Veteran Stories:
Lorna Collacott

Air Force

  • Copy of recruiting poster.

    Lorna E. Collacot (Fletcher)
  • First photograph of Lorna E. Fletcher (Collacott) in Uniform, February 1944.

    Lorna E. Collacott (Fletcher)
  • Pay and Release Book of Lorna Collacott (Fletcher).

    Lorna E. Collacott (Fletcher)
  • Theatre Programme, London, England, June 1944.

    Lorna E. Collacott (Fletcher)
  • Wedding photo of Lorna E. Fletcher and John S. Collacott, taken outside the church, June 15, 1945.

    Lorna E. Collacott (Fletcher)
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"We got married on a Friday and if you’re working, world war work like a lot of my friends and relations did, you couldn’t get Friday off, too bad. So there were 12 people at my wedding."

Transcript

My father was in the First World War. He tried to join in the Second World War and they wouldn’t take him, so I said, “Well, it’s my turn to go.” Well, it was a tossup between the ATS [Auxiliary Territorial Service] and the WAAF [Women’s Auxiliary Air Force] and I chose the WAAF, because I liked their uniform better than I did the ATS’s.

You went is an ACH, Aircraft Hand general duties, and then they either told you a trade or you picked a trade. The only trade open was parachute packing and I didn’t think I wanted somebody hanging on the end of a parachute that I had packed. So they put me in clerical work.

We worked, I think everybody’s heard of Enigma machine, we worked on copies of that, we had a different code every day that we had to encode messages, and decode messages and that was called a one-time pad. And then we had another one of encoding which was a very complicated mathematical thing.

Okay, well, they sent us to radio school in Compton Bassett [England] and when you got the basics of what you were going to do, they had this great big hut and it was all divided up into countries. And you had two people in one country. And then you had to encode these messages and, of course, you couldn’t send them out Morse Code or anything because you were in a hut. And then you had a messenger that run up and down with your message and you had to wait for an answer to come back from the country that you were sending the message to.

And whilst we were there, we were told, we had to change the cams on the Enigma machine and we worked on that. You typed on the keyboard in plain English and when it came out the other end, it was already on a tape in Morse Code and encoded, ready to send. The only other one we used was this mathematical thing. The weird thing was from that, it was subtraction, so you subtracted from the other side, the left hand side to the right hand side. Okay. So you’ve got one, two, three, four, in a line and you’re going to subtract one, one, one, but instead of going from the right hand side and taking the one from the four, you started at the other end. And you couldn’t carry anything over. As I said, it was a little bit complicated, but once you got into it, it wasn’t that bad.

And I went to Edinburgh [Scotland] and that was No. 6 Crew Headquarters, Coastal Command. At that time, with Coastal Command, there wasn’t an awful lot going on. They were out patrolling over the North Atlantic and all we had to do was keep in touch with those squadrons and make sure all their stuff was up and running and our stuff was up and running. And basically, we did some encoding and decoding, but not like if you were on a real operational station.

We had two weeks embarkation leave to go to India, but in the meantime, I got married and they wouldn’t send married women overseas. So I never did get to go overseas. I met him in the YMCA in Gloucester [England]. He’d only been off the boat a week and then he was posted to Yorkshire and I was studying in Gloucester and then I was in Edinburgh, but we managed to work it out. Most units, you had one day off sometime during the week. Gloucester, we always had the weekend off, so I was able to go halfway up England and he came halfway down and we’d spend the weekends together.

June the 15th, 1945, very quiet. There were 12 people at my wedding because we only had a weekend off. We got married on a Friday and if you’re working, world war work like a lot of my friends and relations did, you couldn’t get Friday off, too bad. So there were 12 people at my wedding.

Sometimes I’m watching TV and I feel, you know, it didn’t happen that way, it just didn’t happen that way. Actually, I did go through all the bombing in London, but when we went out to Gloucester, Gloucester had never been bombed and everybody down there would say, oh, you know, you’re always complaining about bombs and I used to think to myself, oh yeah, you should go up and live there for a while. They had no bombing around Gloucester at all. I didn’t think they were too sympathetic. It was like, get on with it, kind of thing. That’s a terrible thing to say, but I didn’t have a bad time. Once I got out of London and the bombing, we really didn’t have a bad time.

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