- Contributed by
- People in story:
- June Renshaw and Joan Biggs
- Location of story:
- RAF Peplow Shropshire
- Background to story:
- WAAF flight mechanics
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 20 January 2004
WAAF days at Peplow remembered by LACW Jean 'Blondie' Smith (later Renshaw)
In 1943 I was posted to this airfield as a flight mechanic along with several other WAAFs. We assembled in a hangar for roll call with a row of airmen behind us. Standing directly behind me was my future husband Corporal Jim Renshaw, Fitter IIA. It wasn't long before he was getting to know me better by climbing up beside me as I worked on the engine of a Wellington.
In summer when there was a lot of flying we all had to work late. In the winter, when there was snow , we swept out the hangars then cleared the runways of snow and were rewarded with a rum ration after. Jim used to tow the gliders on to the runway with a tractor. One day I had to take a message to him and found him in the fields on the airfield perimeter catching rabbits. He had a white ferret which he sent down the burrows and he caught the rabbits in a net as they came out. He used to give the rabbits to his mates to send home or to take on leave. He once parcelled two up and posted them to my parents in Manchester. Jim referred to his billet as 'out on the flights' away from the regular RAF site, things were pretty primitive out there and it was where he kept his ferret. One day I met him with string in his boots instead of laces, I wondered how we were ever going to win the war! We cycled or walked all around the countryside and to the cinema at RAF Tern Hill.
In May 1944 I had to take compassionate leave after receiving a telegram from home to say that my brother, a navigator in Air Transport Command had been killed along with his best friend, a New Zealand airman. Their plane was coming in from Canada and was shot down over Iceland, they were buried at Reykjavic. I cried all the way to Hodnet Station and most of the way home.
Jim asked me to go on a weekend pass with him to meet his parents in Oxford. I set off to meet Jim wearing a pair of grey silk stockings instead of the regulation air-force blue lisle ones but was stopped by the WAAF Sergeant and ordered back to the hut to change them! We became officially engaged that weekend as Jim had managed to buy an engagement ring despite being very hard up on RAF pay. Jim's parents were very nice but also very religeous which we were not. Whilst they were at church on the Sunday we were fooling about and accidently broke a statue of the Virgin Mary which was on a stand in the corner of my bedroom. Her hand fell off so we frantically searched for some glue and stuck it back on. We can't have made a very good job of it as Jim's mother remarked on it and gave us a few stern looks but his father probably smiled to himself - I hoped!
To make amends I thought I would go to church the following Sunday morning, as we could have time off to do so. I went to the Church of The Good Shepherd, now demolished, which was behind the WAAF quarters. Anyone of any denomination could use it. After church I went to late breakfast, which I have never forgotten, it was half a rasher of bacon and half a tomato with bread, of course, lovely! Arriving late back in the hangar I explained that I had been to church which was treated with some scepticism by the airmen, in fact a joke. My feelings were slightly hurt but I went to work with zeal to make up for lost time.
Joan Biggs (nee Thornton) was a flight mechanic in the same hut as me and I was lucky enough to be put in touch with her recently. I remembered her well and between us we recalled other flight mechanics in our hut - 'Darkie' (lovely black hair) Agnes Mulholland, 'Rusty' Thomas, Molly McGeachie, Betty Snee, Sheila Smith, Peggy Hanley, Dorothy 'Fergie' Ferguson, Betty Lomas and May Porter. Joan said there was also a tall blonde girl at the end of the hut under the window we called her the 'Dizzie Blonde' she was always up to mischief - that was me!
After we were posted away from Peplow Jim and I got married. Jim was with me for 55 years - I was very lucky.
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