- Contributed by
- Audrey St. John-Brown
- People in story:
- Audrey St John-Brown Formerly Turner
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 24 July 2005
Plymouth had left a deep impression, it had scarred me and the time at the records office had calmed me and probably reassured me, but now I really wanted to be in the war, I couldn’t fight but I had to feel I was really helping. What was ahead was a wait of at least six weeks and the driver’s course was also six weeks three months and with no guarantee about finding a posting. Actually they gave me a two week leave until a posting came through for me.
I remember very few of my leaves but this one stayed or rather parts of it did. So many things had changed, most of all the people. Almost every family I knew had someone missing. Lots of girls were working away from home, most of the young men my age and older were either in the forces or gone forever, some older people had passed on too. The shops were sparsely stocked, food, well there was barely enough to make anything substantial. The pubs didn’t seem to have much beer and spirits were almost non existent and in the pubs it was mostly old men making a pint last all night and pipe smokers lit a small twist of tobacco and puffed gently to make it last. Most shops in the town especially food shops had queues and at night complete blackout.
Windows were crisscrossed with tape or brown paper and blacked out at night, the fires, everyone had open fires, were kept very small and not a cinder thrown out. All the flower gardens had gone, replaced by vegetables, women went bare legged — no stockings. Mum had some left all mended and darned. I gave Dad my hoarded cigarette rations, as I did not smoke then, and he cut every cigarette from the first packet in half and put them in a tin. There was no bomb damage that I could see and none anyone was able to point to.
I walked for miles in those few days a) to think b) to see more clearly the changes. After a few days I realised that it was me who had really changed and I didn’t want to live their kind of life. The biggest change of all was my relationship with my family, they didn’t actually say much but they did watch me, somewhere along the way of those 18 months I’d matured in their eyes into an adult. I had to stop Mum giving me extra rations and try and make them believe that I ate better than they did, which was perfectly true. As I walked people would often say Hello as we passed and often turned back to say something like “It’s you” and we’d talk for a while. I went to the chapel the most peaceful place I remembered; it was not open very often. I went and watched and listened to choir practice and of course we all went on Sunday. I went to the cemetery and through into the churchyard to see my sister Dorothy’s grave and a few steps more over to Grandma and Granddad’s and then down the steps, lots of them, to the bottom road. I visited Auntie Annie and Uncle Ernest; I also went to see Uncle Dick and Auntie Gertrude and my cousins Arthur and Harry, Dad’s side of the family. It all felt very strange, somehow I had moved on and was different and I had the feeling then that I would never live amongst them again.
My posting came through and I was to present myself to Gloucester W.A.A.F Training Base and with travel warrants etc at the ready, once more I was on the train. There was nothing remarkable about the base, it was winter, cold and damp and inhospitable, but the admin office was warm and friendly and I had work to do, but as an L.A.C.W Leading Aircraft Woman I hadn’t enough authority so they made me a temp corporal. After all the posting was only temporary. Mostly I worked in the office or met new recruits and then I was given the job of parade ground training. That was really supposed to be done by the Sergeant but he or she only arrived when I’d done the warm up work. I did not much care as marching kept you warm and was frustrating and amusing in turn. It only lasted 9 weeks and then I was posted to Driving School at Pwhelli in North Wales. North Wales in winter….Oh dear! Our billets were in Private houses, the owners liked the extra income it provided but not us or our welfare. In ours, three of us in one room and three in another were the pits; the floors had gone dark brown, greasy, stained linoleum. The beds always seemed damp; there were issue blankets, no sheets and old pillows. The windows were dirty and although we cleaned them inside we could not open them to clean outside as they were nailed shut. The curtains were blackout material nailed top and sides with a split in the middle. Luckily we were out early, breakfast was frugal, toast, sometimes porridge, sometimes no milk just golden syrup or jam, no sugar, but we did get hot weak tea. We were given sandwiches for lunch usually meat paste. In the evening when we returned about 6.00- 6.30pm there was another meal, watery soup, spam and potatoes or fish and potatoes or stew, lots of veg but very little meat and no potatoes or carrots. The one redeeming feature was that it was hot. It was the worst place I was ever stationed. We did try to get something done but that was difficult and in the end useless. The instructors were Naval Personnel, usually Petty Officers, and mostly more one to one instruction. The instructors were billeted at Pwhelli Holiday camp. Mine was great he was named Fred, he was very strict on the driving side, but he had a really good sense of humour. I spoke to him about the billet and he said that it was not unusual, and that he had heard about one or two, and although the powers that be had inspected and warned about the poor conditions etc, the food situation would improve for a couple of days and then return to normal.
We seemed to have no way out of it, we supplemented the food provided with scones and tea at the local café when we could, the instructors, well mine and a friend of his wangled some extras from their mess and we survived.
We could not walk on the beach as it was all barbed wire everywhere. The Welsh disapproved of women in the Pubs, so at weekends we went, invited, to the holiday camp and that lifted us a lot.
The driving course for me was a joy even in bad weather, our vehicles were all 30cwt lorries and the hills and vales around Snowdon tested us severely but that was one reason the school was there. The hardest bits were driving from stop, on a steep hill with a matchbox under the back wheels, which had to stay intact. Fred bet me a bar of chocolate on the outcome of my attempt and lost — lovely bar of chocolate! We shared the chocolate all six of us back in our grotty rooms. The next one was reversing both down and up hills and into a field where there was a gate, open of course. For me that was too easy but for the others they needed at least two attempts, but there was no shouting or screaming from the instructors I met only encouragement. Six weeks and we were finished, no one of our draft failed the course and the instructors threw a party for us in the mess. Our only revenge was we unscrewed the knob on the room of one of the instructor’s doors and jammed the front door lock with some plasticine someone found as we left. The lorry collected us and we threw our kit bags in the back and climbed in after it, and banged on the cab to move. Goodbye Pwhelli I never thought I’d return but returning anywhere was no something we contemplated at anytime.
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