Veteran Stories:
Stella Pierce (née Denton)

Air Force

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"We didn’t have an option of what we were going to do in the air force [Women’s Auxiliary Air Force], but I was told I would be a ‘met’ assistant, meteorological assistant, which sounded quite interesting."

Transcript

I was still at school when the war broke out. I think everybody remembers that day when the air raid sirens went, and we all went out and looked, and we expected to be bombed right away. Of course, we weren’t, but we could see, dad was an air raid warden and he had to go around, as well as the Home Guard, they had to go around seeing everybody was alright. My grandmother was bombed where we lived, which was actually fairly near where Heathrow Airport is now. So it’s not far from central London. We could see the fires in the east end of London, all this red in the sky. And that was quite a long way away.

We didn’t have an option of what we were going to do in the air force [Women’s Auxiliary Air Force], but I was told I would be a ‘met’ assistant, meteorological assistant, which sounded quite interesting. It was learning a lot. I learned about estimating the height of clouds and all about the Beaufort scale [measurement of wind speed] of wind and how to send of a weather balloon and measure the trajectory, and how to use the teleprinter.

I really enjoyed the work. It was, every hour, you had to go out and measure the cloud height, the wind, the weather, air pressure; and then come back and code it, and send it on the teleprinter. The reports came back from all over the place; and we had to chart them on a map of England and the Atlantic.

This first airport, it was a pre-war airport, it was quite comfortable to live in actually. The first time I was there, they were doing low level bombing and they went almost, I think they went as far as Poland. It was very dangerous, and a lot of casualties. And then I don’t know where that squadron went after that. I think they stopped the low level bombing, and they went into high level bombing with [De Havilland DH-98] Mosquitoes [multi-role combat aircraft]. These were all Mosquitoes, so they were two pilots and a navigator on each plane. They became the [No. 8] Pathfinder Force [Group], which was specifically dropping flares on the target for the heavy bombers to come bomb.

This is the station where I met my husband. That’s quite a romantic story. [laughs] It was [RAF Station] Marham, in Norfolk; and someone who is a large land owner said, well, we could go to his property and cycle around his property, and this was very nice, I thought it was quite an honour. So went on my bike one day and cycled around here and it happened that another fellow was cycling around and we stopped at the, I think it was a pump of some kind that was pumping maybe the lake or something like that. [We] got talking and you know how young people do. [laughs] I said, well, I know a place where we can get egg and chips. So we went over and got egg and chips, and that was the start of it. [laughs] You know, the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. [laughs] I don’t know. But anyhow, we fell in love and this happened very quickly, you know.

I went to Marham, I think, the end of April, beginning of May in 1943. We met in July of 1943. In December, we were engaged; and we happened to be embracing in the teleprinter room and the group captain saw us, so that was the end of Marham for me. I was sent to a new station in Lincolnshire. First time I’d seen snow on the ground. It was a new station and the girls in the ‘met’ office, they were very friendly and one of them took me to Lincoln Cathedral where I heard “The [Handel’s] Messiah” for the first time. That was a thrill too. And then, of course, it wasn’t very to, England is not really far to go, but I hiked through the snow around New Year’s, I think, to go down to Marham. Hitchhiking was easy in those days because there weren’t many cars, but there were quite a few trucks. The truck drivers were very good to [armed] forces people; and I could hitchhike down and got a ride down.

So we were together fairly often. You had to get these papers and go around and get people to sign them; and everybody said, oh, you’re pregnant, are you, because this was the usual way that people left the air force. I said, no, I’m not pregnant. I’m going to Canada, very excited. I’m going to Canada to join my husband because we were, of course, married by that time.

Some time in December, I had to report to a place in London and my mum and dad, oh dear, it was a sad day, my mum and dad came with me; and we were sitting around, having a cup of tea with tears in our eyes. At that time, the thought was I’ll never see mum and dad again, what have I done here. I love Tony, I want to go and be with him, but I’m not going to see mum and dad again. Actually, it didn’t happen that way, but it was a long time before I went back. Then there was a bunch of other women and we had to go to this office at a certain time and then we were given tickets to go up. Well, we weren’t told where we were going because everything was secret, but actually, it seemed like Liverpool. And then we got on the ship and went, this was in December, it was still wartime, and this was a French boat and we weren’t in convoy, so we had to go quite far south, they told us, south as far as Bermuda. And then it was 18 September, 1943 when I came into Halifax Harbour.

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