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Memories of Service in the NAAFI

by ageconcern7oaks

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five elms and chatham NAAFIs
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28 July 2004

During the war I trained to work in the NAAFI providing food and a space for recreation to the troops. I was 21 the day I signed up on the 2nd of July 1942 and I received 7 weeks of training before becoming a charge-hand and then a manageress. I was first stationed at Four Elms and then moved to Chatham after the D-day landings where I was in charge of 5 charge-hands who cleaned and prepped and served, and a wonderful cook. Our cook had to be very inventive because of the limited food and though the soldiers made a lot of cracks about the quality of the food I always thought that it was very good.

The work was very enjoyable, I wouldn’t have liked to have missed it; everybody knew what they had to do and was able to just do it. Because I was working in a NAAFI things never got too dangerous, although we did get bombed by planes going to and from London and there weren’t any air-raid shelters, just slit trenches which we had to run into and hide in. However, sometimes it seemed like there wasn’t a war on at all, there was so much company around the NAAFI and the soldiers were all very nice.

We got soldiers from around the country. One of my friend’s who was evacuated from London got married to a soldier from Cardiff, though he died in duty. As a manageress I was encouraged not to get too friendly with any soldier in particular, we were meant to be friends with all of them! However, I do remember one sergeant in particular, I’m not saying there was any monkey business between us but we did get close. However one night he told me that they were likely to be moved out of the area and that he wouldn’t be able to tell me when he left, they would just receive their orders and have to move out, and then one morning he was gone. I heard from our district manager a couple of months later that they had gone to the Middle East, but that unfortunately they had been wiped out within days. However you didn’t really get too sad about these things because they were happening all the time and there was so much to do.

Another time I remember a unit, who knew that they were going to be told to go, decided to take some of the NAAFI girls out to the town. They were going out in a truck, however, they promised us they would send us in a taxi. Eventually though 10 girls wanted to go and the only vehicle they could send us in was a funeral hearse!

In the evenings we sometimes got ENTSA concerts sent to us which were wonderful. Other times the soldiers put on their own entertainment. At Christmas a lot of the girls went home, although I didn’t go home much because it felt cramped compared to the NAAFI, and because the girls were away the soldiers would sometimes dress up in drag because there weren’t any other women about.

Although the war was hard I wouldn’t have wanted to not have gone through those years, though they were sad. I learned so much about life and myself during them, and the feeling of camaraderie and accomplishment were very great. However, when the war came to an end I left the services as fast as I could, I wouldn’t have liked to have done that job forever.

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