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15 October 2014
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Life in the Womens Auxiliary Air Force

by cornwallcsv

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Archive List > Royal Air Force

Contributed by 
cornwallcsv
People in story: 
Biddy Edwards
Location of story: 
RAF 'Innsworth' - RAF 'Melksham' No 12 School of Technical Training - Then to 24 OTU 91 Group Bomber Command - 'Honeybourne and Long Marston' End of war to RAF 'Kirmington' - Royal Albert Hall 1945 - To Kirmington again and the demob
Background to story: 
Royal Air Force
Article ID: 
A4618776
Contributed on: 
29 July 2005

This story has been written onto the BBC People’s War site by CSV Story gatherer Jessica on behalf of Biddy Edwards. They fully understand the terms and conditions of the site.

Prior to joining the WAAF I was in a reserved occupation. The firm that I worked for had a contract with the RAF to do alterations on uniforms and also to stitch the section on air-crew helmets for intercom use. The RAF section concerned was Number 8 Initial Training Wing for Aircrew based in Newquay, Cornwall.

1943
In January I received my call-up papers. After an interview and medical I was accepted for the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force trade to be Instrument Repairer.

March 1943
I was called to report for initial training at RAF Innsworth. 5 weeks of lectures, general kit details, vaccinations, etc. I was then posted to a station U/T Instrument Repairer. With the build up of the Forces we were not able to go on our course until August 1943.

While at Melksham 12 School of Technical Training our off duty hours were spent with the club activities arranged.

One such activity was ’The Cycling Club’. Much excitement as we were to pedal to Stonehenge. It was off to the cookhouse to prepare our Sunday Picnic Lunch (sandwiches). Previously I thought the WAAF Corporal in the cookhouse was rather forbidding. Wrong again in my judgement - the lady couldn’t have been more helpful. All hands to prepare the food by the club members with the very tasty fillings offered (not sure who transported this fare to our destination).

We cycled out of the main gate, plenty of room on the roads those days. After covering a short distance my not so trusty steed developed a puncture - so it was to be ’shank’s pony’ back to camp for me. The RAF P/T Corporal said,
“Back to my wing and collect my tandem”. Standing outside the men‘s hut I felt really uncomfortable waiting in my PE kit. The tyres had to be put in order for the road first.

At last we were on our way - it was my first experience on a bicycle made for two. Did we speed? Yes - my hair would have blown straight back to Cornwall!

Not sure how many miles an hour we did - I had to keep up with the strong man in front of me. Eventually we caught up with the group at Warminster. Thinking I was going to speak to my friend and relating my experience, getting off the bike my knees just buckled. It was a few minutes before I could get upright.

Incidentally, I completed the journey to Stonehenge on my friend’s cycle and she rode the tandem. It was glorious weather and we thoroughly enjoyed the day.

I was now posted to a Station to do my job. It was at 91 Group 24 OUT RAF Honeybourne and Long Marston (Bomber Command).

I was sent to the satellite Long Marston.

After booking in at the Instrument Section had to report to the Repair and Inspection Hanger as our work would be installation of instruments, bomb sights, etc. I would also be there after testing components in the instrument section.

At that time I did not know that the Flight Sergeant in charge of the Hanger would later become my husband in October 1945.

The Whitley Bomber was the air craft for the trainee crews. I had a few teat flights on this aircraft especially testing the artificial horizon instrument on the blind flying panel. The aircraft was a good work horse and maintenance by all trades good.

After 4 months on the Station I was posted back to Melksham for a conversion course of 6 months - a Group 1 Trade. This course was much more in depth.

Some details of the course : -
Classrooms for theory
Hangers for filing, lathes, coppersmith.
Instrument calibration, compass checks (in each section there was a repeater for use of the various crew members). There was a master unit in the fuselage for correction.
Bomb sights also to be tested, automatic controls (George).
Lathes good to work on the watchmakers lathe - brass used for the top of the watchmakers screwdriver I was to make.

At the end of this course I passed the oral exam. This was the day when we all began to hope that at long last we were on the road to victory.

After the excitement of the day 36 girls in Hut 34 were all asleep. Suddenly we were all awakened by screams and beds being turned over.

Actually we thought there had been an air raid. We can only assume that there must have been several people at each bed to co-ordinate this act because when the light was switched on there was no-one visible. A steel locker had fallen over on one girl and cut her eye - thankfully not serious.

