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In the Royal Observer Corps

by bedfordmuseum

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Archive List > The Blitz

Contributed by 
People in story: 
Doreen Woods nee Hardy-King
Location of story: 
Background to story: 
Royal Air Force
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
13 December 2005

I left school in 1939 before the war and worked at James Walkers Jewellers in Coventry. As the men were called up, I took over and did window dressing. In the Coventry Blitz the shop was destroyed. I helped out at other shops e.g. Leamington.
I joined the Royal Observer Corps, 1942, in Coventry at the HQ. I worked there, we were affiliated to the RAF and had airforce uniforms with our own badges. We worked shifts. I was living at home. The rota worked was 6 — 2, 2 — 10, 10 — 6. I founf the night shift disorientating.
Till stand down in 1945 we were plotting aircraft movements. We had a big table with symbols. There were observer posts and observers would report visuals. We plotted German aircraft as well. Some of the men were so skilful they could tell the sort of aircraft by the sound of its engines.
We had clocks with different colours — red, yellow and blue in thirds — the symbols used were the same colour as the time they were reported. Tellers passed the information onto the RAF — then to the next group — there were about 25 main centres. There was a method of carrying on plots to the next regional group. I enjoyed it.
In the case of German aircraft H was the symbol on the plaque. Tellers would forward information referring to Germans to next sector control so they could be tracked. Sector controls who were controlling Polish defence forces could direct aircraft to intercept.
I lived at home near a small airfield at Bagington, close to open common land where they used to bring unexploded bombs to detonate. We would be given a warning and told to open windows and doors so they would not be destroyed by the blast. There was one tragic incident when the bomb exploded before it was unloaded, killing army personnel who were transporting it and causing damage to the houses. An Ack-Ack gun was put on the common together with canisters with oil in to make a smoke screen — the oil would be lit before the sirens went. The smoke was stinging and so we used to put wet flannels on our eyes. Once a small bomb was aimed at it, but it missed and fell in front of the house 4 doors away where it blew the doors and windows out. An incendiary fell through our roof and we noticed smoke coming from the eaves of our house as we came out of the shelter. My father was a fire watcher. Once we opened the door the fire flared up and destroyed the room. Afterwards there was a row of stirrup pumps waiting for people to collect them.
There was a strange camaraderie in the war, but it also made you grow up quickly. We did things then, like walking on our own, that we wouldn’t do today. I remember walking to work in the dark. A voice at the end of a parade of shops used to say, ‘Good Morning’. All I could see was the light of a cigarette but as mornings got lighter they revealed a policeman.
On VE Day I went into Coventry City Centre, people were jogging around, dancing and singing. There was a great sense of relief, but we knew we’d be losing friendships. There were still shortages. Utility skirts meant you could have a pleat at the front or at the back, not both. I remember mending nylons with a small crochet hook. We were sent apples from friends in Canada and there were two pairs of nylons in the bottom of the box. Otherwise we painted our legs brown with a solution we got from the chemist’s, and drew in the seam up the back with a brown crayon. We lost gas and electricity as a result of raids and used to cook on an open fire or Primus stoves. I admire what our mothers did. Offal was a delicacy as it was not on ration.
At the end of the year the R.O.C. was stood down although it was restored a year later

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