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15 October 2014
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Continuation of My War Service

by Florence Gould

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Florence Gould
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Florence Gould
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13 January 2006

At this time. 1944, the procedure for grading aircrew candidates into different trades was changed as there was a huge pool of already selected airmen, called up and waiting for traiing. Owing to the war situation - not so many being lost - they would wait many months for a course. Two centres at Torquay and Scarborough were opened to reassess all these men, called Aptitude Testing Sections. I was posted to Scarborough where about 100 men a day came in for two days of tests which were more varied and detailed than previously. We occupied the Spa Ballroom and adjoining rooms. It was in a dilapidated state with broken rusted windows, ragged blackout curtains and dirt and rubbish everywhere inside and lots of rats. As well as working there, we slept in there on Fire Picquets with three girls at a time with just our iron beds, poor lighting and no telephone. Our billet was Bramcote Lodge which was a boy's boarding prep school who had been evacuated. We ate at the main WAAF hostel across the road which was a grand mansion called Dunollie. The town was teeming with RAF personnel, nearly every hotel in the town was occupied by them, and the Grand Hotel was our Headquarters.
A microphone was used to test 100 men at a time for the paper tests, with invigilators walking up and down each row. There were apparatus tests in the smaller rooms and an interviewing room where each man was given 15 mins individually, and a large marking room. As testers we were often recognised when off duty in the town and got used to boys calling out 'Aptitude' when they saw us. They usually begged us for their results, but we would not have remembered them and all final scores were sent to Air Ministry for the final decision. We were all corporals, directly under Air Ministry control, with our own officers we were left very much to our own business. We enjoyed weekend rambling, cycling, tennis, riding and the cinemas in the town which all charged only 6d to those in uniform One morning, in the autumn, the Free Polish Army was found parked in all the main roads. There were tanks and armoured cars half hidden under the trees and many handsome men in foreign uniforms. We guessed then that something big was afoot, and we knew what it was when we saw, later, many battle ships cruising south like little dots on the horizon. The fleet had left Scapa Flow to assemble down south for the DDay landings.
Shortly after that I was posted to London again, to Abbey Lodge,Regents Park where we worked and lived. The V'2s were coming over regularly and we had some near misses. The exlposions and falling masonry could be heard several times a day and night and we lived in fear. This was the statistical centre where the test results were finalised. I met up again there with Janet Attlee but she had been commissioned by this time so we could not be friends again. Whilst there the local Home Guard Unit which was placed in Regents Park invited us WAAF to join them one evening a week for rifle practice and about six of us did. We all became good shots but thankfully never had to do it. After a few months there, the war was nearly over in Europe, so we were turned into the Vocational Advice Service. For this a training centre was opened at RAF Staverton, Glos. to convert us to the new work. We were there a few weeks, in Nissen huts at the end of a derelict airfield, behind the Hare and Hounds pub. I was promoted to Sargeant and posted to St Athen with a team of three to form the Unit with an officer adviser. These Units were sent everywhere in the world where there were RAF bases, to give advise and help to those being demobbed, about their civilian careers. The Ministry of Labour provided the information by booklets and pamphlets and news of new government training courses being set up.
Whilst at Staverton VE day was declared, so without permission, several of us left camp and hitch-hiked to London. Some stayed the night with relatives, but a couple of us walked into Abbey Lodge, asked for sheets and empty beds and walked into the Mess for the evening meal. I was recognised by the cook who thought I had been away on a course, and posted back. There was real trouble when we reutned to camp the next day, as we had no passes, but nothing was done as there were too many of us. But we had the great joy of wandering round central London with all the crowds, almost crying with laughter and siting on the pavement in Piccadilly ,when we were tired, as there was no transport of any kind
In Oct (1945) I was sent to the Transit Centre at Hornchurch for overseas posting to Belgium. I was flown to Brussels from Croydon airport, along with civilians on an old Dakota transporter, and then driven to Ghent My Unit had already left for Hamburg when I arrived there. I was rushed to the railway station and put on the last troop train which contained the last of the staion equipment and about four WAAF,s and one airman. It shunted backwards and forwards across war-torn Europe without any heating, lighting or water for more than 24 hours. All the seats and floors were covered with DDT powder, as the trains had been used for displaced persons during the day. It was pitch dark most of the time. We stopped often, nowhere, but there were always children on the line begging for food and cigarettes. We had none ourselves. The sight that met us at Hamburg Station showed us the chaos that Hitler and the war had caused. Hundreds of ragged, starving displaced persons were climbing onto goods wagons and hanging on to the buffers in the hope of getting a lift towards their home, if there was one left.
Hamburg was in ruins, of course, and we too had no supplies for some weeks. We were based in an ex Luftwaffe Officer Cadet camp in a suburb -Blankenese -which was HQ 85 Group Signals. Our Unit consisted of three Advisory Officers, myself and two corporals, and as demobilisation was getting underway we saw quite a few clients every day from all ranks. At first, there were curfews for all, bread queues in the town, sometimes rifle shots in the night and thousands of ragged ,hungry civilians shuffling round the city centre amongst the rubble heaped pavements trying to keep warm.We found thousands of bottles of champagne and liquers in the cellars of our Sargeants Mess which was shared between us and the Officers. Our food was very basic and we were hungry too and we also had no toiletries or writing paper for a while. We WAAF's were only allowed out of camp with a male escort who we often slipped when in town, and had to find another airmen to bring us back. We had Mess parties, though, and there were outings. by boat up the Rhine We could go on public transport and into public buildings all free though,apart from the zoo, there was not anything open, not even shops of any kind.
We took our Unit to all the stations within the Group, so I was lucky to fly to Brussels, Ghent, Blankenberghe, and to be driven to other staions in Germany of the British Sector. I went on home leave twice, by boat, from Cuzhaven to Hull. We had to travel to the docks in the middle of the night as all troop movements took place then. When my demob came up, I signed on for another six months. I was sorry to leave but my friends and colleagues were going, one by one.
In august I went to the Demob centre at Wythall, near Birmingham. We stayed one night on the camp and the next day went into a long shed, to each table in turn, to hand in our kit, except what we stood up in, and to receive six weeks leave money, and a small sum, called a gratuity, paid according to rank and length of service, to buy civilian clothes. I got £60 for that and my pay at the end was £3.12s a fortnight-total £70.16s to buy all my clothes and keep myself for six weeks whilst looking for a job. I was lucky as I had a home to go to and had been accepted by London University for a course for the Social Work qualification and obtained a three year grant from the Ministry of Education.
I loved being a sargeant and shall never forget the feeling of lonliness and desolation of not belonging any more to such a wonderful body of men and women, and the spirit which bound us together as brothers through many hardships.Service No 2015911

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