"I did not go home to tell this wonderful news to my mother who would've been absolutely annoyed. To her, all Americans were film stars and up to no good whatsoever."
Peggy Dallimore now. I was Alice Margaret Lewis, Royal Air Force.
Right at the beginning, I joined the air force as a teleprinter operator. I was trained at Cranwell which then was No. 1 Signal School. I was just 18. Big shock. I was an only child. I'd never been to camp. The whole thing was a totally new experience for me. After training there I went to RAF Andover, and we were billeted in huts, tin huts. Very, very cold. They had a stove in the centre which we had to keep polished. It burned some wood, but just for kindling, really, and then it was coke. Now coke is coal with the gas taken out. Dreadful stuff. Burns brightly and gives out a very good heat, but at the same time it also gives out some gases which ultimately did have an effect on me in much later years.
The work itself was very much like being on the Internet in today's terms. Intercommunication with other stations. We would be sending and receiving signals. Worked a 24-hour watch, and this was now 1942. The Battle of Britain was on. It was not too far from my home, so I was able to go home for leave and during one of these leaves I was returning home, had to get off the train and watched my hometown, Portsmouth, being bombed. Quite an experience, that, because it was like seeing a movie, almost, except that I knew that it was real. And of course, I didn't know then at that particular point whether my parents were going to be alive when I got there.
When I was at Andover, progression was through examinations to LACW, which was Leading Aircraftswoman and that was when you should be at the peak of your technical experience and knowledge. Then you were promoted. If there was a gap, and if your senior officers felt that you were suitable, you were put forward for a promotion. So I became a Corporal. I never exceeded that. No idea why. They didn't know even when I came out of the Air Force. They said, "You should've been a Flight Sergeant by now, or a Warrant Officer." However, that's in the dim recollections of the RAF past.
During that time I was called into the office of my Senior Warrant Officer and told that they had had a request for the RAF women to go to an American station. Oh, boy. Oh, my, this sounds good. Yes. "And I want you to go and you will take six people. You can pick whichever people you want to take. But you have to maintain not only a teleprinter signal section, but you have to look after the telephone section. You will leave within two days." I know that I did not go home to tell this wonderful news to my mother who would've been absolutely annoyed. To her, all Americans were film stars and up to no good whatsoever. I took what I thought were the six girls which were most suitable to do the job which I had no idea exactly what it was going to be like or where. So off we went.