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15 October 2014
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Life on the Guns! dictated by Vee Robinsonicon for Recommended story

by Community Education North Warwickshire

Contributed by 
Community Education North Warwickshire
People in story: 
Vera (Vee) Robinson
Location of story: 
Romney Marshes
Background to story: 
Army
Article ID: 
A2089596
Contributed on: 
28 November 2003

During 1941 I enlisted in the Royal Artillery, aged 18. You were supposed to have a choice of jobs and this was supposed to be discussed at the recruiting office on Coventry. But `choice’ didn’t come into it – people were selected and directed accordingly. I had 4 weeks training during which she had all the required injections and was taught military protocol.

By 1941 there was a severe shortage of men for home defence and this lack of manpower meant that girls were called up to operate Fire Control instruments for Ack Ack guns. Some girls were under age – quite possibly only 16 – but birth certificates not always checked too well because of the shortage of operators. The girls worked beside the guns (which were physically handled by men). The girls’ job was to act as `plotters’ and to send messages to the operators of these heavy, fixed anti aircraft guns. I helped feed the `predictor’ information in order to see that the guns were accurate. Many girls were killed in action but I have never seen any figures in this regard. But I do know that, in regard to ATS casualties, 369 girls were killed or wounded in the V1 rocket era alone, in just three months!

Training for the girls was the same as for men – and they were trained for permanent teams. Close relationships were formed between the girls and there was little social life and strong bonds were formed which still continue today. The men who fought alongside the girls were much older so interpersonal male/female relationships were not usually formed. On duty, the girls looked just like the men and they took the same risks. The use of girls was not generally known to the `outside world’ and they were not allowed to talk about their work.

On the V1 era, they sounded like motorbikes but looked like a plane with flames coming out of the tail. I can recall an occasion when the girls were sleeping in a lorry – fully clothed – when the rockets were coming over. The girls couldn’t cry – so we all laughed instead! But times were harder for the `posh’ girls. I remember when I was posted to marshland – Romney Marshes – and for nine months the “girls lived like gypsies” sleeping in clothes, using dug-out latrines, lots of privations which we had to take in our stride. But you weren’t alone – and if a bomb landed close to you, at least you all went together, which helped.

The girls lived, ate and slept together – you were never alone. The girls worked well together and the idea of using them in the way that they were was a brilliant idea and the girls were very good at the role they were asked to do. They didn’t realise at the time just how important their job was, and how good their training was. But it is possible that Army Command might not have realised how great the danger was, as far as the girls were concerned.

At the end of the war married girls were demobbed first, the rest a few months later. But that wasn’t the end of their friendships. The reunions are marvellous – started by myself in 1993 – where nobody talks about their aches and pains but they re-live the better times during the war.

Information dictated to John Noon on Tuesday 11th November 2003.

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Message 1 - Vee Robinson and the RA

Posted on: 28 November 2003 by paul gill - WW2 Site Helper

Can you thank Vee for allowing me to read this? I presume the predictors needed both the speed of the aircraft and the height, probably from local radar. I presume the operators she refers to were the commanders in charge of the battery.

Vee is right about high casualties. My father, Reg Gill, was a radiographer on Malta and I'm writing up his story in sections on this site. They had many casualties amongst the gunners as these were the natural targets of any aircraft with spare ammunition who were going home.
With the V1, the guns were very much in the target area.

I suspect the use of girls wasn't known because although they were just as good as men, it would be regarded as an admission of how short of resources the defenders were. Does Vee know how many girls were used in this way?

I'm glad Vee still has friends she met years ago. Please give her my best wishes.

Paul

Message 1 - Vee Robinson and the RA

Posted on: 29 November 2003 by John de Mansfield AbsolonResearcher 238443

Girls in AA Command.
If anybody is interested in the tremendous part played by women in AA command I would recommend two books.
They are;

ACK-ACK by General Sir Frederick Pile Britain's defence against air attack during the second world war.

AA Command by Colin Dobinson English Heritage published by Methuen.

These two books should give you the full extent of the use of women in AA command during the second world war
very few people realise the tremendous job they did. Or the medals they won for gallantry.
John Absolon

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