- Contributed by
- Linda Thompson
- People in story:
- Enid Florence Cooper, Jack Staniland, Gwyn and Jack Harrower
- Location of story:
- St Athan, Colerne, Lossiemouth, Halton
- Background to story:
- Royal Air Force
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 28 July 2004
At school the children are learning about the lives of children during WW2. My mother, now 82 years young!!, wrote down some of her experiences to give the children a first hand account of how lives were changed by the war. The following account will also be posted on our school web site for the children to access as part of their studies.
LACW Enid Florence Cooper 484132
16.4.43 – 20.5.46
I was 17 years of age and with my father, mother and younger sister had just returned from a week’s holiday in Blackpool. It was 2nd September 1939. There had been rumours of war for quite a while but hope was raised when the Prime Minister, Mr Chamberlain, returned from Germany after talks with Adolf Hitler and said we would have peace not war. Then on the 3rd September 1939 the nation was told that Mr Chamberlain would be making a special announcement on the Sunday morning at 11am. The family, including my grandma who lived next door, listened to the wireless and heard the Prime Minister say that from 11am that morning a state of war would exist between Britain and Germany. My grandma who was a very religious person said “God help us all.”
A lot of people thought the war would soon be over but it would be six long years before we had peace again.
All property had to be blacked out in case the German pilots could detect any lights on the ground during bombing raids. My mother bought blackout material and my father fastened them to the windows. A.R.P. men patrolled at night and any person found showing a light could be fined. My sister was one of the first casualties of the war when she ran around the back of the houses to visit grandma and, because of the blackout, knocked her two front teeth out on the corner wall.
I was sent shopping to buy provisions that could be stored when food became scarce. I bought packs and packs of candles in case we were left in the dark and needless to say we had plenty of candles after the war and for years afterwards.
Food rations and clothes rations books were issued and the amounts of butter, cheese and meat that we were allowed were meagre when compared to what we were used to having.
The air-raid siren was at the local fire station and, the first time it was heard, people were frightened but we soon got used to the sound. People who didn’t have an air raid shelter made themselves as comfortable as possible under their stairs. Our park railings and a WW1 army tank were removed form the park to be melted down for munitions. The Home Guard was quickly formed but at the start our neighbour, Mr Walters, who was a sergeant was the only one to have a rifle.
Sandbags were quickly filled and placed by buildings of importance. I belonged to the St John’s Ambulance Brigade and had to do two night’s duty at the Cottage Hospital. It was tiring after working all day at the printing works. Also, two evenings a week, after work, everyone had to practise using a stirrup pump in case incendiary bombs were dropped on the printing works.
Gas masks were delivered to Park Street School, our nearest distribution point. When my mother saw one she said,
“I’m not putting that on; I will choke!” My father persuaded her to put it on saying,
“I will just tighten the straps so the mask will fit properly and then it can go back in the box.”
Thank goodness the masks were never needed.
In 1940 Germany started to bomb the cities and large ports and caused much damage and many casualties. Many people in London spent their nights in the underground railway stations; it was not very comfortable sleeping on blankets on hard platforms but it was safer than staying in their homes.
Children were quickly evacuated to country areas and it was a sad sight to see the children with their cases, gas masks over their shoulders and labels fastened to their coats saying a tearful goodbye to their parents. Schools in the Dover and Folkestone area sent teachers and children to my hometown, Abergavenny, and they were billeted amongst the community. My two cousins from London, Jean and Ron, came to stay – Jean with grandma and Ron with my aunty.
Then in April 1943 I received my calling-up papers and chose the WAAF and in due course reported to the medical centre in Newport, South Wales, for my medical and assessment tests and was passed A1. I soon received a letter informing me to report to Innsworth Training Camp, Gloucestershire. I had never left my parents before so felt apprehensive about the big change in my life. We were fitted for our uniforms, had lectures, more medicals and learned about “square bashing” (marching to orders). All this gave me little time to think about home.
My uniform was an airforce blue battledress and beret for work and a dress jacket and skirt with cap for best wear. We had strong, black lace-up shoes, thick grey stockings and grey pants – not very glamorous but they kept us warm when we had to work in the cold hangars. Our great coats were thick and warm and the women were lucky to have sheets on the beds as the men had to sleep between blankets.
After training, I was posted to Lossiemouth in Scotland and was billeted in a large hotel facing the North Sea. We were issued with a bicycle because we were two miles from the aerodrome. It was bitterly cold and the winds were so strong that I was blown off my cycle many times. After helping in the hangars and gaining experience on the maintenance of different aeroplanes, I was posted to St Athan in Glamorganshire, South Wales, to start a flight-mechanic’s course.
It was such a long journey from Scotland to South Wales. The railway coaches had a tiny blue light in the ceiling and one could hardly see the occupant in the far corner of the carriage. Most travellers seemed to sleep but I could not. I had to change at Crewe station and when I staggered off the train at 2.30am with my gas mask, helmet, case and kit bag I felt dreadful through tiredness. Then, whom did I see? My wonderful father was coming towards me! Goodness knows how long he had waited for me there. He was an engine driver and so was able to find out the train times. He took hold of my case and kit bag and said,
“Come on let us see if we can get a cup of tea in the canteen.”
I sniffed away my tears and followed him and, because there were no cups, we drank our tea out of jam jars! My father and I caught the early train back to Abergavenny and I travelled on to St Athan the next day.
