- Contributed by
- Audrey St. John-Brown
- People in story:
- Audrey St John-Brown Formerly Turner
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 24 July 2005
My posting was to Lincolnshire, I have to think about this now because I moved around a lot at that time. There was Ludford Magna, Faldingworth, Scampton and others. I am fairly sure it was Faldingworth, a conversion unit where pilots converted from flying smaller aircraft to Halifax and Lancaster bombers.
The training consisted mostly of what was know as circuits and bumps, i.e. take off, circle the base and land, if the circles were smooth enough. The first take off’s could be hairy, and smooth landings never happened often at first, often bumpy. Of course they got better and by the end of their course they were doing everything perfectly, after which they were posted to operational squadrons. There were many nationalities on these courses, it was very temporary personnel. I was driving and we had a rather large MT Motor Transport Section and got to know, however briefly, a lot of airmen. Australian, New Zealanders, Canadians a few Americans (they had come to help independently of the U.S Government), Free French and Polish. Our job was to take the airmen out to the dispersal areas to their aircraft, then meet them again and take them to a squadron office where whatever they had done was analysed and corrected. When they were proficient in daylight runs they then had to do it all at night, all night, very wearing for ground staff on or off duty. We did get time off, late passes etc and usually we would go out in a group. That was OK with the ranks of Sergeant, but difficult with officers. Very few WAAFS had civilian clothes so you’d usually find the aircrew lot leading the way, with the females of the species a few steps behind or the other way round. Romantic liaisons or even friendships were difficult and short lived. The station then changed. It was eventually to become an operational bomber squadron but it first became like a transient camp, the huts in the men’s compound which had previously held the pilots and crews doing their conversion, were empty for a while, then some more bombers arrived and these huts were occupied by the Polish Squadron. Some were aircrew and I presume some were ground crew; I did not come across them very much. My driving then was on ration lorries, coal wagons, ambulance duties, journey’s with officers to other squadrons in the area, meetings of various kinds. Then again it changed 12 hrs on 12hrs off, changeovers were usually at weekends and the next week would be night duty, 8am to 8pm then 8pm to 8am. We worked in battledress with jumpers underneath and leather jerkins, it was cold and it was damp, snow clearance was all hands available. When it was foggy we laid out goose necks — lamps of flames burning paraffin, I think if available one transport, usually the coal lorries or tractors one each side of the runway to be used and lit when we knew there was an aircraft returning. Being clean wasn’t always, being wet was the norm. Our living quarters were Nissan huts with bunk beds, but the huts were built into the ground so we had to step down into them. The ground outside became saturated and the water flooded in, literally to the point where we could not use the bottom bunks and had to rotate the beds with shifts. Our dirty boxes, where we kept clothes etc were floating or water logged and we wore wellies, I suppose they were issued. That winter was truly dreadful
The polish Squadron were more animals that human, even our male counterparts complained with disgust at their habits, especially the A.G.M General duties cleaner etc. Toilets were filthy, the huts the same, they peed out of the windows etc, but the worst was yet to come. Several WAAF had been attacked and raped, none in the MT section, but it was scary and the girls were scared to go anywhere. The girls in the MT section had to. Our section was away a long way from our billets and the shortest way was a field path mostly we went in two’s etc but we knew there would be times when we’d finish late and therefore a lone walk home. I carried a short tyre iron in my wellie, and fully intended to use it if necessary. Unfortunately it became necessary as I was attacked on my way back to the billet after an extended duty. I finished that night about 9pm instead of 8pm and was really tired so I had to walk back, on the way two drunken yobbish poles came out of nowhere and had a go, one behind grabbed me and I went forward knowing that he was drunk to try and put him off balance, and a sharp elbow helped. As I went forward my right arm was still pinned so I reached over and managed to grab the tyre iron with my left hand, as the other one rushed forward I lifted it outwards and hit him on the side of the head, the other one let go and staggered backwards and I took off. I could really run in those days even in those wellies, and my anger gave me wings. I barged into the office without any ceremony and really let forth about the lack of any security, WAAF’s out there without any sort of protection living in with this risk and in fear etc. They gave me a cup of tea, then I went back to my hut to sleep. It was a short sleep the Sergeant came for me about 2 or 3 hours later and told me to report to the Admin Office Pronto.
I had no idea then what it was all about but at that time of night my first thought was home and what could have happened……No
The other drunk had finally made it back to his hut and reported he’d been attacked and his friend was unconscious. I was questioned and the guard room Sgt gave them my report, my Squadron Officer was there and was very supportive, but rules are rules and there was an enquiry and I had to attend. It really was quite scary my word against theirs and then I found out that the one I had hit was dead, he’d choked on his own vomit. The Polish legal representative or otherwise asked if I was ashamed of killing one of our fighting men and I said NO. They attacked me, the Squadron officer then took over and gave them a long list of Raped and bloodied WAAFS and insisted on my right to defend myself. A couple of months after that I went back to my billet after duty one morning and found a woman in our hut who’d hung a blanket around her bed and was really moaning and crying. I went to see what was wrong and found that she was giving birth, she begged me to stay with her but I knew that she and I needed help, so again I raced to the guard room and garbled the news and asked for the M.O then raced back to the hut. The baby had arrived and neither of us knew what an earth to do, he… it was a boy….was still attached by the cord, I’d seen animals but they usually chewed it apart etc so I fetched towels I didn’t much care who’s and I wrapped the baby in them. The M.O arrived quickly and did what was necessary and an ambulance drew up outside. They took them both off to hospital. I did not really know the woman well we were not in the same section, but I knew from others that her fiancé had been killed some 8 months earlier, and she had not told anyone that she was pregnant, how she managed I’ll never know, but we were all always so busy working or sleeping.
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