers and injuring 35.

The tragedy happened late at night 200 yards from Beighton station.

Ambulances were sent from Sheffield, Beighton Civil Defence workers rushed to the scene to give first aid and a party of miners on their way home off shift at Waleswood Colliery stopped to act as stretcher bearers.

The injured were ferried to Sheffield Royal Hospital and the Royal Infirmary. Beighton Miners Welfare and the Church Institute were opened to accommodate uninjured servicemen for the night.

A local doctor, Dr. L. A. de Dombal, worked in the wreckage for two and a half hours tending the injured till they could be taken to hospital.

“He was first on the scene,” said one soldier “and he worked till the sweat was running down his face in black streaks. He was everywhere he was needed.

An official report on the crash, published in April, said the troop train, carrying 400 naval and military personnel was travelling at about 35mph when it came into contact with the 25cwt steel plate protruding from the goods train.

The steel packing around the plate to prevent it slipping had become dislodges, possibly by vibration during its journey and one corner of the plate cut through the sixth, seventh and eighth carriages of the troop train.

As a result of the accident the London and North Eastern Railway changed its method of carrying steel plates.

A personal account of this same incident:

Dronfield Civil Defence Ambulance Station Feb. 11th 1942 call out at 22.2 hrs.
Proceed to Beighton.

Phyllis Simms and I were on roster, an alert call came, “Proceed to Beighton”. We drove on half-masked side lights through the black out, our guess was that it was a pit disaster. How wrong we were! The police directed us to the railway station, like the teams who were there before us. The incident was down on the rail track and we had a walk of 200 yards. A 2cwt steel plate protruding from a goods train had cut through the carriages as the troop train passed through at 35 mph. Many service personnel were injured or dying; they had been sitting by windows asleep, reading or playing cards. Miners coming off work from the Waleswood Colliery helped us with the stretcher cases.

A young soldier I was tending told the sailor who had come to help me, “The Navy is too late this time”, and died a few seconds later. I wish his mother could have known we were with him. Phyllis and I arrived back at the station, black with dirt and very tired at 5.35 hrs.



V.E. Day

By Actiondesk Sheffield

People in story: Mary Isaacs and Betty Malone

Location of story: Torquay

Background to story: Royal Air Force

This story was submitted to the People’s War site by Bill Ross of the ‘Action Desk – Sheffield’ Team on behalf of Mary Isaacs and Betty Malone.

On May the 7th and 8th, 1945, I was on holiday in Torquay with my parents. I had become friendly with Betty, a pretty girl who was also on holiday with her parents and staying in the same hotel. Our stay was considerably enlivened by Sandy and Bill, two Canadian Air Force Officers who were stationed nearby. When the news came in about the German surrender, we found it difficult to believe. We tried to celebrate but all the pubs were packed to bursting and the only drinks we could get were pint glasses of cider, so we sat with them on the pavement outside the nearest pub. Betty and I wore the hats and tunics belonging to Sandy and Bill, and they wore our scarves. We had a frivolous conversation, but none of us seemed to want to talk about the future. It was an odd sensation, as if the war had done our thinking for us.

The next morning was the beginning of repatriation for some of the overseas troops. A small crowd of civilians gathered at the station to say goodbye. It was very late, very dark and oddly subdued. The Canadian Air Force Band was on the platform, playing music, which had become part of the war. Then at midnight, the boys arrived in army vehicles and the band struck up with ‘Sentimental Journey.” The crowd gave a cheer, and then stood silent whilst the Canadians boarded the train. We waved at Sandy and Bill; there was another cheer as the carriage doors slammed, then a whistle from the guard, and they were gone.

It was an occasion of tremendous mass emotion such as I had never before experienced. Many people, men as well as women wept openly. That was probably due to people remembering loved ones who would not be returning home.



KIMBER Marjorie 

A Slight Loss of Dignity

By Actiondesk Sheffield

People in story: Marjorie Kimber
Location of story: Hertfordshire, England
Unit name: 93rd (m) S/L Regiment R.A
Background to story: Army

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

A Slight Loss of Dignity

While serving on a searchlight site in a field in Hertfordshire, part of our outer ring defences of London, the following incident occurred. As part of my duty as a searchlight operator, No.5 in the searchlight crew, I had to ensure that at all times the lamp and other parts responsible for creating the beam of light necessary for both illuminating enemy aircraft and creating a ‘homing beacon’ (a path of light to guide one of our own planes, perhaps its equipment no longer useable) back to an airfield ready to accept it ‘ready for action’. One summer morning, busily engaged in cleaning the parabolic reflector, I forgot that the Sun’s rays would not remain static (unlike the equipment) until one of the other girls working outside smelled smoke and shouted, “Fire!” Feeling my nether regions unduly warm, I turned around to find the seat of my dungarees smoking fiercely. Luckily I jumped through the lower inspection door on to the grass outside, and rolling around managed to put the fire out, with a little damage to my denims but a lot more to my personal dignity. At the time, my brother was serving with the RAF in India, and stupidly I relayed the incident to him in an airmail letter. Back came the reply, a cartoon which I still have in which my brother visualised it all, but happening to a small piece of equipment nowhere near the size of the huge monster in which it had all happened. My dignity suffered twice over!!



LEE Joanne 

The White Cliffs of Dover

By actiondesksheffield

People in story: Joanne Lee
Location of story: Ostend and Dover
Unit name: 85 Group Communication Squadron.
Background to story: Civilian Force

'This story was submitted to the People’s War site by Alan Shippam of the BBC Radio Sheffield Action Desk on behalf of Joanne Lee.

I was leaving Ostend, leaving my father, my sister and my darling husband on my way to England, because my husband wasn’t going to be demobbed straight away, but it wasn’t going to be long before he joined me and he did want his son to be born in England, what’s more, to be born in Yorkshire, so that he could play for Yorkshire (cricket of course). So I left, waving for as long as I could, the three people standing there, saying goodbye to me. I felt somehow or other, that I was leaving my country as well as my family that I loved. I was pleased to go to England because that was a country that I really thought I would love to live in, where everyone spoke English all the time and where my little girl would be called Shirley (because of Shirley Temple would you believe?); absolute nonsense isn’t it, and so therefore, yes, I was very happy.

Oh, the white cliffs of Dover, my husband said, that will really be something, and it really felt like that to me. Whenever I went to Belgium after that I always wanted to see the white cliffs of Dover and yes, it was a wonderful feeling, and to me, they looked really shining white, so white that it was unbelievable. Now this might be just a young woman’s emotions, but I did feel very emotional.

I met my husband in 1945, and in no time at all, he decided that he was going to marry me, and I thought that was very romantic. Of course, he was a very handsome young man. He was in the Royal Signals, his billet was near the airport where I worked, which was the Gent airport and his job was actually in a place that had been used by the Nazis as well, because the airports had been used by the Germans when they occupied my country. I was working in 85 Group Communication Squadron and they had needed an interpreter translator, and having all the languages that were necessary, I applied and got the job.

I have been living in England now for quite a long time and I am very happy. So Belgium is somehow the place, my Country, and England is my Country and I feel that I am very patriotic about two countries, that’s Belgium and England and I’m proud of them both.



By Actiondesk Sheffield

A Woman Doctor

by Dr Ivy Oates

People in story: Dr. Ivy Oates
Location of story: Coventry,
Harlow, Ipswich, Chichester, Fife, Edinburg, Glasgow, Bombay
Background to story: Army

This story was submitted to the People’s War site by Bill Ross of the ‘Action Desk – Sheffield’ Team on behalf of Dr. Ivy Oates.


Sept 3rd 1939 was a Sunday, I was in the Coventry Cathedral at 11 o’clock, the priest went into the pulpit with a piece of paper in his hand and read a message from Chamberlain saying that he had given an ultimatum to Hitler, to which he should reply by 11 o’clock. He had received no such reply, so we were at war with Germany
We knew there had been a war in Spain and civilians and churches had been bombed and we looked at our beautiful perpendicular Cathedral with its unique blue glass in the windows. This was a special dye, a secret of a Coventry family, the secret which had been lost, and was therefore irreplaceable. It was decided to remove the windows and store them at Hampton Lucy, so they would not be damaged by blasts. Coventry Cathedral was bombed and burnt to the ground. Recently, nails from the woodwork had been made into a cross and sent to Dresden, whose Cathedral was also bombed. After the war, all we had were the windows, and a modern Cathedral was built. When one goes in, it looks rather plain, not having a thousand years of history. But when you stand at the east end under the crown of thorns, if you look towards the west end, you see the wonderful vista stained glass.

I was a student at the time, commuting between Coventry and Birmingham. They were the days of steam trains, and New St Station was covered with a tremendous glass dome. The first air raid shattered all the glass, platforms were waist deep in glass and the sparks from the funnels and the opening from the fire doors meant it was very visible from the air. Trains ran at night without lights; later, a cone of black card was put round the lights to enable people to read. One night, I was going home, there was only one other woman on the platform. Nobody travelled much, the sirens went and the lady said to me, “We have to go down the luggage subway in the event of an air raid.” So we went underground, to a dark musty passage. Suddenly, she grabbed me and shouted, “A rat!, a rat!” I’d rather have an air raid than a rat. So we went back on the platform. The train could not get into Coventry because the station had been bombed. So we disembarked at a village called Berkswell. It was after midnight, and they said they would send a bus for us. In the surrounding fields, they had put oil drums. When there was a raid, they set fire to the oil, and black smoke, which you could taste, drifted over the city if the wind was in the right direction.

We approached the city via Hearsall common, and I said that I lived down there, I will get out. The bus stopped, at that moment, a stick of bombs dropped across the common. As I stepped off the bus, the rubble ran round my feet and when I turned round, the bus had gone. No man ever put his foot on the accelerator as quickly as that driver. I walked across the road and some men from the fire unit came out and said, “You’re lucky, you are, Missus.” But I thought it was very funny. I think the bus was helped by the blast. When I got home, no one was in; they had gone to an air raid shelter. I went round the back of the house where we had French windows, and watched the planes in the sky, like little golden toys. It was very cold, and I thought, “If no-one comes, I will break a window.” Then a bomb fell and I knew just where it had gone, on the Co-op, my mother’s favourite shop. The blast from the bomb blew the door open, but it did not break the window. So I got into the house and thought it very funny that a bomb had opened the door for me. We had no gas because the mains had been hit, but we had electricity. So, I turned the electric fire on its back to warm some milk, and my father came in the front door and said, “I’ve been coming over every half hour looking for you. It’s a bad raid tonight; we are in the air raid shelter in the school opposite.” I said, “I am going to spread alarm and despondency.” My mother used to say, “Those girls know just how to serve me.” In those days, you chose how thick the bacon was to be cut and it was cut in front of your eyes. The butter was patted and wrapped and you tasted the cheese to see if it was ‘sharp’ enough.

One day, I was at the university and the Coventry students who came in by car were all missing. There was no communication from Coventry. And the word had got round that there had been a terrible raid. By evening, I felt I had to go home because there was no news. The station was out of action so I got a Midland Red bus. As we approached Coventry, the city was burning and the bus could not go into the city. But I said, “I can walk across the fields.” So they dropped me off. As I was walking across this country lane, which is now an estate, there was a large aero engine factory at the side of the road, and I thought they may be wanting to bomb it. Then I thought, “It’s all right, because they have painted cows on the roof, so that a pilot looking down will think it was a field.” It was only years later that I found the corrugated iron roofs glowed in the moonlight so the cows were illuminated, making it obvious that they were painted. Then I heard a bomb drop, and Bang bang bang, and a whole herd of cows, terrified by the bomb was stampeding up the lane. I got into the hedge; it was like a western. I walked on a bit, and then another bang. The cows turned and stampeded back. When I got home, after the terrible Coventry raid, my father had gone into the town to see the damage. He had to walk because we lost every bus, so other towns sent us busses; we got busses from Manchester and Birmingham etc. When my father got into town, amongst the burning rubble, he met the king and queen and the mayor. They came up to Coventry straight after the raid. I was nearing the end of my medical course, and we had to work in the hospitals. I’d been forced to live in Birmingham and I worked at the Coventry General Hospital. The casualty department was chaos. Lorries driving at night had no lights; accidents were occurring continuously. Later, they had black cones on their lights, but the light emitted from them was less than their braking distance. The casualty theatre had three operating couches instead of one. Everybody was pushing past each other.

The working man at that time had one eldorado, ten pounds a week. If a man had ten pounds a week, he could buy a new semi, have a good weekend in the Working Men’s Club and go to Blackpool for his holiday.

I was stitching up a wound on a miner and he said to me, “I wouldn’t have your job for 10 pounds a week. How much do you get?” I said, “I do not get paid, I pay the hospital 52 pounds a year to be allowed to work here.” Trade unions take note, we paid to be allowed to work. Ideas were different at that time. We felt we were getting experience at the hospital, so we paid for it. The attitude of people was of cheerfulness and high morale. One day, a friend came in laughing away. She said, “You ought to go outside, people are walking on tiptoe, not daring to speak. A landmine has got caught in the telephone wires and the police are getting everyone out, and no-one must make a sound in case it detonates the land mine.” She thought it was hilarious, nowadays people would want six months counselling if they had a land mine outside the house.

I qualified in July 1941 when the war was going very badly for us. I was living at the Children’s Hospital in Lady Wood Road. I wanted to specialise in paediatrics. There was a temporary job at the Children’s Hospital, which I took. Then I got a job at Victoria Children’s Hospital in Hull.

Hull was especially devastating because it not only had the raids other towns got, but it was a port. Planes came over to mine the Humber Estuary. Outside my bedroom door was a school; in the schoolyard was a naval gun. This went off twice every night. My bed vibrated across the room and the windows fell out. I don’t know why they bothered to replace them.

Poor doctors nowadays, if they work at night, they have to rest in the day. What would they do if they had an air raid every night, go to bed? There were supposed to be two house physicians. I was the ‘two house physicians’. There was one house surgeon. The casualty officer had gone in the forces. The two of us shared the casualty officer’s work. The anaesthetist had also gone into the forces. The House surgeon assisted at the operations. So, who were the anaesthetists? The two house physicians; all this for 10 pounds a month. Because of the air raids, the children were evacuated to a beautiful stately home in Brantingham Dale, which was loaned to us by the Rekitts family. We had wards with oil painting, panelling, chandeliers etc. One afternoon a week, I went to Brand dale and saw to the children and stayed the night leaving everything in order the next day. This was the only night’s sleep I would get in a week. Same for Dr Berger, the House Surgeon. She was a Jewess from East Europe who had escaped from the Nazis. I arrived at Brang Dale and the sister showed me a room. She said, “I expect this was the nursery because there were white cupboards down one side.” I looked through the window; it was the back of the house which at the front looked over the wood and the upper reaches of the Humber. I said, “This is where Victorians would put their children, at the back of the house.” The sister told Mrs Reckitt I did not like the room, so next week, Mrs Reckitt said, “I have put you in the King’s bedroom. Edward the 7th has slept there.” So I assure you I have slept in the King’s bed. The only thing the people of Hull knew about the king was that he was caught cheating at cards.

Medical women were not conscripted, but I decided to go into the army and in September 1942, I received a telephone call. “Do you still want to go in the army?” I was asked. I said “Yes.” Then they said, “Go home to Coventry, you’ll get your calling up papers.” I know this date exactly because recently, I went to the archives in Hull to look up the Victoria Children’s Hospital which doesn’t exist any more, and I found that the Victoria Children’s Hospital had been started by the Trade Unionists and that in Sept 1942, Miss Ivy Nicholls resigned. I am the only person mentioned in the archive and that must be because they never got so much work from one person for so little money.

