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Plane Spotting

by threecountiesaction

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Archive List > United Kingdom > London

Contributed by 
People in story: 
Marjorie Castell
Location of story: 
London area
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
02 December 2005

This story was submitted to the People’s War site by Doreen Oaks for Three Counties Action on behalf of Marjorie Castell and has been added to the site with her permission. The author fully understands the site’s terms and conditions.

At 17 and a half I joined the ATS. I would have preferred the WAAF but the only vacancies were for orderlies or cooks and I wanted to do something more worthwhile. I left the home in Ipswich and after three weeks basic training was sent to Oswestry, where shooting was practised out to sea from Bangor. I was trained as a spotter and three months later was posted to a gun site. Only men fired the guns and two girls were the spotters. Once having got a fix on the plane I said ‘spotter on target’ and was asked to identify the plane. Having done that, height and speed of plane was predicted and then the gunners were on target, ready to fire. The gun crew numbered from ten to twelve personnel. During the year I was with guns we destroyed only one Messerschmitt (ME410), but we must also have given some a few headaches on the way. Our crew received written appreciation from on high for our achievement.

I once had to catch a train from Liverpool Station, but it had been put out of action by bombing, two days later I returned and was amazed to find it up and running again, after so much damage and disruption. In my experience, wherever one went there was urgency about people they had the same goal and pulled together to that aim.

The gun crews didn’t stay together all the time. I was sent to Ireland for a rest then, on my nineteenth birthday, after being ill with sea sickness on the rough crossing back to England, was posted to a Wolverhampton site as one of the spotters had been killed.

When the raids were on we didn’t have time to feel fear, we just got on with the job. The gun batteries were mobile and if we were off duty when an air raid was on, we had to take shelter in what always turned out to be an ammunition store. Again, no fear, it was all a huge joke.

The scariest thing that happened to me was when I was returning to camp from a dance with an American escort. We had just got in the Jeep when the siren sounded and the bombs were dropping nearby. We jumped clear and landed in a ditch, (the Jeep was instantly destroyed). There we stayed, cold wet and filthy, until the bombing stopped. It all seemed so personal and that’s when I felt fear. That was in Maidstone, Kent, but our battery moved around in the Kent area,

When the ME410 was shot down everybody cheered except me. My boyfriend was shot down over Germany, survived the crash and became a POW. It occurred to me that when his plane crashed there were Germans cheering in the same way.

When it was apparent that the gun batteries were not needed, I was sent to the War Office and was expected to use a typewriter. I had no idea how to handle it but a very nice officer in my room let me get away with one finger tapping.

One VE day my boyfriend was back in London, where we met. We eventually made our way to Buckingham Palace to see the Royal Family, who appeared on the balcony. Not long after my boyfriend and I were married. Sadly he died in 1947, leaving me a widow with a 6 month old son.

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