Edna May Simpson (née Burrows) in London, Ontario, July 12, 2010 .Historica Canada
Edna Simpson (née Burrows), on the left, and a Women's Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) comrade in South Wales.Edna Burrows
Edna Simpson (née Burrows), right, and a Women's Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) comrade at Walton-on-the-Naze, Essex, England, summer of 1943.Edna Simpson
Edna and Douglas Simpson's wedding, November 15, 1947Edna Simpson
"I remember the bad times and in many ways, I can’t really think back to that bombing time because so many horrible things happened."
As a young person, I was 16 when war broke out [in September 1939] and in Liverpool [England], we were very heavily bombed during the Blitz of Liverpool. We had waves of bombers came over at dusk every night and they came the whole night through until dawn the next day and that went on for 10 days [in early May 1941]. And my city was very heavily bombed. But sure, that was terrifying but you couldn’t do anything about a bomb coming down. You just had to, just hope it wouldn’t hit you.
But they did, they hit many people, maybe two or three houses down and the whole house would be bombed and there’d only be a staircase standing because staircases seemed to withstand the blast. But what really terrified me was the thought of invasion. And after Dunkirk [May 26-June 3, 1940], when our expeditionary forces were driven out of Europe, it seemed as if Great Britain would be invaded. There was, there was, everyone was quite sure that would happen. And that terrified me as a young person, a young girl, because we had these stories of atrocities and all the rest of it, you know. And the thought of these people dropping down amongst us was more terrifying to me than the bombing.
I actually went in to be a typist or something like that because that was my training. But when they did the testing, they asked me if I would be willing to go on what they called RDF, Radio Direction Finding, which was sort of a hush-hush job. And it later turned out to be radar. I was sent directly to a radar station on the east coast, Waltham [RAF Grimsby], because they needed operators there and at that time, they had low flying aircraft coming in and dropping bombs and machine gunning and then going off again. So that was really quite an experience to start off.
And from there, I went to South Wales, [RAF] Strumble Head it was called. The radar stations were all around the coast of Great Britain and they were always in isolated spots, right on the clifftops. And we were a small station, so we were very closely bonded together. We became great friends and the friendships I formed there have lasted all my life.
So anyway, I went to Strumble Head and it wasn’t nearly as interesting there because we were just doing coastal work. I was actually on a radar set they called CHL [Chain Home Low]. The original radar stations were what they called CH, which was Chain Home. And the CHL was a newer invention which had a lower beam, so they could pick up lower flying aircraft and that. You know, they kept developing radar all through the war.
And from there, I was sent on a course to the Isle of Wight and trained on a type of radar called 10 Centimetre, which was even a narrower beam and could pick up, actually could pick up objects on the water. And after that training, I went down to Cornwall. And I was there and that’s where I met my husband. He came over in the [Royal] Canadian Air Force as a radar mechanic.
Before D-Day [the Allied Normandy invasion of June 6, 1944], we knew that there was going to be an invasion because they were afraid that they [the Germans] might perhaps start knocking out the radar stations all around the coast. And so we had armed guards on our transports from our dwelling places to the stations. And on June the 5th, I was on duty that night and all night long, the radar screen was, we had to pass like block plots because you couldn’t separate the plots out. And when I came off duty on the morning of June the 6th, and looked across the water, the whole skyline from east to west was completely covered with landing craft. And I mean, it’s sort of burned in my mind because I thought to myself, of all those young men who are my age, who were going across to land in France, that was an immense memory to me.
My husband wasn’t in the station very long when he was posted to another station. And we kept in touch and when the war was over in 1945, his father had had an accident on the farm and they wanted him to try and get home, so he did. But he came back to see me the last weekend and we promised to write to each other. We did that for two years and then in February of 1947, he came back by boat and brought an engagement ring. So by that time, I’d had time to think about it and I had decided I would take the step and come to Canada.
I remember the bad times and in many ways, I can’t really think back to that bombing time because so many horrible things happened. But I also remember the immense cheerfulness of people, in spite of it, and, and the way everyone helped each other. Because I was only young, I suppose I was impressionable. But if someone was bombed out, someone took them in, no one had much space and no one had food. We were very heavily rationed. I mean, our rations were very meagre. But you shared the food you had with whoever needed it. So people worked together as a complete unity and in a way, it seemed sort of sad that that disappeared after wartime. I mean, as part of emergencies, people do that but it seemed almost like I lived through the worst and the best of times somehow.
Interview date: 12 July 2010