When I arrived in Coventry, the papers said, “Go to the Military tailor and get kitted out. “ I did not know what a cultural shock it was to the tailors who were used to kitting out Generals and Colonels etc, to be suddenly presented with a woman. It had never happened before. The jacket was all right; it just had to be buttoned the other way. They had never made a skirt before, but that was simple utility material. But what to put on my head? They put a peaked cap on my head. I looked ridiculous in this. The men used to say, It went along on its own and I walked under it. However, here am I in uniform, two pips on my shoulder and a first class railway ticket to Leeds, to Beckett’s Park, to the Royal Army Medical Corp training college.

Everybody saluted me. The queen was not more saluted than I was on that day. I did not know how to salute, left hand, right hand, two fingers like a girl guide. I was thankful to get into the safety of four walls. There were about 8 women and over 100 men, all doctors. Of course, you have to get immunised. In the crowded hall, three men fainted, but nobody took any notice of them. I heard one man mutter, “Fancy them doing that in front of these women.”

We had to experience gas. Cylinders of chlorine, phosgene etc. were placed in a field and we had to go and have a sniff at the gas to recognise it, then put on the gas mask to see if it protected us. When the army wished to move over a hundred troops, it marched them. We were lined up, me every inch of 5 feet 2, in a tight utility skirt, and men of 6 feet, 6’4 etc, and away we went. No way could I match the army pace. The Sergeant Major’s nightmare, one person in step, me. He was not put out, he put me front row, left side. Everyone to take their pace from me. The seams of my skirt were a great credit to the Coventry Military Tailors. The men on the front row started taking lady like steps, then people behind trying to keep their distance. The ranks and columns wavered and a great peel of laughter rang out. If I could not reach the army pace, they could not meet mine. So we had to amble across to be gassed.

After two weeks, I was posted, first class ticket to Uxbridge. However, I was not to go to Uxbridge, I was to be sent to Colchester in Essex. It was late when I arrived at the station, no one was there. The porter said, “This is the back of the station, go over the footbridge to the front.” There was the worst thunderstorm that I have ever known. There were thunder, lightening, sheets of rain and no transport because the driver knew the train came to the back of the station, so he was waiting at the back, while I stood at the front. Eventually, he came round. The journey in the blackout and with Essex being flat, we kept running into sheets of water. We arrived at a village called Great Yeldham where the army had requisitioned a large house as a battery headquarters. It had been a disastrous day for them. The DR rider had crashed into a tree and got killed. That was the first Signal. They were attached to an American airfield and the Americans had detonated one of their own bombs and they’d had an explosion. The terrible storm had brought down the electricity cables and they were in darkness, so they stuck candles in beer bottles and were walking round in a Frankenstein way, illuminated by candles.

However, their troubles were not over; out of the storm, the new medical officer arrived, the officers came out of the mess holding the candles. To their amazement, they found their new medical officer was a woman. They didn’t know such things existed; in fact they put me in to share a bedroom with the Captain Quarter Master. I was replacing an officer, Captain Lissack who was posted to North Africa. He said to me, “I will hand over to you in the morning, but there is no Red Cross brandy.” I said, “Why not?” Apparently, the Sergeant in charge of the reception station had an affair with an ATS girl who jilted him. So he decided to commit suicide. Well, you can’t just say, “I’m going to commit suicide,” and just do it, so he was drinking the brandy. The Corporal rang the Officers’ mess to say the sergeant was going to commit suicide and was drinking the brandy. Then Captain Lissack said, “He’s not having it all, I’m having some.” So between them, they finished the Red Cross brandy by which time, neither was in a fit state to commit suicide.

Next morning was my first sick parade. A sergeant with a dog, the size of a small pony said, “My dog’s got a bone stuck in his throat.” So, he pulled the dog’s mouth open and there was the bone in the back of his throat. I got the forceps and pulled it out, and wondered whether I should have gone as a vet. Next a searchlight was having trouble with its grease-trap. I didn’t know what a grease-trap was but I went to give my expert opinion. Had I known men then as I do now, I would have realised that the word had gone round that there was a woman Medical Officer and they wanted to see what she was like.

One of my jobs was that I was M.O. to an Italian P.O.W. camp near Braintree Essex.
They were the happiest men in England. It was a tented camp surrounded by the obligatory barbed wire. This was not to keep Italians in, but others out. The Italians weren’t going anywhere. Their first job was to build the camp. They were provided with concrete etc. and set to work to build their barrack rooms. They made moulds of the Virgin Mary in their arms, to ornament the doorways, but the Officers’ Mess was not going up at all. So the Colonel got them all together and said that in England, in the winter, snow came up to your neck, icicles were everywhere and a bitter wind blew, and nobody was going into the barrack room until the Officers’ Mess was built. It went up in a week.

The prisoners worked in the village. A coach came for them every morning to take them to work. They went out looking a bit like soldiers; they came back with bumps all over them, pockets bulging. Chickens, rabbits, eggs, everything they could lay their hands on, they brought back with them. The guards for the camp were first was veterans, dead keen soldiers, but a bit arthritic, shorted sighted etc. The guard stood with his rifle at the bottom to the coach steps. The Italians hopped in, two steps at a time. The last one handed the guard’s rifle to one of the prisoners. It had helped him up the steps, and they were ready to go to work. An air raid in Braintree damaged one of the roads. They asked for the prisoners to go and clear the road. They worked in their usual Italian way, singing, gentle pace, and at 5 o’clock, they were ready to get in the coach and go home for their tea. The sergeant went to the coach and said, “Get out, the road isn’t cleared, it has to be cleared before you go home.” The Italians said, the Geneva Convention stated that they must only work a certain number of hours. They knew the Geneva Convention by heart. The sergeant uttered a few well-chosen words about the Geneva Convention and got them all out. I said to the Colonel, “What are you going to do, these prisoners are refusing to work?” He said, “I thought of putting them into tents to sleep on boards for a week, but you have to say that it won’t be detrimental to their health.” I said, “Our men are sleeping on the ground under their vehicles. If they can sleep on the ground, the Italians can sleep on boards.” There was an Italian doctor in the camp and he went to the Colonel, tears streaming down his face. He would not be responsible if the men got pneumonia etc. He made such a commotion, the Colonel went to my Colonel, called the A.D.M.S. and said what he proposed and that I had passed it. My Colonel had a term of endearment for me, “That bloody woman.” So he said, “That bloody woman would,” So whether they slept on boards or not, I don’t know.

One evening, two prisoners were missing. An escape; this is getting more like Colditz. I said to the Colonel, “What are you going to do? Two men have escaped.” “Nothing!” he replied. At ten o’clock that night, a call came from Harlow, to “….come and pick us up.” This was our great escape.

Another of my jobs was in Ipswich. When a unit came in transit, they brought their own medical officer. But when they went on embarkation leave, the unit had no M.O., so I covered for them for ten days. They decided to have some A.T.S. attached and the army had requisitioned a nice Georgian house that had been empty for a year. They colour washed the walls, made the house very comfortable and made a billet for the A.T.S. I had to pass it as suitable for the girls to go in. I said it was very nice, they could go in. Next morning, every girl on sick parade was covered in bug bites. When the raids were bad on the East End of London, some of the evacuees were housed in this fine house in Ipswich before being sent into the countryside. They took with them, fleas, bugs, lice, scabies etc. The M.O.H. cleaned the house, took out the skirting board, fumigated it and left it empty for one year. He refused to believe that bugs can live for that amount of time without food.

A man got up in Parliament and said, “It is disgraceful, women being in charge of all male units.” I’d say, “Who does he think has been in charge of men since the beginning of time?” If women had not been in charge of men and looking after them, how would they have had time for their theories, religions, inventions etc.? My colonel, was a bit miffed by this, he didn’t want to be told by M.P.s what he could do. He had one definite woman Medical Officer in charge of an all male unit. However, he came to the mess and started chatting. “We are going to send you to Broadstairs, you’ll like it there, it’s at the seaside, etc.,” he said, as though he were a travel agent. At the end, I said, “I don’t like the seaside, I prefer the country.” You can see why he called me “….that bloody woman.”

I was doing Ipswich at the time and I said to the colonel, “They’re going to push me to Broadstairs.” “Oh,” he said, “If they’re going to post you, the A.D.M.S. (Assistant Director of Medical Services) is a pal of mine, I’ll get him to post you to us. When you first came, I said to the men, ‘do you mind having a woman medical officer,’ and they said, no, they preferred it.” So I kept quiet because that was another all male unit. When the colonels got together around their whisky, my colonel said, “that b….y woman, if she’s going from one all male unit to another, she might as well stay where she is.” So I never saw the delights of Broadstairs.
We were expecting the invasion, and troops were being moved toward the coast, so of course, they needed me and I was posted near Chichester, on the south coast I’ve never suffered from men being nasty or disagreeable with me. But I have suffered from them being too kind and subsequently, I found there was little for me to do. We did get machine gunned in a field once, so we just laughed, saying, “The Germans couldn’t hit a haystack at five yards.” But I had been used to being very busy and I was bored. So I wrote to the A.D.M.S. and told him that there did not seem to be a job for me there. 

So, whilst I was having a read in bed one night, an officer poked his nose around the door and said, “You’re posted.” I said, “What, now?” He said, “No, we’re not telling you until morning.” I said, “Where am I going?” He said, “Scotland.” So, if they were irritated with me, they couldn’t have sent me much further from the south coast than to Scotland. Next morning, I went to Edinburgh and an officer came and he was chatting me up on the station. I could not think who he was; then he said, “I have never spoken to a woman Medical Officer before.” I realised, that if we were rare in England, we were unknown in Scotland. I went to get some tea, and the waitress said, “Lady somebody or other, wondered if you would like to take a sherry with her.” I felt like the fat lady at the circus that everyone wanted to look at. However, it was a free drink. I was to go to a place called Aberdour, in Fife. It was a job after my own heart, an empty house, to start from scratch and establish a reception station. The Scots have their own language in Fife. My new corporal thought he’d met me before, and he said, “Ma’am, do you mind my face?” I told him, I thought I could put up with it. But as all Scots know, he meant, “Do you remember my face?”

I was the M.O. to the gunners on the Forth Bridge and I had another reception station at Kinghorn. I enjoyed being in Scotland, so I thought I would like to see more of it at the government’s expense. I asked the A.D.M.S. if I could have the job of relieving M.O.s on leave. After all, Aberdour has been sorted out and would now be easy for a man to take over. Men do not like jobs moving about, they like to stay in one place, so there was no competition for the job, I got it. Whilst I was in Aberdour, my driver wanted to go to Edinburgh, but could not use the vehicle unless she was driving me. So she said, “Would you like to go to Edinburgh ma’am?” Well, I wasn’t keen, there wasn’t much there, so she said, “You could go to the cinema ma’am.” I never went to the cinema, but between the wars there had been one film that was highly praised and I had seen it: ‘Tales From The Vienna Woods.’ So I went into Edinburgh, to the cinema, and it was ‘Tales From The Vienna Woods.’
Then we went to Bishopbriggs, near Glasgow and I was delighted to see the west coast of Scotland, after being on the east coast. However, I did not even see the side of the road, it was thick fog for all the ten days I was there. Nevertheless, my driver wanted to go into Glasgow, so she said, “Would you like to go into Glasgow ma’am?” So I thought I might as well go to the cinema. It was ‘Tales From The Vienna Woods.’
Within the next ten days, I was sent to Ireland. Wonderful, I went to Stranraer, sailed across to a place called Whitehead. There was a German P.O.W. camp on the Isle of McGeed, but they did not give me that because, Germans, like the British, think if you are a prisoner, you should try to escape. Whereas my Italians, were glad they were comfortable and stayed where they were.

However, my driver wanted to go into Belfast, so I went into Belfast, and the film in the cinema was ‘Tales From The Vienna Woods’. At the end of ten days, I got a phone call: “Do still want to go overseas?” I said, “Yes.” So they said, “Do not go to ‘Derry next week, go back to Coventry where you will receive your papers for overseas.” I went back home, got my knife, fork and spoon which my mother wrapped in a lace doily (a small mat), and went to London, the only time I shall ever live in a Bayswater flat which the army had requisitioned. When we were kitted out with pith helmets and tropical kit, we knew we were going somewhere warm. Then, in the middle of night, we were put on a train and a few weeks after leaving Scotland, I was back in Stranraer. There were three large troop ships in the estuary and you couldn’t see one of them, that fog which I had resented, when I was in Bishopbriggs was still there. It provided a wonderful camouflage to the ships. Think what a target three large troop ships would have been. As we were going to the tropics, we naturally had to go via the North Pole. It was December 1943 and the weather was atrocious.
The ship went up and down; everybody was seasick and for one whole day, I had nothing to eat. This is against my principles, so the next day, I was determined to get up. I fell about the cabin getting dressed, clung to the rail in the corridor and as I reached the steps, the ship tipped up. I do not know how to go down steps, upwards, so I had to wait till they went down again. I got to the salon, took the first chair in sight. There were rails round the tables to stop the plates falling off and there was no one there other than the waiters, enjoying doing nothing and being paid for it. I could have had everybody’s breakfast.

We then went west and whilst in British waters, we were on British rations. When we left British waters, a wonderful sight appeared on the dining table, a big dish of oranges. We had not seen an orange for four years. We sailed into the Atlantic Ocean, and made a big circle. The clock kept changing, that’s why we knew we were doing a circle; It was because we had to get through Gibraltar at night. Previous to this, all troops had to go via Durban in South Africa. The war in North Africa was over, but there, they were still trigger happy. One ship had tried to get through and had been hit. We were the next. We went through in the night, all wearing our Mae Wests and amazingly, there were lights along the coast. We hadn’t seen lights like that for four years. We got through to port side, the first ship to do so and the M.D. was open. The ship, called Stratheden, was too big to go through the canal, so we disembarked, and went by train to a transit camp, put there by the navy and because it was built for W.R.E.N.s, it was called The Aviary. 

There were about half a dozen women in The Aviary. Imagine a desert full of men when half a dozen women arrive. We got invitations to the Officers’ Mess in tents. We made ourselves beautiful, all polished, while the men looked scruffy in their desert gear. And one woman, who ought to have had more sense, asked the Colonel where the ladies’ room was; the middle of the Sahara, full of men, asking for a ladies’ room. We were not going to miss this. The colonel took us to a little hut where there was a wooden seat with a hole in it. This was for the colonel. Near it was another with a wooden plank containing two holes. This was for officers. Those of us that were inquisitive, had a look round and found a long ditch, with a long plank with a row of holes. We were highly delighted to think what a cheerful time the men had in the morning, all together. We were laughing when we went back and I heard the Colonel mutter, not quite the ladies we’re used to, but perhaps its better this way. One officer asked me if I’d like to go to the French club at Tewfick. I said yes, but he said its out of bounds because there’s a plague there. I thought, “What’s plague between friends?” so we went to Tewfick. It was wonderful to sit in a comfortable chair, after living with army issue for over a year. One of the women in our group was having an affair with a man awaiting his divorce. He was going to write to her in Bombay to tell her if it was going through.

Of course, the army had lost our records and wondered who we were. They thought we must be ENSA. So they had to rustle up a ship for us and they found the czar’s yacht which sounds very grand, until you remember the czar and his family were murdered in 1917 and it was now the end of 43. It was crewed by Poles who could not speak English. They put three of us in a cabin for two, two bunks, and a mattress on a sort of pirate’s chest for the third. I thought, “I’m not sleeping on that,” so I said to the officer, “I’ll have a hammock.” He said, they would put a hammock up for me every night on the deck. Have you ever tried getting into a hammock? They tip over. A Colonel was chatting me up that day and at night, he said, “Go and get ready,” He would get me into the hammock. So I came on deck in my nightie and he got me into the hammock. Once you are in, it’s all right, however, I was definitely in the best place. There was a nice breeze across the water. In the Arabian Sea, when the waves break, you get phosphorescence in the water and it cannot be seen in the daylight. However, when you are in the hammock, you have to get out, each morning, I would hear a voice. The captain learned one sentence in English which he repeated every morning. “I am sorry to disturb, you but the decks must be washed.”

