- Contributed by
- Dunstable Town Centre
- People in story:
- Hilary Ratcliffe
- Location of story:
- Background to story:
- Civilian Force
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 16 March 2005
This story was submitted to the People's War site by the Dunstable At War Team on behalf of Hilary Ratcliffe and has been added to the site with her permission. The author fully understands the site's terms and conditions.
The Air Ministry wrote to all the universities in 1941 asking maths graduates to apply. I went with 3 others from Queens in August and out of 100 interviewed I was one of the 7 chosen. Four went to Bletchley Park and the other three including myself went to Dunstable. Firstly, we were sent to Gloucester for four weeks where we learnt a bit of basic Meteorology and were security cleared.
At Dunstable we were billeted in High Street North but it was pretty grim. Luckily Dr Watson was a distant relative of mine and his wife took my friend Maud and myself under her wing. We stayed in the Priory House for a short time until she could find us a proper billet. Miss L at the Priory was very kind but could not put us up for a long time; also the ghost of Catherine of Aragon was supposed to be there, so we were glad to move. We lived with a Miss W in West St. for over a year but she discovered that men would pay more and we had to move again. We went to Benning Avenue where we remained for over 2 years.
When I cycled to work, men putting up camouflage netting (which covered over all the buildings and the tennis court at the Met Office), used to sing the Strawberry Blonde when I rode by. At the Met Office itself there was the NAAFI, wireless room, communications, forecast room, the upper air unit and the IDA unit — a codename for a secret unit. There were also admin officers who all lived and worked in wooden huts; we had a grass tennis court as well.
Mr D, a brilliant forecaster but forgetful, once left his baby son on the Downs as he was so busy looking at the clouds. Luckily he remembered where he had left him.
A conference was held at noon every day linked up to Bomber Command, the senior forecaster, the aviation forecaster and the upper air unit. Station X (Bletchley Park) broke the codes but we actually did the decoding. A dispatch rider from Bletchley Park took the codes and the DDX code (German meteorological land observations) and DAN Sheets (the port and sea observations) to and fro twice a day.
I did shift work from 8.00 am — 3.00 pm, 3.00 pm — 10.00 pm and 10.00 pm — 8.00 am; we worked a 54 hr week. I got paid £19 per month and paid income tax but got post war credits which I got back in 1960. Going to the dentist cost £3 15shillings (£3.75), a new coat was £7 plus 8 coupons, a dress was five and a half guineas, (£5.77) and shoes were 33 shillings (£1.65) and I actually had a pair of wooden soles with hinges.
We used to walk over to Whipsnade and have tea at the Chequers Inn, which gave us a boiled egg for tea. We went to the Union cinema, played tennis and hockey at Cross’s grounds and went swimming after night duty.
My wedding: I rang my mother on 24th January 1945, got a train to London to get my permit, then to Ireland - by train to Stranraer, boat to Laugharne, train to Belfast and arrived on Wednesday 31st. I got married on 1st February 1945. All my relatives gathered round and produced a wedding cake, etc.
Robert Ratcliffe, whom I married on 1st February, (a senior forecaster at Dunstable Met Office), was linked up by phone to Bomber Command and I never knew if he was going to be free to take me out at night or not. The pilots sent back wind and visibility reports to the Upper Air Forecaster in order that he could carry out the forecast for the next stage. He was involved in the D-Day forecast, which was actually done at Dunstable and was then sent on to Group Captain Stagg to present to General Eisenhower.
I spent VE day alone on duty — with no work to do, while my husband was on a ship outside Bombay on his way to Ceylon.
We returned to Dunstable in 1947 and lived in Markyate until 1951 as my husband was posted to the Upper Air Unit. The Met Office closed at Dunstable in 1960 and moved to Bracknell.
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