- Contributed by
- Hertfordshire Archives & Local Studies HALS
- People in story:
- Deryn Bourne
- Location of story:
- Background to story:
- Civilian Force
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 10 December 2004
After four weeks of initial training, foot slogging along the wave-lashed (and all too often icy) esplanade at Morecombe, we WAAF recruits were deemed ready to be despatched to various destinations around the country for the next stage, a course of training for our chosen trades.
Thus it was that six of us destined to be 'Special Duties’ set off at 4.30 on February 7th 1942 from Morecombe Station on what turned out to be a 15 hour journey to Leighton Buzzard. We had to change trains at Lancaster, then we missed our connection at Preston, which gave us time for a ‘cuppa char and a wad’. Then we changed again at Crewe, and eventually reached Bletchley at dusk.
It had been snowing for most of the day, trains were often unheated, we had been directed from platform to platform over an icy footbridge lugging our increasingly heavy kitbags, as no one seemed to know when or where the Leighton Buzzard train would come in. The Station master then told us that there would be a wait of at least two hours, for which he had to weather the extreme displeasure of six frozen and exhausted WAAFs. Then, as if by magic, out of the flurries of snow appeared our benign genie, in the form of a burly engine driver. Grabbing a clutch of kitbags and shouting, “Follow me girls” he led us to the First Class waiting room, where a fire was burning feebly. Our saviour went off to stoke up the fire to a blaze. He promised to come back to collect us as soon as the Leighton Buzzard train was signalled.
On each side of this small room were fixed rexine-covered benches. Seated on one side next to the fire was a very elegant lady in a fur coat. She invited us to come nearer to the fire and get warm so I went to sit next to her. Our conversation has stayed in my memory ever since. She turned to me and asked, rather anxiously, “Have any of you heard the news on the wireless today?” to which I replied “No, I’m afraid not as we have been travelling all day”. Then she asked, “I don’t suppose you have even heard of Singapore, have you?" Glad to be of some help, I cheerfully replied “Oh, yes I've been there.” As she looked so amazed at this claim I felt that I should explain the circumstances. “Whenever we came to England on leave from China, the P & O liners always stopped there”. This seemed to unwind her tenseness a bit so she confided in me, “I’m so dreadfully worried about my husband, General Percival, who is the G.O.C. Singapore and the Japanese Army are attacking from the Malay Peninsula”. Then I remembered that at home [in China] before joining up I had heard that the Japanese had sunk the battleships ‘Prince of Wales’ and the ‘Repulse’ in the Gulf of Siam. To distract her from the danger her husband and the Allied troops were in, I told her how members of my family had had to escape from Shanghai and Hong Kong, going East on American ships to U.S.A.
But really I was helpless in my efforts to comfort her, how could an eighteen-year-old straight from boarding school find words to cheer Mrs Percival when her husband was in such a dangerous position? I listened to the news whenever I had a chance after that strange meeting.
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