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15 October 2014
WW2 - People's War

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Switchboard Operator (SHAEF)

by historycentre

Contributed by 
People in story: 
Mrs Sylvia Kay (Pte S Needs) and Pte Kay Callaghan
Location of story: 
Bushey Park, Kingston Upon Thames and Fort Purbrook, Cosham
Background to story: 
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
06 October 2004

I am a volunteer working for the BBC's People's War Project and am writing this story on behalf of Mrs Sylvia Kay.

Here is my war story:

April 1944, we girls were at Bushey Park, Kingston Upon Thames, attached to Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force (SHAEF) manning the chaotic switchboard there. My friend, Pte Kay Callaghan and I were manning the General's (General Eisenhower's) private switchboard, known as the "Red Board". We had a direct line to Winston Churchill on the board.

The weather was very hot, and we dragged our beds out of our huts at night, to sleep outside! The buzz-bombs started coming, and there were gun emplacements all over the camp. We saw the General a lot - he was always on the go.

About the middle of May, things went very quiet - we sensed that something was imminent. We were told we were moving the next day, but not where. Next day we piled into the lorries, and then arrived at Fort Purbrook, Cosham, near Portsmouth (to sleep under canvas!) A switchboard had been set up in Cosham Forest. After a few days, the rain started. It went on and on - it was a sea of mud in that forest, and the Americans had to put what I think were "pontoon roads" down or we might have drowned!

June '44 arrived, lots of frantic calls were being made. About the 4th, it went quiet once more.

On D-Day itself, we were on duty, the board was very quiet, hardly any lights showing at all, then suddenly it was bedlam - we were receiving the very first allied calls from Cherbourg! "Operation Overlord" completed!

(It was nice being in on a piece of history!)

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