Years later, I wondered how many junior officers had a Senior Officer to put them to bed and a Ship’s Captain to get them up. It was like the song the men used to sing, ‘Kiss Me Goodnight Sergeant Major, Wake Me With A Nice Cuppa Tea.’ At the time, it seemed quite natural, the Poles are very fond of soup; they make it then they add yesterday’s vegetables chopped up forming a kind of potage. When I was in Hull, I once noticed the soup had a funny aftertaste and I said to the maid, “This soup tastes funny.” “Oh,” she said, “I expect the chef left the lid off the stockpot and a cockroach got in.” Apparently, when this happened, he’d fish it out and boil the stock again. There was the same tang to the Polish soup, but I did not tell anybody. You had bread with soup, French stick cut in pieces. But the weevils got there first, so we took the slices of bread and held them aloft, dropped them onto the plates, so the weevils fell out. We dusted them onto the floor turned the bread over and treated the other side the same. And nobody was any the worse for it. When we arrived in Bombay, we separated, never to meet gain and I was to go to a place called Kirkee near Poona. Everyone knows the British settled in India to trade, but so did all the other seafaring nations, the French, Portuguese, the Dutch etc. This hospital was converted from Dutch barracks and was a TB hospital for British troops, officers and Indian army officers. India was riddled with TB and still is. When I arrived, we were briefed on how not to offend Muslims, their systems, and Hindus and their systems. It seems odd when people come here (to the UK) that nobody briefs them on how not to offend us.

Some of the men patients had escaped from Singapore. Singapore upsets me more than any other incident in the Far East. Why we didn’t fight for it I don’t know. It would have been better to die fighting than be taken prisoners by the Japanese. Some men escaped, they wandered through Burma. There were headhunters who would take a man’s head off to keep as a trophy. They waded in swamps with leeches in them and they got malaria. And when they reached the border with India, they were riddled with TB. They had come to us to die. All you could say, they died in a clean bed amongst their own people instead of rotting in the jungle, eaten by wild animals. There was no antibiotic treatment at the time. However, I am very interested in insects, particularly ants which were very large in India. Once an officer asked me if I would like to go to the Phoona races. I said I don’t know anything about racing, but he wanted me to go anyway. So in return, I thought, “He likes chocolate cake, I’ll get a chocolate cake.” We had a ration of a bottle of whisky a month, so I thought when he brings me back he can have some chocolate cake and whisky. As we approached the bungalow where I was billeted, I said to him, “You’re not getting any chocolate cake.” I said, “Look, it’s just as though someone has taken a brush and dipped it in black paint and drawn a black line up the steps.” The ‘line’ was a deluge of ants. 

One side of the line was going up towards the chocolate cake and other side was comprised of ants returning, full of chocolate cake. When we got to my room and looked in the cupboard, the chocolate cake was reduced to a pile of saw dust. We used to stand the cupboards in tins of water to keep out the ants. But these large ants, nearly an inch in length, had drowned themselves in the water so that their ‘comrades’ could crawl over their bodies in order to get to the cupboard. A nursing sister, a Q.A., said to me once, “I love chocolate éclairs. Do you think the chef would make me some?” So I said, “You can ask him for nothing.” Yes, he could make them; he gave a list of ingredients, which he bought at the bazaar. He made a wonderful dish of chocolate éclairs and when we’d eaten some of them, there were quite a few left, so the sister said, “I’m not going to leave these for the night staff.” She put the dish in the cupboard and when she went off duty, she put a note on the desk saying, “Look in the cupboard, there’s a surprise for you.” When night staff looked, they had their surprise, a pile of sawdust. I said once that I did not know how the ants found the éclairs, and a chap came to me and said, “You know how the ants found them?” I said, “No.” He said, “It was the note the nurse left on the desk. ‘Look in the cupboard.’”

The war in the Far East was going badly because money, men and munitions had been needed in North Africa and Europe, but things were going better in Europe and we were to get ready for what was called the Burma push. And our whole hospital, beds and equipment were to move by train to a place called Ranchi, near Calcutta.

Once we got started and organised in Burma we moved forward rapidly and when they got Rangoon, a port, it was more convenient to send casualties by sea, to Madras. So some of us were posted from Ranchi to Calcutta. One of my jobs in Calcutta was to go to a convalescent hospital, which was a Raja guest palace in Burracoti. It was the time of the ‘quit India.’ In every country, there is a group of people that knows what is right and what should be done, and that group is the students and they staged many demonstrations in Calcutta. Nobody wanted to quit India more than the British Tommy; he was fed up with taking meparcrien and fed up with Indian food. He wanted to quit India, so one student demonstration along Chowringee, was chanting, “Quit India.” The British soldiers fell behind, shouting, “Quit India.” And the students wondered why everyone was laughing. I was at Burracotee at the time that rioting started. It was well out of the town, away from British settlements. Consequently, the hospital had to be sealed off and no one could leave and no one could come in. So the nurses that had been on at night had to cover the day and the next night, and I was stuck there. Calcutta is very humid and you have to change clothes frequently.

My husband rang from Calcutta and said, “Are you all right?” I said, “No, I’ve got no change of clothes, I only brought enough for 24 hours.” So he said, “I will put myself on a convoy and bring some.”
The home sister who was imprisoned with me in the hospital said, “I have a friend in transport who could move this hospital to that building that the army has in Calcutta which was intended for the overflow from the hospital, but he hasn’t enough men.” So when my husband arrived with his convoy, I said to him, “We could move the hospital to the building in Calcutta, but we haven’t enough men.” He said, “How many do you want, 80, 100?” I said, “100 will do.” Next day, a convoy, lorry loads of men and some 3 tonners, lined up. We put beds and equipment into the 3 tonners and went in convoy through Calcutta and the patients were put into the other building. I remember saying to the quartermaster, “I’ve got 100 chairs for you.” He said, “What do I want with 100 chairs?” So I said, “I don’t want them and you’re the quartermaster.” The next morning, the corporal sent for me. He was not aware of what had taken place, Apologising for me being left out in the sticks he said how he’d tried and how the palace was unsuitable, but he tried to get the other place opened, but it hadn’t been possible. And when we finished, I said, “I’ve moved it.” He said, “Moved what?” I said, “The hospital.” “You’ll have offended the raja,” he screamed as though I’d started a second Indian mutiny. He’d no more time for me. The silence afterwards was deafening, but I heard an officer say, “Only a woman would have got away with it.”

I did not get a medal for doing what the colonel said was impossible. I was court martialed for offending the Raja. It was only years later that I realised that not only had I insulted the Raja by not waving goodbye, but I was a woman and women are not highly regarded in India. However, whilst we were in Ranchi we had a bad polio epidemic. Two nursing sisters died and many men were invalided by paralysis. I’m one of the few doctors who had seen polio in the raw where it was a killing disease.
I was posted to Lahore for a time. It was terribly hot, so I always slept outside under the mosquito net. One night, the bed kept rocking about; it did not worry me because I was used to beds jumping about when I was in Hull, when the naval guns went off. I just thought there was a dog under the bed. The next morning, I went into the mess. Everyone was bleary eyed. “Wasn’t it a terrible night?” they said. “Why, what was the matter?” said I. “The earthquake,” they said. They had all been outside with their jewellery boxes and wallets. It’s the only earthquake I’ve ever been in and I missed it.

I was then posted back to Calcutta, and I had a nursing sister on the ward who was very ill with an amoebic infection. The treatment involved a tablet with a heavy metal salt and I had an inborn reluctance to give metallic salts. I thought, “She’s not getting better, I think the tablets are making her worse, I’m not giving her any more.” When the consultant came round, he said, “Continue her tablets.” I said, “I’m not giving her any more, if you want her to have them, write them up yourself.” He didn’t write them up, but apparently, they had a little meeting and they decided to send her home and let her die at home. To get me out of the way for a bit, I was to accompany her to Bombay where arrangements had been made for her to sail back to the U.K. This suited me and we went to Dum Dum airport, spent the night there and were ready to fly the next morning. The pilot sent me a message, “We cannot take off, we’re in the middle of a dust storm.” So we spent the day at Dum Dum, went to bed and got up next morning. Things were all right and off we went. We’d been flying some time (the plane was a Dakota). I looked through the porthole and noticed something like lightning on wings. I’m probably quite wrong, but I thought you couldn’t be struck by lightning if you weren’t touching the ground, so I didn’t worry. Then the pilot sent me a message, “We have run into an electric storm. I’m going back.” I said, “Don’t go back, we’ll miss the boat.” But he’d turned round and we were back at Dum Dum. On the third day we rose again, we flew to Bombay but the boat had left. I had to leave the sister at the military hospital there.

Unknown to me, my husband had heard that they were going to send me to Bombay, so he put himself on a convoy and came across India on a motorbike, and when I thought he was a thousand miles away, there he was with a grin across his face. He said to me, “We’re going pigeon shooting, do you want to come?” So I said, “Yes, I’ll go pigeon shooting. And his friend a major came round in a Jeep I sat at the front with the Major; my husband sat at the back. With the Major’s bearer, he got his turban, he was all dressed up. We got into the country, and my husband was saying, “This is Black Cotton Soil, its very fertile. But after the Monsoon, it becomes very slippery. All of a sudden, the bearer shouted, “Stop, stop.” So the major slammed on the brakes, the Jeep stopped but I didn’t and I went sailing through the windscreen. I also made close contact with Black Cotton Soil, I had my face in it. The pigeons were safe, we had to return, my head was cut open, and I remember the M.O. stitching my head, and saying, “I can’t understand you, my wife would be hysterical.” I said, “I don’t know about your wife, but you’d do better if you used a cutting needle, instead of a round bodied one.” I could feel he had the wrong needle, so I had a great bandage round my head. 

I had to return to Calcutta by train, and to understand the next part, we have to step aside. Two ladies, a doctor and a matron in one of the hospitals, decided that when they had some leave, they would go to Kashmir. Kashmir is a beautiful Shangri-la in the Himalayas – all mountains and lakes. The only unfortunate thing is that men were killing each other then and still are. However, they went to the station. Indian trains were very beautiful; they were sleepers, four berth compartments, but at the end of every carriage, was a two-berth compartment reserved for ladies. So the two ladies got into this compartment, settled down for the night, going across India to Kashmir for their dream holiday. The next morning, they were both found murdered, strangled with a silken scarf. This upset the establishment very much. An Indian Army order came out that women were not to travel in these two-berth compartments any more. They were to travel in four berth compartments.

My husband and I went to Bombay Station and found a four-berth compartment. An Indian lady got in; when the whistle went for the train to start, my husband pulled out his revolver, he handed it to me and said, “It is loaded. If you have to, USE IT!” So I just said, “OK,” and I took the revolver. He hopped off the train and away he went.

At about seven o’clock - it gets dark in the tropics - the train stopped at a station, and the sergeant in charge of the train came down, banging on the door. “LOCK ALL YOUR DOORS! LOCK ALL YOUR DOORS!” So, when the train started up, we went to lock the door, but the lock was broken, we couldn’t lock it. However, we decided to put our tin trunks across the doorway; we had to use tin because the ants had everything else; and away we went. We hoped that if anybody tried to get in, they might fall over them and perhaps, happily break their necks.

Anyway, we settled down for the night. I remember the Indian lady brought some very nice cake with her, with cherries in and cream. We didn’t very often get cream cakes there. However, away we go, I could not lie down because of the bandage around my head, so, when it got dark, I propped myself up in a semi-sitting position on the bunk, and I must have dozed off as we as we ‘sailed’ through the night. Then, I noticed an odd feeling. It seemed cool. I opened my eye, one eye because the other had quietly closed under the bandage, and there, in the darkness of the tiny little light that there was in the carriage, I could see the carriage door was wide open, and standing at the bottom of my bunk, was an Indian figure shrouded in a shawl.

I thought of my revolver and I could not move. I wondered about this, I do not know why, but I could not get that revolver, but when the figure turned towards me, I realised it was the woman from the opposite bunk. If she hadn’t been sharing with the slowest person ‘on the draw’ in the whole sub-continent, she might have had a bad accident. I don’t know how it is that men can draw and shoot in a split second, because I don’t think a woman can, because you’re undecided, you’re not quite sure. Anyway, I don’t know what happened, but I didn’t shoot her and we moved our trunks back against the door, we closed the door, and we got back to Calcutta.

Whenever I’m in a life and death situation, people think it’s hilarious, the men in the mess thought it was terribly funny; maybe it was. Something similar happened to me once in Sheffield. My son was with me, he’d gone out early in the morning, and I heard the door go, then I heard someone rattle the knob. Of course, I didn’t go down, I was in the bathroom; someone came up the stairs. I looked through the door to say, “What have you forgotten?” and found a perfectly strange man coming up the stairs. I said, “GET OUT!” He ran down the stairs. He said, “I’ve come to see if you want anything doing.” I said, “YOU DIDN’T! GET OUT!” When I told my lads, they thought it was hilarious. They said, “I bet he was frightened to death.”

So there you are; however, I got back to Calcutta. I had different jobs. One particular job I had was to go to a place called Bhuracrutee, where a Raja had lent us a beautiful marble guest palace, as a sort of convalescent halfway house in a hospital. We had got a building, which we could have used; it belonged to the army, but they’d never been able to get it sorted out. So, one day, I had to go Bhuracrutee, see to the patients there, stay overnight and come back the next day.

It was the time of the ‘Quit India Campaign’, and this palace was away from any western settlement. Rioting started, so it wasn’t safe for anyone to leave the palace or the hospital to go out. The nurses who had been on all night, had to stay on the next day, and the next night and the next day. So did I. My husband rang me up from the fort in Calcutta where he worked. He said, “Are you all right?” I said, “Of course not, I thought I was only coming for 24 hours. I’ve only got two changes of clothes.” You have to change your clothes at least twice a day in Calcutta. I said, “I’ve no clothes.” So he said, “I will put myself on a convoy, and come and bring you some.” So the home sister who was also incarcerated with me said, “I have a friend in transport and he said ‘I have enough transport to move this hospital to the place in Calcutta, but I haven’t enough men.’” So when my husband arrived, I said, “The home sister has a friend in Home Transport who could move the hospital into Calcutta, but they haven’t enough men.” He said, “How many men do you want? Eighty? A hundred?” I said, “A hundred will do.”

So, he bought lorry loads of men in and transport brought their three tonners; we packed patients, beds, equipment, everything into the three tonners, went in convoy to Calcutta to the building which the army had there, and ‘shovelled’ them all in. I didn’t tell the C.O., after all, the administrators don’t need to know everything, but I did say to the quartermaster, “I’ve a hundred chairs for you Q.” He said, “What do I want with a hundred chairs? I don’t want a hundred chairs.” I said, “Nor do I, but you’re the Quartermaster.”

The next morning, the C.O. sent for me and started apologising, told me how sorry he was that I was out in the sticks; it wasn’t suitable being out there, you know, a poor defenceless woman amongst the rioting etc. And so, when he’d finished, I said, “I’ve moved it.” He said, “Moved WHAT?” I said, “The hospital.” He flew up into the air. He said, “You’ll have offended the Raja.” It was as though I’d started another Indian mutiny. Well, perhaps……….I don’t know. It didn’t occur to me until years afterwards that maybe I had offended the Raja, not only because I had moved the people from his palace without saying goodbye, but “you had done it, a woman”.

