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Wartime Memories as a WAAF, Cook and Butcher

by cornwallcsv

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Archive List > Working Through War

Contributed by 
People in story: 
Mavis Found (nee Reed)
Location of story: 
No. 8 School of Technical Training - RAF Weeton, Lancs
Background to story: 
Royal Air Force
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
08 July 2005

This story was submitted to the People’s War site by Roger M Judge, on behalf of Mavis Found, the author and has been added to the site with her permission. The author fully understands the site's terms and conditions.

I volunteered for service in the WAAF in 1941. Prior to joining up, I had to attend a medical centre in Plymouth for a medical test. I felt a bit humiliated to be handed a small saucepan for a water sample! Thankfully — I passed "A1". On 13th October 1941 I received word to report at Bridgnorth in Shropshire as WAAF, No. 2068679. This was a big step for me to take, after having lived for the past 21 years in a quiet village on the edge of Bodmin Moor, at St Breward.

From the age of 15 I had worked in domestic service, first as parlour maid and later on as a cook. It seemed exciting to embark on a new mode of life, but I must admit that it was with a heavy heart that I said farewell to my family and friends to go off into the unknown.

The first 2 weeks were spent by being kitted out in uniform and underclothes — quite different clothing to what I had been used to — now wearing thick wool vests and knickers that were itchy on the skin (no wonder they became known as ("Passion Killers"). The stockings were thick lisle and we wore heavy brogue shoes. But we learned to accept all of these things and made the best of them.

I enjoyed drilling and marching that we were taught while we were there. Found the bed a bit hard — with three square mattresses (known as "biscuits") and a hard round pillow, and a couple of dark blankets. The bedding had to be folded and stacked each morning at the bottom of our beds, on top of the three biscuits and had to remain like that until evening.

I was later posted to a camp known as 8.S of TT (School of Technical Training) at Weeton in Lancashire (a few miles from Blackpool). The first cookhouse was at the Station Head Quarters and we had to cater for 800 WAAF's (orderlies, clerks and telephonists, etc). They seemed to look down their noses at us, thinking they were far superior!!

It was a relief when some of us were sent to No. 2 Wing cookhouse — there we catered for 1500 airmen. The work was hard and there were two shifts every day with about 6 people on each shift — known as cleaning shift (8am to 6pm) on alternate days and there was a cooking shift. If there wasn't any night staff, the cooking shift started at 5am and finished about 2pm after the midday meal had been served and all pots and pans cleared away. The cooking shift wore white overalls and had white squares (turban style) on our heads. We would prepare the porridge and make the tea and cook the breakfast that was left in the baking trays prepared by the previous day's shift and we cooked the dinner time meal.

The following day we would be on the cleaning shift in the morning wearing navy blue button-through overalls and change our shoes for clogs, while doing the cleaning. All the wooden benches and tables had to be thoroughly scrubbed down and cleaned and all sinks had to be spotless. One of the cooking boilers was filled with water and boiled for this purpose. The the cement floors had to be broomed down after throwing buckets of boiling water, to which had been added soda crystals — then the floor was swilled down with buckets of cold water — then squeegees were used to dry the floor. By the time this was completed we were ready for our tea-break (for about 15 minutes). bThen we would start preparing vegetables for the next day and organise tea and supper for later in the day.

The two cooks detailed for supper duty were given a couple of hours off in the afternoon because they would be on duty until 10pm. As well as having the airmen in for supper we had to prepare sandwiches and buckets of tea for those on duty in the offices and cinema. To obtain these an orderly would bring in a chit signed by the officer on duty in each department.

The airmen who were waiting for a course date were detailed for jobs in the kitchen so we were usually very lucky in getting extra help with preparing the vegetables and other such jobs. I remember one lad saying to me, "I will never grumble about cooks again — I didn't realise you girls had to work so hard."

We certainly missed their help when none was available. They even taught us how to get a good shine on our shoes. By putting on plenty of polish, then getting the poker red-hot in the fire, and quickly rubbing it over the shoes, before polishing in the normal way.

If bacon was on the menu most times we had to do the boning as it usually came in half-side pieces. They had to be sliced on the machine, and as the handle went around on the bacon slicer, the slices had to be counted and put in stacks, then placed in layers on the big cooking trays ready to go into the oven when needed.

The puddings were mixed in big wooden oblong tubs then placed in huge square tins before going into the steamers. When cooked they were cut through and served from the tins. Usually we had 96 servings from each tin (cutting 12x8). If there were extra to be served they would then have to be cut smaller.

The custard was first mixed in a bucket, being stirred by hand, using 21 lbs of custard powder. I forget the amount of sugar we used. Then water added to make a thin paste and approximately 120 tins of evaporated milk. The tins were opened by using the edge of a kitchen cleaver and making quite a gash in the top. Once I was a bit heavy handed and chopped a tin in half. When making rice pudding we used about the same amount of milk.

The kitchen had six large ovens and six steamers (you had to be tall to use the top ones!). There were also two coal fish fryers and six huge boilers. They were easily manoeuvred by turning a handle to tilt them forward — for making tea or filling with vegetables for boiling or draining off the water. It was amazing that we managed to avoid getting scalded.

Being tall, it was usually my job (on cooking shift) to mash the potatoes when they were needed. This meant wielding a pole about 5ft long and 4'6" across. But once you got the knack of using it, it became quite simple. On one occasion when the orderly officer stopped to watch me, he made the mistake of smiling as he was amused to see me in action. So I just stopped and stepped back and made meanings for him to try his hand at mashing potatoes. It made my day when he couldn't do it. He went off shaking his head but still smiling.

After a few months the powers-that-be realised that some of us (who were cooks in civvy street) had not been on the cook/butchers course at Melksham before being posted to a unit. This meant we had to have a trade-test when the Examining Board came to the area. It was more than a year before this occurred. I was due to go on leave the day before the test and wondered what would happen. I said to my workmates, as long as I can get through the camp gates without being stopped I will be OK. Early next morning I collected my leave pass from the orderly room and left. I breathed a sigh of relief when I got on the train at Kirkham Station and was away. I had to change at Crewe, then on to Bristol and then to Bodmin. Whilst waiting at Crewe I saw a couple of RAF Police going to different people on another platform and before long they came to me and asked to see my pass. Then came the crunch — they said I had to return to my Station because I had a trade test the next day.

Apparently, the Catering Officer had gone to the cookhouse to inform the ones doing the trade test. They said he was furious to know that I had left camp and wanted to know who gave me permission. Not realising that he was the one who signed my pass!

All's well that ends well. I passed the test OK and was able to sew on my LACW tapes.

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