"And he was missing. And two other boys that were injured. So there was quite a lot of sadness. When anyone went missing, it was like a death over the camp."
I was born in Edinburgh, about five miles out of the centre of the city, it’s just a little village called Gilmerton. And it was my mother and father and two other sisters. I didn’t have any brothers. They had a business and I helped them run the business until I was of age that I got called up for munitions. And I didn’t want to go to munitions so I volunteered for the RAF [Royal Air Force].
I went to the RAF in Morecambe [England] and did my training. That was for about six weeks, two months. And then I went onto Evanton in the north of Scotland, and I did the rest of my training there. It was very quiet, there wasn’t a lot to be done or said, but they gave you your training and exercises all the time, just wanting to keep you fit.
From there, I got posted to [RAF] Leuchars in Fife [Scotland]. And that was a fighter drome. So I was there for almost three years and it was all pilots and gunners and they all went to the German border and shot them down at night. And I used to lie and listen to them coming back in the morning, and I could tell them in flying control how many were missing. And they used to say, “How did you know?” I’ll say, “Because I lay and listen to them coming in and I could tell there was one missing and there was two missing.” And one of them happened to be a guy that I had been out with the night before for dinner and a nice evening. And he was missing. And two other boys that were injured. So there was quite a lot of sadness. When anyone went missing, it was like a death over the camp.
And it was a big camp and it was very, I would say, very close, everyone was very close with one another. Even if there was 300 of us staff there, they all knew each other. So it was like a death in the family because they, they all sort of clung to each other very much. And when they knew that someone was going out at night, they always wondered what news I had for them in the morning because I could tell them, I could hear them coming back and I would say, “There’s a missing bit, there’s one missing.” And then a little while after it, there would be another one missing. So I was able to tell them and they would say, “You’re right, Margaret, you’ve heard it because someone else had heard it while listening to the morning.”
So I did that and I was really getting into things, and it was quite near Dundee in Scotland, so I used to go visiting with another WAAF ]Women’s Auxiliary Air Force] that was there and go and stay at her parents maybe one weekend. The next weekend, I would go and stay at my own parents. Well, the training, you went into a home. It was all homes you went into in Morecambe. Each landlady had to take so many girls in, you know. And you went into their home and they gave you your food. And you had to be up at 5:30 in the morning, you went and you’re training at 6:00 in the morning. And you marched along the front, where the sea was. And there was, they were all out, you know, hundreds of girls were out. And they all went in groups and you just did your training and your exercises, up and down and down and up and anything to keep you fit, you know. And you got good food because the landladies were well paid for what they gave you.
I had no regrets going and I was in all these years, but I enjoyed it. I wasn’t enjoying losing the boys that were there with you, but I enjoyed the life and the outdoor life. Of course, I was an outdoor person.
Well, every day was the same because there was always messages coming in. It came in by electricity. And it was like a typewriter switched onto electric. And you could get through to any camp as long as you knew their code. You had to know the code before you could get through. And then you could print any message to them, like typing it to them and it types right through to this, whatever they are, and they could send you another message back when they had the quote, send you the answer back to it. And it saved a lot of time and sending it by post, you never knew when you were going to get it. So you automatically got it fairly quick when you did it that way.
And you got to know a lot of people, just by typing to them, you know. And you always knew what their rank was and they were always much the same as your own rank. You didn’t get a sergeant or a sergeant major or anybody like that. Somebody that couldn’t ask you questions. I mean, I’m all through with it now, I’m nearly 90 now. But after all these years, I mean, I can go back and picture all the boys that were there watching us and you know, you watched everything around you. You went out of camp, you came into camp and there was always somebody saw you. If two girls went out together, they would say, “Oh, I saw Margaret, I saw Lynn going out, oh, they’re away on an SOP [Standard Operating Procedure], they’re away for the weekend.” So the one weekend I went to my parents and then the next weekend, I went to Dundee to her parents. And we kept friends for a long, long time.
I could go down to flying control, down onto the airport first thing in the morning. Coming off night duty and I would ask them, “Are you going up today?” Now, the war was still on at that time and I would say, “Are you going up?” And one guy said, “Yes, I’m going up in a short time, Margaret, but I’ve got to go and collect somebody.” When he came back, it was a prisoner that had been grounded. And he was going up in the plane with us. We were just watching to see what the man was doing and how he was trying to get him to pass a test to fly again. But I never knew what happened about that.
You got to know everybody and everybody got you and they seemed to always remember you, no matter where you were on the camp. Everybody was very close. There might have been anything from, there’d be 300 to 400 airmen on the camp. And all these men were going out flying at some time or another.