It just occurred to me, years later, that that would have offended him. Never mind, whatever happened, happened. The silence after it was deafening. I didn’t get a medal for doing what the C.O. said was impossible, and I didn’t get court-martialled for offending the Raja, but I did hear one of the men saying, “Only a woman would have gotten away with it.”

I don’t know whether you have ever been on a job where you have to cover. But when you are on duty and covering, something always happens. When other people are on, nothing happens; they go to bed. Something always seemed to happen when I was orderly officer. One early hour of the morning, the war in Burma had ceased and men were coming back to Calcutta, to go home. Lorry loads of men were being taken to Calcutta Station, and they had a pile up; one lorry ran into another, and the Casualty was full of badly injured men and slightly injured men. The whole lorry load suddenly arrived in Calhitti. And of course, who is orderly officer? I am. Well, I don’t mind a big job like that, it suits me. I like a big organising job. “All those not hurt, go over there, a char will make you some tea. All those with slight cuts and bruise, over there, the nurses will see to you.

We had runners, we didn’t have telephones. So we sent all the boys, the runners off to every ward to get them to send all the orderlies with all the stretchers they’d got, and they all came running into Casualty like spokes on a wheel. We put the more seriously ill ones on the stretchers to get them onto the wards. And then I thought, “What am I doing? We have a Casualty like Piccadilly Circus, and all the men are in bed. So then I sent all the runners to get all the consultants up, and I can just imagine what they said. It gave me great pleasure.

However, that was one night. Another night I was on, the troops had come out of Burma and they were bright yellow with nepacrine, and they thought, “Hooray, we’re out of Malaria country.” They stopped taking nepacrine. A Medical Officer rings me up and says, “I’ve ten men with Malaria.” He rings again, “I’ve eight more men with Malaria.” He was gradually shipping the whole regiment to me with malaria, because they’d all stopped taking the nepacrine, and that was his blessed fault. However, I said, “Look, I’ve no more beds left. You’ll have to turn one of your barrack rooms into a ward, and I’ll send you the treatment. We can’t admit anyone else. That was another time when the C.O. went out, and went to bed with a half empty hospital and woke up to find it bulging at the seams. They must have dreaded me being on.

Once, I got a phone call from French Indo-China. A little French girl, they thought, had inhaled a peanut and we were the only people who could do the bronchoscopy. So they said, could they fly her over? So I said, “Yes!” The next morning, the C.O.’s having kittens. “YOU HAVE ADMITTED A CIVILIAN TO A MILITARY HOSPITAL. YOU MAY HAVE TO PAY FOR HER!” So I said, “Alright, I will.” I didn’t know what I was going to pay, but he wasn’t going to brow beat me. I said, “I thought the French were our allies.” Mind you, we had our doubts about that. I was never forgiving of the French for letting us sink their navy, rather than come over to the allies when Hitler invaded France. However, we got the little girl and I think the C.O. was a bit touched, seeing me going round with this little girl, talking to her in my pigeon French.

Anyway, we did the bronchoscopy and she hadn’t got a peanut stuck there, and she was flown back and I didn’t hear any more about it. But this is how it was.

Now, V.E. Day, the war in Europe had finished. We were glad to hear of course, that it had finished, but our war hadn’t. We were still fighting the Japs. They were the rottenest enemy anybody could fight. All the atrocities that were done by the Germans were done by the Japs. People had hidden many of the things that the Japs did. The Germans have had to live with their past, but not the Japs. However, it took an atomic bomb to end our war. Now, when the atomic bomb fell, people had said to me that it was immoral. But I don’t see it as any worse to be killed by an atomic bomb than by torture, and the treatment that the Japs dealt out to our prisoners. They say, “Was it necessary to drop two bombs?” Well, the Japs were a people very difficult to vanquish because of their ideology. Whether one would have been enough, I do not know, but, they had a documentary on television: when Hitler was losing the war, he sent a submarine with his uranium, and all the details of how far the Germans had got with an atomic bomb. We knew the submarine was going to Japan, and we did not want to sink it. We wanted to capture it, which we did. With that, we realised how near the Japs were to an atomic bomb and how near the Germans were. So it wasn’t a matter of whether it was right to drop it, it was a question of who was first to drop it. That justified to me the second atomic bomb.

However, who was the orderly officer on V.J. night? You can have three guesses and be right the first time, I was. Everybody was celebrating, the men were all drunk, and fireworks were going off all over the place. I was in Casualty, one soldier came in, drunk as a coot, slipped over on….well, he wouldn’t do anything that anybody said. He slipped on the floor, so I said to the orderlies, “Sit on him,” which they did very readily; they descended on him, and so, I got on my knees and stitched up his hand. I learned something that I wasn’t quite sure of before, namely, what a wonderful anaesthetic alcohol is. He got up, very merrily, and said, “I’ll come and take you out tomorrow,” which of course, delighted the orderlies very much.

V.J. Day actually meant that our war had finished. There was some talk of sending me to Japan, but there was one problem which neither the army nor the navy could solve: on a ship, only a Captain had a cabin to himself. What would they do with one woman? Now, the mind boggles. They didn’t know, so they decided that I wouldn’t go. When I learned how long the land remained radioactive, I’m glad I did not go. Of course, so many men, there were so many people in the Far East, they could not come back straight away, and it took another year, or even two years before everybody returned home. So, we were left there, of course, the hospital still had to be run. We were still working, and I got pregnant and had my oldest son who was born in 46, in September, in Dilhali Military Hospital, for which he has never forgiven me. “Of all the places to be born,” he said, “why did I have to be born in Dilhali?” which is a beautiful station, I can tell you, a beautiful station, but never mind. You know, you can never be right with your children all the time, can you?

So, by the time we came home, at Easter 47, after we’d had the coldest winter, 46-47, we came back from the tropics to the cold. But of course, everybody came to Southampton, to pick us up, but mainly to see the baby. My husband got a hundred and twenty pounds, and a suit of clothes. I got eighty pounds and six pounds in lieu of a suit of clothes, and in July, I was out of the army. If I had been in for two more months, I would have served for five years. Having served five years in active service, I would have come out as a Major, but as I hadn’t quite done it, I came out as a Captain.

In conclusion, there are some things I can say about India that would give an idea of the local colour. There was the Divhali Festival; an Indian Regiment invited us to the Divhali Festival. It’s a lovely festival that they have in Hindu. It’s where they have little lights, they make little tiny lamps with bits of clay, anything, put a little wick and oil in, then light it. Then they put the little lamps along the windowsills, and over the doors and along the wall. So, they have got these twinkling lights everywhere, and they have a feast. It’s a great celebration, a lovely festival. And this unit invited us to go.

Well, of course, naturally, we went, and when you’re invited out to a meal, when you get there, you expect to see a table with cakes and cutlery on it, don’t you? Forget it! All we saw were strips of matting down the long hall; parallel strips of matting. We realised that we were to sit on the floor, cross-legged. Was I glad I was wearing trousers? Because some of the nurses had got skirts on. We had to sit opposite each other with the matting in the middle. And then, ‘plates’ did you say? Banana leaves! Banana leaves cut into squares; they were clean, they had been washed. We all got a square of banana leaf. Then, one of the orderlies comes along with an enormous bowl of rice. A dollop of rice on each banana leaf, then the curry comes along on top of that. Indians of course, eat with their fingers, but as a concession to Westerners, not knowing these things, we all got a spoon. 

After that, we got the sweet, and then, we got the banana leaf, but that was folded into a bag, like the old sweet bag, you know, twisted round, and a thorn stuck in the side, which stopped it from coming open. And you got your sweet rice in that. I thought, “What a brilliant idea, no washing up, a wonderful lot of compost, and, it seemed to me they’d got it made you know. That was a great experience, and they have lovely customs in India, like putting garlands round you to celebrate things, and we would go round the wards and in each ward, an Indian would come and put a great garland of flowers round your neck. By the time you’d been to three or four wards, you’d look like a walking grave with all these piles of flowers. They are wonderful people and have wonderful customs, and the lovely thing about living among people with different cultures is you understand how they think and how they look at life. That broadens your own ideas of ideas, and of how life appears to them.

I always think Hinduism is such a tolerant religion, because in both Islam and Christianity, if you make a mess of one life, you go to hell, according to religion. But in Hinduism, you don’t; you’re reborn, but in a lower status because you have to suffer for your sins. But, if you live a good life in that, you are reborn into a better one. So you can redeem yourself in Hinduism, whereas you can’t in Islam and Christianity. And don’t you think that’s a nice tolerant attitude? There’s a lot of good things in Hinduism, and as I say, these are the kind of things you learn. People have said to me, “Were you glad that you went in the army?” Well, I don’t think in wartime, that you have much of a choice. I remember being in the operating theatre in Hull one time, and someone asked the surgeon if he was going to join up. He said no, and referred to someone who had made a lot of money during the First World War, and “……..I’m going to make a lot of money in this one.” I remember feeling revolted by that. That people can think of making money while other people were giving their lives for their country. So, when I volunteered to go into the army, I had no doubt. However, I do realise that if I had stayed in this country and specialised in paediatrics, I would probably have been a consultant and made much more money, and perhaps[s some people would say, have achieved more. But I don’t know if I would have been a better person.

You see, all these philosophical points, you only have to think about when the occasion occurs, and the only other thing I would like to say is, how wonderful the Indian troops were that fought with us. They were promised that if they fought with us against the Japs, everybody knows about the Sieks etc. but there were thousands of other regiments that fought for us against the Japs. We said, “If you’ll help us, if you come in with us, against the Japs, you will get independence at the end of the war. And they are the people that fought for Indian Independence. There were Indians who side with the Japs, because the Japs said, “If you come and side with us to beat the British, we’ll turn them out, you’ll get independence. Anybody who believed that from a Jap, wanted their brains testing. They treated Asian prisoners worse than white prisoners. They despised Asians, so they certainly weren’t going to fight for them to give then their country back. This upsets me when they say Chundra Bose was a freedom fighter to free India. He did not free India. The people that freed India were the men who fought for us. As for Chundra Bose, there’s a statue of him in Calcutta and I wouldn’t mind putting a bomb under it if I’d got one. No, but it’s not right. The people that sided with the Japs were not really fighting for Indian independence. How could anybody, knowing how the Japs behaved, think the Japs were going to fight for India then give them India? How could they?

Dr. Ivy Oates.



PLATTS Dorothy 

My Exciting War

By Actiondesk Sheffield

People in story: Dorothy Platts, Robin Kellner, Renee Fairfax, Thelma Dobson, Jean Stanley, Dorreen Hill, Marian Cross, Mary Kemp, Vera Hoskins, Alice Talling, Nell Williams
Location of story: Sheffield, Penzance, Cornwall
Unit name: Land Army
Background to story: Civilian Force

July 1944 - Pencubitt Hostel, Liskard, Cornwall Sister Margaret on Bedroom balcony

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

My Exciting War

Dorothy Platts

When war broke out in 1939 my father said it wouldn't last six months. How wrong he was, I had just started work- at Bassetts' sweet factory, just fourteen years old and earning 12/6d (12 shillings and sixpence (62½p) a week.

My mother had died in 1932 when I was just turned six, my sister Edna had died aged seventeen in 1937, and so my sister Margaret at fourteen, just seven years older than me really became my substitute mother.

By 1940, our Margaret was married and had to go to work at Kaiser Ellison's, steel inspecting. My father worked all hours at Hadfield's steel works as a slinger. Rationing began and the black market flourished.

The night of the Sheffield Blitz, the bombs were dropping early doors. Next door to us Mrs. Tyerman’s cellar had been reinforced so that a few houses had to shelter there. There was an escape door leading from house to house, so that if you were trapped you could escape. Talk about lambs to the s1aughter!

A bomb dropped on a house a few doors away, it shook us all up in the air, as it did the coal, and we all emerged looking like chimney sweeps! We had no gas, water or electricity, Christmas was two weeks away, but we trimmed up as usual and made the best of it. We learned to live with rationing, fatless, eggless cakes. God knows how they were edible, but eat them we did. I'd like to see today’s fancy cooks provide a good meal with the bare ingredients they had.

As I was seventeen, I was due to be called up in the services or work on munitions. Dad took me to Hadfields and said I cou1d get a job crane driving, and I would not have to leave home. I took one look at that cabin in the roof and decided that was not the job for me!

One of my best friends at Bassetts', Mary Coyle, had already volunteered for the Women’s Land Army and had got posted to a farm in Leistershire and so I decided to do the same.

I came home from work one night and dad said, "You've got your calling up papers for the Land Army, and they’re sending you to France!” It turned out to be Penzance in Cornwall. Well, the farthest we had been was to Cleethorpes or Skegness for a day.

My uniform came that I was to travel in, green jumper, brown shirt, green tie, breeches, woolen socks, brown shoes and a lovely hat that made me look like Roy Rodgers.

We caught an early tram to the L.M.S. railway station. Workmen teased me with farm noises and wished me well. Dad as usual, had everyone laughing but I was sure he was going to miss me.

Land Army Days

It was there on the station I met Flossie Hill, she was to be my friend and companion all the time we were in the land army. It took us the best part of a day to finally reach Penzance, where we were met by any official who told us we were to go by lorry to Kenegie Hostel.

This turned out to be a lovely hotel taken over for the duration of the war. By this time I was feeling homesick for my father and our Margaret. I was seventeen and had hardly made a decision for myself in my life. Sheffield seemed a million miles away, I wasn’t the only one that cried herself to sleep that night.

Soon, we were too busy to feel homesick. We would go to different farms, as we were needed. On one farm, the farmer set a group of us hoeing a huge field of cabbages. When he came back at the end of the day, he was speechless to find we had hoed all the young cabbages and left the weeds.

I’d write home and say how I was taking to my new life. I remember the first present I sent my dad was a cucumber of all things! Well, I could hardly send him a dozen new laid eggs!

Our first few weeks were really hard; at times we thought our backs were breaking. The farmers at first thought we city girls would never take the place of their farm labourers. But with our hard work and determination they came to appreciate all we did.

I loved harvest time, no combined harvesters then to complete the job in one operation. The sheaves would have to be stooped so they could dry out, then gathered and later fed into a threshing machine. This was a huge throbbing monster that we had to stand on top of and feed the sheaves into. Traditionally the farmers wife would bring food out to us, Cornish Pasties and saffron buns.

Not all farms fed us generously, and mostly we had to rely on a packed lunch from the hostel, which was never enough. I suppose we fared better than city folk, as we could have as much eggs, fruit and vegetables as we wanted. Most of the farms made their own butter cheese and cream, and-oh! That thick cream on fresh picked strawberries was something to die for!

Fruit picking was the job we all loved to do, we would eat so many strawberries we would come out in a red rash. Believe me no one ever needed to take laxatives!

We would work from dawn to dusk if the weather was good, especially at harvest time. All we did when we got back to the hostel was to have a bath and collapse into bed.

Potato picking was a back breaking job, you would have to fill and carry 561b sacks to be weighed, then carried to the horse and cart. The farmer would store surplus potatoes in an out building and cover them in straw. In winter we would be called on to sort out these "potato pies" as they were called. It was a stinking job if some of them had gone rotten, and also we would be troubled with rats.

Some land girls lived on farms and not in a hostel, and would be required to milk by hand, the cows twice a day seven days a week. Cow sheds are notoriously cold, especially in winter.

I kept away from cowsheds as much as I could, I never saw myself as a rosy cheeked milk maid.

