- Contributed by
- Joan Vass
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 20 July 2003
At the point in the war of reaching the offensive instead of the defensive I was forced to remuster from Balloon Command. I chose to train as a teleprinter operator, which was the early version of Telex and now computers. My training took place at RAF Cranwell in Lincolnshire. It was an intensive three month course. Having passed I was sent to Bomber Command 4 Group York and subsequently taken to 78 Squadron Breighton, one of the Groups many active Halifax bomber squadrons.
My office was situated next to the flight control room on the edge of the runway. My section consisted of a telephonist switchboard room and my own. When on duty I was in charge of three teleprinter machines. One was used for incoming messages only, one set aside for me to send out messages and the third a classified machine used only for incoming Form Bs. This was classified information telling the briefing officer his target for that night, how many bombers had to go, the bomb load, the rendezvous over the coast, and, finally, the weather conditions.
When a Form B was going to be transmitted, the operator at headquarters would type out 'Form B, Form B' for several minutes. This alerted us to what was coming in.
We then had to remove everyone from the office including the duty officer if necessary. This was because we were about to receive detailed information about the next bombing raid. Large cards of 'NO ADDMITTANCE' were placed on the door and the serving hatch and both had to be locked. If anyone urgently needed us during these transmissions they had to knock on the hatch and we attended them from there. When the transmission was complete I had to seal it in an envelope and take it personally to flying control and hand it to the duty officer.
I became friendly with a colleague who worked the telephone switchboard, and because we were alike and both from London we were known as the Breighton Twins! We auditioned for the camp concert and were offered a sketch. The sketch consisted of two cockney women having a yarn over the garden wall - it was hilarious.
Needless to say we weren’t exactly top of the pops with our boss, and he tried to stop us entering this concert, but was over-ridden by the producer/pilot. Unfortunately as we got well into rehearsals all the crew including the producer didn’t return from a raid and they were posted missing believed killed.
But by far the worst experience I had during that period was when a young navigator broke all the rules and entered my office just before take off. He plunged a piece of paper in my hand and told me to send this telegram the moment they touched down, telling me this was his last second tour, which meant he had done sixty ops.
He was due to meet his wife at Kings Cross the following day and they were to have their belated honeymoon. He advised me he was in C for Charley and begged me to send the telegram the moment the wheels touched the tarmac.
What a good job I didn’t. As I watched them all return, C for Charley came in last, his wheels touched the tarmac and suddenly he went up again. He had overshot the runway. Suddenly there was an enormous explosion: C for Charlie blew up in mid air as she was flying the circuit!
So instead of sending the telegram asking his wife to meet him at Kings Cross, she received one of the dreaded ones: your husband has been killed in action. I will never forget that incident.
Some six months after losing our producer/pilot he appeared in my office. I lost all my colour when I turned round and faced the voice that greeted me, for I thought I was seeing a ghost. He explained that with the help of the French resistance he got through. As a result he managed to find other talent and we did the camp concert after all.
My most recent encounter was when recently visiting a dying friend, a man and his wife came also to visit, strangers to me. We got talking and found that he too was aircrew at RAF Breighton exactly the same time as myself, and has since sent me photographs and memorabilia of that exciting time in my life.
LACW Joan Vass 2020942.
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