When the WAAF Officer and Duty Sergeant arrived we were informed that it was a group of French Airmen on a course in the camp. None of us even knew they were on the Station.

The next day when we were marching to the Hanger a group of the Free French passed us, grinning!!!!

I suppose they could be excused as before long their homeland would be liberated.

Back to 24 OTU Long Marston again - Wellington bombers now. I was to remain on this station to the end of the war.

Air Crew details on the Station -
Each trainee had a specific time for their course of 12 weeks. Classrooms and flight training. If the weather was bad and no flying possible they did theory instead. It was necessary to be in the air on good days - continuous maintenance required from the ground crew - working some days from 7.30 am to 11.30 pm to keep them airborne.

A welcome late meal supplied at the Aircrew Mess on the airfield at the end of our schedule.

Getting to the Hanger -

Being an instrument repairer we had to work from our own section, near headquarters. The Station was an Operational Training Unit.

This required continuous maintenance and was carried out in the Repair and Inspection Hanger. Each A/C was scheduled for either a daily, minor or major inspection. The Instrument section was quite a distance from the hanger and at that time our only means of transport was the service bicycle, tools and components had to be carried.

One lovely day my friend, Dorothy, and I were cycling along quite happily when we heard someone shouting. This was from the Airfield Controller, in the caravan. We looked up and being in the MIDDLE of the runway we had to make a hasty exit, me going one way with the blind flying panel under my arm and Dorothy with the bomb sight going The other way. An A/C was just coming in to land and as it was a trainee pilot it wasn’t a very steady landing! I can assure you we were never caught out with a change of runway again!!!!

The weather was not always good for flying and this meant that an intake had to fly all the hours, night and day, to make way for the next course members.

Cycling in daytime was not too bad but at night it was very scary with the bombers coming towards us on the perimeter track and then in the slipstream with just one hand controlling the bike and the usual items under our arm for installation.

As you know, in those days it was completely dark at night and you were alone with these monsters - thankfully there were no accidents - just a lasting memory. Even so, we were glad this situation didn’t occur too often.

At the end of the War.

24 OTU was closed down at the end of the War and I was then posted to RAF Kirmington, Lincolnshire to work on the Lancaster bombers. The aircrafts were taking food to the Lowlands. It was good to work on this aircraft with no specialised components for war. While at RAF Kirmington I was detailed to report to RAF Hornchurch as there was to be a Pageant of the RAF at the Royal Albert Hall.

Volunteers from the London area were asked to come because of accommodation problems. There were not enough volunteers so it was a case of you, you and you.

RAF Hornchurch had no room for us so we were then sent to the Ongar area, North Weald being the Station.

As it had been closed down for a while the huts were in a filthy state. Those in my hut were not happy and suggested going home. The WAAF Officer inspected the area and stated that hers was the same. With that comment we were given cleaning materials to make things habitable. Beds eventually arrived and bedding.

As for the cookhouse there were not sufficient rations but by breakfast time next day things began to improve.

Meeting at the Hanger we had a talk from Ralph Reader who was to produce the show. He said,
“Kids, you have had a rough start but I will assure you that all will be well from now on.”

Ralph moved mountains, even special trains, to take us to London for weekends - RAF and a WAAF Gang Show to entertain us at night.

We rehearsed for 3 weeks and sectioned off for the various scenes which would be spot lit. The first scene for me was the Wright Brothers Landing on an airfield and we were given costumes for the time it took place.

Dungarees for the aircraft factory scene, civilian clothes for the Piccadilly celebrations - very realistic.

Many scenes were in uniform, marching and drilling, etc.

Halton Apprentices with their mascot.

Richard Attenbourgh, Lionel Gamlin, Violet Lorraine, Wally Patch - the Gang Shows, etc etc.

One scene was most moving - a Sunderland aircraft searching for a ditched crew. The spotlight finally found the dinghy with the crew.

Rehearsals in London were most interesting - we were transported from our lodgings, many of us in Salvation Army Hostels, where we were really cared for but over crowded.

The show was presented on 19th and 20th September 1945.

At the end of the day we were proud to have taken part.

After the show I returned to the station from which after marriage I had my demob. I was demobbed in December 1945 but got married in October 1945.

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