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Some of Bill Stafford's memories of service in RAF after leaving HOOTON PARK
Click Here to read the first part of Bill`s story.
I left Wilmslow a rather bewildered person. Security being what it was told next to nothing about where I was posted to. I was given an tinier, a travel warrant, and told to report to RAF UXBRIDGE. The only info I could find out , was that this was a military police training centre. I thought "God I' m in for some short back and sides work here". When I got to Uxbridge I was escorted past dozens of Military police drilling on the parade grounds, to a second much larger camp at the rear. There were rather fewer personnel in evidence, but the place was crammed with every type motor vehicle that I had ever seen, and many that I had never seen before in my life.
I was left in the S.W.O's office, where I was to learn that I was to join the 2nd Tactical Air Force advance party, which was gathering for the invasion of Europe. After intake procedures I was shown to a bed space in a Nissan hut and then taken to a room, where I was to work for the remainder of my stay. Another bare room with just a table and a wooden form for people to wait on.
I was left to my own devices and I had very little to do at first, I spent many back breaking hours stretched out on this wooden form. As more people were soon to arrive this did not last long and in order to give me more work the duty officers started to detail men to get a haircut whilst on morning inspection parade. This was the pattern of things for what seemed like months and I can remember doing 32 "so called" haircuts in an hour, because so many had been detailed and had to start duties by a certain time.
One morning we were ordered to Parade outside HILLINGDON HOUSE which was a very large and grand house, and was the headquarters of all very senior staff engaged in the oversight of the RAF's involvement in Operation Overlord. We waited for what for must have been hours. All at once we were called to attention: UP up rolled a big black Daimler. Out stepped KING GEORGE the 6th together with THE QUEEN, PRINCESS ELIZABETH, and PRINCESS MARGARET.
THE KING made a short speech , wishing us all "God Speed " . Then they each proceeded to shake hands with us all (which took rather a long time) It was worth all the waiting and we felt very important, which I suppose was the point of the exercise.
Within a few days of the Kings visit we started to make preparations for our departure to the coast. We were all allocated to some sort of transport and drilled extensively in the variouse proceedures. Several times we got the order to stand to, only to have to stand down again, just when we were getting complacent it happened and we were off. One of the longest convoys the R.A.F. had ever seen I was travelling in a Water Bowser just the driver and myself and we thought this was very comfortable, we were located in the middle of the convoy and the exhaust fumes were something else. Thank goodness we were not at the rear. We were going all day. Our desstination turned out to be Gosport with its MULBURY HARBOURS. We came to rest in a very long street on a councill estate where we remained for many days, living in and about our transport we were on field rations and we began to get "Mankey" we could not use the water in our bowsers, this was for use on the other side. The local people in the street, although warey at first, turned up trumps, and provided us with buckets of hot water, there we stood having a bath/wash down with one foot in the bucket, repeated at itervals all down the street. What a sight it was and as a rusult of this the lads were quick to make friends and ended up sneaking into their new friends houses after dark!!!!!
When we again got on the move we went like "bats out of hell" down to the nearby Mulbery docks where there were a large number of flat bottomed Tank Landing craft awaiting us.
We drove our waggons etc., right on to the craft, and to the far end which was the stern, we then had to turn to and chain them down. Fumes, condensation, stench, perspiration, none of us escaped it. But this was nothing !! The tanks followed us on, and we had to chain these down as well. The fumes and stench were multiplied tenfold and the condensation was dripping from the underside of the upper deck so much, that it resembled, being in a thunder storm. We were still completing these tasks when we set sail, and we did not see the leaving of our shores. What were our thoughts???
When we had finished the chaining down we were allowed to our quaters, a long passage, about 3ft 6in wide, running the length of the craft with bunks in teirs of 3 joined at the foot and head, from end to end , another stench, sweaty bodies... I had just taken off my boots, when the buckets of steaming hot tea came round, what a cheer went up, we all filled our pint mugs. No sips damned big gulps, I took my first gulp, it was made with "connie onnie" (condensed milk). I MADE A HASTY DASH topside and spent the rest of the crossing hanging over the rail wishing that I had never been born.
As we neared the Normandy coast we were ordered back on to our vehicles ready to disembark. A shudder went through the landing craft as we hit the beach, the ramps dropped down, the tanks thundered off and then it was our turn. Down the ramp and on to Juno beach head.
The first of our forces had landed about 4 or 5 days prior to us and the evidence of the hellish time that they had experienced, was enough to make you sick. The beach was still littered with wrecked and abandoned tanks ,trucks ,jeeps, guns, etc- even clothing and personal effects. Hundreds of army personnel were busy extricating gruesome remains out of some of the wreckage. Our sight of this was very brief, there was no stopping, across and up the beach into a very narrow country lane. Progress was rather slow, we had to be very cautious ,our front line was still only about 6 or 7 miles ahead and we could hear the noise of gunfire up ahead. We had been going for no more than a mile or so. When we were directed into a large field surrounded by trees.
All the vehicles were driven under the trees for camouflage. Those with no tree used camouflage nets. We were warned to expect enemy aircraft raids at any time, especially at dusk and dawn and we were told to sleep under our vehicles to obtain what shelter we could. Because we had no time to "dig in" my driver and I thought-" great " lucky us, riding on a water bowser: solid metal, safe as houses.
We had one blanket each, so we spread our ground sheets one on top of the other and rolled up together under our two blankets in the hope that it would be warmer. Sure enough just as dawn was breaking over comes Jerry and strafed us well and proper. There were no major casualties. Only two very soaking wet airmen, Jerry's bullets, had pierced the bower's walls and we got soaked. Laughing stocks the pair of us, that is what you get for trying to be clever....
Almost as soon as we had got dried out after Jerry's fly past, We were on the move again, and again only a distance of a few miles. It turned out that we were expected to maintain a position of about 5 miles to the rear of the front line and as the front advanced,so did we. Again we were located in field not far from Amiens-this time we were to stay for in excess of 2 weeks The fighting at the front was hard, resistance was fierce and our army's advance was about the most costly in terms of life and equipment,than any other that they had to face.
We had to "dig in"once again and we had to live in our "holes in the ground ,for half of the time that we were there. This was the fist time since landing that I was able to practice any hairdressing. Because the tools etc. which by now I had with me, were too much to carry in my Kitbag, the joiners had made me a large wooden box which was marked "BARBERS TOOLS" AND transported as part of the units equipment. This box became my hairdressing salon, I would set it up under the nearest free apple tree. The box becoming my customers chair, with my tools on a towel, on the ground. The officers had a large tent as their "Mess" and I attended to them there, when the light got too bad for me to see to the other ranks, outside. The very senior officers usually had mobile trailers as their offices, and I would attend to them in their trailers, when I was sent for. More often than not they were so much in demand, that I had to cut their hair as they were on the telephone communicating at top level. The secrets and plans which I overheard whilst doing this were unbelievable, and more than one of these officers, threatened to "kill me personally" if I ever breathed a word of what I had heard..
Inside a week it became known to other units in the area ( including the army), some much closer to the front line than we were. They would send a signal to my C.O. "could they borrow the barber for a day." At that time I was the only military barber in France. Sometimes they would send their transport for me, but later I was given the use of a liberated jeep and travel under my own steam. Again I would set up shop under a tree and do as many haircuts as I could before the light failed.
After a couple of weeks we were given tents. This was great news, of course we had to erect them ourselves, when this was completed, before we could occupy them we were ordered to parade outside our allocated tents IN THE NUDDIE!!! Along came our Sgt. from sick quarters, equipped with a pace makers stick, ( the use of which was obvious), he was accompanied by a Cpl. carrying a large old fashioned insect spray. All our bodily hair was sprayed with white D.D.T. Powder, our shirts were inspected for lice, and those which were infected ,confiscated. What a life, but it was worth it to get away from our holes in the ground and into tents, where our main relaxation was playing SOLO. There was nothing else to do with what money we had, but time certainly did not drag.
During the time spent in our second field the only news of the wars progress was what that which we gleaned from listening to the radio. So it caused great excitement when we heard that our tanks and other front line soldiers had broken through the German lines, and were going hell-bent down through France and making a bee-line for Paris. We all knew from this that because of our brief to maintain our position of being 5 miles to the rear of front line, we would soon be on the move again, sure enough we were. The following day we were off. We all thought "hurray Paris here we come". We started off in convoy as fast as our vehicles would take us. Passing first through Amiens where the whole population turned out to wave us off. We had been going for most of the day when our convoy was stopped by a dispatch rider and our destination was changed.
Our troops were advancing so fast that they had over shot Paris, and were heading for the south of France. Our first reaction was disappointment, which soon gave way to excitement when we learned that our new destination was to be Brussels.
That night we camped by the roadside, the next day we set of on our new route we then started to see at first hand the horror and destruction which the battles had left behind. Especially the towns of ST. LO and VIRE. They had been completely flattened to the ground, they were still smoking and burning in many places. Even so we still got the odd cheer from the very few people who were still to be seen rooting around in the rubble. I will never forget the smell of burning, and indescribable stench of rotting flesh and other things!!!!
Leaving all this behind we set our sights on getting to Brussels as fast as we could. The tension was relieved a little when I proceeded to have a shave with a cut-throat razor (which I always carried in my top pocket) whilst sitting on the tail board of a ten-ton lorry bouncing down the road after leaving all the devastation behind. A mocking cheer went up from all the lads who could see, and I played along by showing off.
Our journey to Brussels was a long one with many stops along the way we were following the army, mainly the tank force and had to maintain our position of being 5 miles behind the front. However we eventually arrived on the outskirts of Brussels and had to wait until the tanks cleared the city. They were delayed by the rapturous welcome which they received, the people especially the girls climbed on to the tanks and rode with them singing and kissing the tank crews as they went along
. Later when we were allowed to proceed, we were greeted in the same way, only by now the whole population seemed to have gathered on the streets. We were absolutely mobbed, several times the convoy was brought to a halt. When this happened the people swarmed on board our trucks with gifts of flowers, champagne and what seemed to be anything that they could lay hands on. We in turn gave up our cigarette rations and handed chocolate down to the kids squashed on the pavement. I vividly recall giving a bar of choc to a pregnant girl who promptly broke into tears and screamed "God bless you" then she shouted ,in ( perfect English) "WHAT'S YOUR NAME, I'LL NAME HIM AFTER YOU." I bet it was a girl !!!
After what seemed like hours we finally came to a halt at our destination, which was a very large ex army barracks "the Casern de Bedouin" which occupied one complete side of a large square, known as " THE PLACE DAILY" We drove into the barracks coming to rest with our trucks all crowded together on a massive parade ground.
This was to be our home for more than six months. A city famous for its friendliness, its pavement café's, wonderful entertainment, and night life, which was exactly that ALL NIGHT LONG----WOW!!!!!
When all our vehicles had been unloaded and dispersed to their resting places, we were shown to "our resting places" which were in very long barrack rooms on 2 floors, on each side of the barracks. Once we had settled in, we all proceeded to wander about, exploring, finding canteens, recreation rooms, baths ,latrines, etc. It all seemed very grand after tents and holes in the ground none of us were aware that we would be staying for over 6 months, but we all thought we could stick this for as long as they would allow us to.
Next morning, parade 6 am -flag hoisted -roll call--salute flag, dismiss etc. The routine had been established: BACK TO SQUARE BASHING DAYS? All at once came a loud shout, from our very large Flight Sergeant "Stafford Come With Me". I was marched off down a long corridor towards the front part of the barracks and Wonder of wonders I was taken into a fully fitted Hairdressing salon. I was given the keys, told to take the rest of that day to set up shop and to open for business at 8 am the following morning. Thinking "my luck has come good" I did as instructed. Sure enough My luck had indeed come good First person in the chair was the C.O. who wanted a styling job !!! ( We were in Brussels you see ) NO MORE SHORT BACK AND SIDES. A new style had been created. It became known as the Brussels Trim, which became longer and fuller, as their hair grew. He must have been happy with the result because to show his appreciation, hHe rewarded me with "a tip of 20 Belgium Francs ". This also set a pattern, for following the very next Pay Parade, almost all visitors to the salon responded in the same way. MY LUCK REALLY HAD COME GOOD!!!! and I started to rake it in. Talk about walking on a cloud!.
In a way this was to be my downfall: Money to spend. Free time. Night Life IN BRUSSELS. ---WOW !!
