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World War II - Eileen Parsons remembers, PART 2...

by CSV Action Desk Leicester

You are browsing in:

Archive List > United Kingdom > London

Contributed by 
CSV Action Desk Leicester
People in story: 
E M Davidson (nee Parsons)
Location of story: 
East Sussex & London
Background to story: 
Royal Air Force
Article ID: 
A7750802
Contributed on: 
13 December 2005

Eileen Parsons remembers, PART 2......

POSTED - I was posted to Balloon Command/Balloon Centre, Stanmore. Joyce Hall, I think, went to Horsham St Faith, Norfolk, Bomber Command. It is now Norwich Airport and, of course, is much, much bigger now. We wrote to each other to start with but we never met again.

I was once again in billets, three of us together and I had a happy friendship with a girl called Doreen Beer who came from Devonshire. Her parents had a farm and somehow rationing did not seem to affect them as she received some nice food parcels, home-made cakes and biscuits, from time to time, which we shared.

We had a young Officer, known as a Sports Officer and she organised hockey and netball matches in our free time, we did not work 24 hours a day! We did have certain days off for recreation and Doreen and I played both hockey and netball for the camp team as we were quite good players. So, at certain weekends, we travelled to other camps or they came to us for a match. I expect there was a cup, or something similar, to be won at the end of the season but I forget if this was so.

As I was a shorthand typist as well as a Clerk/Accountant, the Squadron Leader in charge of the unit used me as his secretary which was much less boring than dealing with figures all day.

However, it was not always a 'bed of roses' because Balloon Command at that time was very busy due to the intensive daylight raids on London which continued at night for many months. Air raid warnings by night and day were frequent. The balloons were in constant use, coupled with gun fire and search lights, the noise of fire engines and ambulance sirens were regarded as the norm. There was much damage and civilian casualties were high.

My sister had now joined the WAAF and we were hoping at some time to get together. My younger brother had enlisted in the RAF as Air Crew and was under training as a Flight Engineer. It must have been a worrying time for my parents to have all three of their children in the services and this worry was shared by many, many parents and families.

OTHER ACTIVITIES - Volunteers were called for - for men and women who had some musical or show business background to form a group to entertain others on the station.

I started to learn the piano when I was seven and was taught to be a classical pianist and reached teacher's certificate standard. My father was a keen musician and I had also had singing lessons and voice training. I played the piano and he and I sang at local concerts and wedding receptions.

I was therefore happy to volunteer for this entertainment group. Fortunately we also had a few professional and part-time players on the station so, after a few false starts and a good deal of effort, we were able to put on shows and eventually visited other stations. On some occasions we were taken into a London recording studio to broadcast on the radio in a Forces entertainment programme. It was a very busy time what with my normal routine work, rehearsing and appearing in these shows and also playing the piano in the NAAFI but I enjoyed it and felt it to be most rewarding.

RE-MUSTERING - In 1941 the Air Ministry decided to set up a WAAF Police Force to protect and deal with problems arising from the large increase in WAAF personnel. My sister and I decided that we would apply and re-muster to this new service. We wanted to get together and felt sure we would be accepted because our father was a Police Officer. We attended interviews at different times and we were both accepted. We did not attend the same course, my sister being on a course some time later.

I was posted to RAF Uxbridge for an intensive course in discipline and law, physical fitness and unarmed combat. On completion of the course and passing the examinations, I was posted to a police unit in the South of England and operated from there in plain clothes on security matters and special investigation branch activities.

At one time we were involved in codes and ciphers, it was most boring work and none of us could understand what it was about. Many months later I learned that it was out-work from the Enigma Project at Bletchley Park. Phew! What a surprise!

A CHANGE OF DUTIES - The time came for a change of faces and I was rotated with others, to uniformed work in London. We were quartered in Embassy buildings near the Albert Hall, these having been closed due to the war.

From there we were involved in a wide variety of duties such as patrolling the main line railway stations, underground stations and the West End. Some girls 'went on the run', they had no money, no ration books, no identity cards and often ended up working the brothels. We had to carry out searches of these establishments and send the girls back to their units. This involved working with the Metropolitan Police, court appearances and detention until transport could be arranged for these girls.

Sometimes this kind of work was very distressing, some of the girls had become pregnant and were in a poor state. We had to visit their parents and their reactions were sometimes most harrowing. I felt great sympathy for them and have many stories I could tell.

