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15 October 2014
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Having the Corners Knocked Off

by cambsaction

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Archive List > Childhood and Evacuation

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Dulcie Carter
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20 October 2005

[This story was submitted to the People' War site by a volunteer from BBC Radio Cambridgeshire on behalf of Dulcie Carter and has been added to the site with her permission. She fully understands the site's terms and conditions.]

In June 1943 I was ordered to leave the job I was doing to go and work at Marshall’s flying school repairing aircraft. What a rude awakening! Until then I had led a very sheltered life looking after the children and doing the housework for a nice respectable family. I had imagined that all men worked hard like my own father had done—wrong again! Some were decent and conscientious and really worked hard, but there were some really awful people who couldn’t speak without every other word being a swear word, and telling filthy jokes. And the whole idea was to grab as much money as possible for as little time and effort as they could get away with, protected by the trades union. One of the leaders asked me to join, but when I asked him to tell me more about it, the answer was—“I’ll tell you one thing, it’s raining outside”. Anyone who didn’t fall into this sort of category was looked on as a snob, me included. One day a screen in one of the hangars was moved, revealing four men sitting round playing cards. When you compare that with the men out on the battlefield, it makes you think.

Actually, the women generally worked harder than the men, although there were some conscientious men, too. Some of the work was quite interesting, although messy. We had to use cellulose dope to stick the fabric over the woodwork. This smelled like pear drops [fruit sweets], and was reckoned to be harmful, so we were given a glass of milk twice a day to counteract it.[But years after leaving there I often woke up in the morning with the taste of smell of pear drops on my breath, and I wonder if this was the cause of thyroid failure over twenty years ago I and I have been on medication ever since and for the rest of my life in order to just stay alive. I’m sure there must be other people the same if this is true.]

I worked on Oxfords, Dakotas and Mosquitoes, and used to enjoy stringing the fin on the Oxfords and making the bags to do them on the sewing machine, which was a Singer treadle machine. I had been used to sewing on one because my mother used a Singer. One day, a new girl came to work and was asked if she could use the machine and she assured us that she could. But when she tried, it became obvious that she had never used a treadle in her life.

I remember one day I was doing a gun turret all on my own in an enclosed space and by the time I had finished it, my throat was so sore I couldn’t speak. It was a windy day, so windy that this cellulose dope would blush—meaning it would not dry properly and behave like jelly. I decided I must close the large hangar door and tried to do so but it was far too heavy on my own. Several men passed by, but took no notice. Eventually, I gave up and was just about to go inside when a voice behind me said, “Come on, I’ll help you,” and I turned to see Mr Marshall, the owner himself. And between us, we closed the door.

We were not allowed to leave until long after the War was over, and in 1948 I left to become a Home Help, but that is another story.

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