The number of personel at the barracks continued to grow in the same way that it did at each of our previous resting places, to the extent that the pattern of work for the salon, soon became 8am to 8pm for 7 days a week , with a weekend pass,every 4 weeks. However, you can bet that by 8.30 pm we were exiting the barracks in order to join in the prolific night life. Our booking in times were very lenient and as long as we returned before revalue, nothing was said. Needless to say we took full advantage of this concession.
I became friends with a chum in the next bed to me, a lad called "JACK REASON", and it goes without saying that we made many friends amongst the local people, and one or two especially, there was Msr. and Madam NOEL ( Mr& Mrs Christmas What a lovely name!!) Madam Noel worked as the private secretary to Msr GUTT, the Minister of finance and then there was ALBERT who was a member the Secrete Police. Who ,what, and where, that these people did not know between them, was not worth knowing. They took us into their homes and we were allowed to come and go as we pleased, and I spent many of my weekends off in their respective homes living as if I was part of their family. We would go out as a group, dancing at the ST. SEVERE, going to the theatre, visiting local café's, where there was entertainment, and even taking trips to places of interest such as Larken ( The Royal Pallace ), Bruges ( Famous for its beautiful LACE) and lots of other places. A group such as this could not go un-noticed and we became well known in Brussels.
As always other units requested my services and one which will always stick in my mind was a prison located at the other side of the city , which was being used as a combined R.A.F/ ARMY Field Punishment / Detention Unit. On entering the gate I was double marched across the parade ground until I was inside again, I would set up shop in an empty cell , with a guard in attendance. Haircuts as per Kings regulations 0000 CLIPPERS TO THE CROWN OF THE HEAD, and NO LONGER THAN 2.5 inches in any other part. It hurts to see tough service men cry over such a small thing.. On one these visits, who should be marched into the cell / salon, but one of my school mates who lived a few doors away from me at home. He had got 60 days detention. His crime ? He was an Aircraft engine fitter and he had inadvertently left a spanner in an engine cowling after working on an aircraft, and this had caused damage to the engine. What a reunion, I was helpless but I did manage to get the guard (who was also had his haircut by me ) to look the other way.
Life in Brussels continued in the same way day in day out,and if it wasn't for the occasional air raid sirens sounding off. The war would have seemed to be far away. Each passing day brought us nearer to Christmas, and our anticipation of the good times in store for us grew ever greater But for me there was a BIG BUT. As the festive season grew closer, so the demands both work wise and socially became difficult to cope with. To the extent that when Christmas did arrive, I was in no fit state to really enjoy it even though I tried my damnedest to do so.
Chickens coming home to roost !!! On boxing day I collapsed and was admitted.to hospital with bronchial pneumonia, I did not respond to treatment ( too much alcohol in blood no doubt) So it was decided to transfer me to a larger Hospital outside of Brussels
On New years day Morning at about 8 am I was on a stretcher being loaded into an ambulance, when the sirens sounded and 2 Messerschmitt fighters came over and strafed us. Me and the stretcher were three parts of the way into the ambulance with bullets thudding into the ground all around us. The driver and his mate who were loading me, dived under the ambulance, leaving me out to dry ! I felt so rotten that, bullets or no bullets, I was not staying there. So I rolled off the stretcher pulled it the rest of the way in and climbed back on I was too sick and exhausted to give a damn. I was in hospital for 2 weeks and when I came out I was given a weeks sick leave Me and sick leave in Brussels. What a joke, I am sure that I returned worse than when I started
No sooner had got into the guard room to report back, when I was informed that I had to see the Commanding Officer at once. He said that I had to pack my" BOX OF TRICKS" that same night as our armies were moving up for the Rhine crossing and we were going to re-assume our position of being 5 miles behind the front lines and that we would be maintaining this position as and when we advanced into Germany The following morning, box all packed: Back on a wagon---Back in convoy. We were on our way again and I never even had a chance to say goodbye.
The journey from Brussels up to the Rhine, was lengthy, tedious, dusty and generally uncomfortable and indeed the fighting was still going on, which although we had a good number of stops, made our situation too uncertain to do much, and of course we were unable to leave the vicinity of our convoy. But this did not stop me from using my " Box of tricks" again as a barbers chair, albeit at the roadside and for very short periods
Eventually we arrived at our last stopping place before the crossing, and as before the Channel crossing, we were forced to wait until our armies had established a strong foothold on the other side of at least 5 miles deep which would enable us to once more take up our designated position to the rear of the front lines.
When we did actually make the crossing, it was the most exciting part of our journey. The Royal Engineers had constructed a "PONTOON BRIDGE" which was our only means of crossing. There were no rails at the sides, and the bridge itself was only just wide enough to take the wheels of the trucks. The bridge moved up an down and from side to side with alarming inconsistency as it was affected by the water and the weight of the trucks. The vehicles were only allowed to cross one at a time because the weight and movement of one would make it impossible for another. The drivers were biting their nails down to the quick (and so were we).
We all got over safely to the other side and we continued until we arrived at a small town called Suchteln, where we stayed for several days. We stayed in a commandeered ex-Mental Hospital, it was nice to have a bed again.
Although we were haunted by the evidence of the former occupants. There were rooms with lots of shelves full of jars containing gruesome exhibits preserved in Formalin, with labels indicting what they were, and the type of diseases which they had suffered from, and in a large number of cases the experiments which they were being used for. There were rooms containining Brains from males and females, new born children up to the very elderly (one I noticed was from a woman of 103 yrs.of age). There were other rooms containing every other parts / organs of the body with equally descriptive labels. It is a wonder anyone slept at all .
Forgive the macabre descriptions but because of my earlier experiences in the crash room, at HOOTON PARK and the R.A.F. Hospital at WILMSLOW. I could not help but be fascinated by it all. Nor could I help wondering about the SUFFERING behind it all and it's " PROBABLE CAUSES..The possibilities / PROBABILITIES were horrifying..
After a very short stay at Suchteln we set off on what was to be the last leg of our journey. We were sorry to loose our beds but in truth we were glad to see the back of the old mental hospital. We kept going for a few days, but with several short stops along the way. The news on the radio and via official channels was very encouraging, and it looked certain that the war would soon be over.
We then arrived at what was the vacated German Garrison town of Buckeburg, where we took over several large buildings including a Schlosh ( a large castle type building) This was to become our headquarters. The information that was given out, was that we were no longer required to maintain our position, of being 5 miles behind the front and that we would be staying in BUCKEBURGE for some time.
Once more this was wishful thinking. The 2nd TACTICAL AIR FORCE. As we were then, consisted of, The 2nd. T.A.F. Advance Party ( which was us ) and the 2nd T.A.F. Rear Party, who were mainly planning and admin, and who followed, keeping pace with us, but quite a good distance to the rear. It turned out that 2nd T.A.F. Rear were to move up into our position at Buckeburge, and we were to go forward once again.
This time we only moved a few miles up the road to a small but beautiful, town which was in peace time, a "Spa" by the name of BADD EILSEN. We came to rest here, and here we stayed for the remainder of the war, and ultimately becoming, The BRITISH AIR FORCES OF OCCUPATION OPERATIONS ( BAFO OPS.) This was the longest time which I SPENT IN ONE PLACE during the six and a half years in the R.A.F. It was the most happy and eventful time of my whole life.
As we entered BADD EILSEN, it was like arriving at a holiday resort. The road led us on a winding route with a lovely crystal clear stream meandering alongside. This took us past some large single story wooden structures on both sides of the stream, then into a beautiful large park, with flower beds trees, and an ornamental band stand, slap bang in the middle, with the stream running past it.
It was like being in a bowl with a massive hotel called the Furstenhoff Hotel on one side, and all the other usual types of properties that you would expect to find in an inland holiday resort, around the rest of the bowl and extending half way up the forest covered hills which completely surrounded the town. The fir trees which covered the rest of the hills , came right up to the backs of the properties. It was certainly very picturesque.
The large wooden buildings which had previously been the Fokker Wolf Planning dept. were to become our next temporary homes, they were full of rubbish ,drawing boards ,etc and half empty drawers and cupboards together with all the other signs of a hasty retreat. This we had to tidy up before we could get to kip.
The following morning on looking out of the windows, we could see directly into the clear waters of the stream which was right below. The stream was littered with small arms of every sort. There was a quick rush to try to grab some for souvenirs, they were soon confiscated, but I'm sure that some escaped.
The Furstenhoff Hotel became our headquarters as well as housing most of the senior officers. This included our commander in chief LORD CUNNINGHAM, AIR VICE MARSHAL SIR ARTHUR HOPPS, AIR MARSHAL SIR CHARLES WIGGLESWORTH, and many more high rankers. Too many more to mention by name.
The rear of the Furstenhoff hotel faced onto the Park, the lower floor of which consisted of a line of shops running all the way along one side of the park. The first shop in the row was a very well appointed Ladies and Gents hairdressing salon, with a patio and veranda out front . Wonder of wonders. This was to become mine for the rest of my stay in Germany.
My occupancy of this salon was delayed by a very unpleasant incident, which left a very unpleasant taste in my mouth, as well as being rather surprised to realise that, in war, we could at times be almost as heartless as we knew from experience that the German armies had been.
Running past the gable ends of the Furstenhoff Hotel and my salon to be, was a road, with a wide grass bank sloping downwards,between it and the gable ends. Someone had found in this sloping bank, A MASS GRAVE containing the bodies of eleven British servicemen. We had an officer in charge of intelligence, who looked and acted as abrupt and domineering as any German officer that I have ever seen portrayed. He ordered ever person in the town over ten years of age, to be rounded up, and herded to this mass grave. We in turn were made to line the road with fixed bayonets, whilst these people men women and CHILDREN, were paraded past the open grave and were made to stop and view the mangled bodies. Most of the women ( who were mainly elderly) and the children were in tears. I doubted very much if any of these civilian people were in any way responsible for this, and certainly not the children. I felt sick, standing there with rifle and bayoneted, because I knew that in many instances, force had to be used to induce some of them to come. It took a few days to clear up from this, the bodies were removed, the earth put back and regrassed, until no signs remained.
I was then given possession of this salon which had been commandeered from its German owner. I was delighted with the salon. It was fully equipped down to the last detail, both for ladies and gents hairdressing. I would have been proud to have owned it in civvies street. This salon was to be mine to occupy for the rest of my time in the R.A.F. and it has many stories to tell.
I setled into working in the solon and grew steadily buisier, for as in the past whenever I came to a halt for any length of time. Other units nearby heard that I was in action and visitors from all arround started to come by. This pattern continued allong the same lines untill V.E. DAY,.
For this we had to have a massive celebration which lasted for days. An aicraft was laid on to th U.K to bring the wearwithal for our parties, and the word went out -----ENGLISH BEER! Sure enough the plane turned up with our beer wich was dished out at aparty in our mess there was just enough for ONE PINT EACH We moaned long and loud at this,but in truth we were exstatic, that the war in Europe" WAS AT LAST OVER".
Within days of this event it was made known that 2nd T,A.F. Rear were to leave Buckeburge and join us at Badd Eilsen, and that we would be combined into one unit called THE BRITISH AIR FORCES OF OCCUPATION. Ths would mean a complete restructuring of the chian of command, we retained Our senior officers LORD CUNNINGHAM, SIR ARTHUR HOPPS , SIR CHARLES WIGGLESWORTH,AND SQUADRON LEADER DOWLING, but we were now to come under the overall command of, SIR SHALTO DOUGLASS.
2nd T.A.F REAR.brought with them, a large number of of W.A.A.F. personel. In order to cope withthis influx a lot of changes had to be made, the first thing that took place was the canceling of the no fratternisation order. Next we had to employ many of the local people in all sorts of mundane jobs,( for which they got paid in a small way) They even took on the hairdresser whose salon it was prior to it being commandered, and we also took on a ladies haidresser to look after the W.A.A.F. personel There was not enough accommodation to cope with eveyone, so the local people were forced to take many of us into thier homes and I was placed with the superintendant of the local Parks and Gardens. We got on fine after the initial tention was overcome.
Herr VOIGHT whose salon it had preiously been, seemed to bear no ill will towards me and we were to become very dear friends before very long. As I said earlier the salon was located to the rear and was part of the lower floor of the Furstenhoff Hotel, which was built on a slope. This meant that the ground floor and the front entrance of the hotel were one floor higher, and that the salon's rear door opened into the HOTEL BASEMENT . The front entrance had a continous guard on duty and all persons entering or leaving, were searched and also booked in and out These circumstances could only lead to one thing ! The salon's rear door which became famously known as "THE BARBER'S BACK DOOR".
