- Contributed by
- Jenni Waugh
- People in story:
- Joan Christopher
- Location of story:
- Background to story:
- Royal Air Force
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 22 May 2004
The year was 1940. The town was Lowestoft. I was 20 and working in the Co-op factory. The Second World War had started in 1939 so decided to enlist in the WAAF. My papers came through and I had to go to London, High Holborn, on the 2nd June. I had never been further than Norwich, 26 miles from Lowestoft. To say I was excited is an understatement.
I was given my Service Number 892090 and was sent to West Drayton, where I underwent a medical, learnt how to march and was kitted out. After a fortnight, I was sent to Stanmore in Middlesex to train as a Ballon Repairer. We had to crawl into the inflated balloons and repair any damage. We were also taught to splice rope and wire, a bit rough on the hands!
In 1940, they wanted Women to remuster as balloon operators to replace men and release them for more active duty, so I remustered and went to Cardington to train. It was very hard work and they tried to persuade us that women were not capable of doing men's work - that in itself was a challenge! We even slept out in tents for over a week.
After training, 14 of us were sent to a site in Portsmouth at Garrison Church and found out what being on a balloon site was really about. A hut in the corner of a field was our sleeping quarters and we had to cook for ourselves. We did guard duty with truncheons (the men had rifles!). Two of us did alternating 2-hour shifts all through the night!
Sometimes, when the order came through to bed the balloon down and there was quite a wind, the balloon would bounce from side to side with us girls hanging on to the guy ropes. Then we had to thread the ropes through rings in concrete blocks, and then the Ford V8 engine winch did the rest!
This story was added to the website by Joan Christopher's daughter during the NIACE Adult Learning Festival at Croft Castle, Herefordshire, May 2004. Mrs Christopher accepts the site's terms and conditions.
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