2nd Anti-Aircraft School, Sussex, United Kingdom, 1942. Doris Mitchell in 2nd row, 2nd from the left.Doris Mitchell
Doris Mitchell's service medals: War Medal (1939-45) and the Defence Medal.Doris Mitchell
Patch with Anti-Aircraft symbol worn on left arm, 1942.Doris Mitchell
Cap badge for the Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS-United Kingdom) from 1942.Doris Mitchell
Doris Mitchell's husband, James Mitchell, pictured here, was in the Canadian Scottish Regiment. They met while he was stationed in Storrington, Sussex, in United Kingdom, 1942.Doris Mitchell
"6:00 in the morning, we got up, well, we were woken up by a terrific noise, the planes. And of course, we looked out and the sky, it was literally black with planes."
I was born on August the 5th, 1919 in London, in West Ham Borough. I was the youngest of seven. It was a close family. Oh, I did the usual things, went through high school and that. I’d just had my 20th birthday when the war was declared. By the time 1942 came around, I had the four brothers and two sisters and the four brothers had all been called up for the army. So one day at work - I worked at a big printing firm that made business forms - another girl and I decided we’d go to Essex and join up. And when I came back and told my mother, she wasn’t too happy. She said, you know, the boys have got to go but hate to see me go. But I never regretted it.
A difficult time in the war, in England just, they were all on their own. People felt, you know, they’ve got to do something. It’s surprising; there were a lot of women in the war effort. I did my training in six weeks in Devonshire and another six weeks in Lancashire to learn office administration, typing, and stuff like that. And then I was posted to Storrington in Sussex, a little village. And I kind of missed all the bombing after that.
Mostly typing. I did the daily orders, there’s a big long sheet of paper. Every day it had to be done. And if people were posted away, their name was entered on that. I helped the men with their payday, I’d get all the cash registers every second week, twice a month. And then when it was the ATS [Auxiliary Territorial Service] girls’ payday, or if it was the same day, I had to go down to their office and help them. There were two officers at that time. Nowadays, it’s all integrated.
I think we all helped. Really, people didn’t know really, how many girls there in the war, you know. There were some women that ferried new planes from the [United] States and Canada over to England. And it was never told; we had to keep everything secret because you didn’t want the enemy to know, you know. But they did make a film of that and they were pretty brave because they couldn’t have radio contact or anything. So they’re the kind of stories that, you know, it couldn’t be told at the time.
Six months before D-Day, we were in a restricted area and we couldn’t even go home to London for the weekend to visit our parents because we knew something big was coming. Any letter we wrote to a boyfriend or a friend had to be censored by the officer first. And if he didn’t like what you said, they’d black it out. Because they were worried that we’d give secrets away, unintentionally, you know.
I think it was around about D-Day when the Allies were landing in France, the other types and I were in a little office on our own and the windows started to rattle and the place was shaking and so we walked out into the Orderly Room and I asked the sergeant, the man, what was going on. And he said, oh, that’s the guns from France. So it’s only 22 miles across the [English] Channel, so that’s how come we could hear it. It kind of brought it home to us how close we were.
I find when I tell people about D-Day - like 6:00 in the morning, we got up, well, we were woken up by a terrific noise, the planes. And of course, we looked out and the sky, it was literally black with planes. And on the back of the plane, a glider attached, there was like nobody in it like. And there may have been troops in it but nobody driving it. And as they went over, then they released the cord and it glided the rest of the way and landed in France. That’s where they were going. And we said, oh, something big is going on this morning, you know. And this was still going on 4:00 in the afternoon. Every time you looked up, you could see just a mass of planes. And when I tell people that, they say that that’s not possible, you know. But it was. They’d go over, drop the gliders and then they’d come back and get more.
We just were amazed, you know, at the effort. And because a lot of the Americans were in there by that time, all the air forces were all involved in it. And it was secret, nobody found out and that’s the kind of things they had to keep quiet about so that they could, you know, do these things without the Germans finding out.
That was the most, I don’t know, terrific thing I saw. I didn’t get any action as far as fighting, like the girls do now. They wouldn’t let them in those days. But now they can volunteer if they want to go to the front line. So we’ve come a big long way. Up to the time when I joined up, women didn’t leave home and go away to works anywhere, you know. And it was kind of a sheltered life in a way. Doesn’t seem possible now, you know, but it was then. As I said, we’ve come a long way.