All of the senior officers visited the salon on a regular basis, usually at intervals of about two weeks and expected to have my personal attention. They were the bosses, so there was no alternative. If they came to the salon and left from the front entrance of the H.Q. for security and formality reasons they would have had to come the short distance round the end of the building, by car, with a guard and escort and in full dress. Needless to say they all considered this to be unacceptable. The solution was to use the famous Back Door.
Their P.A. usually an officer with the rank of no less than that of Flgt.Lt. would be sent round to the salon to make an appointment with me . Just before the agreed time I would clear the salon of all other customers, send the staff home. Lock up and after making sure that the place was spotless. I would sit and wait . I was not frequently kept waiting long. There would be a knock at the famous BACK DOOR, which I would unlock, allowing the officer to enter ( if the door had been unlocked when they arrived, I would have got a rollicking for neglecting security) Almost without exception the first thing that they did was to take off collar and tie, take off jacket, undo top button of their pants and exclaim, " Ha that's better!!!" By this time the service which I was able to offer was as wide ranging as any civilian salon so that more often than not we had quite a session and of course as happens in all barbers shops, we talked, this made life very very interesting, and the atmosphere was very relaxed.
This was the main reason why the Barbers Back Door became so well known. Even MONTY passed through on one occasion.(Secretly of course) Not only V.I.P' s used the door, but lots of other people and many objects, of which I MUST NOT SAY ANY MORE.
To fully understand the relationships which developed and for me to avoid sounding big headed and so that it won't seem as if I am romancing, I must explain a little about the nature of hairdressing. In order to be any good as a hairdresser, anyone taking up the profession must learn the skills of conversation, and also work very hard in order to make themselves liked and trusted. Coming from a family of hairdressers these qualities were instilled into me long before I acquired my craftsmanship skills. It makes no difference how good a craftsman you become, if your customers do NOT like you they will not come back to you. Having worked hard to make themselves popular a Hairdresser becomes everything from a father confessor to being the centre of their own little community. This was no less so in the R.A.F. than it was in civvies street and also applied no matter what a persons rank was. I like to think therefore that most of the personnel (including the W.A.A.F) thought of me as a friend.
As things got more settled everyone gave most of their efforts towards making a better social life. We started to get both local and U.K leave. We had sports, entertainment, weekly dances, ice skating when the weather was cold enough ( we flooded the tennis courts) We even had a Brass Band playing in the band stand in the park across from the entrance to my salon. Life became very pleasant again
I applied for UK leave and was dissapointed to be told that I could only have leave, when Sir Shalto, took his leave. Dissapointment turned to joy later when being told that he was due to go and that I was to travel with him on his Personal aircraft, which was a much modified - luxuriouse Dekota.
The day of departure came: Together wth his battman his P.A. and His driver. We were told to be on board before he arrived this we did and got an inside view of the departure cerimonial. The Aircrew together with all the senior officers lined up alongide the wing of the Dakota awaiting his arrival, when he came they all came to attention and salluted. Sir Shalto then shook hands with each of them and then came aboard. The steps were removed, the door closed, Sir passed down to his armchair seat, unbuttoning his tunic as he went and uttering the now familliar phrese "AH THAT'S BETTER.."
We flew into Stanstead airfield. Where we had to meet ten days later for our return, the same ceremonial procedures were observed all over again I could not help but feel very privileged and excited to be included in all this.
I took a while to settle down, after leave in the U.K, but I was kept very busy, which helped. Whilst I had been away educational programs had been introduced, so I enrolled to study French and German, for although by now I could speak them reasonably well, I was not grammatically good, and as I had made such good friends both in Brussels and Badd Eilsen. I wanted to be able to keep in touch by writing. These studies took up three evenings per week and with the dance on Friday nights, I had a full life again.
It was as I was on my way to one of these dances I was walking towards the village hall where they were held, when I came upon an Airman and a W.A.F.F. who were conversing on the pavement, As I reached them the airman stopped me and asked if I was going to the dance. I replied "Yes I was" He then said that the girl he was talking to, was new to our unit, and that she did not know where the hall was, and asked if she could tag along. We introduced ourselves and off we trotted. I thought that-my new found friend was one of the most refreshingly BEAUTIFUL and smartly presented W.A.F.F.s that I had come across, (and I Knew them all ) She wore no make up, she did not need it, she had a wonderfully fresh complexion,with just a few freckles across the bridge of her nose. Her hair which was styled perfectly with a roll that fitted neatly around and under the base of her hat. Her uniform was very clean and well pressed, and she looked immaculate.
Naturally we danced ! With her being a new comer she did not know anyone at the dance and I stayed with her until the last waltz, Following which I just had to show her back to her billet. Didn't I ? I had suddenly found out where "Cloud Nine was"
We arranged to meet again--and again --- and again--- and again--- There was a very large oak tree a few yards to the front of my salon. When I returned from my evening classes. I would find her waiting for me under the tree. I could not get back fast enough. This could only mean one thing. We were definitely in love. As time passed we became inseparable and by now demobilisation had begun so that we started to wonder about what was going to happen to us.
The time for demob depended on ones age coupled to ones length of service, and as I had six and a half years plus a week or so. It looked as if I would soon have to leave my "EDNA" who had about four and a half years service and was a year younger than me. Fate came to my rescue. If the needs of the service decreed, key personnel could have their demob delayed by up to six months. At the discretion of the C.O. Air Vice Marshall Hopps so decreed. AT the same time offering to find me a job at the Officers Outfitters together with a flat in London. So that he could have his haircut by me when he was there. I was glad of the delay ( Edna was worth it). The job in London -I was not too sure about.
To fully appreciate what follows, I must say a little about Edna's background. Edna was a highly skilled stenographer and almost from the beginning of her service, she worked directly for Gen Eisenhower at his headquarters, in London, and in no small way helped in the planning of OPERATION OVERLORD. I say in no small way, because for her efforts she was awarded the "OAK LEAF" ( mentioned in despatches) and you don't get this for nothing!!!
After coming to Badd Eilsen she worked in the same capacity for all the senior high ranking officers, from Sir Sholto down. This meant that she was, if anything, more at home with the top brass than I was myself, and I know for a fact that her work and her understanding for confidentiality was greatly appreciated. Our combined unique relationships with our officers helps to explain the very special treatment which we received during our last weeks in the R.A.F..
We had agreed that we wished to get married but we were not sure what to do; wait until we were demobbed and get married at home or try to get married before our demob, there were difficulties in both options.
Perhaps the largest obstacle to be faced, for a U.K. wedding was one of cost. I had acquired quite a large sum of German marks, received from my tips in the salon, Which I would not be able to change into sterling, but I would be free to spend it in Germany So we agreed to investigate the chances of getting married at Badd Eilsen
The big problem was that no one from the services had married in Germany before this We visited the Orderly office and perused Kings regulations, the first thing we had to do was to obtain our respective C.O.s permission, this we did with some trepidation, we were told to "Come back later in the week."
When we did go back we were flabbergasted to have the whole affair taken completely out of our hands. We were to be given a wedding beyond our wildest dreams. and all the arrangements and costs were taken care of for us. The only cost I had to bear was the purchase of the rings (Which I obtained for a pound of coffee from a local jeweller)
Sir SHOLTO loaned us his staff car resplendent with a Group Captain as door man and two R.A.F. Police on motor cycles as outriders. Edna left for the wedding from my good friend Herr Voigt's Home (a very large house on the hillside). She was dressed in a lovely white wedding gown with a veil and head-dress loaned to her by Herr Voigt's daughter The wedding ceremony took place at the Schloss in BUCKEBURG. With virtually the whole unit attending
Edna's friend ELSIE was her bridesmaid and Edna's brother Norman. Who was in the Army was flown out from the U.K. In order to give her away The RECEPTION this was in the largest room that could be found, there was seating and food for over two hundred (but this was exceeded and people were standing all over the place). The flowers for the bouquets and decorations ( of which there were masses ) were provided by the Parks and Gardens manager, whose home I was staying in.
Materials for the cake, champaign, wine an other booze, were flown in from Paris, and a very good time was had by all, including all our German friends who were readily accepted by everyone
We had booked a week in Brussels for our honeymoon. A reserved compartment was arranged for us on the train and the whole unit came to the station to see us off the railway station was packed solid with people shouting and waving and still guzzling champers
We returned from Brussels a week later to be told that our demobs had come through and that we were to leave within a few days We departed on the same train but had to change trains halfway. EDNA going via Calais and I via the Hook of Holland, we were very glad to meet again in London. It was an anxious time being parted so soon, but we had such a lot to remember, that the time flew past .
The one disappointment in all of this was that we left so many friends behind and over the years we have lost touch.
Edna and I have now been married for coming up to fifty seven years and it only seems like yesterday to us. Hardly a day goes by that one of us will say "Do you remember.."
Who said that Wartime Romances don't last!
Best Wishes to all who read any of these lines.
Bill Stafford. (L.A.C. Barber)
Read about Edna's War experiences below:
Edna's Secret War
The war had been raging somewhere for three years, when one day in 1942 came the knowledge that soon I would have to register for some sort of National Service and in some way help by "doing my bit". So on the same day of my registration I volunteered for the W.A.A.F. this being my choice then, though I must say that Nursing came a very close second and as my alternative should there be no vacancies in the W.A.A.F.
The morning of 2nd September 1942, found me leaving home with suitcase and papers, and in my head, words of wisdom ringing, which had been poured into me from all sources. I then proceeded on my way to begin a life, which was to give me more experience than I ever dreamed - but first comes the training having been accepted into the Service. Together with half-a-dozen other girls, I reported at Croydon Centre where we received instructions to proceed to Paddington Station. There we met others and eventually arrived at our first WAAF Training Station. This was BRIDGENORTH in SALOP. The whole town was, and is very pretty and provided some picturesque walks if one was so inclined and had time in between the eternal "spit and polish", - the issue of kit, queuing for meals - inoculations, trade tests and the many other formalities of becoming a WAAF. During the four days there I met many "types" of girls and was surprised to find how easily a stranger confided in a ready listener. On the fourth morning we were up early, if not bright, at 4.00 am and by 9 o'clock we were all sitting on a train bound for Morecambe.
MORCAMBE, like all other coastal resorts, I found very entertaining when the sun was shining, so we were very much unimpressed when greeted with torrents of rain, but we forgot this in the excitement of unpacking our newly acquired kit and sorting ourselves out in the boarding house, which was to be our billet. My friend Vera and I shared a rather small but neat comfortable and adequate room, furnished in the sparse but usual RAF manner. This was to be our 3 weeks training period at the end of which each one of us would know where our ultimate job would be. In due course we each had interviews with the WAAF Officer and 10 days after our arrival, my name was suddenly called out during a lecture and I was told by the N.C.O. to be packed and ready by the following morning for a posting to the War Room, Whitehall, London. I can recall how the awed whispers spread around the room but strange though it may seem I never went near the War Room, Whitehall, let alone work there, but those girls with whom I joined the WAAF were posted there. In time I saw and chatted with them and from what I was told I considered myself lucky that there had been a last minute change of posting me to the Air Ministry Unit, London, rather than to the War Room, Whitehall, London. During the time from September 1942 until February 1943 I was billeted at A.M.U. Hallam Street, London where I shared a room with another girl. As my home was then in North Cheam, Surrey - having a few months earlier moved from 21 Rhodesia Road, Stockwell, about 5 miles from the centre of London, life was quite pleasant as on a number of weekends, and sometimes on an odd evening, I was able to get home.