One incident took place at Leicester Square Underground Station where a colleague and I apprehended a WAAF accompanied by a soldier. After questioning, it turned out they were both 'absent without leave' and were detained. My colleague went off to arrange transport whereupon the girl pushed me and the soldier hit me on the head with a torch he was carrying. I reeled back dazed and they ran off. My colleague returned to find me leaning against a wall in a distressed state. There were two RAF policemen whose duty it was to protect us as this was a high vice area. They failed in this and were later charged with 'dereliction of duty'.

There were many incidents, some sad, some humorous, some dangerous and some just plain routine.

ANOTHER CHANGE - During the course of my duties I met a young soldier in the REME. He was hoping to re-muster to the Royal Ordnance Corp and to get a commission as an Inspecting Ordnance Officer. This did eventually come to pass but not as quickly as he would have liked but he did finally pass the tests, interviews and examinations and worked at the War Office in London. During this time we were married in 1942.

My posting to the WAAF Police in London coincided more or less with his posting to the War Office in London. As there were no 'personnel living quarters' at the War Office he 'lived out' and I was allowed to join him. We answered an advertisement for a small flatlet on the north side of Hyde Park and our landlady was a charming and courteous lady.

After living there for a few weeks we became aware of some very odd incidents such as the young women residing there seemed to change rooms from time to time. They seemed to change boyfriends too. Even the landlady seemed to have a different husband to the first one we were introduced to. It transpired that an Army Officer and a WAAF in the Provost Corps made a very good 'front' should the police start making enquiries and we got out as soon as it dawned on us that we were living in a brothel! Impossible we thought but it was so! Fortunately we quickly found alternative accommodation.

As could be expected, I became pregnant and for me there were no more patrols, searches, underground and railway station duties, just light duties on administration although often something laughable happened so it wasn't as boring as it sounds. Let me tell you of one such incident - to me it was funny but obviously not to others.

TEA TIME - As usual, the same tasteless plain slices of yellow cake, a dob of margarine and a dob of jam. We had an Officer, a Squadron Leader who was a strict disciplinarian. One day when he was duty officer, he visited the dining room at tea time, accompanied by a Sergeant. He asked the usual question "any complaints?". No-one answered because the last time someone did make a complaint he turned to the Sergeant and said "Put this man on a charge". The Sergeant said "What for, Sir?" and the Officer replied "A frivolous complaint". It was not a frivolous complaint in my opinion, it was agreed by most of those present that it was an injustice.

So, on this particular day, once again, he was looking for trouble and he found it! Someone had thrown their slice of cake in the pig bin with the rest of the uneaten food. He ordered the Sergeant to remove it intact from the bin and to put it on a clean plate and then take it away to a safe place whilst he carried out an investigation into who the culprit was who had 'done this foul deed'.

The Sergeant took it to the admin office and placed it on the mantlepiece, still on its nice clean plate and then he went back to the Squadron Leader and found out that he had identified the culprit and had put him on a charge. Sergeant went back to his office again, on the Squadron Leader's orders, to get the cake and a charge sheet and found the cake had done, all that was left was a nice clean plate!

What had happened was one of the Sergeants saw a piece of cake on a plate on the mantlepiece, picked it up and said to himself "Oh good old Bill (his friend) knew I would be hungry when I came off duty and has left me a piece of cake" and he promptly gobbled it up!

All hell was let loose! Both Sergeants were, it is said, on a charge and anyone else the Squadron Leader could lay his hands on. The culprit? I never did find out if he got away with it.

The time came in late November for me to leave the WAAF Provost Corps, the number of us was increasing, in fact by 1945 the WAAF police establishment was at its peak - 386 of us in England.

My husband and I found a flat in South London which enabled him to travel to the War Office and other places in the country and for me to have my baby's birth in Queen Charlottes Hospital, Hammersmith.

Two weeks before my baby was born, my mother died after a long and painful illness and a few days later I learned that my brother was reported 'missing' having failed to return on his first raid over Germany. I was quite ill for the last two weeks of my pregnancy, the shock was awful and I was alone a great deal of the time because my husband could not be released from the Army, any more than any other soldier with a pregnant wife.

These were very hard times for everyone. The doodbe bombs and the rockets were coming over London. I found it difficult to get coal and I struggled to get second-hand furniture.

However, I lived to tell this tale.

EPILOGUE

My thanks are due to Janet and Jack Hatton whom I met on a cruise in Scotland, who prompted me to write down some of my memories.

Also to my present husband for his encouragement and memory and my daughter, Jacqueline, for typing it. Without their help and encouragement this story would not have been written.

I still play the piano for local charities etc., and, at 87 years of age, consider myself a survivor. How many of us are left?

This story has been entered on the People's War website by Terry Greenwood on behalf of E.M Davidson (nee Parsons) who has given her written permission so to do.

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