- Contributed by
- People in story:
- The Sleep Family; Ron Tozer
- Location of story:
- Plymouth, Devon; Gloucester; R.A.F. Hullavington, Wilts;
- Background to story:
- Royal Air Force
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 25 January 2006
This story has been written to the BBC People's War site by CSV Storygatherer Coralie, on behalf of Betty Tozer. The story has been added to the site with her permission and Betty fully understands the terms and conditions of the site.
I went to Headland College, a private school in Plymouth, which I left when I was 14. I started work in the accounts office at Dingles department store having been told about the job by my cousin, Gwen Sleep. She lived in Liskeard and travelled into Plymouth each day on the train to work at Dingles on the 'bought ledger'. My job was working on the 'sales ledger'. However, confusion arose from having two Miss Sleeps, so to solve this, as the younger of the two of us, I was asked to think of another name I could be called. Gwen and I thought about it and came up with Wake, as it was the opposite of Sleep, so I became known as Miss Wake at work.
My father taught at St Andrew's School, Plymouth which was evacuated because of the bombs, and although he didn't want to go he was obliged to. As a result, to get out of Plymouth, my mother and I went to stay in Kelly Bray, where there was a station. I was able to get to Callington and then Plymouth by train, each day for work.
After the Blitz, when Dingles was bombed, the office staff moved to Mr Dingles' house on the Esplanade. The different departments of Dingles were then housed in various big houses spread throughout Plymouth. However, I needed a 'police pass' to be allowed to walk from North Street Station through the bombed city to get work on the Esplanade.
Young people were called up when they reached 18, but if you volunteered before this you were usually able to go into the service you preferred. My family were regular worshippers at Sherwell Church, and I had made a very good friend there called Ron (who would later be my husband, though we didn't know it then). He was in the Air Force so I wanted to join the Air Force as well.
I was successful in this wish and joined the W.A.A.F.s. and was sent to Gloucester for 3 weeks of basic training. We all had training in marching, drill etc. and also had the injections that everyone had on entering the services. Whilst I was there a notice went up asking anyone who could entertain in any way to report to the cinema, as there was to be an 'end of training' concert. At that age I was rather shy and reserved, but as I loved singing I went along. I was last to be auditioned and heard the remark made "Not another singer! Everyone wants to sing". However, unlike most of the others, who wanted to sing popular songs, I had had singing lessons from the age of 9 and sang classical pieces. As a result of this, a surprise to those holding the auditions, I was given a place and sang in the concert.
At the end of training I was posted to R.A.F. Hullavington, near Chippenham in Wiltshire, to be a clerk in accounts. However, the trade was full so I had to be 'remustered', that is, moved from one trade to another. I was sent to the Officers' Mess as a batwoman, but was only there for 2 weeks before being sent for. A new Group Captain was coming to R.A.F. Hullavington, with his wife and two children, and would live on the aerodrome. I was very pleased to be chosen as the family's batwoman.
I worked at the Group Captain's house during the day, but slept at the Officers' Mess. My duties included going out with his wife to look after the children for her, so I went to all sorts of interesting places. I also looked after all sorts of famous officers who came to visit the family, including the famous R.A.F. hero, Douglas Bader, who had lost both his legs in the line of duty and had a very well-known film made about him. Of course, he could do nothing until he had his artificial legs on.
I really enjoyed my job and when a vacancy came up to go as a clerk in accounts, as originally intended, it turned out to be in the North of England. By this time Ron and I were serious about each other and, as he was stationed not too far away in Hereford, we did manage to see each other every now and then. From R.A.F. Hullavington, I could also get home occasionally to see my parents in Plymouth, which would have been impossible from the North. I was very lucky in that I was able to choose not to accept the posting and to stay with the Group Captain's family.
There were also other reasons that I was so happy and wanted to stay near Chippenham. As I mentioned previously, at home we attended Sherwell Church and so at the first opportunity I enquired where the Congregational Church was in Chippenham and went to the Sunday Service. The pastor came over and greeted each person in uniform and welcomed them. When he reached me and asked my name, to my surprise he said that he knew all about me, and that I sang, because the pastor at our church had written to him telling him I would be coming to Chippenham. With that I was whisked away to be in the choir and was welcomed by the other members. From that Sunday on, whenever I was not on duty I was in the choir on a Sunday, which I loved.
My singing also brought me another pleasure. To my surprise, the Padre came to see me having been contacted by the Officer at Gloucester, who told him I could sing well. After that I sang in the Station choir and near Christmas 1941 or 42, I can't quite remember which, the choir was invited to sing at Badminton House, the home of the Duke and Duchess of Beaufort. We were asked to go on the Sunday before Christmas to sing a programme of Christmas music. When we arrived we were shown into an enormous hall and were surprised to see only about 20 seats arranged for the audience. After a short time we were ordered to stand and then to stand to attention. To our astonishment the Princess Royal and Queen Mary appeared with their entourage and settled themselves into the few seats, ready for us to start our programme. They had been evacuated secretly to Badminton to avoid the bombing!
I sang several solos and when we had finished the Queen shook hands with the Padre, the pianist and with me, thanking me for coming. We were invited back to Badminton to do a Summer programme. We had no idea when we went there next summer whether the Royals would still be there, but they were and the same thing took place and once again the Queen shook hands with me and thanked me.
I also went around the area with the R.A.F. Band, singing solos with them, and we did concerts to raise money. Singing with the concert party meant that I had to send home to my parents for evening dresses and accessories. It was all very enjoyable.
I stayed at R.A.F. Hullavington as a batwoman throughout the war. Eventually the Group Captain was posted up-country but I stayed and became a batwoman in the W.A.A.F. Officers' Mess where I continued with my singing.
Ron had been a Scout Master and very involved in church activities whilst in the R.A.F. at Hereford, which he had enjoyed. We were married on 25th August 1945 at Sherwell Church, Plymouth, which we had attended for so long.
© Copyright of content contributed to this Archive rests with the author. Find out how you can use this.