When war broke out on the 3rd September, 1939 we lived in Rhodesia Rd. Stockwell I was then a young teenager and working at my first job in the Advertising Dept. of Head Office of W.H.Smith & Son, - Strand House, off Kingsway. We were often bombed and it was a ritual on arriving home from work to change into "night gear" of trousers, jumpers etc. as it was assumed that there would be very little sleep. A mile away on Clapham Common there were 4 anti-aircraft gums, and when they fired the ground shook. We watched many "dog fights" taking place over London, as with our house being 3 storeys with an attic at the top, it was a good place to look at the air-battles. My elder brother, some months later, worked away in the building trade, going to Scotland and Ireland and my younger brother, who also went into the building trade from school stayed at home until they both were called into the Army. Our mother did not feel happy to be so close to London and, as far as I recall, plans were made to live in North Cheam. By this time, our father was in the Army as he was called up as he was on the Reserve from the First World War. My mother's fears were realized when in March 1944 a 1000 lb. Bomb landed practically on our house. Many of our former neighbours and friends were killed. Often delayed action bombs were dropped and on one occasion I remember lying fully dressed under the bedclothes hearing and feeling the bombs dropping and when the "All Clear" sounded, to find the doors blown off, windows out and the smell of cordite which filled the air. Often we have crouched by the side of buildings; after the raids people of course would be out seeing what damage had been done and it was often amazing the lucky escapes that some people had - parts of houses could have crumbled and yet a person could be heard calling and after digging and pulling away the bricks, he or she would walk away without any serious injury; others were not so fortunate.
Our father was a Military Man. In the First World War he was awarded the Military Medal. He was in the Heavy Artillery and served at Ypres and on the Somme in France. He had also spent some time in the Merchant Navy and overall had led a very interesting life and I liked hearing him tell his tales. Between 1939 and 1948 he was stationed at various places in England and for most of his Army life, in the period of time, he was in the Royal Electrical Mechanical Engineers. He was stationed at Old Dalby, Kettering and Melton Mowbray and on one of my home leaves I spent a weekend with him when he was at Melton Mowbray.
My elder brother, Norman, was originally drafted into a Regiment in Scotland as he was then in Scotland when he was called up. However, later he was drafted into the Air Formation Signal Corp and served in Europe until he was demobbed. We met up in Germany in the early summer of 1946 when he was able to "give me away" upon getting married in June 1946. But more about that later on. My younger brother Geoff was drafted into the Royal Army Ordinance Corp in January 1945 and in early 1946 was posted to South East Asia Command (known as SEAC) and spent some months in Singapore, and other places in India and the Far East. We were therefore, all in the Forces and of course our mother waited eagerly for our various letters so that she would know, as far as could be allowed, where we were. Geoff was demobbed in 1947.
Whilst I was stationed at the Air Ministry Unit in London, I had to take what was called "A trade test" and upon passing I was told by our lady Warrant Officer (W/O McIntyre) to report to a place called "Norfolk House". She told me it would be a very special job involving secrecy of some importance as the highest of the officers of all Services would, at times, be seen. Although I did not know it at that particular time, I knew it would be very interesting work and I looked forward to reporting for duty. W/O McIntyre was a very pleasant lady, standing about 5' 6" tall, greying hair but always extremely smart and for someone to be in charge of so many girls, she was very popular and well liked. She told me that one of her sons was also in the RAF. I was sad to leave her. The 6 months spent at AMU were very happy ones and I found myself attached to Gen. Eisenhower's H.Q. along with a few others. We received the best of both worlds, as apart from having our own British NAAFI rations, we also received some "goodies" from the American P.X. Every three weeks we used to receive a small carrier bag filled with tinned fruit and other goods, which were not available outside. My mother looked forward to those particular weekends when I returned home with my carrier bag. During the time I was at AMU in Hallam St. London, practically all my spare time at the Unit was spent playing table tennis. There was an RAF P.T. Sgt. known as Sgt. Atkins and he taught me really how to play. Over the year I enjoyed many games and although at times I tried his patience in perfecting certain arm and wrist movements, he was rewarded by seeing me beat some of the men who used to stand by the side of the table asking me if I had a hole in my bat. It was great fun.
Upon arriving at Norfolk House I was provided with a Security pass and I found myself one of six WAAFs in the typing pool. Our NCO was a Cpl. Pam Hanford. I had been interviewed by a Sqdn. Officer who told me that all the work which I - along with the other Shorthand/Typists - would b doing would be extremely secret, there was the necessity of being sworn to secrecy and that I would not be released from that responsibility until much later on. Within a few days, it became apparent that the invasion plans were being dealt with and over the months that followed, the work became more and more intense, working extremely long hours, often well into the early hours of the morning, and back again at 9.00 a.m. We often said amongst ourselves that if we had time enough to piece together all our notes, - as we did not always work for the same officers or sections, there would have been a very interesting picture. Of course we never did - plans were made, scrapped and remade, until eventually the day everyone had been waiting for, arrived - D.D. of 6th June 1944.
Norfolk House, to us all remains a pleasant memory and those of us who met up again overseas often recalled the hours spent in the building - the pressure of work - but none of us would have changed our circumstances. The building was guarded by the RAF Regiment who were pitched in the middle of St. James's Square. We all agreed that the officers, for whom we were privileged to work, were the best. Most of them had been aircrew, which obviously had a great deal to do with their personalities. Most of them had been in air battles and had suffered but despite their injuries each longed to be back in the air again and not doing a desk job - but what was to be, was to be. Sometimes they were very trying, and of course a great deal of responsibility lay on their shoulders. We often saw Gen. Eisenhower, Gen. Montgomery A/C/M. Tedder. I recall on one occasion being called into the office of A/C/M. Leigh-Mallory, his Personal Assistant was away for a short while and I found myself taking dictation from him. He was a man who dictated with a pipe in his mouth and looking out of the window. Obviously he was in deep thought but it did not make it easy to take shorthand when listening. More hours were spent in Norfolk House than anywhere else, and after a time, when we arrived back at the billet in the early hours of the morning, those of us who had to travel to and from Norfolk House, were moved to another place of residence known as St. Regis, in Cork St., Piccadilly, London. I soon became friendly with a girl named Elsie Foreman, and we remained close friends even though we went separate ways when going abroad to France. We met up again at Rheims in France. Also at St Regis there were many airmen, including members of the Free French Air Force as well as a few Polish airmen.
As Norfolk House was secret and well guarded by the RAF Regiment we each had special passes and each of us became privileged to wear the SHAEF emblems on our uniforms as we were attached to General Eisenhower's H.Q. SHAEF stood for Supreme Headquarters, Allied Expeditionary Force and we often saw high-ranking officers such as Gen. Montgomery, Gen. Eisenhower and others, which I will deal with later on. Norfolk House will bring back very many pleasant memories, not only of the interesting work which we were engaged in doing, but of the people themselves. The officers, although on a tiring job, often found time to crack a joke or pass some comment to somebody else, especially when one of us was in for dictation. The one person who was the favourite amongst us was a certain G/Capt. Tom P. Gleave. Everyone liked and respected him. In some ways he was a forgetful man but everyone made allowances for him as he had and was still suffering from terrible burns when he was shot down in a "dog fight". He was in the Battle of Britain and was shot down over the Kentish coast. He sustained severe burns all over his body and this resulted in him being disfigured - and yet - somehow one did not notice this. I remember the first time I met him - it was my turn to answer the next bell in the typing pool and he indicated that he wanted some work doing. He was one of a few officers in this very large room and as I was about to open the door he opened it from the other side and said "Are you the typist I've just rung for - take a seat at the top desk and I'll be back". He wrote a book called "I had a row with a German" and having known him personally and worked for him, as did other typists, subconsciously when reading his book one could add more details and imagination. A Club was formed called "The Guinea Pig Club" which consisted of Air crew who had been burned in battle and he is the Chief Guinea Pig. A great surgeon who carried out operations and plastic surgery was called "Archi McIndoe" and because of his great work, experimenting here and there on the victims, they were known as "McIndoes Guinea Pigs". Although one found oneself working for high ranking officers and no matter if one was the lowest of ranks, without exception both Army, Naval and RAF personnel, would always acknowledge one, and a mere typist was never ignored - after all - where would they be if a typist wasn't around.
As I have said, it was generally appreciated that the working hours were very long and often we used to go to the office at Norfolk House for 8.30 am break off for lunch for about an hour or whatever time could be spared, and finally leave again in the early hours, having made do with some snack for tea. At first it was tiring but somehow one became used to it and I personally found that to have three or four hours sleep every night was sufficient. However, one cannot altogether cheat nature and later on the strain began to tell. Slight, really silly mistakes occurred in the typing - people became short-tempered both amongst the officers because there were insufficient typists, until towards the nearing of D.Day, when more typists were called in. I used to look forward to the weekend, simply to catch up on some sleep but we survived….. As new girls arrived, so each Section was allocated one typist, and I found myself working for the Intelligence Section whether that was a good thing - there must have been some doubts along the road.
The Group Capt. in charge of this Section was a very trying man but I liked working for him. He was one of those people who would say he would be back at a certain time in the evening, - ask that I wait for him in case he wanted to dictate something, only to arrive back about 2 or 3 hours later and simply enquire why I was still waiting for him. He was not very popular amongst the typists but he certainly tested my own patience. I remained with him from February 1943 until September 1944 when I left England to go to France. This particular Group Captain (G/C Urmston) had lost an arm but had an artificial one. Apart from officially being shorthand typists, we were often asked to "clean the buttons" and I recall one of the typists, who was a bit squeamish, being called into his office, as the rest of us thought, to take dictation. Suddenly the bell went again and I was sent along, only to find on opening his office door, that the WAAF typist was on the floor in a faint because he had unscrewed his arm - slipped his jacket off before asking her to polish up the buttons. Needless to say - after the initial surprise, everyone in the pool had a good laugh. "Don't send in that girl again", he said.
It was generally known that in March of 1944 there was to be a move to Kingston on Thames, where Gen. Eisenhower had moved to. This was in readiness for D.Day. At that time the organisation was known as Allied Expeditionary Air Force (A.E.A.F.) and Gen. Eisenhower was Supreme Commander or rather Supreme Allied Commander of the A.E.A.F. in Europe and he was responsible for Operation Overlord, which was the code name for the Invasion plans. Gen. Eisenhower's H.Q. was known as S.H.A.E.F. and we all felt very proud to be able to wear his "Flash" on our uniforms. This presented itself as a shield with a black background signifying Hitler's oppression of people and in the middle was depicted the "Sword of Liberation". Air Chief Marshall Sir Arthur Tedder was at one time Air Officer C in C. Middle East but at the end of 1943 he became Deputy Supreme Commander to Gen. Eisenhower.
On the 16th March 1944 G/C Urmston, an RAF Corporal, an American Air Force Captain and myself proceeded on our way from London to Bushey Park, Kingston on Thames. We happened to be the first Section to install itself there so the girls I had left behind were waiting to hear from me, about the place. I was very happy to be in Kingston, as I had cousins living there and also it was about half an hour's journey to my home in North Cheam. There was an atmosphere of excitement about the place. The Americans had soon got the place organized and they certainly knew how to look after the welfare of the personnel. Everyone agreed, British and Americans that Kingston was a good place to be stationed. I think there might have been mixed feelings about the civilians of Kingston as to whether they thought it was such a good idea as of course, Kingston was swamped with mainly Americans. Gen. Eisenhower actually lived in a large house on the outskirts of Kingston. One of the most impressive sights that I shall always remember and connect with Bushey Park was the American Band, with the "flash" of SHAEF emblazoned on the drum - and that drummer knew how to make a lot of noise. Every evening at 6 o'clock both the American and British flags were taken down from their masts, by 3 Military Policemen, complete with white gloves and spats and the Union Jack was taken down by 3 Guardsmen.
There was of course secrecy about what was happening within the Park but with the press everyone sensed that the much talked about Second Front was soon to commence - but when it did so on that Tuesday morning of 6th June 1944, it came as a surprise. There was much activity within the camp and all day communiqués were read out over the tannoy system surrounding the camp, which enabled us to hear how Operation Overlord was progressing. We sat on our bunks thinking over the volumes of typing we had each done and now it was happening, especially when we heard place names being given in the news bulletins. Within two years, after so many years of planning victory was achieved, not only of the Germans but also over the Japanese, but what crimes - humiliation - bombings- degradation - poverty - slaughter of people - had taken place in those years - on both sides of the English Channel - but far worse in Europe. The merging of the various Forces, Americans - British - Canadians, eventually driving the Germans back to their own capital with British Troops entering Berlin.