Nearly all the farms we went to were poor, some didn't even have electricity or a tractor. I once had to help a farmer plough a field, I was supposed to lead a huge shire horse, while the farmer followed with the plough. I was frightened to death the horse would tread on me, while the farmer cursed," Dang me maid where you'm leading 'um!"

Not all the jobs were enjoyable, but with the fresh air, the beautiful countryside and the friendships we made, and of course it was war time. We never needed make up, we had beautiful suntans; no longer did we need the leg makeup we used to put on our legs back home. I don't think many of us moisturised our faces before going to bed or out in the sun. All of us who still keep in touch have pretty good complexions. Beauty consultants please note, when advertising £50 a jar anti-wrinkle cream!

My First Leave

Flossie and I had our first leave in September, we were given a train voucher to Sheffield. We were only given two of these a year. Our pay was £l-4-0d (£1-20p) a week. Out of this, we had to buy everything we needed. I was soon at the City Hall and Cutlers Hall, dancing with my-friends, telling them all about my life in the land army. Had I milked a cow?, No, I hadn't, and I never did, all the three years I was in Cornwall. A few partners were left to have a good dance with, but mostly-they were in uniform like I was. Norman who was in the navy, who I hadn't seen for a while, was about to finish his leave while I had just started mine. We made a date to meet the next night to go to the Cinema House in Barkers Pool to see Lorna Doone. It was the most boring film I ever remembering seeing. The most entertaining thing was Norman trying to get his pipe lit, amid clouds of smoke, at least you couldn't see the screen.

He didn't take me home as I no longer lived at Pitsmoor, but at Darnall after my father had re-married, and I wasn't very happy living in my stepmother's house. We exchanged addresses and wrote to each other until 1945.

Back off leave, we left Kenegie and were sent eventually to Pencubitt Hostel, Liskeard. This was another lovely hotel taken over during the war. It was here I spent the happiest two years of my life.

There were lots of American camps near Liskeard. Saturday nights, a lorry would turn up at the hostel and take us to their camp. We would jitterbug the night away to a band playing Glen Miller favourites, String Of Pearls, Pennsylvania 65,000, Moonlight Serenade, and with tins of Spam, candies and cartons of Lucky Strike cigarettes, we felt like film stars!

Most weekends, some of us would go to nearby Looe, a beautiful place, with Banjo Pier and lovely coves. We would stay Saturday night in a bungalow, 5/- (25p) bed and breakfast then meet our American friends on the Sunday, and they would pay the taxi fare for us to get back to Liskeard.

We had all made friends with an American; they were not all like some who had got themselves a bad reputation. It never entered our minds to have sex, we had such happy lives with lots of fun at work and play. To be honest the fear of getting pregnant kept us on the straight and narrow. I had only to think of my dad saying, "You dare bring any trouble home!" When I see the situation today, children, yes children, as young as thirteen, having babies when they ought to be playing with dolls. We didn't know enough while the children of today know more than is good for them.

My American friend was called Louis Perez. I had come home on a week's leave; while home I got a telegram saying, "Missing you, Love Louis." Father said, "Who the hell's Louis?" When I sent him cartons of Lucky Strike, tins of Spam etc. he wrote to say, "He doesn't sound a bad chap that Louis."

There were about thirty or so of us at Pencubitt, some were there just for a few weeks and then moved on to another part of Cornwall. We would help each other in any way we could, none of us had any money to spare. Nearly everyone smoked and if anyone could afford to buy a packet of twenty, it wasn't long before they were all gone!

Most nights sailors from Plymouth and Torpoint would come to Liskeard. I think the land girls at Pencubitt were the attraction, as there were some lovely looking girls there. Robin Kellner, Renee Fairfax, Thelma Dobson, Jean Stanley, Dorreen Hill, Marian Cross, Mary Kemp, Vera Hoskins, Alice Talling and Nell Williams all met their husbands at Liskeard or Plymouth, and have all celebrated their Golden Weddings. In fact Alice and Tom Talling celebrated their Diamond anniversary in 2004.

One of my friends, Helen Nelthorpe, celebrated her 21st birthday on July 30th 1944. We all went to town to celebrate; there we were in 'The Fountain' pub when some sailors laced my beer with navy rum. Not used to drinking, I soon became legless and the next few days are a blur to this day. I know they carried me back to the hostel, up the back staircase and placed me in the bath, my mouth next to the plughole. I must have found my legs as during the night, I came down the main staircase (out of bounds to us) and confronted Mrs. Bull, the warden. The next day I was helped into a lorry to go to work fruit picking, placed under a tree where I slept myself sober. I've never had another rum to this day.

Flossie's American friend was about six feet four, hugely built, would come to the hostel and say in his slow drawl, "Is Flossie in?" Well she was a big lass too and it was something to see when they jitterbugged together. Flossie's friend said, "When we get over there (France) there'll be two of us sharing this cigarette." I said, "You want to see us before pay day, there're four of us sharing a tab end!"

Just before 'D-Day', Marian married her American boyfriend. They had to have the wedding at Pencubitt because he wasn't allowed to travel far. We all got together, giving up clothing coupons and putting on a spread to be proud of. None of her family was there, but everyone had a great time. She'd had her engagement ring sent from America in a box of chocolates. How's that for 'The Lady Loves Milk Tray?' Tragically he was killed on D Day, 6th June 1944. I have often wondered what became of her, I did hear she went to live with his parents in America.

I think 1944 was the most wonderful year; there was hope in every one's heart that the terrible war was coming to an end. I had a big surprise in March 1945 when Norman, my sailor boyfriend, turned up at the hostel to take me home for a week's leave. We got engaged on that leave and by August 25th, we were married; I was just twenty. We really didn't know each other, but the war was over and you thought you would be happy ever after.

In 1960, I divorced Norman I won't go into the reasons. It is best forgotten and so I was left with my four children, the youngest six months old, to bring up on my own. I have written about those years which were funny and sad, but as a one parent family, we survived and all my children being a credit to me.

After the war, all my friends at Pencubitt left to get on with their lives and most of us have kept in touch. Robin, who in 1945, married her American boyfriend, has been over many times to our many re-unions. Sadly, some have died as we are all now about eighty. My family is organising a wonderful 80th birthday party for me in August 2005, and five of my land army friends are coming. I am afraid they are not as lucky as I am with good health, but they make the best of it.
I say "Thank you" every day that I am able to do what I do, to keep a young outlook on life. I realise I have lived the longest in my family, my mother died at 37, our Edna at 17, dad at 65 and our Margaret at 69.

As my father would say, I was more than living on borrowed time. I try to live an active healthy life and I am so glad to still be independent, and not be a worry to my children, for they have their own lives to lead. I know they would be there for me if I needed them. So my war was really enjoyable, I went to places I never would have been to and met friends that have stayed with me all of my life. I have lived in the same house for nearly sixty years, still have an interesting life and have the greatest gift of all, good health.



RIMMER Leonora 

How my sister won the war

By actiondesksheffield

People in story: Leonora Rimmer
Location of story: Stoke Newington, Wapping, Whitechapel, Elephant and Castle, Stepney, Egypt
Unit name: WAAF
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 Alan Rimmer.

How my sister won the war

Alan Rimmer

My sister, Leonora, was only sixteen when she joined the WAAF in 1941 and became a barrage balloon operator. She did this until 1945. At the end of the war she went to Egypt where she did clerical work associated with the demobilization of troops that came there from various countries to the east. She was demobilized herself in 1947 at the age of twenty-two years, having been six years in the WAAF. Most of what is reported here is taken from tape recordings my sister made for me when I expressed an interest in writing of her war experiences.

Operating a Barrage Balloon was anything but routine. There were well established procedures describing how to go about the operation and maintenance of a balloon but there were always variables which created serious departures from normal routines. The number of girls in the crew was one of them. The fewer the number of girls, the more work that had to be done by those who remained. Perhaps the biggest variable was the weather followed closely by enemy activity.

"It seemed that all the nasty things happened when the weather was rotten. When we had to bring a balloon down because of weather, if it was very severe, then we would have to storm bed it, which meant bringing it down until its belly was on the ground and tied down all the way around. Of course, when it was down that way, you still had to move it and keep the bow into the wind. So, in the pouring rain, the wind would shift and we had to get out and drag those heavy concrete blocks, and undo the ropes, move them around and turn that balloon into wind. Before you got it into that position, those fins that are at the rear of the balloon had to be furled.

"The balloon is thirty feet high and the ladder is very tall. Two girls had to hold the ladder and, of course, being the tallest girl, I had to furl the tins. I would let the air out of them, and then roll them up. It would be raining and the rain went down my sleeves, down the back of my neck and everybody had chapped hands. I had chapped
arms, chapped elbows, and all these little cuts. Miserable! The ladder would be shaking and they would be hanging onto the bottom of it and the balloon would be
banging up against it because of the wind; it would he pitch black. I could use my awl to do a lot because they had slipknots that would undo very quickly when we had to release the balloon again. That was one of the most unpleasant jobs.

“There was nothing related to the maintenance of a balloon that was good to do. It was all dirty work; dirty oil ...your hands... I never took off my gloves if I could avoid it. I'd have all this old engine oil under my nails. There wasn't a way you could get it out. Then if you had cuts on your hands and up your arms, they'd get oil in them. You just looked really scruffy alt the time you were handling a balloon.

"There was one site I was on. I can't remember where it was exactly, probably Stoke Newington, but it was on a park because there was space and it adjoined a lumberyard. We had a very serious storm with a lot of rain and a lot of lightning and there was also an air raid alert on. Our balloon caught fire and went into the lumberyard. I don't know whether the lightning got it or it was shot at, but it went into the lumberyard and started a fire there. That was one night. We had just cleared up that thing and we lost another one. We got the other one inflated and got it up a couple of nights later and that broke loose.

“The cable went all across a Held, over the railway tracks, into the town. Now, all the cable was out with the balloon. I can't think how it happened as the flying cable is supposed to break free. It might have been shot down because it started to deltaic or, perhaps, the wind had been too much for it. The rip panel had gone but the cable had not broken and it had gone all the way across the railway embankment, across the park, into the town, over the trolley lines. It knocked out all the power at 6 o'clock in the morning in the pouring rain.

"So its back into the gum boots, and the rain gear, and we started following the cable. We saw that where it has gone over the railway embankment; there was a tunnel that led into the town. We knew we had a dangerous situation and, sure enough, the early morning train came along. The train picked up the cable. We all realized what was going to happen. It was going to be pulled along and then it would whip across, which is exactly what happened, so we all ran in one direction and the cable, when it was caught by the train, went in the other direction and just scythed out the whole victory garden that was in the park. It cut everything off.

“The train just went on. So we followed the cable and sang. ‘Follow the Yellow Brick Road’, as we went. We went into town. They were pretty mad at us, all these people standing on the street corners, and the balloon had come down in the railway station yard. It was just lying there, all deflated, and the first thing we had lo do was to gel all the secretive stuff off, the valves and any other thing that nobody should see. We then cut the cable into sections. We had been doing that on the way over there, with a big cable cutter, and coiled it up. We took the balloon, hauled it and put it all in this wheelbarrow and push it back to the site. Of course there were all these people standing around without a trolley bus to take them to work and yelling at us. 'It's not our fault!' we said.

“While we thought it was really funny, they didn't think it was funny at all. We took it back and called headquarters. They sent out another balloon. We lost two in about ten days.

"They then moved us down to the dock area in Wapping, Whitechapel, Elephant and Castle and Stepney. Not the nicest parts of London. The docks were not too far away and we had a Nissen hut and a wooden hut, an above ground air raid shelter, an Anderson shelter, an underground shelter on the site, and a balloon. The balloon (I think it was a dog site) didn't fly an awful lot but it could fly in there. There was enough room for it. But the regular bombing was very heavy. They were still lulling the docks and they'd knock out some of the tenements. It was pretty bad. It was dangerous because there was constant bombing. It was mostly at night. During the day, the V-1's would come in. These were the first of the flying bombs. They were called buzz bombs or doodlebugs. You could see them coming in. We'd stand outside and watch them. There might be two or three. One would be going off to your right, one to your left and one coming at you. You'd watch to see which was going down first and where it was going, and then you'd make a run for the shelter.

“Many times, the engine would remain on and it would come in like a dive-bomber with a terrible noise as it came in. It was much better if the engine shut off: it wasn't noisy that way. You'd get the hang of it at the end, but that screaming noise of the plane coming down was pretty hard to take. But the buzz bombs were thick. I remember one time, we counted eight all at once coming in. Then at night they had the regular bombing raids. They kept us busy. We slept in the shelters. That was the first time I actually slept in the shelter. I slept in the surface shelter; I didn't like going underground too much. But we had a good surface shelter that had bunks in it. In any case, the Nissen Hut got bombed. We couldn't sleep in that any more. We would normally sleep in the Nissen Hut and would go in the shelter when the siren went off.

 "I was on this site for quite some time. A lot of the people, the children, had been evacuated out of there. There were just the older people and the workers who stuck around. The local grocery store went during an air raid. They had a shelter under the store, which got a direct hit. We used to be on what was called the heavy rescue squad with the ARP (Air Raid Precaution group) and they used to go after the people who were trapped. So we used to participate in that because we didn't have much to do on the balloons anymore. We had a short crew, six or eight of us that's all (out of a normal complement of sixteen). We would leave somebody on the site by the phone in case there were operations, and we'd go and help. In a grocery store (it was like a big supermarket), the people were getting gassed because of a broken gas main and there was water, also, the water mains had gone. I didn't see any live people come out of there, just bodies. They were people who had been in the store and went down to the shelter underneath. There were some people that had been able to survive and who were moved over to the rest centre, which was the school, an old, dirty looking place. They had a big sign up front, 'Rest Centre', so that if you got bombed out of your house, you'd go there. They had cots and things. Well, the people from the grocery store that survived went over to the Rest Centre or went home. But the Rest Centre got a direct hit that same evening and was blown to smithereens.

"These bombed building would have a whole side taken off so that you could see all the furniture and the curtains still flapping and the bathrooms all intact. What intrigued me was how the blast would work. It worked differently each time."


Inspecting Bomb damage

By Actiondesk Sheffield

People in story: May Roberts
Location of story: Welwyn Garden City,
Background to story: Civilian

This story was submitted to the People’s War site by Geraldine Roberts of the ‘Action Desk – Sheffield’ Team on behalf of May Roberts.

Inspecting Bomb damage

Mrs May Roberts

I was 16 when the war broke out. Men of 18 were called up and later conscripted; women were drafted into useful work in offices, factories and the forces. My parents thought a shorthand and Typing course would be best for me, ”So as to be able to look after myself, if anything happened.” (To them) I never got up speed in the former but the latter has always been useful.

In summer 1940 I got a job with a local Architect in Welwyn Garden City, whom I shall call Paul. I was a secretary at £3.00 per week, what wealth!

Paul’s partners and office staff had all joined up and his office building had been commandeered for Government offices, as had the premises of so many small businesses. He still had several jobs in the pipeline, which couldn’t be left, and several new ones. He was planning some day nurseries and British Restaurants these were in prefab buildings. They were all going up for the benefit of women who were working full time at factories and so could get child care and a cheap place to eat as well, both were good things that came into being in war time.

So Paul had moved all his papers into his garage, and his desks into his bedroom. He installed me in the tank room on the flat roof, up a little steep ladder through a trap door where the typewriter had been installed and where I typed his letters.