St Athan aerodrome was a large camp situated quite near to the sea. It was a training centre for young men training to be aircraft flight engineers. After three months my friend Gwyn and I passed our flight mechanic course and worked on Lancaster bombers. The main planes – the wings – had to be put up on trestle tables while large bolts securing the wings to the fuselage were renewed and then the wings were refitted to the fuselage.
It was at a camp dance that I met Sgt. Roy Lodge who had just completed his engineer’s course and enjoyed his company for a short while before he was posted to Cambridgeshire. He flew in a Halifax bomber but after only 6 months on dangerous bombing missions, he was killed in action on May 1st 1944. I was so sad when I received a letter from his mother telling me the news. The pilot of the bomber was awarded the D.F.C. for bringing the plane home with the damaged undercarriage and fuselage.
Later my friend Gwyn and I decided to volunteer to go to RAF Colerne, near Bath, in Wiltshire. There we were to work on the Mosquito Fighter Bomber, a wonderful plane made out of balsa wood, a light wood, and that is why it was such a fast plane. I was trained to assemble radar kit; this was a marvellous new device to help pilots to scan the sky all around their planes – a great help when enemy planes were trying to intercept them.
Reading orders one day, I was pleased to see that I had been made up to L.A.C.W. (Leading aircraft woman) which meant I could have a cloth propeller sewn on the sleeve of my uniform – the equivalent to one stripe in the army – and an extra shilling a week in my pay packet!
Working in 39 hangar lead to many funny tales but it wasn’t so funny when I leaned my bicycle against the hangar doors and returned to find the doors had been opened and my bicycle wheel had been mangled! A sweet smile and a plausible excuse meant that the sergeant in charge of the stores gave me another bicycle!
Working in the same hangar was a young airman called Jack Staniland. He was a carpenter and fitted the stands for the radar inside the Mosquito and, much later, I was to marry Jack.
In June 1944 my WAAF officer recommended me to go on a Fitter’s Course at Halton No1 School of Technical Training in Buckinghamshire. I was sorry to leave Jack and my friends and I might well have declined to go if I had known how difficult the course would be. So, on the road again I went, my kitbag looking very worn through dragging it along since it was too heavy to carry.
There was so much spit and polish at Halton. We marched to the schoolrooms every morning, flanked by the RAF Regiment airmen and with a white goat – the mascot – leading the way. We were taught about hydraulics and pneumatics and so many other subjects. In the afternoons we worked in the workshops and sometimes on the aerodrome working on the planes.
It was when I was working on one of the planes that I saw a sight I will never forget. An American Fortress Bomber was coming towards our airfield; I wondered why such a huge plane was using our runway. Then I could see that the plane’s undercarriage had been shot away; the airmen had jettisoned the doors and were standing ready to jump at the earliest opportunity. I heard our fire engines and ambulances speeding towards the runway and I said, “Please God let them land safely.”
I could see the pilot bravely trying to land the huge plane; it screeched along the runway on its fuselage and stopped. The men jumped out and I could see them rolling on the grass verge. Then flames burst from the plane and in a short time it was engulfed in fire and reduced to a shell.
I passed my Fitter Airframe Board and was so pleased to be finished with all the hard work. I went back to Colerne where my friend Gwyn had a boyfriend, a Scot called Jack Harrower. I was sent on a Corporal’s Course and had to get used to calling out orders to my squad of marching girls. It wasn’t always easy to get them to “about turn on the right foot”. Once they were quick marching and going further and further away from me. I had to shout an order while they could still hear me!
On June 6th 1944 we heard that an army had crossed the Channel into Normandy, France – D Day! With General Eisenhower in supreme command, British, American and Canadian armies fanned out through France and Belgium and at last fought on German soil. The countries that Germany had occupied and trampled on were fighting too.
In 1945 the Allies were closing in on Germany and by March 1945 it was surrounded. Thousands of bomber raids had disrupted industries and flattened German cities. A massive Soviet army swept in from the east and dwarfed anything that Germany could put against it – Germany had no more industry to produce weapons and no more young men to send out to die.
Then on Tuesday 8th May 1945 it was VE-Day! What a glorious, wonderful day to celebrate the end of war in Europe. Everyone in camp went wild. We pulled up all the wooden notice boards and made a bonfire of them, laughing and shouting as we danced around the fire. Later, when everything went back to normal, I was pleased to be chosen to take part in the Victory parade through Bath city centre.
There was a lot of coming and going in camp. Men and women who had served 6 years were now demobbed. Jack and I had arranged our marriage for 20th April 1946. He had been in the RAF from 17.5.1940 until 30.3.46 and his demob number was 31 and mine was 50. After our marriage, I had to return to camp for another month. As there was little maintenance needed on the planes, I volunteered to go as a nurse to the RAF hospital at Box, outside Bath. I loved the work helping on the wards and the matron asked if I would like to stay on permanently but my demob was due and I was anxious to return home.
On 19th May 1946, I said farewell to the friends who were left and gave a last look at the camp where I had been so happy; there had been more good times than bad. My friend Gwyn and I left for Birmingham Dispersal Centre. There we had to hand in our kit, gas mask and kit bag; my kitbag had lasted me after all but it looked a sorry state when I handed it in to the NCO in charge. My service and release book was stamped and handed back to me – I was a civilian again. Gwyn and I exchanged addresses and promised to write to one another and we have kept that promise now for fifty-eight years.
Jack met me at Birmingham railway station and another chapter of my life started.
My mother is now Enid Vedmore and lives at 34 Park St, Abergavenny, Monmouthshire NP7 5YB. I’m sure she would love to hear from anyone who remembers her.
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