Whilst at Bushey Park I saw famous men and leaders of the Forces both British Officers and Generals as well as members of the British Government and without exception, if any High ranking officer happened to be coming towards one - they always spoke when acknowledging the salute given them. It meant a lot to each of us who had such experiences. It is impossible to describe everything that happened during the time spent there - but there were also raids and in particular the "doodle-bugs" were sent over and more than one fell into the Park. With the doodle-bugs - which were Hitler's latest weapon - one could see them, apart from hearing their own peculiar noise - as there was a ball of flame at the tail end and when the engine cut out - then it was time to fling oneself onto the ground and at the same time look to see where the "plane" was coming down. I'm sure the townsfolk of Kingston on Thames were quite accustomed to seeing the SHEAF flash everywhere and to have American M.Ps. riding round the road in jeeps, especially when the Camp was to be honoured by a visit from a V.I.P. i.e. Monty - Mr Churchill. On one occasion King George VI paid a visit - Mr. Atlee and Mr Eden also attending, and on another occasion the Free French Army General - General Leclerc attended. Of course Gen. De Gaulle was a Colonel commanding a French Tank Brigade when Germany invaded France - he escaped to London where he proclaimed himself head of the Free French, and in a few months was commanding thousands of troops. They both returned to France in triumph after D.Day and General De Gaulle was elected President.
Our own Air Chief Marshall, Sir Arthur Tedder had his office in one of the huts and it was quite a common occurrence to see him driving his own little blue and cream sports car, with four prominent stars in front signifying his high rank and authority - around the camp. Of course there were guards but somehow one did not feel intimidated by them. During the period from March until June 1944 we had the opportunity to volunteer for overseas duty, as the Headquarters were going over at a later date. Naturally the majority of us volunteered, as we wanted to stay with Gen. Eisenhower's H.Q. and our own Section. The stipulation was that each person had to be 21 years, and of course, some of the girls were bitterly disappointed at being too young.
My friend Elsie went down to Portsmouth - as did our favourite officer- G/Capt. Tom Gleave, and during the first two weeks in August 1944 flew to France. They were some of the first girls to go overseas and it was all very exciting. The rest of us waited eagerly for the first steps to be taken for us to be on our way. Here I would like to say a few words about Elsie, within a few minutes of meeting her one could tell she was basically a happy girl with a pleasant disposition and I never tired of being in her company. We had lots of fun together. She could be described as Petite with dark brown hair framing her small face, rosy cheeks and twinkling eyes with a flawless complexion. Being of small stature she inclined to sometimes being "overweight" according to her, and on one occasion I recall her standing in front of the mirror congratulating herself on becoming thinner when only a few days previously she was complaining that her skirt was tight. One could always rely on Elsie entering into the spirit of any adventure that presented itself and her friendship was highly valued. Although we went separate routes abroad, we met up again in France.
On the 2nd July 1944, another friend Iris who came to work for the Intelligence Section soon after our arrival at Bushey Park, Kingston, and myself, together with some officers and a couple of airmen, were transported to Stanmore, Middlesex - Bentley Priory. We did not want to go as we had heard several rumours about the place; however, on arriving and after the necessary reporting, we were informed that we were to be billeted in private homes. Also as these billets were some distance from the camp, we were issued with bicycles. This of course changed our attitude and I was quite looking forward to meeting my landlady. That evening we went to meet our respective landladies. We walked down the road and the houses looked very nice and in some cases quite large. My address was the first one we came to and on knocking the door was opened by a lady called Mrs Rogers. After formal introductions she showed me my room and was introduced to her husband. Immediately I felt that I was lucky and the following few months were happy ones. They did not have any children of their own and may have been wondering what sort of person was going to occupy a room in their house. We then left to go to see the home where Iris would be. This was opposite Mrs Rogers and was a very large imposing type of house standing in its own grounds. They were the first civilian billets that either of us had been into and I don't think I could ever have wished for a better one. They looked upon me as a daughter and were very interested in getting me ready to go overseas. It was a comforting thought when on the camp, that in the evening I would be returning to them. Iris was also happy in her new home and often in the evenings, Mr & Mrs Rogers would take the two of us for a cycle ride around the countryside. After about two months or so, G/Capt. Urmston told me that I was about to go overseas to Versailles. From then on I could have as much time off as I wished. He also told me that a certain G/Capt. Humphreys was "over there" acting as the Chief Intelligence Officer and that it was very probable that I would find myself on his staff, and possibly as his typist. Things were moving……
On the morning of 21st September, 1944 I was bundled into a lorry with my overseas kit and eventually found myself on Heaton airfield. This was being run by the Americans. About 12.30 p.m. after being "fed and watered" we boarded a plane and took off. The day was very sunny and clear and as we flew, the American Officer who was sitting next to me and who had made the journey may times, pointed out various landmarks and on looking down and about me, I realised that something on the ground, i.e. vehicles, people, could easily be seen and that any enemy aircraft would have little difficulty in observing a target, unless it be under the ground or well camouflaged. Eventually we touched down at Orly airfield for refuelling and arrived at Versailles at 5 o'clock - after half-an-hour road journey. Having heard that the girls who had previously come across were moving into Versailles that day, I naturally made my first job one of looking for Elsie and sure enough after a few enquiries, I found her in one of the barracks, which originally belonged to the French Artillery. These had only recently been evacuated by the Germans and consequently they were not in a very good state of cleanliness. Mattresses were unclean and we suffered.
Versailles is unique in itself and I enjoyed my time there. Needless to say we went many times in to Paris. Versailles Palace about which so much has already been written in history books as being the place in which the Treaty of the first World War was signed, is a wonderful building and as one strolled through the numerous rooms in which there were so many paintings of interest, one inwardly marvelled that such beauty came about from someone's imagination and work. Obviously in different parts of the world some people may think other buildings are more wonderful and artistic but I can only talk about my own experience. There were two barracks, one on either side of the main road, which led into Paris. We were billeted in one of these, know as the "Petit Ecurie" and although we were crowded, it was fun and on the whole people were happy. We stayed for a few weeks and then we were moved round the corner to some other barracks. Some coloured men, called "Darkies" were stationed in the adjoining barracks and they often caused some excitement. Once they must have decided that life was becoming dull, so one evening they formed themselves into groups and attacked the gendarmes with the result that all the female personnel were escorted home by soldiers and airmen armed with sten guns etc. We were still under the command of the Americans so this meant that we dined in the WAC mess. The food was very good even though most of it appeared to be tinned. We enjoyed it and had no complaints. I shared a room above the stables, with four other girls. There were two double bunks and a single camp bed. Elsie and I shared one double but she was on the top and many laughs were had at her expense as she was shot and pushed onto her bed.
Shopping in Versailles was reasonable as it was quite a large place. There was one store rather on the lines of an English "Woolworths" with lots of odd little things to sell. About 10 minutes walk away we had our offices. These offices were in the "Trianon Hotel" which was very palatial and Gen. Eisenhower also had an office apart from his "caravan" standing in the grounds. One's feet sunk into plush carpets, and each office had a small bathroom attached. It was a pleasure to go to the office and in the lunchtime break there was a small coach driven by a Frenchman to transport us back to the billets. Often we saw Gen. Eisenhower and he never seemed to mind being asked to stand by the high gates for a snap to be taken. He and Air Chief Marshal Sir. A Tedder had their respective offices on the first floor, with the office of Gen. Spaatz close by. Outside each office on guard stood a Military Policeman all "spic and span" with white gloves, white belt with brass all ashine, and white spats over highly polished boots. Next to our Intelligence Office was the American Photographic Section. During the time spent there, one or two ceremonial parades were held, with the British Guards bringing up the rear of the American M.Ps. Although the Americans were smart, the British Guards were far more militaristic in their dress and marching, and to see them obey an order as one man was indeed a sight to remember. We all felt very proud of them.
Paris being only half-an-hour's journey away I eagerly awaited my first visit to that great City, famous for its fashions, architecture, designs, beautiful jewellery, and of course, theatres and its night life. Although the war was not over there seemed to be plenty of entertainment. Paris was termed as being "off limits" and we were controlled as to when and where we could go. This was due to minor disturbances and "check-ups" for deserters, both American and British. I shall never forget my first trip into Paris as I did it in a fashion, which had not been planned. Buses were organised to convey service personnel from Versailles to Paris and these were supposed to run every half hour, but on this particular day, something unforeseen had occurred to prevent the bus turning up. After waiting for some time, my friend and I, together with others decided to hitch a lift. After standing on the road "thumbing" a lift a lorry came along. Several of the men climbed on the tailboard and then realised that there were one or two girls who also wanted a lift, but the thought of undoing the back of the lorry to make things easier never entered their heads. So we began to struggle aboard in a most ungainly manner. Service skirts were never made to be stretched and certainly not to allow for being hauled over the back of a lorry. Strangely it was not my skirt, which came to grief but the knees of my stockings, for having attained the precarious position of hanging half on and half out of the lorry, I was unceremoniously hauled inside resulting in my knees scraping over the tailboard. My friends looked at me with sad expressions on their faces, but really they were laughing. After a bumpy journey we arrived at the other side of Paris and my first thought was to darn or patch up the holes across my knees as best as I could, as I felt so embarrassed and that I was "letting the side down". British Service girls were of course a novelty, causing many inquisitive glances. We strolled down one street and I noticed a French lady standing at her door. Going up to her, I pointed to my knees and indicated if she had any wool or thread. Immediately she took us inside and out came the mending basket and I was able to mend my stockings. She was so pleased to help and of course, I was extremely grateful that no longer would I spend time in Paris feeling embarrassed.
As we walked through various streets, gazing here and there, marvelling at some of the buildings, my interest was held chiefly by the women. To look at them one would not have thought that the Country and City had been under German rule for so long. I expected to see possibly more signs of hardship. Of course there were signs of German occupation, both physically and mentally, but on the whole, Paris looked quite bright. Credit must of course, be given to the French people as once Paris had been liberated then everyone was trying to make up for lost time, and the women were wearing, what appeared to me, to be the most ridiculous of hats and clothes but this was very likely reflecting their happiness to wear clothes which possibly had been hidden whilst under German rule, and it made them feel good. From what I saw dresses were to the knee, stockings, high heeled shoes but in the wedge-shape design - small tailored jacket, scarf or coloured neckerchief. Hair was either piled up on top or hanging loose, with a hat perched at an angle over one eye. Some of the ladies, and I thought these to be the slightly "older ones" wore turbans wound round the head to a depth of about 6 inches and some had tassels hanging either down the back or at the side - others decided that a few flowers looked attractive. The French women found round the markets were to be seen with laced hats made in the style of a funnel and tied under the chin and this made quite a contrast to the blackness of their full skirts, which seemed to hide countless pockets. The perfumery counters in the large shops were well stocked and it was a pleasure to walk round. Necklaces of all descriptions, watches, bracelets, pendants, millinery designs, etc. were all there. Artificial silk night-dresses decorated shop windows, but on service pay, £10 for such an article was too much. Trips into Paris were taken as often as possible, usually on our day off.
In December 1944 the Arnhem drop took place, which unfortunately did not go as planned and a great many lives were lost. We still worked at Hotel Trianon and one day an airman from the Armament Section came into the office with a rifle. He laid it down on the Wing Commander's desk and said it was to be used in an emergency. We saw the humorous side of this and somebody hurriedly wrote on a piece of paper "One rifle between six of us - thank heaven there's no more of us" and pinned it on to the wall, where in deed the rifle was hung. The situation was unbelievable.
Casualties from the offensive were arriving at the Military Hospital about three or four miles away. We collected our books and magazines, saved some of our rations to make up Christmas parcels for the troops. Christmas that year was white and I remember lying on the bunk on Christmas eve, 1944, listening to the carols being played and sung and of course, thinking of home, as indeed we all were. One evening we were taken to the hospital to see the patients. They were delighted to see us and appreciated what we had taken them, no matter how small we felt them to be. We stayed with them for as long as we could - and either played cards, or table tennis, but some were only able to lie in their beds.
In November of 1944, news was received that one of our greatest men, Sir Trafford Leigh Mallory, was missing on a flight to take up his new appointment in the East. For days telephone bells rang, and eventually news was given that he had lost his life. In 1946 a memorial service was held in Westminster Abbey in London, for him; I could only recall the time of seeing him at Norfolk House. Prior to his posting out East, and with the aid of his Personal Assistant, Lady Freeman, he had the task of writing the history of Fighter Command, and many pages were written well into the early hours of the morning.
