Veteran Stories:
Gladys Marian Elsie Collins (née Jeffrey)

Air Force

  • Gladys Collins at Pier 21, Halifax, Nova Scotia, September 28th, 2010.

    Historica Canada
Enlarge Image
Listen to this story

"You never felt that anything was going to happen to you. I always had that feeling, that it’s not going to happen to me."


The time came when everyone was doing something or expected to do something; and women could either join a service or go and work in a factory. My choice was to go in the RAF [Royal Air Force]. The reason being that I had a brother in the air force. I preferred to do that than to go into a factory. Those women should be recognized. They have not been as far as I know. It’s just always been the service, the veterans and so forth. But they worked night and day. They worked on things like making [Supermarine] Spitfires [British fighter aircraft] and stuff, when we ran short; and they did a lot. Nothing’s ever been done about them. I didn’t join at the very beginning; it was about 1942, I think. You see, the war started in 1939. And my mother was very ill at the time; and I really wanted to stay home, I suppose. But I did want to go into the air force; and I went in as a driver. I drove anything from a minivan to a three tonne truck. It was fun learning to drive. We had lots of laughs, crashing gears, and so on. The instructors we had were, in some cases, London taxi drivers. They were quite hard on you. I can remember different incidents when funny things happened. Like one time we were driving, they took us up a little hill and we were learning to change down the gears and there were two of us in a little minivan and the other gal was driving; and she accidentally put the gear into reverse. We shot back down the hill backwards. [laughs] I can remember the instructor saying, there, now you know where the reverse is, don’t you? [laughs] Driving the larger vehicles, everything was so old. It’s not like today with the automatic gears and all that; and the crashing of gears was unbelievable, but they didn’t seem to blame us too much for that. And sometimes, I can remember a time when I think we were all taking a test, hoping to get promoted. Promotions weren’t very fast in the services in England. We were driving and the gears were so stiff that the instructor had to jam them in himself. They were just old. Where I lived, we didn’t have a lot of bombing. It was near the coast and the planes used to fly over. They did drop some bombs sometimes. It was said that they dropped, if they had anything left when they turned to go back, that they dropped them there. I can remember my mother being terrified. I was still home at that time. So it was very hard on them. It was so funny, really, because we’d try to stay in bed [during air raids] and she’d say, you girls are going (I had a sister, she was in the ATS [Auxiliary Territorial Service]); and my mother would say, you two are going to die in your beds, and we sort of said, well, that was the best place probably. [laughs] But you never felt that anything was going to happen to you. I always had that feeling, that it’s not going to happen to me. My brother, who I mentioned was in the air force, he died off the coast of Dover. His story was unbelievable. He was a flight engineer by this time and on a [Short] Stirling [British heavy] bomber. The pilot received the Victoria Cross and now that’s the highest award that anyone ever got. But the pilot, he brought them all back over land, badly shot up and told them to bail out; and my brother had always told my mother that he’d had to stay as long as possible because he was looking after the fuel, and that sort of stuff. He stayed with him and the pilot turned the plane back into the sea, so that he wouldn’t crash into any houses or anything. It was a sad time, yes. I think I was in Caen at that time when it happened; and we had gone somewhere like, I can’t remember whether, what it was for, but there were a lot of us WAAFS [Women’s Auxiliary Air Force], you know, women, and we were in the back of one of those big vans, just singing and laughing and all the time, that had happened. And so it was very sad. It was hard on the mothers. Very hard.
Follow us