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15 October 2014
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Romance:WAAF Barrage Balloon Site


Contributed by 
People in story: 
My Story: Joyce Shelley nee Downes
Location of story: 
Background to story: 
Royal Air Force
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
03 June 2004

When the war broke out I was working as hairdresser in a Birmingham department store, my friend and I wanted to join the Navy but they were no vacancies, we didn’t like the Army uniform very much, so one lunch time we went off and signed up as a WAAF
I was eighteen at the time and it was all very exciting joining up to help the war effort.

We were sent off to Bridgnorth and kitted out in uniform, the first night I slept in my clothes as it was so cold and the mattresses were hard, we went on to Cardington in Shropshire for our medical and then on to Morecombe for initial training and P.T.
Every day we would get up early in the morning for drill, marching up and down the sea front; we had little food usually a small pie with a portion of gravy over the top.
After several weeks our names were called out to be told where we would be stationed.

When I arrived at Billingham-on-Tees, I soon got into the house routine.
We took turns of household chores; they enjoyed my cooking so I got the job more often.
We didn’t have a great selection, and luxuries were in short supply because of rationing.
On my 21st birthday my friends mom sent me a birthday cake she had baked, and my mom sent me a packet of tea, but I spent the whole day scrubbing floors as punishment plus the following four weeks, because that day I forgot to look at the notice board and report for a routine dental check up. My friends helped me at 5am every morning polishing my uniform buttons for the daily parade,
During that time I had been confined to camp without leave so the girls took me out for a drink to celebrate my belated birthday, later that evening when I left I lost them in thick fog a man appeared pushing a bike and offered to walk me back along the canal to my camp which he did, feeling ill after a few drinks I never got to thank him for his kindness.

I wanted to do hairdressing but ended up platting wire instead!

Handling the wire tethered to the balloons was very hard work, we had to spice the wires which formed a spider shape, the wires were sharp and cut into my hands, you had to watch your ankles when they came near to you and hang on tight to the ropes in strong gales, the balloon’s would often tear so we had to set about repairing them.
The planes came over in droves and dropped bombs sounding like thunder bolts
As others were running for cover, we went out in the fields to hoist and control the balloon in pitch dark because of the black out.

One night at 2am I was woken up and told to go on guard duty because a WAAF had gone off sick, they would shout ‘come on! you should have to been there 5 minutes ago’ it was windy and raining very hard that night, so still in my pyjamas I put on my oil skin trousers, long Mac, gum boots and tucked my curlers under my sou’wester hat, armed with a truncheon I ran across the field and stood at my sentry box, ( little did I know my life was about to change )

The corporal on duty came along on his bike to check we were all at our posts, I lent him a spare mac from my sentry box, on the way back he returned it and thanked me, the next morning he sent his mate round to ask me out to the picture’s as he was too shy to ask me himself.

Although he was stationed at the other end of the camp we managed to meet up over the next four months when we were off duty and go out for a few hours, then one night the bombers hit us with everything they had, I could see bombs falling around our camp, fearing the worst I ran up the hill to see if he was alright, only to see him coming down hill, it was then we decided if we were going to die we should get married as soon as possible.

The officer gave us the day off together to arrange the wedding and buy the ring, we found gold rings was hard to buy and the nearest shop had little selection, we caught the bus to another shop but it crashed, so we returned to the first shop which had just closed we hammered on the door to get him to opened it, and settled for the thin 11ct gold ring I first tried on.
We couldn’t buy cakes of any kind as they only for funerals, but he had a friend who worked in the bakery and solved that problem, they made us a wedding cake with a miniature balloon on top.
Because of rationing all the local residence kindly put their points together to buy food for our reception.
Telegrams were sent off to our families announcing the wedding, but my father was concerned about my sudden decision, so much so that he wrote to my brother, who was stationed nearby to stop the wedding, but he didn’t, we were married in uniform and everyone managed to attend.
That night we had to put our parents up in our beds at camp so having the choice of a wooden bench to sleep on we decided to leave early for our weeks honeymoon at Whitby,
We had just unpacked our cases when Hitler choose that night to send his bombers over again so we spent most of the night in the air raid shelter.
We experienced many incidences before the end of the war but since then have enjoyed 50 happy years together bringing up two children a girl and a boy, so for us it was a war that brought us together.

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This story has been placed in the following categories.

Love in Wartime Category
Women's Auxiliary Air Force Category
Sheffield and South Yorkshire Category
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