By that time air raids on London, just 20 miles south of Welwyn, were frequent but quite sporadic and random. We would look out at night to see the orange glow of fires and try to calculate where they were- what area might have caught it. I was a volunteer fire-watcher at a neighbour’s house but there were only two nights when bombs rained down on Welwyn, it was not a target but many ‘planes would drop their bombs randomly in the country before returning to Germany. The blackout at nights was remarkably total. Wardens used to knock at the door when only the tiniest chink of light was visible, and no streetlights glowed and Welwyn had very leafy streets to conceal it in the daytime.

The Government promised compensation for war damage but how were they to know what was genuine of the many claims that flooded in? (It might simply be neglect) Architects were given the task of checking out people’s claims; some seemed bizarre in the depths of the country. Paul had a square of country from Bishops’ Stortford in the north to Ware in the south, roughly nowadays bisected by the M11. Then it was mostly small villages and extremely beautiful rolling countryside on the Hertfordshire/Essex border. He had a petrol ration to drive there and a mileage allowance.

But maps were at a premium and all signposts and most house and building names had been removed especially village names, just in case Germans landed and tried to find their way to important places. I didn’t drive yet so I became map-reader. Two or three times a week we’d set out with measures, notebooks and a list of names, places, addresses: they might be big houses, tiny houses, farms, cottages, barns workshops, all sorts of buildings with any degree of damage on ancient or new buildings.

I knew I was a good map reader but I got a great kick out of landing up at the right place from the map alone, without confirmation of signposts and mileage and without wasting the precious petrol. I suppose I also greatly enjoyed seeing the inside of so many houses from the ancient to the modern and the spick and span to the downright messy, which only shows my curiosity, although it fed a desire to do Architecture, seeing the most beautiful and the ugly.

When we got to most places we would be greeted by plaster ceilings all scattered on the floor, cracks in the walls, broken glass and windows blown in, roof tiles blown off, chimney pots tumbled, sometimes extensive wall collapse or roof down.

But this was deep country, not the big fires and direct hits of a big town, but blast from sometimes a mile away. We were shown the craters but I don’t think they necessarily got compensated. We were often taken aback at the distance blast would travel, but sometimes a geological map would tell us the strata carried through under a hill and could rock the building.

So there was Paul measuring everything for renewal and verifying it was genuine, and I, writing as fast as I could, the amounts needed for repair as given me by him. Sometimes we found ourselves visiting the same place again and certainly could see that most of these people were paid enough to repair the damage. How thankful we were, not to be dealing with house contents. Most of this minor damage could be repaired with the help of compensation. I often remember the deep wintry cold of these days and the bliss of finding the rare village café where you could get hot cocoa, in summer it was easier.

When after two years things in London were a bit quieter and I had become enamoured of the idea of studying Architecture, and girls of 18 were now called up, but Architecture study was allowed under call up. I started at the Regent Street Polytechnic. So then I had long days in town plus travel to and from Welwyn. A half hour train journey often became 2 hours because of stopping in a tunnel, while there was an air raid, or to let troop trains have priority. I usually walked from Kings Cross because the underground was so full of people sleeping there as a shelter. On many mornings there were bits of damage with staircases or furniture suspended in the air. Some of the now empty basements were made into water tanks for use in the fires. The carnage was totally different from the minor damage of the countryside.
At Architectural school work was very interesting but there was no chance of going to see fine buildings- they were all sandbagged or bombed, nor could we see exhibitions of painting, they were all stored for safety in caves like the ones in Derbyshire. But the National Gallery, kept the hall open with one picture, often changed, on view with a detailed history around it. And there too at lunch times, Myra Hesse (later Dame) would give a fine piano recital free. All of which kept my cultural learning higher, but it was well after the war before I finished studying Architecture.




Egg And Chips For Winston

By Actiondesk Sheffield

People in story: Eva Rowland
Location of story: Swinderby
Background to story: Army

This story was submitted to the People’s War site by Bill Ross of the ‘Action Desk – Sheffield’ Team on behalf of Eva Rowland.

I served in the Salvation Army with my husband William. Through the war years and for most of our active service, we worked with His Majesty’s Forces. One time, we had the pleasure of cooking egg and chips for Winston Churchill whilst on a Troop Train travelling form Perth to Thurso.

One of my funniest memories is of being asked to drive a mobile full of refreshments for the airmen who had been sweeping the runway clear of snow all night. I had not been driving long. William was in another part of the camp. Determined not to let the boys down, I drove towards them and as I approached, I could see the Flight Sergeant waving.

“Oh, he’s pleased with me, “ I thought. As I drew closer, he ran towards me. I was so happy to be needed. I rolled down the window only to be met with a torrent of abuse. “GET OFF THE B----- RUNWAY!!” I had driven straight down the runway with a Squadron of Lancasters due to land. “TURN THIS THING AROUND!!” the Staff Sergeant yelled. “I CAN’T,” I shouted back, “I DON’T KNOW HOW!!”

My story has now been made into a play and it was performed in 2004 at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and was featured on ‘ BBC Look North’ while in rehearsal. It received a five star review and in August 2005, it will be performed in New York at the invitation of Theatre 315.




Life On The Home Front Around Newton Chambers

By Actiondesk Sheffield

People in story: Joan Russell, Ada Needham & Colin Lill.
Location of story: Sheffield

This story was submitted to the People’s War site by Anne Payne of the ‘Action Desk – Sheffield’ Team on behalf of Joan Russell.



I was working at the Izal paper factory, based at Newton Chambers Industrial Estate in Chapeltown Sheffield, from aged 14 till I was 22, and I was there all through the war. Our factory was producing chemical enhanced products, and next door was the other Izal factory where so many disinfectant products were made. We used to work to Workers’ Playtime music on the wireless.
I married my first partner in 1942 when he was on leave from HMS Ramillies. He had a very active naval career as an AB (Able Bodied Seaman) and torpedo man. He served in the D-Day landings in tank landing craft, in the Italian campaign and Eastern fleet. He also torpedoed in the Madagascar campaign in 1942.
My new partner of 13 years and my first husband both served on the Ramillies together, and he married his first wife on the same leave as we did. After the death of my first husband, Charles, we met up after his first wife Magdalene had died, and I married the stoker mechanic who knew my husband as a child. So one sailor died and one wife died, which meant that providence had it that one sailor and one wife remarried. The marriages were as good as we could make them by a combination of putting clothing and food coupons together and by donations from family members. They were quite effective.
My Dad won the military medal in World War 1 when he was in the Yorks. and Lancs. Regiment, and he was made a King’s Corporal. His name was Colin Lill, but all I can remember about the reason for the medal was that he knocked out a machine gun position. At that time, my mum worked as an overhead crane driver. Her name prior to getting married to Colin (after WW1) was Ada Needham.
In the Second World War, my mum went to work for Newton Chambers again as an overhead crane driver at the tank factory. That period was important as Newton Chambers turned out over 1000 Churchill tanks, and a model still stands on display near the village of Warren. Bombs fell near the local villages of Warren and Howbrook, and they were probably trying to target the large industrial complex of Newton Chambers. Mum hated having to depart her crane cabin to scramble down in a hurry after the sirens sounded. There was a works hospital built into a tree-and-shrub-covered hillside. I am still in possession of an aerial photograph of Newton Chambers, which my first husband Charles got hold of, and which was covered in German writing. So the civilian population, both women and men added an important contribution to the war effort.



London: One A.T.S. Girl's Experiences During the Momentous V1 & V2 Days

By Actiondesk Sheffield

People in story: Jean Simpson
Location of story: London (Belgravia)
Unit name: J Company No6 London District
Background to story: Army

This story was submitted to the People’s War site by Bill Ross of the ‘Action Desk – Sheffield’ Team on behalf of Jean Simpson.

In the early summer of 1944, I was one of some ten A.T.S. girls working in the War Office and living in a War Department requisitioned house in Belgravia, London S.W.1. Small by London standards, but it was a delightful house and we were well pleased with what were luxurious quarters and the prestigious address.

We had an aristocratic neighbour, the young Marquis of Tavistock, recently discharged from the army on medical grounds, and living next door with his wife, toddler son and baby (he later inherited the title and eventually became famous as the Duke of Bedford, who reorganised Woburn Abbey into becoming a going concern after years of neglect).

The tremendous news of the D-day invasion had just broken with great rejoicing, although with little or no media coverage, we didn’t at that time, realise the horrific cost.

We did not know that the Civil Defence forces were standing by for an expected alert; the backlash from Hitler. It came on the night of June the 13th. Going to bed as usual, we were awakened by sirens. A strange whistling noise sounded across the sky, then deadly silence, followed by a deafening shattering explosion. The ‘all clear’ sounded quite soon afterwards, and we went back to our beds. This nightmare scenario went on all night. In the morning, we went to work, exhausted: there was a rumour of ‘pilotless’ planes. In those days, we hadn’t been conditioned by science fiction and it was unbelievably fantastic and terrifying.

On June the 16th, it was announced that Hitler had launched his vengeance weapon, the V1 (flying bomb), soon to be known as the Doodlebug. We had to learn to live with this fearsome situation. We knew that when the motor cut out, the explosion would come a heart stopping ten seconds later.

Every night we came downstairs in our tin hats and blue and white striped issue pyjama (we called them ‘Bovril’ pyjamas) after the shipwrecked pyjama clad man in the Bovril advertisement.

Sometimes, to relieve the tension, we played games. A favourite one was moving a glass around the letters of the alphabet to tell the future. We optimistically assumed that we would have one (a future, that is). Our concern was, would we get married, and to whom?

During this terrifying period, many thousands of innocent people were killed, homes were destroyed and buildings laid to waste.

The aim was to cause maximum devastation amongst the civilian population. Expectant mothers, children, the old and the sick were evacuated. Our neighbours, for the sake of the children, departed to the country. Those who lived in what were considered to be safe areas, were asked to offer hospitality breaks to beleaguered A.T.S. girls. I had a blissfully peaceful weekend at an ancient Vicarage in Baldock, Hertfordshire.

In London, the robotic attacks went on most of the summer until the R.A.F. was able to deflect them, by radar, to less harmful destinations.

On September the 8th, Hitler unleashed an even more terrible weapon of destruction, the V2. Unlike the V1, this could be targeted at a specific destination. Every night, the platforms of Underground stations became dormitories for weary Londoners seeking sanctuary. These scenes were dramatically captured by Henry Moor in some of his drawings.

We started to take our mattresses down to the little hall. As every old soldier knows, mattresses then were in three parts known as ‘biscuits’. We eventually became fed up of this nightly chore and fatalistically, returned to our beds.

The allied advance after D-day was not as rapid as hoped, there was a fierce German attack in the Ardennes, then came the heroic but tragic attempt to seize the Rhine Bridge at Arnhem. However, the V2s stopped when the allies captured Holland and Belgium, and the Nazis lost their launching sites.

V.E. Day, 8 May 1945 Sloane Street, SW1 Jean Simpson (not the Seargeant Major, the other one).

At last, the tide was turning. In May 1945, surrender was accepted at Lunenburg Hath and the war was over. Thankfully and joyously, for one day, a public holiday was declared. Two of us volunteered to be on duty that day and whilst walking across London to our office, we were courteously approached by two American soldiers. They wondered if we would allow them to take a picture, as a record of this memorable day. We were immensely flattered. We never saw them again but we were surprised and pleased to receive copies of the snaps. The accompanying picture shows one of our friends holding a copy of the American force’s newspaper.

Victory, after six horrific years of slaughter, devastation and suffering, was briefly summed up in two words: “GERMANY QUITS”.



Victory, after six horrific years of slaughter, devastation and suffering, was briefly summed up in two words: “GERMANY QUITS”.



STARKY Winifred

The Finest Soldiers

By Actiondesk Sheffield

People in story: Winifred Starky

Location of story: York and France                                            A4553066

Background to story: Civilian


This story was submitted to the People’s War site by Bill Ross of the ‘Action Desk Sheffield’ Team on behalf of Winifred Starky.
I was a member of the Girls’ Training Corps in York. We were asked to write to the Armed Forces in France, sending general news and papers and/or comics. We had no names or addresses, apart from British Forces, somewhere in France. We got the odd letter back, with general chat, until September 1944, when I received the following: The finest soldiers in history, Have all been corporals, tiny, wee, There’s Napoleon, Hitler, and there’s me, Yours sincerely, five foot three. The girls all started work and eventually lost touch. I am now 79 years old and the only girls I kept in touch with have since died.--------------------




My Wartime Experiences

By Actiondesk Sheffield

People in story: Letty Thornton
Location of story: Barnsley, Huddersfield and Sheffield.

This story was submitted to the People’s War site by Bill Ross of the ‘Action Desk – Sheffield’ Team on behalf of Letty Thornton.

I left school just as the war was getting started. Evacuees were being moved around the country, away from the cities. Our headmaster asked me if our parents would be willing to take any of them; this to a girl with four brothers and six sisters at the time. He had to be joking!

There wasn’t much work for a girl of 14 ½ years old at the time, so I stayed at home for a while, just doing odd jobs. By the following summer, I was still too young for the factories or the forces, so I went to Blackpool with my sister Madge who was 1 ½ years older than I was. We did a season looking after the soldiers who were billeted in a boarding house. The entire town was in darkness; there were none of the bright lights that Blackpool is famous for.

At the end of September, I came back home and shortly after that, I went into service in Huddersfield. The lady I worked for was Mrs. Mason, mother of James Mason, one of our finest film stars. James’ father was an air raid warden and every time the sirens went, Mrs. Mason, George the dog and I went into the cellar. Whilst I was in Huddersfield, I joined the Junior Air Corps, where I learned shorthand, signalling with flags and of course, how to march. I enjoyed this and I managed to become a Sergeant. There were lots of soldiers billeted there. We enjoyed going dancing and to open air concerts in Greenhead Park. By this time, I was almost 18 years old and I knew I would have to make a move.

I had the choice of either going into the forces or joining my sister in Sheffield on munitions. I chose the latter and went off to Brightside, an industrial area of Sheffield. I cannot imagine how it got the name Brightside. First of all, I worked in an area where the furnaces were and I was put to work on one of them. It was awful; I couldn’t even see what was in there. We had to take trays of small objects out of the furnaces and place them into cold water, so then we got a horrible deluge of steam. The purpose of this operation was to harden the metal. It was quite an unpleasant job for a very slim young woman to have to do!

I tolerated this for a while, but eventually got a transfer to a machine shop, which was much better. Big guns were bored here; I was taught how to work on a turret lathe, which was a very skilled job. We made aeroplane parts and pit props. I was putting threads in the top and bottom of the tubes, also coal cutters. When I went to the Mining Museum in Wakefield one time, I actually saw how they were used. The man in charge of the museum was impressed when I told him that I had made some of them during the war.

By this time, I was living in Brampton Bierlow (between Barnsley and Rotherham) and the railway station was at Wombwell Main, about 2 to 3 miles away. Many times, I had to walk in the blackout to catch the train at 5.30 in the morning, to get into Sheffield. The trains were quite old; there weren’t any corridors or toilets on them. Everyone was packed in. We worked a shift rota; the morning shift started at 6 o’ clock lasting until 2 p.m.. The nights ran from 10 p.m. until 6 a.m. There wasn’t much in the way of social life however. My mother bought me a bike, so now, I could leave it at the house across the road from the railway station at a cost of £1.00 per week. Sometimes I would put the bike in the guard’s van on the train, and then I’d be able to cycle all the way home (I must have been incredibly fit, or mad).

My mother had a baby at the time of the Sheffield Blitz (this was number 12). She was taken to Jessop’s Hospital in Sheffield, in one of the Green Goddess ambulances. It was her first baby in hospital. She eventually went on to have her 13th child, a boy who will be sixty years old next year (2006). At the present time, all of her thirteen children are still alive. Some of them did time in the army in Egypt and Germany.

