"You could see the enemy aircraft coming in, and then our aircraft coming up to meet them. And you could hear the, the gunfire and, and everything."
The warrant officer said they were choosing so many girls from each group to do clerk special duties, it was a very secret job. And I thought, oh, you know, that sounds okay. And you might have to work at night some time and I thought, oh boy, imagine working when everybody else was asleep. [laughs] Soon changed my mind about that [laughs] but, anyway, she told me what I would be doing, I’d be working the fighter operations room with the big table, with a huge map; and we’d have to plot all the aircraft, enemy and our own aircraft.
Well, the training, of course, consisted of plotting arrows on a map. And the place where I was posted to didn’t have a main operations room then, they used a civilian flying club. So it was a smaller place with a controller who controlled the pilots. And we had to wear headsets and listen to the position of the aircraft with all the arrows going in different directions.
And then they built a new operations room which was underground. Then they had the huge map in there and it was built in tiers so that the controller was at the top and he looked down on the map to see where the planes were. And then, of course, the map was so big, we had to use metal rods. So you’d put your metal arrow on the rod and you reached over and placed it where the radar told you. And the map was divided into, how many, into squares anyway and they would tell you a number to indicate where the aircraft was, so we had to figure it out with these squares, eight square inches they were, yes.
And so we got quite used to flipping around these metallic rods. And then the controller would look down and talk to the pilots. I learned some rather unusual language actually because some of the pilots left their transmissions on. [laughs] And I’d led a very sheltered life up until then. [laughs] But it was all very exciting though for a young girl, never been away from home.You could see what was happening. You could see the enemy aircraft coming in, and then our aircraft coming up to meet them. And you could hear the, the gunfire and, and everything.
We were married in 1944 and then he joined the army after awhile and he went over to France on D-Day which was when the invasion happened. I didn’t know he’d gone, of course. But before he went, he devised a code so that he could tell me where he was and we would write to each other every day. And then all of a sudden, I didn’t get any letters from him. And finally, I got about three letters at once and I opened the first one and started to read it and I thought, I wonder if this has the code in it.
So I tried the code, sure enough, it said, France 2nd Army. And I had no idea and, of course, everybody was being killed. Of course, the letters didn’t arrive on time anyway, so I didn’t know how he was or anything. It was a long time until I heard from him and I finally did. And then, I was home on sick leave. I had got pneumonia and had a telegram from him saying he was in a hospital in London. He’d been wounded, could I come? And my father sent a telegram to my base and said, you know, could I have extra leave? And they sent him a telegram back saying that I’d have to return to base and they would consider it. And there was no way I was returning to base so I got a, we lived on an island and I had to catch, there were only two boats going over because it was wartime. I had to wait until the evening boat and got on the boat, and got on the train up to Glasgow and took a train down to London. And I didn’t know what to expect. But when I got there, he was all in one piece, thank goodness, but his unit had been blown up and he was concussed very badly, yeah. But I was AWOL: Absence Without Leave. And you can be quite badly reprimanded for that. There was no way I was, wasn’t going to see my husband.
My husband and I went back to Scotland in about 1980 I think it was, and went back to the main station where I was posted. And I said, I don’t suppose the ops [operations] block would still be there, but let’s go and see if I can find it. So we drove along and I said, oh, it was about there and I looked over there and there’s this big cement building. I thought that couldn’t be the ops block because it was camouflaged, you know, they’d put mounds of dirt and grass over it in case it was bombed. And I thought, that couldn’t be the ops block.
Anyway, I got out to the car and I went to the main door and sure enough, it was. And it was dark, of course, and I crept along the corridor to find the ops room itself and in the meantime, they’d knocked out one of the walls, so I could see it and it was the weirdest feeling I have ever felt. Because it was always so busy and so much noise, and there wasn’t a sound. Oh, and I, it gave me goose bumps.