Veteran Stories:
Janet Mowbray (née Houston)

Air Force

  • Cake made to celebrate the 5th Anniversary of the establishment of the Women's Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF), June 1944.

    Janet Mowbray
  • The white goat pictured here was the mascot of a Royal Canadian Air Force squadron stationed in Wick, Scotland. Once the animal was "demobilized" in 1944, it went to live on Janet Mowbray's family farm in Ayr, Scotland.

    Janet Mowbray
  • Janet Mowbray (at front) participating in a Wings for Victory Parade in Greenock, Scotland, 1943.

    Janet Mowbray
  • Janet Mowbray (first row, second from right) with sister officers from the Women's Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) in Tain, Scotland, 1945.

    Janet Mowbray
  • Janet Mowbray leading the V-E Day parade in Tain, Scotland, May 13, 1945.

    Janet Mowbray
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"Just the day after D-Day, one of our WAAF officers, who hadn’t been with us very long, put on her gas mask and walked into the sea at Aberdour."

Transcript

A friend and I had decided that we were going to do something and we went up to the Wrens [WRNS - Women’s Royal Navy Service], the naval thing, but they weren’t recruiting at the time. So we thought, well, let’s go to the RAF [Royal Air Force] and we went and joined the WAAF [Women’s Auxiliary Air Force]. We weren’t offered much of a choice as far as what our trades were to be. I think because I’d done first aid and that before I enlisted, I was put down to be a nursing orderly. And my friend had gone with me, she went off as a cook; and I don’t know how much cooking she knew. But anyway, we didn’t go to the same station. I was sent up to Glasgow [Scotland], to a Balloon Barrage Station [anchored balloons used in defensive against low-level air attacks]. It wasn’t where they flew balloons. It was where they repaired them and made them. Most of the WAAF were employed doing that.

And there was a small sick quarters where I had to hang around and do, put band aids on or whatever happened. I didn’t like being a nursing orderly, that’s not what I wanted to be, I wanted to be something other. Anyway, I was shifted from that and I was an assistant to the station admin[istration] officer; and I kept his records straight for him. And then eventually, I got promoted to being a corporal; and I had, in the meantime, had been accepted for officer training. And then I was posted again up to [No.] 18 Group Headquarters, which was the headquarters for Coastal Command in Scotland.

And the girls there mostly worked underground. They were radio and communications, and things were in an underground area. It was a big headquarters; I think there were over 400 WAAF there. It [her duties] was just the routine paperwork and seeing the girls were all clothed and fed and behaved themselves, and if they didn’t, giving them punishment or not allowed out of camp for some days or something like that, taking it very serious. If they wanted compassionate leave or if anything, if they had worries or anything like that, I’d be someone that they came to. There were several other WAAF officers there who were code and cipher, they were assistants for various officers doing their running about for them; and there were drivers and mechanics, and things like that.

One sad thing that did happen was that when D-Day [the Allied Normandy landings of June 6, 1944]came, or just the day after D-Day, one of our WAAF officers, who hadn’t been with us very long, put on her gas mask and walked into the sea at Aberdour [Scotland], because her husband had gone in with a [paratroop] drop before D-Day, was at eight hours before D-Day; and she hadn’t heard from him and hadn’t heard from him, and she thought he’d been killed. And he hadn’t because I had such a nice letter from him saying to please let the girls know that, just because they didn’t hear that somebody was safe, didn’t mean that they weren’t. And that was really upsetting for everybody. But it was such a nice letter from her husband and he was all right.

It was unfortunate that she’d only been with us such a short time, just a matter of a few days or weeks; she hadn’t got any friends on the station. And so she had nobody to go and a shoulder to weep on or ask for advice and she’d just done that, which was very sad.

I had to go through her kit and see what she had. So you did that so there was, if there was anything that their parents wouldn’t want to know, say if it was a young girl, you would remove and that. But that was, I never had to do that because I didn’t have, this was the only one where I had a death on the station.

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