My wedding, which was just after the war, was at Brampton Parish Church. Clothes were still on coupons and food was still scarce, but we did manage a cake. We went to Blackpool for our honeymoon. The train was packed full of members of the forces and we had to travel part of the way in the guard’s van. We arrived very late and it was Christmas Eve. When the landlord of our digs opened the door to us, it was midnight and the family had gone to mass. He gave us some tea and a sandwich, then off we went to our room. Shortly after that, the house vibrated to the shouts of “FIRE! FIRE!” and there was banging on the stairs etc.

My husband, Walt, went to see what was happening. He came running back and said, “Grab something to put on.” I actually thought they were just having a bit of fun because we had just got married. It was white over with frost outside; we sat in someone’s car for ages. Somebody lent my husband a pair of slippers. It was early morning when we finally went back to our room. The panic over fire was due to the shop next door. The owner had left his iron running (he was a tailor) and it had burnt through the board. What a mess, and what a start to married life.

When I went back to work and walked into the machine shop, all the workers were banging on their machines and shouting, "FIRE, FIRE!" I continued to work there for a total of six years

Now, in year 2005, I am a mere eighty years young.

Now, in year 2005, I am a mere eighty years yo

TODD Francis 

A NAAFI Girl's Story

By actiondesksheffield

People in story: Francis Annie Todd
Location of story: Various
Unit name: ATS-EFI
Background to story: Army

This story was submitted to the People’s War site by Bill Ross of the ‘Action Desk – Sheffield’ Team on behalf of Francis Todd.

I left Sheffield at the age of 18, in 1941 for Sandhurst to train in the NAAFI. I later served at Atherfield Camp, Reading, Branshott, Ludshott, Headley Green and Grayshott. I worked mostly with Canadian troops who had volunteered to serve overseas. Women were now allowed to serve overseas.

In the September after D-Day, I trained in Dunkirk as ATS, then went back to Dulwich, London for posting. We were now ATS-EFI (for security reasons). If we had been taken by the Germans and were in NAAFI uniform, we would have been considered ‘displaced persons’, in ATS uniform, we would have been taken Prisoners of War.

I was posted to France; landed at Aramanches after sailing on a large troop ship, from where, we did not know.

We waited for transport to Bayoux where we were billeted in a very large house. Then we opened NAAFI in Nissen huts; we were later sent to Brussels; there we opened the Montgomery Club where troops had a 48 hour pass and could use the facilities of the club, and have a meal which was served in a lovely restaurant atmosphere by Belgian waitresses.

I was there as a type of hostess to see that everything was OK. Any complaints, we dealt with. Later, we went to stay in Enschede in Holland, awaiting a further posting. We arrived in Berlin, staying in Spandau Barracks where we opened a new club, similar to the one in Brussels. It was the Arsenal.

I was demobbed in 1947.

We’d worked very long hours, mostly with Canadians. There were very few NAAFI girls, probably 6 NAAFI girls among hundreds of troops.

Over the last few year, I’ve belonged to the Normandy Veterans and Market Gardeners, and I appeared to be the only girl there.




Women at War - Timber Corps Girl

By Actiondesk Sheffield

People in story: Marjorie Wenderby (nee Coates)
Location of story: Yorkshire
Unit name: Womens Timber Corps.
Background to story: Civilian Force


WOMEN AT WAR - Timber Corps Girl


Marjorie Wenderby (nee Coates)

From a very early age I was brought up to learn all about trees, my Father was a forester on the Earl of Harewoods estate. Every Sunday morning he and I used to enjoy a walk through the woods, he was very knowledgeable and taught me all about trees, the way they grew, the seeds and fruits they bore. On our walks he would point to different trees and I would have to tell him the names, also I learnt how to recognise them in midwinter when there were no leaves, then the bark would be the main identification.

I would be sixteen shortly, and Dad who now worked for the Home Timber Production Dept. was sent to take over a wood at Swinsty near the reservoirs. We had to leave our house at Harewood as Dad had ceased to work for the estate, he had thought to better himself no doubt, but life had begun to feel very uncertain. I loved Harewood and did not want to leave. Now Dad had to take lodgings, he stayed with Mrs. Dibbs at Washburn farm. There was no house for us, we had no idea what was going to happen, then we were told the Dept. was allowing us to have the use of a caravan which would be situated in the forest near the portable office, and as I could no longer travel to my work in Harrogate I had to leave, and Dad told me I could work in the forest and then when I was older I could join the Womens Timber Corps. Which at that time I knew nothing about.

He told me how young women worked in the forests, felling trees crosscutting, working with horses etc.Britain could no longer import timber from Scandinavia, so we had to supply pit-props for the coal mines, telegraph poles, ladders, newsprint, etc.

So one snowy winters morning he and I took the bus to Buttersyke Bar about halfway to Harrogate, then we would have to walk from there towards Otley, by this time it was snowing heavily, I recall a man stopping and giving us a lift to Otley, from there we set off to walk across country towards the Dibbs farm where we were to stay until the caravan arrived. Dad had walked that way before. I just followed blindly having no real idea where I was going, he said it was about four miles, it was a blizzard by that time and very windy, we must keep moving, I knew this, the journey was a nightmare to me, finally we reached the farm, Mrs. Dibbs was a kindly lady, she made us a nice hot meal. During the night I had earache although I never told anyone, I was used to it just wished I could have a hot water bottle, that would have helped.

Neat day was February 10th, my birthday, no one had remembered, no cards, this was Wartime, more important things to think about. I spent my birthday peeling pit-props or trying to, they were covered in ice. I suppose this was my first introduction to forestry work which would result in my joining the Woman’s Timber Corps when I was older.

Finally the caravan arrived and we moved from Harewood forever, I was devastated, my Mother had given my cat away!! This was a miserable time, my Mother called it the "valley of desolation". The only enjoyment I had in the three months we were there were the dances that were held sometimes at the village of Norwood about two miles away, although my Father always had to escort me there and back. Mr. Nicholson worked in the forestry office, his wife was a measurer, I used to help her this was the work which although I did not realize it at the time, would also become my job when I finally could join the Timber Corps, we used to measure the trees that had been felled and calculate the volume using the Hoppus Ready Reckoner, the tree fellers were usually on piecework. Finally towards the end of April, Dad was moved again to take over a wood at Goldsborough, near Knaresborough, this was going to be better I thought, a bit nearer civilization.-So eventually after the worst three months of my life we moved once more, and Dad had managed to rent a cottage in the village, and once again we had somewhere we could call home.

There were quite a number of Timber Corps girls at Goldsborough when Dad took over, I wanted to join but had to wait until I was seventeen, there were sisters Mary and Lily, also Connie and Imogene, they became my friends, they were older than me but we had some great times during that summer of 1942, I was beginning to enjoy life and the work, I was still measuring, and Dad had taught me how to sharpen saws which always seemed to need doing. Also there was office work, wages to make up, and sometimes I would help to stack pit-props, or help to load the lorry which then transported them to the station, one day we were at the station when a goods train pulled up with one of the wagons on fire, we helped to extinguish it by running backwards and forwards with fire buckets, we received a letter of appreciation from the Station Master at York.

It was now 1943 and I was seventeen, now I could join the Timber Corps, the uniform was the same as the Land Army except we wore green berets instead of the hat, I felt quite proud and grown up as I fist tried the uniform on. During that summer there was a "Wings for Victory" march at Knaresborough, we marched round the town and then to Goldsborough, I think it was to help raise money for a Spitfire.

The wood at Goldsborough had now been felled and cleared, we travelled every day to a wood near Staveley, I found a kitten it was very wild, eventually I caught it, Dad said I could take it home, we called it Timber, Tim for short. After Staveley we worked at a wood near Wetherby, travelling every day by lorry driven by Robbie our incompetent driver, we had two previous near misses. One dense foggy morning he must have lost his way, eventually we stopped and the next thing we heard was the tremendous roar of an aeroplane engine, it sounded on top of us, we abandoned the lorry in great haste, and discovered we were practically under a Lancaster bombers wing, we were actually on the runway at Tockwith aerodrome in the fog, Robbie as usual had lost his way, strangely the barrier had been lifted for us, our lorry probably been mistaken for the R. A. F.’s, we were escorted politely but firmly out of harms way, the bombers engine was probably just being tested, I don’t suppose it would have taken off in the fog, but it certainly gave us all a fright.

As the year of 1943 was drawing to a close we were moved once more, this time it was further a field to Settle which was beyond Skipton, this would be the furthest away yet, it would mean lodging away from home, Dad would have to lodge as well now that I was older I looked forward to being away from maternal control, that was how I saw it, my Mother did not approve but could do nothing about it.

I remember clearly the day we went, I was to lodge with a lady called Mrs. Hall at 11 Craven Terrace, Settle. She was very nice and friendly, told me to call her Hilda. Dad was in lodgings at the other side of the street, already I was beginning to enjoy my independence, the other Timber Corps girls were billeted in various houses. And so another wood, more pit-props, I loved it. After work there was a good social life, a cinema, also there were dances every Saturday. I had to share a bedroom with another Timber Corps girl called Freda, I did not care much for that but had to get used to it. Freda had been working at Clapham a few miles away but was now joining our gang, she was also a measurer.

That winter was quite a bad one, we had some hair raising incidents while on the lorry driven by Robbie, his driving never improved. The lorry was allowed to take us home once a month for the weekend, some of the girls liked to visit their previous digs in Harrogate, Dad and I enjoyed a weekend at Goldsborough. I recall one incident as we were returning to Settle after a weekend at home, there had been heavy falls of snow, " our route back lay over Blubberhouse Moor a wild and desolate part of Yorkshire at any time, I don’t suppose it was fit or indeed safe to drive over the moor, but Robbie ever confident insisted he was capable of doing it and so we set off. As we approached the more desolate part of the moor the snow was very deep and a blizzard was now raging, the inevitable happened, he drove straight into a snowdrift and got stuck, the snow was as high as the cab, in his inexperience he probably thought he could force his way through. Fortunately there was a farm nearby, the people were very kind and invited us girls in to keep warm, while their men folk helped to free the lorry, there were animals and poultry everywhere, I remember the hens strutting about the kitchen, but it was warm and we were very grateful for their kind hospitality. Eventually the lorry was dug out, turned round and we returned to Harrogate and home. Next day we returned to Settle via Otley.

Eventually the weather improved, Spring was on the way, one evening in March we had left work, Freda and I were returning to Craven Terrace when we saw a boy cycling down the street, he stopped to have a word with Freda as she had known him while working at Clapham, Freda introduced us, his name was Charlie, I always remember the first time I saw him, he was wearing a flat cap like my Dad wore, he took this off as we were being introduced and called me Miss Coates, I was impressed.

He looked nice and eventually we got to know each other better, but at this stage never went out together, he was very shy did not talk much, but then neither did, I he used to go to the dances sometimes but never danced, but we used to talk, he still called me Miss Coates. He lent me a book once, we both discovered we enjoyed reading, after I had read it I waited until I saw him go past taking his landlady’s dog for a walk and followed him to return the book, we went for that walk and so started to go out together. we went to the pictures on April 5 th.1944 for the first time. As the friendship grew we had same nice times that summer, we both liked walking a favourite one was to walk to Giggleswick a couple of miles away. My Dad had already met him, my Mother appeared to like him, she said he was "Well mannered and quiet" his home was at North Stainley near Ripon, everyone was scattered about in wartime.

As the year wore on Charles, [ I did not like Charlie] told me that he would most certainly be called up for the Army, sure enough in the Autumn he was, and was posted
to Colchester, we wrote to each other often, the days dragged, I never went out with anyone else, everyone now seemed hopeful the war would soon end, but we in the Timber Corps were still working hard producing pit-props, Charles was posted to Catterick which was a bit nearer, just before Christmas 1 travelled to Darlington and we spent the day together.

It was my nineteenth birthday in February 1945, we asked our parents if we could get married, my Dad said "yes" but Charles’ Mother was not too happy, she stood to lose the small Army allowance made to her as next of kin. But things sorted themselves out and on Charles embarkation leave we were married on 7th April 1945 at Goldsbrough Church. Although the war was practically at in end, troops were still stationed abroad, he was sent to Palestine, I never saw him again until Christmas 1946.

The war was now at an end, rationing was still with us, but we coped with that, knowing eventually that would end, and a normal life for most of us would resume. And no more pit-props, we said goodbye to some lovely friends vowing to keep in touch, f wonder how many did. We Timber Corps girls had done our bit, we were proud to have made our contribution to the war effort. Now I looked forward to my husband coming home, looking forward to our future whatever it may hold.



No Office Work Thank You

By Actiondesk Sheffield

People in story: Bea Winterburn
Location of story: Leeds

This story was submitted to the People’s War site by Bill Ross of the ‘Action Desk – Sheffield’ Team on behalf of Bea Winterburn.

Having worked in an office since leaving school in 1939, I was determined not to do office work in the forces. I had volunteered for the W.R.V.S. in 1942; in July, I went to Mill Hill in North West London for initial training and general assessment.

The “powers that were”, decided that Station X was my destination-the prospect of more secret office work didn’t appeal at all, so I said, “No thank you.”

In August 42, I was on my way to HMS Landrail, Machrehanesh in Argyllshire, as a maintenance WREN. In May, 43, I went on one of the first WREN Air Mechanics’ courses, specialising in engines at HMS Fledgling in Staffordshire. It was a five months intensive course; I learned about “Otto’s Cycles” and how to adjust tappets. I was also able to do daily engine run-ups and complete form 700 (Daily Inspection). On completion of the course, I was posted to HMS Nightjai (between Preston and Blackpool) to become the Commander’s (flying) personal mechanic. I loved the job, especially when Blackpool FC was playing at home. We would fly around Bloomfield Road for the second half of the match. The Commander would ask me for a description of the action. What I knew then and what I know now about football, wouldn’t fill a postage stamp. My father was a Bradford Northern Rugby League supporter and he enjoyed taking me to home matches (especially when I was wearing my WREN uniform).
I was fortunate to be able to work on the “Ancient and Modern” fleet of planes from Swordfish and Albacores to Fulmars, Seafires etc. Being tall, I was able to work inside the engine with a light strapped to my forehead.
I enjoyed my 2 ½ years in the WRVS, especially as I was doing something different from clerical work.




Second World War In The W.R.N.S. (Women's Royal Navy Service)

By Actiondesk Sheffield

People in story: Maxine Woodcock (nee Stuart)
Location of story: Felixstowe, Suffolk and Chelsea London.
Unit name: Women's Royal Navy Service
Background to story: Royal Navy

This story was submitted to the People’s War site by Bill Ross of the ‘Action Desk  Sheffield’ Team on behalf of Maxine Woodcock,

I joined the W.R.N.S., based at Felixstowe, Suffolk in 1940 where I worked for the naval pay department, on small ships, Motor Torpedo Boats (M.T.B.’s) and Motor Launches (M.L.’s). I was drafted to Chelsea in London, which was a shore establishment. I was a C.P.O. (Chief Petty Officer). When the small ships were sunk, we had to stop their pay at once. We were inspected in Chelsea by H.R.H. Princess Marina of Greece. She spoke to me as the person in charge of the Pay Corps. I was in the centre of the group and also the smallest (only 5’2”, which was the limit of the enrolment). Felixstowe was H.M.S. Beehive, a shore establishment.
I took the C.P.O. writers’ exam in Felixstowe whilst ships were firing at the enemy in the North Sea. I saw the first Doodlebugs whilst in Chelsea; we all cheered! We thought it was one of the German planes going down. Every night, we all had to sleep in the basement of our unit (Shelley House) on Chelsea Embankment. As chief, I was put onto the top floor and had to lug my mattress down into the cellars every night, and back to the rooms in the mornings (my place of honour was the coal hole). H.M.S. Copra was also based in Chelsea by the branch. When I became a C.P.O. I had to wear a tricorn hat, based loosely on Lord Nelson’s headgear, so I never got to wear the round sailor’s hat, which the girls in the navy were later issued with. I had always wanted to wear one.
I could never understand why female officers were titled “3rd Officer”, “2nd Officer” and “1st Officer”, just like in the Merchant Navy. The war was changing and combined operators came into force. We had to pay them a fixed amount, the balance to be worked out later. I was demobilised in 1945 and offered a commission to stay in the Royal Navy, although I wanted to be in civilian life for a change. I declined the offer and have regretted the decision ever since.


