Veteran Stories:
Grace Susan Shewan (née Major)

Air Force

  • Newpaper article about the efforts of Grace Shewan (née Major) and other WAAF RADAR operators in helping food get dropped to starving Dutch civilians.

    Grace Shewan
  • From L-R: Grace Shewan (née Major), Vivienne Hawke and Vi (sitting, last name unknown) outside their billet in Overstand, England, 1945.

    Grace Shewan
  • Left to right: Hilda, Grace Shewan (née Major), and Sylvia, 1942. They stayed good friends in civilian life.

    Grace Shewan
  • Left to right: Vi, Grace Shewan (née Major), and Jean in battle dress, Norfolk, England in the summer of 1945.

    Grace Shewan
  • Grace and Arnold Shewan's wedding, March 1, 1944. They were married in the chapel of a bombed out church in Greenwich, England. Here, Grace's younger sister is giving her a lucky horseshoe.

    Grace Shewan
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"I think when it comes to wartime, the future is not so much your problem. You really do live for the day a little bit more."

Transcript

Well, in England, when you were 19, you were what they called, called up, everyone. You had an interview with someone and they made sure that you were going to be doing something for the war effort, either go into a factory or join the forces, do something for the war effort. Now, I will admit, I was a bookkeeper and they did offer me a government job in an office, which I never told my parents because I got patriotic and I joined the air force [Women’s Auxiliary Air Force].

I will admit, when I went into the air force, I was going to, I thought, be a driver, drive all the big wigs around. But anyway, they wanted me, after the tests they give you, the IQ test and everything, they wanted me to go onto radar. And, of course I said, what’s that? I enjoyed being in radar and then, of course, I was posted to [RAF] Rosehearty in Scotland. These radar stations were all around the coast, so that the whole coast was covered, so you could see planes coming in. And then after a year, I was down onto another course which was called Oboe [navigational system]. This was radar and Oboe, but a different type of thing.

Oboe was something that we were in contact with the [De Havilland DH-98] Mosquito [fighter-bomber] planes. We could tell them exactly where, they would ago ahead of the bombers, with this Oboe, we could tell them exactly where to drop their flares, these special type of flares that the Germans could not duplicate, onto the target that they wanted to bomb. And they would drop them and then go off, and then the bombers would come behind them and bomb. I guess anything you read, it was quite a turn of the war to be able to do that.

We had our tube, which is like a television tube, it’s a PPI [plan position indicator] tube, and we could see and hear where the Mosquito was, if he was on the course; and he was in his plane, and he could hear whether or not he was on the right course. And if he went off course, it would be a different sound and that sort of thing.

It was this food dropping in Holland that I was really involved with that really stayed with me. Because there, I think the article in the paper, it said they were the Pathfinders [an elite RAF Bomber Command squadron], the planes, the Pathfinders, and we could tell them exactly where to drop the food. So they would go in first. And so it was quite a help and we were on that every day for a while. It was a good feeling to think you could help a little bit.

Oh, I remember VE [Victory in Europe] Day because I don’t know how we all got started, but everyone decided they were going to just leave the station, and no work to be done or anything like that. So we were on the east coast there, which I think we call hitchhiked into York, I think it was. We got on the highway and we were waiting there, a whole bunch of air force, army, anyone that was coming along, they all stood on the road there and along came this great big flat truck, you know what I mean by a flat truck? A great thing. Everyone hopped on, sat on the side with their feet dangling over and we went all the way down to London like that. I get rather emotional about it, but it was just wonderful. And we went through a town, everyone was yelling. It was just really something.

And so I went down to London because that was my home and that’s where I wanted to be, you see. So, yeah. So then when everyone got home, of course, people were dancing in the streets and everything. So it was really something.

I think when it comes to wartime, the future is not so much your problem. You really do live for the day a little bit more. And as far as being married, I probably would have not married quite so soon if it wasn’t the fact that my husband thought he was being transferred to France, you see, so that was why. Or my husband-to-be, he thought he was going to be sent to France, so we decided we’d get married ahead of time. And so we sort of pushed it up a bit. You didn’t think so much of the future. You wanted to be with the one you loved right then and that was it. It was quite a thing. And then, of course, when it comes to leaving the family, that’s a little different story.

My husband had done his three years in England and actually, at one time, he was supposed to be transferred to France, but because, I think, of something else happening, it was cancelled. He’d done his three years, which meant that he was due for repatriation. And when he was due for repatriation, they told me that I could possibly come with him, you see. So I immediately put in my papers to the air force and to see if I could get discharged. And so that was fine except that as soon as VE Day came, they stopped all brides going anywhere because they wanted to get all the men back. You see, with victory in Europe, they wanted all their men back in Canada. So that’s what they did. They started to bring them all back and they stopped any wives coming.

So, my husband got home, into his hometown of Thames, where I live now, and I think it was the day before or the day of, something like that, of VJ [Victory in Japan] Day. You see, so I didn’t know what I was going to do and then you keep in touch with the Canadian War Brides Bureau in London, England, and they said, well, they had no idea then what was going to happen. So I simply went and found myself a job, and went to work as a temp shorthand typist; and I worked for six months before my passage came through.

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