Christmas Eve. 1944, was spent with some of my friends in a little café, and as I have already said, after lying on our bunks, about 12.30 a.m. on Christmas morning, we could hear carols being sung. It was a lovely crisp night so I got out of bed to see what was going on, and in the barrack square a V.W.C.A. van was parked from which records were being played. It gave me a feeling of home sickness as I know that my mother was thinking of my older brother and me, both being abroad. Elsie came into the room and we sat talking. Christmas morning in the office was busy, as reports on bombing missions still had to be presented to the "Chiefs". When I arrived in my office, I was touched to find a bottle of perfume given to me by the Officers in the Section. The Wing Commander managed to produce some Champagne from somewhere and at one time I had 3 glasses on my desk, which I had to drink one after the other. I think they were all waiting to see the result, but they were disappointed. Christmas lunch, as per the usual custom, meant that the Officers waited on "the other ranks" so the Air Commodore told me to get into his car, and drove me back to the mess. There was a great deal of fun and it was a comical sight to see the officers, no matter what their rank - with little aprons tied round them acting as "waiters". Of course there was always the funny one… Over the Christmas there was no such thing as "time limits", as there were dances and parties, apart from little groups of people celebrating by themselves in cafes. Altogether, Christmas 1944 was very enjoyable.
In early February 1945 rumours were going around that we could be on the move and on the morning of 19th February 1945, we were up early and in a convoy bound for Rheims. We arrived about 3 p.m. feeling very tired and dirty, but after a wash and something to eat, we were looking upon the journey as another experience. Rheims is a dusty town, due I was told, to the fine earth making it particularly suitable for vineyards and as a result being looked upon as the centre of the Champagne Industry. There is also a lovely Cathedral built in 1241 but which suffered fire damage in 1481, after rebuilding it, it is still considered one of the most beautiful works of the Middle Ages, with many Royal ceremonies having been conducted within its walls. Naturally we went to the Champagne factory and as we left, each of us was presented with a bottle. The Americans fitted up beer gardens where we could spend an evening dancing etc. as at that time, it was considered unsafe for service girls to go out alone after dark.
There were hundreds of German prisoners stationed in camps near by and every evening they were marched to their tea, which meant them passing over the local rail bridge below our windows. They seemed never ending, and to look down on them from the office windows, the comment was "where was the so-called "Master race". Also in the town were numerous coloured Americans and they were put in charge of the prisoners.
We did not stay long in this part of France but the time spent there was indeed interesting for, as the world knows, the war ended on the 8th May 1945. There was great activity going on - the various armies were moving quickly forward to Berlin - Russians, Americans and British. As at the commencement of the Second Front people were wondering how long before things began to happen, so everyone was wondering how long it would be before the Germans conceded defeat. Towards the end of April 1945 and the first few days of May 1945, German Officers could be seen visiting "the Little Red School" in Rheims. American M.P's and the RAF. S.P's guarded all doors and entrances and one could not pass in or out without a careful scrutiny of one's pass. There was an air of excitement about the place and word was passed around that some very high ranking officers were expected at the school. In the early hours of the morning, the German Army Chief of Staff, General Jodl, had surrendered to Gen. Montgomery and other officers, such as Gen Bedell Smith who was Dep. To Gen. Eisenhower, and his chief of Staff. What had taken place in the early hours of the morning of 7th May 1945 was to be read about in the newspapers in some detail. In the afternoon however, Gen. Jodl arrived, together with Admiral Doenitz, and I understand, Admiral Friedeburg. There was also a Russian Officer looking very smart in his mauve uniform with polished belt and buttons, and gold braided epaulettes on his shoulders. As each officer came into the building so they were saluted by the Military Police and this was acknowledged. Gen. Eisenhower and A/C/M. Tedder were also around but it was not until later that they met up with Gen. Jodl and Admiral Friedeburg. Gen. Jodl was dressed in his impressive uniform which was accentuated by the wearing of highly polished black knee length boots. He was the German Chief of Staff throughout the War and months later he was convicted as a war criminal at the Nuremburg trials and hanged. After a few hours they began to leave the building and to avoid the crowds of interested civilians waiting outside, their respective cars drew up in the square at the rear of the school. Overlooking this square was a balcony and again we had a good view of what was taking place. Gen., Eisenhower and A/C/M. Tedder both were driven away and within a few minutes the Russian Officer left. Then a car with drawn blinds drew up and we could see the German Officers, with brief cases under their arms, being hustled into the car, and with a wail of sirens from their escorts, they vanished out of sight. It was a lovely sunny day and after they had all gone, we stood on the balcony talking about the day's events and whom we had seen. It was a day I shall never forget. When reading about the events of the previous 12 hours, it gave me a strange feeling to have been there at some part and to have witnessed some of the comings and goings. Signals were flashed to all parts of the world as the following day, the 8th May, was to be formally known as V.E. Day, with Mr Churchill making his speech from London and General De Gaulle to the French nation. Of course, His Majesty King George VI had spoken to the British Commonwealth. All that remained now was to try and get things sorted out which would be a problem in itself, but more particularly to have the war with the Japanese ended as quickly as possible. It was not over for the soldiers in the East who had and were suffering. The 8th May was another lovely day symbolic of Peace, so it seemed and as the hour of 3.00 pm drew near for his speech, groups of people, both indoors and out, gathered round any available wireless set. We were gathered in one of the offices and suddenly everyone became quiet. Our office overlooked the railway bridge and local streets, and I recall looking round at people close to me, catching the eyes of one or two, and it seemed as if the same expression of thankfulness and pleasure could be read in each, in a silent sort of way. Glancing out of the open window even the buildings seemed to reflect the atmosphere. Of course, as soon as Mr Churchill had told the world that the War in Europe had ended, whistles, sirens and anything that could make a noise was sounded. People in the street kissed and hugged each other but the most poignant noise I thought, was the sound of the last "All Clear". It seemed to go on and on, and I thought about all the "All Clear" sirens I had previously heard when air raids had finished, and people emerged from underground shelters, or even houses to take stock of the damage done.
Now that the War had ended, we were very slack as of course there were no more reports to be typed out as to bombing raids etc. That night there were celebrations of all descriptions taking place and really I think very few people actually slept. All of a sudden the place seemed transformed as the French people put on their very attractive and colourful national costumes, and danced in groups on street corners. People formed themselves into processions and went down every street. They must have had some good hiding places for their costumes and dresses. As the summer evening wore on torches were lit and bands began to play and wherever we went, we were immediately swept along with the crowd. Sometimes one felt choked at the emotion shown.
The following morning I was up at 6.30 a.m. and together with two or three friends, we were on the road to Paris. Again it was a lovely morning and as we were driving along, at a fairly high speed, the wind whipped the colour into our faces and we reach Paris feeling that it was great to be alive. Paris looked remarkably quiet at 9.30 a.m. but of course there were obvious signs of the celebrations carried out the previous night. Streamers and decorations were strewn across the roads and flags flew at every window and shop windows were decorated with red, white and blue. Bottles were lying in the roadway - some cafes had overturned chairs - all telling a tale of their own - but who cared? We made our way back to Versailles at lunchtime, returning to Paris and arranging to meet up with each other later in the evening. My boyfriend at that time was a Welsh Guardsman and as we walked along one of the side streets off the main boulevard, we noticed a café. As we approached the proprietor was standing just inside and he had obviously seen us coming, as he had a champagne bottle in his hand with a napkin over his arm. We were shown to a table for two set in a secluded corner, and the quietness of the place, broken only by the strains of a violin, made such a contrast to the noise and din going on outside, lower down. After a couple of hours, during which time our glasses were refilled time and time again, we decided we had better depart. Again it occurred to me that the French must have had some good hiding places for their wines and spirits during the occupation.
Feeling very happy, as one would expect in such an atmosphere, we strolled towards the Opera House, passing the Church of St. Magdelin. Trying to cross the famous Place de la Concorde, proved a very difficult job. Nobody seemed to have any traffic sense. As we waited to get across I heard my name called and looking round I noticed a jeep containing three of my officers and the American Colonel. We waved to each other, and as they passed by my Wing Commander called out to me that I could come back to the office when I wanted as he would not be back for a few days!!! When they did eventually return to Rheims they had various souvenirs, amongst them a flag, which one of them had apparently taken down from the top of a lamppost, with complete disregard to his uniform.
With the American photographic section being next door to our own office, I felt privileged to receive some photos of Gen. Eisenhower, one of him arriving at one of his parties, together with a group of High Ranking Officers, one of them being A/C/M Tedder trying to hide a glass behind his back whilst the photo was being taken. The War being at an end, the repatriation of prisoners was our chief concern. Everyday lorry loads of POW's rolled over the bridge to the large camp about a mile or so away. They were of all nationalities and were cheered on their way wherever they were seen. One afternoon there appeared on the Notice Board an invitation from the Colonel commanding this camp, to all the girls at the Headquarters. It was really an appeal one could not resist.
In the early evening lorries arrived and we were driven to this camp. On entering it, some embarrassment was felt on both sides, as for most of these prisoners it was a matter of some 4 to 5 years since they had either seen or spoken to an English girl. Some did not even recognise our uniforms. Most of the men were lying on their bunks just gazing at us, but within minutes two or three of us were stopping at various bunks and were soon chatting freely; now and again over the tannoy, a request was made to the prisoners and to us, not to talk about their escapes, as there were still hundreds of prisoners behind barbed wire, and the Germans would still want to know how these men had eluded them. Even so, some did talk, but of course, we respected their confidence, as it seemed to be a relief for them to converse with someone who could possibly understand. Everyone had a snapshot or photo of a loved one, and their questions were mostly about the position in England and whether the bombing had been as bad as the German propaganda had led them to believe. The answer to that question really depended on what part of England one came from - most of the major towns and cities had been bombed, but we tried to reassure them. As Elsie and I walked around we noticed that some of the beds needed making and as we could not see the occupants, we quickly made them. However, being engrossed in what we were doing we failed to see the men standing behind us watching with some amusement. Although most of them were dressed in American uniforms, (due to the fact that the camp was in the American sector) there were some who had odd clothing. This was easily explained as they had simply picked up anything they could when escaping. Speaking generally, everyone spoke highly of the organization and the way they had been received and treated. Anything was better than where they had been. As regards food, we learned that although eggs were served every day and there was plenty of them, they were not allowed to eat as much as they wanted or liked, because of the reaction which was likely to follow. Although perhaps feeling hungry, they would have made themselves ill had they eaten too much too soon. Two of the men for whom we had made the beds, were Australian officers, and the elder of the two told us that he was married with two young sons, aged 12 and 10. He showed us a photograph of them and said that it was hard for him to imagine them growing up, and he could only remember them as young boys, just going to school.
During the evening, the Colonel had formed a band together, and announced that if we liked to go down to the gymnasium, there would be an impromptu dance. Naturally the men felt awkward and so to break down the reserved feeling, he requested that all the girls made their way to the centre of the hall, after which he divided the men into groups, each group representing a different part of England or other countries. As the dance began so we made our way to particular groups and from this it was easier to talk to someone who hailed from the same part of the world. Tahe evening was a great success and everyone enjoyed themselves. The time came for us to depart - we wished our friends a very "Good Night" and hoped that they slept well. Elsie and I however, thought that it was lucky for us that we wouldn't be seeing them again just in case the beds weren't as comfortable after all. How wrong we were, as the following afternoon at the office, one of my colleagues informed me that there was someone outside who wished to see me. I was quite surprised to see the two Australians standing there, as in the normal way, the ex-prisoners only spent 48 hours at the camp before they were sent on their way home. It seemed that on this particular day the weather was bad for flying, and so they had found themselves with another day on their hands. Elsie and I arranged to go to an American Gang Show with them that evening, and afterwards we went back stage, as evidently the Gang Show had been to the camp that morning, and one of the Australians knew one of the troupe. Later that evening we went to a Night Club where we spent an exciting evening dancing on the stage between performances, with as much wine and champagne to our liking. As can be imagined, Elsie and I went to bed that night feeling on top of the world and thinking that life was grand. I'm sure that all who were there felt the same way.
There were also a fair number of Indian prisoners passing through this camp and being short staffed, I offered to type the nominal rolls for the officer in charge. He was the Indian Liaison Officer who had been recalled from leave in England to interrogate the Indian ex-prisoners and we became quite friendly over the time spent together.
Being slack in the office my own officers didn't object to the lists I was typing and in fact one or two tried reading the names of the Indians to me so that I could type the lists more quickly, but in the end it was better to copy them for myself. Trying to fly the Indians home, or at least part of the way, proved quite a problem, as this was due to their beliefs and superstitions. Some I was told had to be physically forced into the planes. Even the more learned ones amongst them couldn't convince them that all would be well, if they just sat on their seats, alas on one occasion they panicked in mid air causing the pilot to lose control, resulting in the death of them all. After this they were sent home by sea, a much longer journey, but perhaps a safer one.