WRIGHT Dorothy 

City Of Benares

By actiondesksheffield

People in story: Dr. Peter Collinson - Dr. F.R. Collinson
Location of story: North Atlantic
Background to story: Civilian

Dr Peter Collinson

This story was submitted to the People’s War site by Bill Ross of the ‘Action Desk – Sheffield’ Team on behalf of Dorothy Wright.

I recall an incident that has etched itself on my memory forever more. Some parents accepted the Government's offer to send their children abroad as evacuees to Australia, Canada and the United States. One such party was leaving on a ship called The City of Benares, and they were bound for America. Each small group of children was put in the charge of a volunteer chaperone and they were really enjoying the luxury of the liner as they set sail for America for the duration of the war.

The boat was well equipped and had a plentiful supply of food, perhaps such as these children had never seen before. The ships travelled in convoy with the support of some of Naval vessels to protect them until they reached waters where attack was unlikely. Then one midnight, the 17th September, 1940 when they were all in their beds a torpedo struck the Benares and the evacuees and their chaperones had to try to remember the Boat Drills they had been taught and hurry to make their escape.

The escorts and their charges had left Liverpool on September 13th. 90 children were aboard in the care of 10 adult escorts. Other passengers were travelling privately to Canada. About 600 miles out in the North/ Atlantic in the Convoy the ship was attacked by torpedo and boat drill was necessary at once. Some of the children got separated from their escorts and there was a rush for the lifeboats.

One of the escorts was a 41 year old Music Teacher by the name of Mary Cornish and she had in her charge a group of girls. When the order to abandon boat was given Mary tried to gather her charges together and got them all but one little girl and she left the group in the charge of an older girl and began to search for the missing one. The crew had declared 'all clear' but she felt bound to search for the missing girl and she went below. The group of children were ordered to board Boat 10 which was the boat Mary was the escort for and when she returned empty handed she was ordered to join Boat 12 joining Father O'Sullivan and six boys he had grouped together.

The Benares was sinking fast, 600 miles from the nearest shore, and the escort vessel had left them 21 hours before. The sinking ship was in danger of sinking the lifeboats themselves. Several lifeboats capsized, the sea was very turbulent but because Boat 12 was the last to be launched it was the furthest astern and was away from the currents which had capsized the other boats and was able to get free.

We were reading in the newspaper about the missing boat and I followed the story closely and it was at 1300 hours on Wednesday September 25th when we heard that they had been rescued after 8 days at sea without any support. 46 persons were on this boat, many were crew, and many were Lascar seamen. In all 134 passengers died.

5 adults and 77 children, 121 Crew died, 20 were Europeans and 101 Indians. This brought the Overseas evacuation plan to a stop. No more children were sent overseas after this.

Some years later we got a new G.P in our Family Practice and he was the Sailor Son of Doctor F.C.Collinson who had been John's family Doctor for many years. After some time I met Doctor Peter Collinson and was most interested to learn his story of the part he played in the other part of the Benares Drama.

Doctor Peter later wrote an account of the part in which he was involved, so I will take the opportunity to use his words to describe what happened. I have always been very interested in this incident so I am glad to record it in my memoirs. I do not think he will mind my using his account to include here.

"The ship sailed from Liverpool on Friday 13th September 1940 with 191 passengers, including 90 Children with 10 adult escorts proceeding to Canada under the Government Evacuation Scheme. She was torpedoed about 600 miles out in the North Atlantic.

At about midnight on the 17th September I unscrambled the ciphered signal in which Their Lordships commanded H.M.S. Hurricane to proceed with 'utmost despatch' to position 56.43 21.15 where survivors are reported in boats. On taking this to Captain Simms he remarked 'Utmost Despatch' I bet this means there are women and children amongst them. Apparently a normal signal would say 'proceed forthwith'

We sighted the survivors at about 2pm. The first raft about 6 ft by 3 ft had two men and a boy clinging to it.

These were Eric Davis and John McGlashen who were shielding Jack Keeley aged 6. As we manoeuvred alongside the raft I managed to take a photo with my box Brownie, which I later sold to the Daily Mirror for 6 pounds. It has since reappeared in several publications. Unfortunately I was unable to take any more photographs of the rescue as the survivors needed medical attention.

All survivors were suffering from severe exposure, and varying degrees of shock being physically and emotionally exhausted. Some were dehydrated and most were suffering from bruised and sprained bodies, limbs, and suspected fractures. Several had severe swollen legs due to prolonged exposure to sea water, the so called' Immersion Feet'

Three little boys could not be revived in spite of the valiant efforts of the Petty Officers' Mess at artificial resuscitation. They were later given a full Naval Burial by the Captain.

After being dried, warmed, and given dry clothing, given warm drinks and food, the majority of the survivors became temporarily somewhat elated, but by the next day reaction set in when they realised the enormity of the tragedy.

S.B.A, Hunt and I did not sleep for three nights except for the occasional cat nap in the Wardroom chair.

We landed the Survivors at Gourock where they were taken to the Bay Hotel and received by the rather portly proprietor commonly known as 'Two Ton Tessie'

Geoffrey Shakespeare, under Secretary for the Dominions, the Press, and the BBC were all there to welcome them and take their statements.

Several of the more seriously injured were transferred to the Smithston Hospital by ambulance."

I was so interested in this incident when it happened, and the anxiety about the boat still missing with the boys aboard so I was particularly interested when I met Doctor Peter, and have been interested ever since. I am grateful to be able to add the account written by Doctor Collinson as he was involved with the rescue personally.

A number of those involved in this incident, survivors, rescuers, and even attackers have kept in touch over the years and there is even to be another meeting in September 2005 although the numbers will be less, for many have passed away now.!



By actiondesksheffield

People in story: Dorothy Wright - Victoire Desperez
Location of story: Belgium - England
Background to story: Civilian

This story was submitted to the People’s War site by Bill Ross of the ‘Action Desk – Sheffield’ Team on behalf of Dorothy Wright.

When I was 15 I started to write to a girl called Victoire Desperez who lived in Brussels, Belgium, and this was the start of a very long friendship. Vicky was born in the same year as I, but actually on the same day as my Cousin Reggie. This made them both about two months younger than myself.

She had one brother, Jean, who was younger than she, and they lived in the Uccle St Job district of Brussels. It was to be a long time before we eventually met after the War, but we remained the best of friends over the years. We wrote to each other in both English and French.

In the early years when we were still at school, and then afterwards when we both started work, it was fun to be telling each other of our various boy friends, the holidays we were having, and the clothes we were wearing. It was all fun, and frivolous, and then in 1939 along came the War, and we lost touch for some time because of the regulations; it was not possible to write to Belgium for about eighteen months. During this time I had married and come to live in Rotherham and our Daughter Jacqueline was born.

We had not had any news from Brussels, but we read that the conditions on the continent were no better than ours and in some cases they were worse. However, one day I learned that it was possible to send a Red Cross Message that had to be written on a special form, and the recipient had to write the reply on the reverse side of the form. Both messages were allowed to be 25 words long. I immediately set about composing my message.




The War Continues

By actiondesksheffield

People in story: Dorothy Wright
Location of story: Rotherham - Sheffield
Background to story: Civilian


This story was submitted to the People’s War site by Bill Ross of the ‘Action Desk – Sheffield’ Team on behalf of Dorothy Wright.

The War years were years of bad news and good news and one could never really be sure that we were getting the truth all the time. I recall that we did not continue to carry the gas masks we had been given for very long although there was always the danger that we may be subjected to a gas attack.

We had arrived to live in Rotherham and the persons who had lived in the house previously had made but a half hearted attempt to dig the hole required to cover an Anderson Shelter, so we did not bother to go in to it when we had an air raid warning. Certain cities and towns suffered very bad attacks, with much damage and loss of life.

Sheffield suffered one such blitz in the first December after our marriage, and the enemy returned for a second attack two nights later. The damage in Sheffield was terrible and now the people of Sheffield learned what it had been like for some time in London.

It took Sheffield many years to get back to normal so when I went every few weeks to visit my relatives I had the chance to see the devastation.

Jacquie was born in August 1941, so now we had other things to deal with. A baby was given a gas mask into which it could be protected and John had to go and collect this and learn how to use it in case of a gas attack. Fortunately this was never needed. We had some difficulty obtaining the clothes and equipment needed for a baby and we had quite a lot of make do and mend, but Jacquie continued to grow and had her daily dose of cod liver oil and her orange juice.

Early in the war there had been a scheme to evacuate children living in susceptible areas for future bombing, to country places where they hoped would be spared this trauma. We are still hearing the stories of the experiences of the children, some good and some bad. At one time some of our neighbours took in two of these children and when the hosts had no space to offer to them for two weeks owing to a family visit, I took these two young lads for two weeks. They returned to the neighbours after two weeks and I was rather relieved as I had not enjoyed catering for them, being an inexperienced housewife.


World War Two Is Declared - Life On The Home Front.

By actiondesksheffield

People in story: Dorothy Wright (nee Bentley)
Location of story: Sheffield

On Honeymoon in Blackpool - Jacquie in 1941 and aged 2 years and 3 months.

Hitler had invaded Poland and War had been declared. We all carried our gas masks now though it was not a habit which continued for very long, as people became blasé when no gas attacks were reported. Everyone had to obey the blackout rules and many folk stuck brown paper tape across their window panes in an effort to stop the glass from flying if the windows got broken by blast.

I had left Deighton at this point and got a job in the centre of Sheffield, at Tupholmes Sheffield Limited, which was a Warehouse and wholesale business selling household goods. Here I met Eric Tupholme who was the motorist with whom John had collided on that Christmas Eve and he told me his story of the accident.

This Firm was selling out of dark paper blinds that people were seeking to keep the lights from shining out when it was dark. Motorists had to have a kind of shield on their car headlights and of course the streetlights were turned off too. War was declared and that same night there was an Air raid alarm. I do not think that any bombs were dropped at this time but it gave people a shock and a warning of what was to come to our Country.

Food was becoming scarce even at this early stage as people were stocking up having heard of the shortages of the previous war. It did not take long for shortages to appear in the Clothes Trade and the Furniture trade and eventually everything was short or none existent and rationing began. The ration books must have been held in readiness long before the War began.

We were married on August 10th 1940 at 8 am, the earliest time for weddings to be carried out. My cousin Jean was Bridesmaid and my Cousin Jack newly back from Dunkirk gave the Bride away. John’s Mother had been difficult, she had hidden away the Banns which had been delivered from the Whiston Church and John had had to go to search for them. She did not even get up to wish him well when he left the house, but his Dad did. John’s sister Margaret and brother in law Joe would not bother to come to the wedding because John had not arranged for a car to pick them up to come to the Church.

A couple who were our friends brought John to the Church and the young man acted as Best Man. His name escapes me at the moment though his surname was Weightman. I think his name may have been Terry. After the ceremony the Verger Joyce Hulett’s Dad carried the suitcases to the bottom of Burgoyne Road and there was an empty Sheffield United Tours bus to take us to Blackpool for our honeymoon waiting for us. My Friends and relations bidding us farewell and good luck threw confetti into the bus and at the eventual pickups people got on to the bus saying “looks as if there has been a wedding” and gave us a good look over. Don’t forget this was a Wartime wedding and things were very difficult. The journey to Blackpool took forever as we ran into Road blocks en route and this caused hold ups. We stayed with Mr and Mrs Stainton who were the parents of a fellow who had previously worked at Deighton and was now at Blackpool. I recall that we went to the pictures that night to see the film Pinocchio. We had a good honeymoon and returned to remove to Rotherham the following week. Readers may think the circumstances with John’s Mother were very strange but the same kind of leaving the family home happened to both his sisters before him. Hilda Lucy Wright was a strange woman.

John and I got married on August 10th 1940 and we managed to exchange my Grandma's house after she had died, with a couple in Rotherham who wanted to move to Sheffield to be near to relatives, so we moved almost immediately to 5, Marlowe Road, Herringthorpe, Rotherham and remained there until November 7th year 2002 when we needed to get more convenient accommodation to suit John in his illness, and he passed away on January 14th 2004. We had been married 64 years.

During the War John had continued to work as a mechanic on the large lorries belonging to the Army as Deighton Motor Company became an Army Auxiliary workshop.

Our daughter Jacqueline was born on August 20th 1941 so her baby years were spent during the War and she never saw a banana until well into the War years when a Sailor who visited Deighton gave John a tiny banana about three inches long and as thick as one's finger. Clothing was a problem and we made do and swapped and changed things, but we got along. The men who were still at home had to take up Air Raid Duties, nightly parading the streets in case of any damage. Sheffield suffered greatly in two nights of blitz in December, many people lost their lives, and many more lost their homes

Thus it was a time of great changes. We began to learn of the Concentration Camps of the Germans and eventually, much later on, the wickedness of the Japanese to our men in the Far East. Gradually, little by little, we found we lived in a changed World.

We had shortages of everything really, clothing, food, furniture, coal, etc., and we had ration books and clothing coupons to ensure fair shares. Newspapers became very small, as paper was in short supply, and this was the time when we could not buy wallpaper so the practice of painting over the paper with distemper or what evolved as Walpamur, the fore runner of emulsion paint.

During the War it was often necessary to have children doing their lessons in the homes of the other children. Sometimes it would be caused by enemy action having destroyed or damaged a school, and at other times it could have been because the school was short of heating facilities, and the teacher would take a class here and there. Jacquie had not started school at this time so she was at home during her first five years.

Nurseries grew up in this period in order that some Mothers could go out to work. This was the time when it became the norm for women to go out to work, as before this a woman was expected to stop working when she became married, although during the War mothers with small children were not expected to work.

The extra income was very useful so women continued to work after the war and now it is practically expected that two salaries are necessary in married life these days. This brought the growth of Nursery Groups for the under fives and now most small children have one or two half days in a pre school environment.

Our days of rationing continued for several years after the end of the War and the statistics show that we were a healthier Nation in those days than the present generations are with the modern eating habits.


WRIGHT Hilda Evus 

My Life On The Land Army.

By Actiondesk Sheffield

People in story: Hilda Evus Wright
Location of story: Walsingham, Norfolk


This story was submitted to the People’s War site by Bill Ross of the ‘Action Desk – Sheffield’ Team on behalf of Hilda Evus Wright.

Although unmarried women of 18 years and over had to register in order to help with the war effort, at the age of 17, I volunteered to join the land army and I was posted to Walsingham in Norfolk. By the time everyone had arrived at the station, there were 20 girls altogether. We were loaded onto a lorry, and we arrived at the church hall where we to stay. We were placed into groups.

There were four farms altogether on which we were required to work on different days. The hours were long, so we were supplied with bicycles to make things a little easier. As there was not a lot to entertain us, the highlights were when the soldiers came with lorries, and we all went to a dance hall and had quite a good time. The soldiers were told what time we had to be back at the church hall. The next time, it was the RAF station that supplied us with companions. Overall, we didn’t have a bad life.





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.