Mrs. Phoebe Anne Magee (right) when she was serving in the Royal Canadian Air Force's Women's Division.Phoebe Anne Magee
Mrs. Magee posing in front of a bomber aircraft.Phoebe Anne Magee
Sketches made by Mrs. Magee showing some variations in the uniforms of female staff working within the ranks of the Canadian and British Air Forces during the war.Phoebe Anne Magee
Some French World War Two currency notes belonging to Ms. Magee.Phoebe Anne Magee
Mrs. Magee war medals, from left to right: Defence Medal; Canadian Volunteer Service Medal; War Medal 1939-1945; 125th Anniversary of the Confederation of Canada Medal; Queen Elizabeth II Golden Jubilee.Phoebe Anne Magee
"And sometimes, you know, they dropped their bombs way off target as I guess sometimes they just got the hell out of there because it was so dangerous and they just decided to dump their bombs and get away."
Joining up, there was a choice when I went in, there was I think three trades. You could be a telephone operator, a cook or the other one was called General Duties, which meant that you, cleaning more than anything else I think, sort of cleaning woman. And so I thought, well, telephone operator sounds good and through some friends, I was able to go to the Bell Telephone [Company] in Montreal [Quebec] and take a quick crash course on running what they called a PBX board [Private Branch Exchanges, a device used to connect a group of telephones manually]. I had enough experience on that to be able to get into the air force as a telephone operator.
And so after I’d had basic training, which was, you know, you have your shots and you get your uniform and you’re taught how to march and all those things, I was sent to what they called a Service Flying Training Station in Hagersville, Ontario. And I functioned as a telephone operator there for a month. Then I was sent to an administration course after that.
There were nine of us who went together, who were supposed to be doing photo interpretation. And we were sent to Bournemouth on the south coast [of England] and they just parked us there for awhile I think. I can’t remember, it was less than two weeks I guess, somewhere in that area. And then we were variously sent to interviews in London, to specialist officers who interviewed us and given choices between doing photographic interpretation or being in the intelligence end of things. So I chose the intelligence end, I thought it sounded more interesting. And then I was sent to Yorkshire [England] to Number Six Group [consisting of bomber squadrons of the Royal Canadian Air Force] then.
The people who specialized in it spent their days examining photographs that had been taken by reconnaissance planes at various times of the day. A lot could be figured out from the shadows on the photographs about the height of buildings and that kind of thing. And they got very expert in interpreting for instance at the time of the flying bombs, when they discovered that sites of where they were being launched from in France. So they could tell a lot from photographs and I mean, they got very good at it.
The other end of photo interpretation was working with photographs that were taken by the planes flying over the targets on bombing missions and there were a number of frames that the camera took and somehow, they could be timed so you could tell which photograph was the one that would be at the time the bombs landed. And because you could tell from sometimes the markings by the Pathfinder Force [later known as No. 8 (Pathfinder Force) Group, a group of elite squadrons from the Bomber Command of the Royal Air Force tasked of locating and marking targets with flares], sometimes by a few details on the ground that you could match up, parts that could be seen through the clouds in photographs, you could match that up on maps and you could tell pretty well whether the bombers had hit the target or not.
Well, sometimes it was very difficult to figure out if there was a lot of cloud cover and there were no pathfinder markings, then it was difficult, you really couldn’t pinpoint anything on them. But on the whole, it was a pretty efficient method I think. And sometimes, you know, they dropped their bombs way off target as I guess sometimes they just got the hell out of there because it was so dangerous and they just decided to dump their bombs and get away.
Well, sometimes I’d take the maps and I’d see some detail on it. And searching and searching, I’d find that they dropped their bombs 20 miles from the target or something. They didn’t like to hear it but I mean, you could find out pretty well what had happened.
I think the photographs just came in to the intelligence unit and it was my job to interpret them when they came in. And sometimes there’d be somebody else in the unit who’d come and look over my shoulder when I was doing them but mostly, that’s just the way it was done.
No, I don’t think I ever wrote a report about it. Usually the wing commander or the squadron commander would come in or the pilots or the bomb aimers come in, because I had a section that was like an intelligence library that my boss had got me to set up. And so they would come in to look at the pictures and talk to me about them and sometimes I’d explain to them why I had come to the conclusion that I had.
Only once that I had any problem and there was a wing commander who got very angry about a report that I had one of his people dropping their bomb load way off target. And he came in and I had written about that part, he was furious and he couldn’t believe what I had interpreted. Anyway, I showed him and explained to him and he could see that it was right so in the end, I don’t think I got an apology but he accepted it anyway. But no problem after that.