May the 24th 1945 was a day of activity. We were up very early complete with kit bags etc. and sitting in a convoy on the road to the airport bound for Germany. We were all thrilled at going into Germany as we were wondering what it would be like. The flight took about two hours, travelling over woodland country and passing in between hills and valleys. It was a bumpy journey and although none of us was actually ill, we were all thankful when we touched down at Frankfurt. Towards the end of the flight our interest was taken up by the aerial view we had of the damage caused by our own aircraft on their bombing raids. It was amazing that anyone could still live in such surroundings and rubble.
Frankfurt, I understand, is the third largest city in Germany and we could imagine what sort of place it must have been. Strangely enough a number of buildings were still standing amongst them being the I.G.Faben building, which was a lovely building and had been commandeered by Gen. Eisenhower and A/C/M. Tedder. It was really a magnificent building being erected in marble, standing in beautiful grounds with an adjoining park. There were 2,000 rooms spread over six floors. The main entrance guarded by two American M.Ps. led to a spacious hallway. A flight of marble steps ran up at either side of the hall to the first floor, and there were even hydrangeas of various colours decorating the place. Our billets, that is to say the British ones, were separated from the W.A.Cs. as they had theirs on the other side of the block. We were in civilian flats, which showed some signs of having been beautifully furnished at one time - some still had sideboards, beds and divans left in them. We were allocated our respective flats and five of us shared one flat. The outer room was shared by Elsie, our Scots friend Chris, and myself, and this overlooked the main road. Our other two friends occupied the inner room overlooking the rear gardens. Each flat contained a bathroom with hot and cold water. The whole area of the camp was surrounded with barbed wire, and I was told that the perimeter was 8 miles. We were not allowed outside this "fencing" unless with an armed escort. It has its amusing side as some of the men soon made up appropriate rhymes when having to meet girlfriends, armed with a gun.
Gradually S.H.A.E.F. began to dismantle, but until then we all made the most of the situation by visiting places of interest. Officers and men were posted either to another Station on the Continent, or if so desired back to the U.K. When I first began working for the Intelligence Officer, the office staff consisted of 3 American rankers, one Major, 1 airman and five RAF Officers. Now this strength had dwindled down to 2 RAF Officers and the American Major, the other Americans having returned to their own country. The weeks passed until there were very few British personnel left in the camp, as Orders had been received for it to be an entirely American camp. The numbers dropped until there were only 3 WAAFs left, and eventually we departed from Frankfurt on V.J. Day in August 1945.
Whilst at Frankfurt we had the opportunity of visiting many places. Amongst those on my particular list, was Heidelburg (home of the musicians, with its beautiful castle as the centre of attraction); Wiesbaden, Cologne, Offenback (noted for the making of leather goods). I was often taken to this factory and sent home one or two lovely leather bags, and shoes. I also visited Greisheim and Bad Koneberg. At Bad Koneberg there was a very large openair swimming pool and some of us went there for a few hours. Amongst other places that were visited during my stay in Germany were Dusseldorf, Bad Harzburg in the Harz mountains, Essen, Bad Geynhausen, Minden, Bad Eilsen, Buckeburg, Hamburg, Hannover, Wesel and Kessel.
From Frankfurt my next Station was at Bad Eilsen, which was very picturesque with lovely gardens and a stream running through it. As I've said, I arrived on V.J. Day. We were billeted in a German house about 100 yards or so up the side of a hill, with dense woods lying behind it. It was a lovely spot and we had a wonderful view as we could see the hills around for many miles. Near to was the local railway station and about two miles down the road, there was another town called Buckeburg.
The person in charge of us was a WAAF. Sgt who was Czechoslovakian - to us she appeared as a "motherly" sort of person and welcomed us to our fresh "digs". When I first saw her she was not in uniform and I thought she was the owner of the house; I therefore received quite a surprise when she later knocked on the bedroom door, an hour or so later, dressed as a WAAF Sgt. Towards the coming of Christmas 1945 she organised a Children's party and later on the children were attending her Sunday School classes, for as can be imagined, she spoke German like a native. Emily, as was her name, will always be connected with the billets at Bad Eilsen and during the remaining summer weeks, we had little tea parties in the gardens adjoining the house. Apart from the work she did to make life pleasant for the children, she helped me a great deal when I married as I was married in the Garrison Church at Buckeburg, with I recall, most of the German townsfolk looking on.
Being a "table tennis fiend", I soon found the Malcolm Club and some of us spent practically every lunch break at the Club. I met other players amongst them being the person who was to become my husband. Bill, was the RAF station's hairdresser and he had arrived at Bad Eilsen from Brussels. The Barber's shop was owned by Herr Voigt, one of the most respected Germans in the village and he had his large house close by. Prior to the RAF taking over Bad Eilsen, the German Air Force had occupied it, and it was not long before Luftwaffe uniforms were being found, hidden under gravestones and in other places. Some small weapons were even found in the stream. Part of the shop was fitted as the Ladies Salon with 5 cubicles, and the other part was fitted out as the Gents, with 3 chairs and basins. At one time cigarettes were sold across the counter. A German girl, Edith, was introduced and she managed the WAAF hairdressing under the supervision of Bill. She spoke a little English and with WAAFs going into the shop fairly often, she soon picked up the language. I remember that there were some German female cleaners to the camp, but my German was extremely limited, - just enough to get by. Herr Voigt and his family surrendered their house to the WAAF, and the house in which they lived, was shared by officers of the RAF Regiment. He also had his married daughter and her two young children living with himself and his wife. His son-in-law was a pilot in the German Air Force.
One evening he invited Bill and me to his home. Fritz, the son-in-law was home and spoke English, so he and I found ourselves talking together whilst Bill was conversing with the rest of the family, assisted by Fritz when Herr Voigt had some difficulty. It was a pleasant evening, and I realised that German families had suffered in just the same way as a result of our bombs falling on them, as we had done in England. Learning languages, or rather "picking them up" came easily to Bill, as Herr Voigt and Edith used to talk to him in German all day, and very soon he was able to understand them.
Over the weeks we paid many visits to them and they took a great deal of interest in us. Their house was about 100 yards from our billet, so we used to see them quite a lot when going to and fro. We often used to walk through the woods to Buckeburg where the Schloss was about 3 miles away. Although used as a service billet, at one time it had been the home of a Prince. The entrance to the Schloss was through a massive granite archway over which had been carved the figures of two lions. This led to a bridge, which spanned a lake of considerable length. It was a very pretty lake, overhung by trees of various species, with water lilies here and there enhancing the picturesque effect. The Palace had an air of mystery about it, as branching off the main hallway and corridor, were little dark passages; sometimes stone steps led down before coming to a room, whilst on other occasions there would be a flight of twisting stone steps which quite often led to a further passage. Often when climbing these steps one could look through the small windows and view the grounds below - it was very interesting Our offices at Bad Eilsen had previously been occupied by members of the German Luftwaffe - in fact Bad Eilsen had been the Headquarters of the Luftwaffe. A Board Meeting happened to be in progress when it was disturbed by the appearance of the Advance party of the R.A.F. Regt. I was told that hundreds of S.S. troops fled into the surrounding woods and countryside, a number of them hiding their uniforms under the memorial stones in the Churchyard. Several weapons were found in the lake in the grounds, and some of the British servicemen managed to salvage souvenirs. After searching for several weeks, quite an amount of ammunition was unearthed, some from drains, pipes, chimneys, and even between bricks.
The H.Q. was now know as B.A.F.O. (British Air Forces of Occupation) of which the Admin. part was at Buckeburg. It was here that Elsie worked and was billeted. Air Chief Marshall Sir Sholto Douglas was in Command of all Air Forces in Germany at that time and on arriving I was directed to the Intelligence Section. There were two of us, plus a WAAF Corporal, Margaret and when we were shown into the office of the Chief Intelligence Officer we were surprised to see that it was none other that G/Capt. Humphreys. After a few months Margaret left to be released and I found myself being the chief typist for the Section as well as the C.I.O's personal typist. It was very interesting work. G/Capt. Humphreys had certainly changed for the better as he was considerate in that when he wanted me to work past the standard hours, he would enquire as to whether I had had anything to eat and if not, then to go, and come back later on.
After a few weeks the Sections became so short staffed as regards shorthand-typists, that it was decided to form a "pool" and I found myself in charge as by then my "tapes" had been promulgated in the Station Standing Orders soon after Margaret left. There were 7 typists including myself to cope with 50 officers. Some of them seemed to forget that each one of us could only do one person's work at a time, and became quite annoyed when their respective bells remained unanswered. The position became worse, as every month saw another girl leave, whilst the position regarding the officers hardly changed.
The New Year came and with it the new issue of the London Gazette setting out the New Year's Honours. Although I had been told that I was to receive an M.I.D. I was quite thrilled to find my name amongst the many. All service personnel were awarded the 1939 - 1945 War Service Medal and those of us serving in Europe were awarded the France/Germany Star. Everything was done to make life pleasant and trips were organized on Sundays, the coach being loaded up with plenty of eats. Everyone looked forward to these trips as it meant going somewhere different. I remember that my first trip was to Hannover. It is a very impressive place and where we were taken there was a large lake with an openair restaurant and we sat around listening to a German orchestra. Dances were held every Saturday and as there were many people in the process of being demobilized there were many parties, and on the whole, life in Bad Eilsen was very happy.
My first trip to Brussels came as a surprise as one morning one of my Officers came into the office and asked me if I wanted to go on a trip to Brussels. Needing no second bidding, I met him a few minutes later and within half an hour we were winging our way over the countryside. He also took two batmen and they were very happy about the trip as it meant that they could visit some friends they had made when they were stationed in Brussels a few months previously. The stay was only short but the two men were kind enough to take me around and I managed to buy a souvenir. It was a day to remember.
Winter came with plenty of snow and one afternoon a party of us went into the hills overlooking Steinbergen, a village some 5 miles from Bad Eilsen to try and do some ski-ing. Trying to ski proved more difficult than it looked, and although we had plenty of tumbles and bruises to show for our efforts, we all thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. During the winter the tennis courts were flooded to form an ice-skating rink. Every evening a Y.M.C.A van drew alongside and suitable music was played. Erected round the nets were arc lamps floodlighting the courts. It was very effective and many a pleasant evening was passed. As usual first attempts at ice-skating caused some amusement and although it was bitterly cold only those standing around felt the cold. Having been assisted by friends to keep my balance, or try to, they gave it up as a bad job and left me to get up on my own, which I managed to do, but then came the art of returning to the side. Eventually this was managed - all good fun.
In April 1946 we had a visit to the Harz Mountains. This was a holiday resort and service personnel could spend time there without signs of discipline. The scenery was magnificent, especially the view from the peak of the mountain. An aerial railway conveyed one to the top, which we understood was about 2000 feet, and after walking round, one could take some refreshments at an open air café situated on the slope. We were informed that a matter of a few miles over the other side was the Russian border, and we were advised not to venture too far. My first experience of riding a horse came at Bad Harzburg. About 15 of us set out and being an absolute beginner, the Sgt. Instructor picked me out a horse, which he said was "quite docile". His idea of docility in a horse was certainly different from mine. After a while, I suppose the horse thought he had gone slow enough, and decided that he would take me for a ride. Having done the ride many times, the horses knew the route. Suddenly one started to gallop and before I knew where I was, I was hanging on and as the horses were doubling up, I found myself riding alongside another horse on the lane. However, there was not far to go to the stables and when I eventually dismounted, I more or less slithered off,. Needless to say there were many comments made by the others and we had some laughs about it all. Bill thought it was great fun - so did I - later on!!
The next day we went again, but this time I had a different horse. This one was really docile and must have liked looking at the countryside as much as I did. The only time I managed to get a trot out of it was when the Sgt came at the rear and flicked it with the whip. I was the last one to return home and the others were singing "she'll be coming round the mountain…" not very kind of them, but who cared. After tea that evening there was a grand dance held in the ballroom at the Hotel where we dined. The German orchestra was very good and played some lovely melodies and waltzes. Bill and I danced most dances - very romantic and it was at this dance that the orchestra played a tune, which is now our favourite. We discovered that the melody came from the selection of "The Gypsy Princess" by Kalman. We left Bad Harzburg the following morning and on our way back we stopped at Brunswick and Wuppertal where we had a stroll round the town. Eventually we arrived back at Bad Eilsen in the early evening feeling slightly weary, but all of us happy and the memories of a very enjoyable time spent in the Harz Mountains.
