Veteran Stories:
Elsie Francis Mills (née Nash)

Air Force

  • Elsie and her husband Jack Edward shortly after they were married in November 1943.

    Elsie Mills
  • Group photo outside the church on the wedding day, November 6, 1943.

    Elsie Mills
  • Elsie Mills in 2010.

    Historica Canada
  • Elsie Mills in Bristol, England, April 19, 1942.

    Elsie Mills
  • Elsie Mills in Paignton, England in 1942.

    Elsie Mills
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"There wasn’t a single solitary night that the air raids weren’t continuing over Bristol."


War was declared and I went to nursing in a hospital in Bexleyheath. It was a psychiatric hospital. My father was a constructor in the Admiralty. The Admiralty was evacuated during the war to different areas. Each department was sent to a different area, so that if hostilities became impossible for them to work in London or; so that they separated the people that worked for the Admiralty. And he was evacuated to Bath and they took the Pump Room Hotel over. His department was completely in the Pump Room Hotel in Bath. Because my parents then moved to Bristol for him to be able to commute to Bath.

I moved from Bexleyheath, which is about five, ten miles out of London. I moved to Bristol and went to a hospital, resumed nursing duties in the hospital in Bristol. But I found that we had a big gun at the top of the hill and I found that it was much too stressful for me to continue with this big gun at the top of hill, and air raids every night. There wasn’t a single solitary night that the air raids weren’t continuing over Bristol. So I decided that I wanted out and nursing was a reserved occupation in that you would never be called up and they were calling nineteen year olds, which was what I was at that time. And they were calling them up to join the services or for service duties. And but I left nursing and went to work in a store until I could join the forces and left, as I say, because I just found that it was too stressful to be in Bristol where all the raids were continuing on - because Bristol was completely bombed.

We were buried one night while I was there. And we had to be dug out the next morning. So it really became quite a chore to be able to, with this gun at the top of the hill that banged continuously and it was a huge gun. I had to walk home every night, which was about a mile and a half. And we worked 13-hour days, six days a week. And it just became too much. So I joined the [Women’s Auxiliary] Air Force.

I think dental nursing was a more relaxed type of thing in that you’d just work for one person in the dental surgery and you’d sterilize all the instruments and do the general work that you would do if you went into any dental place.

We didn’t take X-rays there. X-rays weren’t taken like they are taken now. You’d set up the surgery and you, you were responsible for cleaning it, maintaining it and having it ready for the dentist when he came in. And since you worked one for one, it was a little more familiar working than it would have been if you were working in an office or something like this. You were expected to know all the books that you had to send and all the clerical work that you had to send. So gradually as you went along, you, and as you took your basic dental training, you also had to know, well, the way they trained us on drugs as much as anything else was to know, you had to smell them and know. You had exams for them until you became a leading aircraftswoman, which is what an ACW, which is what I was before I left there, yes.

I was on a station in South Wales, [RAF] Stormy Down. It was a little different. It was right beside the sea and we were part of the medical establishment there, at the hospital. So we had a surgery that was separate but part of. But you came into contact and worked with the medical staff a lot more there than you did anywhere else. But I wasn’t there long. I was sent down to Paignton. And from there, I went to [RAF] Filton. My mother was quite sick, so I, compassionately, they sent me to Filton, which was just outside of Bristol. And that was another type of station altogether. It was, most of them were training command that I was in because that was where the most need for the dentists were.

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