Veteran Stories:
May Summerville Sawyer (née Barclay)

Air Force

  • Photo of May Sawyer taken in August 1943 while home visiting family.

  • Photo of May Sawyer in 2010.

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"It was wartime, and I was on operational station, so the sad part was you knew these young men that would go out and sometimes they didn’t come back."


I had been a teacher of dance, I worked for a dance school, teaching ballet and tap and all that stuff. And then when war was declared, the dancing schools, a lot of them closed and the one that I worked with happened to close. So because I had office training, I replaced a man in an office who had been conscripted or else volunteered, I don’t know. So I worked in an office from 1939 I guess until I was conscripted [to the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force] in 1942. So I worked in an office and I was conscripted from there because of my age and the job I was doing could be replaced by a married woman. I was not attached, I wasn’t married or anything so I guess they felt that I should be conscripted, which a lot of the girls were. It was quite different because you were not used to sleeping in large dormitories with all kinds of different personalities. That was the biggest problem, until you adjusted and found a friend and so on. That was a little bit hard in the beginning, until you really got adjusted. But you got used to that, when you were moved around like I was, you made friends quite quickly in another station. We all kind of ate together. We were not segregated, like the girls sit together and you mixed in with all the other crew that was there. So that was kind of fun to do that. And of course, on the stations, there were not only Canadians and British, there were Australians and South Africans and there were all kinds of people attached to the air force. So that was sort of interesting, you were meeting people from other countries. The way I met my husband, I knew him because he was on the station of course, he was a radar officer and he was in charge of a very large section. But he also played in the station band, he was a clarinetist and he played in the station band. And when I really got to know him was, some of the girls were invited to go to another station for a dance because they were short of girls over on this training station. And I went over, the girls that were invited, went over with the band and that’s how I got to know my husband really. We had a nice wedding in Glasgow. We had time off to get married. And my husband’s best friend, who had been wounded in Italy and he happened to be on medical leave, so he was able to be our best man, which was really good, we were really happy about that. And my best friend was a WAAF [a member of the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force], so she got leave to come to be my maid of honour. I don’t think the young people realize, I mean, it was wartime, and I was on operational station, so the sad part was you knew these young men, like the pilots and navigators and so on, that would go out and sometimes they didn’t come back because the plane was shot down. So there was a lot of sadness as well as happiness because you lost friends that were flyers who were shot down or badly wounded. So there was a lot of sadness in the services.
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