As I've said earlier on, the WAAF SSgt. - Emily who was in charge of the house in which we stayed spoke fluent German, so it was inevitable that she became friendly with Herr Voigt and his family. A few weeks later Bill and I decided that we would become engaged, and although I had not met his family - he had spent a leave at my home. When we told Emily she brought out a bottle of champagne and gathering together our room mates, we celebrated our engagement in the form of a little party. Of course the obvious question was the wedding date. Being well known on the Camp, great interest was aroused and as we were both due for demobilization at the same time, we thought that there could be no better way to exit from the Services, than as a married couple, and the date was fixed for the 15th June 1946 at 2 o'clock. Of course, we had to have the respective forms signed by our Commanding Officer, and the news soon spread around. The Officers were wonderful as there was nothing which was too much trouble - it was to be the first wedding on the camp, and they intended to make it one to be remembered. The Catering Officer took over the management of that problem and as the arrangements included trips back to the U.K. and to Brussels, they made the most of it and were as happy as we were.
The Transport Officer made the necessary arrangements re cars and even went so far as to reserve a compartment on the train to Brussels where we were to spend our honeymoon. This was quite a surprise…. The German, in whose house Bill was billeted, said that he would look after the decoration of the Church, bouquets and other flowers, as he was in charge of the nurseries. He certainly did a wonderful job and everywhere looked lovely with masses of flowers. My brother, Norman was also stationed in Germany, and arrangements were made for him to come to Bad Eilsen on "detached duty" for a week, and he arrived on the Thursday before the wedding and left the following Tuesday.
Elsie and I often promised each other that if either of us thought of getting married in the Service, and if at all possible, the other would be a bridesmaid. So naturally, my first thought went to Elsie and I rang her up on the phone and asked her if she would like to come to a wedding. When she realised that it was my own wedding, her excitement knew no bounds, and from that moment onwards, the phone was in constant use. She was going on leave the following day and promised to pay a visit to my home, as my only regret was that my parents would not be able to be at the wedding. Elsie's dress was taken care of by the WAAF Welfare Officer, and as Frau Voigt's daughter had very kindly offered her wedding dress to me, (as we were both the same size) my worries were over as regards that aspect. It simply seemed too good to be true. The "hooch" was organised by one of my own Intelligence Officers who had very good connections in France and Belgium, with the result that there was no shortage of drinks.
Bill, having spent several months in Brussels, knew of one or two hotels so he made the necessary bookings etc. Most of my time was spent with the WAAF and RAF C.O's. running round to various people in the jeep confirming arrangements and making last minute preparations. As I have mentioned, my brother Norman arrived on the previous day and was billeted with Bill. On the Friday evening, a party was given for us, when once again we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. There was no mention of "a stag night" or "a hen party" - everybody came.
Our wedding day dawned with cloudy skies - after many days of continuous sunshine, but by late morning the skies cleared and the rest of the day was lovely. Elsie came over from Buckeburg in the morning and we both had lunch in the RAF. Regiment's Officers' Mess, which as previously mentioned, was in the same house as Herr Voigt lived. Frau Voigt and her daughter Giesla helped to put the finishing touches to our appearances, and during this time the WAAF Officer in charge, called in with my headdress of orange blossoms, which had only just been picked from the trees in the surrounding gardens. In the meantime, my brother, Norman, was being entertained by the rest of the family. At last it was time for Elsie to depart and a few minutes later we followed. The car was very nicely decorated with white carnations and harebells and other flowers, but the biggest surprise was the appearance of two white-helmeted motor cyclists to escort us to the Church and back again. The Church in which we were to be married was the Garrison Church in Buckeburg, and on the return journey, soon after leaving the Church, another Despatch rider appeared, quite by accident, and he placed himself in the line.
My own Intelligence Officers had arranged amongst themselves, the various duties to be performed, and it touched me greatly to see one of them waiting for us as we drew up to the entrance to the Church and for him to salute. I was told later on that I looked very calm, but a close observer would have noticed the bouquet of carnations was trembling. Although we had had a rehearsal the previous afternoon, when the Padre had informed us as to the procedure, being led down the aisle by Norman seemed never ending. The Church was full as practically everyone in the Camp was there, and arrangements had been made for Herr Voigt and his family to be present. The Church had been beautifully decorated with summer flowers and as we were being married, we both realised what had been done for us. Never shall I forget the sea of faces that greeted us as we emerged from the Church - not only of Service friends but the townsfolk of Buckeburg were gathered all around and on the opposite side of the road. Waiting to assist me into the car stood F/Lt. Lewis, another of my own Officers, and as we neared, he shook hands and saluted us. Confetti, rose petals and even rice fell about our feet - it was all very romantic and very touching to us both.
The reception was held in the WAAF Mess, and as we alighted, we were surprised to see a German mini band to greet us and they played the Wedding March as we entered. The German waiters were standing by, with further assistants hovering in the background. The tables were beautifully decorated with one special table in the centre on which stood the three-tired cake, each tier being supported on the wings of four cupids. One each corner of the table was a large plate which had been so decorated that it was completely covered with rose heads, and our two high-backed arm chairs had been camouflaged to resemble thrones, with briars arranged across the back and covering the arms.
As the weather was fine, photographs were taken in the lovely grounds.
Later on in the afternoon we returned to Herr Voigt's house where they were waiting to welcome us with a little party, and after staying with them for a little while, it was time to return. During our absence the guests had enjoyed themselves dancing, but on our return our favourite tune was played, which was the waltz from the Gypsy Princess, and naturally, we found ourselves on the dance floor. Everyone was happy and I managed to have a dance with Norman. Before leaving to go to the Station I managed to speak with Norman and Elsie, who both promised to write home and tell them all about it.
As we left for the Station I was handed a large bouquet of lovely tea roses. The rest of the folk followed in any available vehicle, whether it be car, jeep or bus, and one or two of them had even brought jugs of wine. The people of Buckeburg must have thought the RAF had taken leave of its senses, as whilst we were waiting for the train, everyone formed a ring around Bill, Norman, Elsie, Bill's best man Wally, and my own two special officers, and began to sing songs suitable to the occasion. Spirits were high and we were forced to take one or two sips of wine before the train steamed in. A great shout went up as the train approached - which apparently was the signal for everyone to link arms, whereupon we all swarmed across the railway lines and onto the platform. Heads were poked out of the windows and all the Service personnel on the train, realizing what was happening, took up the refrain of each song. Our compartment was found for us, and after bidding fond farewell to Norma, Elsie and Wally, we boarded the train. Making our way to the windows, and still clutching the roses, we picked the rose-heads and stems and throw them down to the friends below. They then put them onto their uniforms. It was all very emotional. The whistle blew and we were on our way - hands were grasped at the last minute and Norman and I looked at each other and I knew that he would be well looked after and that he would write home. We stayed until everyone was out of sight and then made ourselves comfortable as we could see our journey would not end until about 8 o'clock the following morning. Someone had given Bill a bottle of champagne and someone had made up some sandwiches, so we had a little celebration on our own - for several minutes we were both silent each remembering incidents of the day, as well as certain people who had done so much for us to make it a day, never to be forgotten, not only by us, but by all of those who had been present.
Nobody would hear about any payment for the wedding - the reception was a present and as some of the Officers told me, they were enjoying the arrangements as it meant they were able to take unexpected trips. Apart from this, we were presented with a sum of money with accompanying notes of explanation to the Exchange Bureau in Brussels, to enable us to change such a sum. My own Intelligence Officers gave us a cheque, a gesture which was greatly appreciated, as it was so unexpected, and even after our return to civilian life, we received still a further sum from the airwomen alone
We eventually arrived in Brussels at 8 o'clock on Sunday morning. The hotel was very pleasant situated at a corner of a large square, near to the Gare de Nore Station. Our room overlooked the square and it was very fascinating to look down upon the people and at night time to see the neon lights twinkling here and there and moreover to listen to the music on gramophone records. These seemed to be played continuously all night and one was conscious of an air of activity, which was present wherever one went. There is certainly a romantic air about a Continental City, and it seemed as though we were both in a different world - due to return to earth on arriving back in the U.K.
Needless to say we made the most of the 10 days in Brussels and managed to buy various articles of clothing, which had been unobtainable for some time - visiting various places and generally spending a wonderful time. Bill took me to see the family on whom he was billeted when he was in Brussels. They had become very friendly and I had been shown snaps of the family, which included a young girl named Denise. Her father was in the Belgium Army and Bill and his friend often spent time with them.
On returning to Bad Eilsen, we then prepared to go through the procedure of being demobilised. Every day for the following weeks we were running around to various Sections, having our particulars entered on sheets, and forms, and having our names removed from records. There were kit inspections, medical inspections - all had to be completed, and it made one pause and wonder, which was the simpler - to sign on, or sign off….
At last the day came for us to leave Bad Eilsen, Germany and it was with deep regret that I said goodbye to my friends, especially my own Intelligence Officers who had proved to be such great pals. Herr Voigt and his family seemed to be quite upset at our leaving and gave us a standing invitation to call if we ever had the opportunity of visiting Germany again.
It was a glorious summer's day on 2nd June 1946 and soon I was sitting in the train bound for Calais, whilst Bill had to go via Hamburg and across the Channel to Harwich. Watching the countryside pass by my mind recalled the two years I had spent overseas - of all the incidents that had happened to me, experiences etc. sights I had seen, places I had visited, and I knew that I had memories which would never fade. Another girl was also being demobbed at the same time, and as we had had rooms next to each other in the German billet, we managed to keep together until we finally parted on Birmingham Station.
We did not reach Calais until about 1 o'clock the following day and even though the weather was fine, giving one high hope of sailing that afternoon, we were unable to do so, which meant that we were to spend that night in the nissen huts in the camp. The night proved to be very windy. We were due to sail on the first boat in the morning, which meant that we had to get up at 5 a.m. but because of the gales in the night which meant little sleep was had, most of us were up and about rather earlier than 5 a.m. After breakfast we clambered into lorries and were driven down to the quayside, where after waiting for about half an hour, we eventually boarded the boat at about 8 o'clock. The weather was dull, but the trip across was pleasant, and we finally arrived in Dover about an hour or so later. Each of us was carrying a kit bag and in my case, a very large case. I was given help with it but it was a struggle. After passing through customs, we managed to find a couple of seats on the train to London, and some people managed to sleep for a while. There were only six of us in the WAAF who were home for demobilization, the rest being A.T.S. girls, so that when we arrived at Victoria Station, there was an RAF lorry waiting to take us to Euston Station; we were then given information concerning our train to the Release Centre at Birmingham.
As most of us had cases and kit bags, we only took the necessary items to Birmingham with us, leaving the remainder at Euston Station for collection on return. Having had nothing to eat since 6 a.m. we were quite hungry on our arrival at the Demobilization Centre, so we were not impressed when we were told to wait until we could be attended to. After a while we decided that we were not going to wait any longer and on making enquiries and explaining that we had been travelling since early morning, we were shown where the dining area was. After being given instructions as to procedure for the following day, we all decided to have an early night and after a final drink, we made our way back to the hut.
The following day we passed through the "Mincing Machine" - the name given to the various departments and procedure one is forced to endure during the process of being released from His Majesty's Forces. We collected our papers and documents, Release Book, Clothing Book, NAAFI rations etc. and we made our way to the hut to collect the rest of our luggage, after which we were picked up by one of the Air Force coach drivers and driven to Birmingham Station. My friend was still with me and after a few minutes her train drew in. Wishing each other well, we parted.
A few minutes later I was sitting in a London bound train and my thoughts leapt ahead to the time when my Mother would open the door to me welcome me home - for the last time as a W.A.A.F. My journey from London to my home town of Cheam was a struggle as of course I had collected my large case from London, which was very heavy. However, walking along the road with my kit bag on one shoulder, and the case in the other hand, a very kind man came along and took the case as he was going up the same road.
Arriving at the gate, I left the case and knocked on the door and waited, and so came the end of a wonderful experience to almost 4 years in the Service. Needless to say there was lots to talk about apart from the unpacking etc.
After a few days I was then re-packing the same case to start my married life in Denton, Manchester. Bill came down and we made our way to Manchester on the following Sunday - it was a very emotional time……
Edna Stafford. nee. Hodgson
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