"Talking about the job was forbidden. Every theatre of war was photographed"
Sheila Kent. Served in RAF Station, Medmenham, which was the Chief Central Photographic Interpretation Unit of the Air Force. This was in World War II from 1942 to l945.
Talking about the job was forbidden. Every theatre of war was photographed. We saw all those... those photographs and the maps. Photographic girls, who developed photographs, the developing fluid that was used then stained their nails mauve. And they were told, you know, to make up some story. If they were asked on leave and you saw four or five girls who were sitting together with mauve coloured nails, what's a messer, you know, question, "Where were your hands?" And they said, "Well, we've been dyeing the curtains in our hut to make them look nicer."
The whole of the Cherbourg Peninsula, all around there and Pas de Calais, that was... that was photographed. And we used to look at these photographs and wonder... wonder why they were taking them because there was nothing there. Just farmhouses and... and intersection roads. And that was in preparation for D-Day. And that must have been years before. Two years before.
The work that was carried on at... by us at Medmenham was actually strategic to every theatre of war because the photography of the places of interest were photographed before and after damage. And D-Day, for instance, could not have taken place without those hundreds and hundreds of reconnaissance flights taking pictures of the coast and where the railway lines were and where the farmhouses were. The... these reconnaissance flights included hundreds and hundreds of flights, taking millions of photographs. And I was one of those who had to make sure that they were all filed properly.
My husband - well, he was my fiancé then - he was a paratrooper in the 6th Airborne. And he went into... D-Day. Aerial photography taken... it prepared the airborne troops, all the troops... but the airborne troops, of which my husband was one, for the ground in... in which they were landing. And, of course, that was all new. Nobody knew exactly how it... how they would be accurate or not.
One felt very close to... to things, altogether. You were there, in spirit, wondering what's happening. You didn't get news. It was a very difficult time. You had to do something when you were eighteen. It was a draft, really. Some went to be nurses. Some went to be in the women's services. Understand that the women services, there were hundreds and thousands of them. There was sort of a women's liberation then. There were girls... anti-aircraft girls were on searchlight batteries with anti-aircraft guns, mixed for the defence of London. That was not uncommon.
There was a sense of adventure going, but, they were pretty grim times, you know.