Veteran Stories:
Barbara Renée Huard

Air Force

  • Barrage Balloon over Tower Bridge during the Blitz.
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"And the German plane came so close, you could see the pilot. And there was 213 children killed at that schoolyard. [The German plane] came over and they sprayed them. No bombing, but just killed them."


Well, I joined the British air force [Women’s Auxiliary Air Force]. I am British, and then in later years, I married my husband, who was a Canadian, and I came over here as a war bride. Yes, I remember, we didn’t have a radio, but the people across the road did; and I can remember hearing [British Prime Minister] Winston Churchill saying, we are at war. And he just, he always seemed as though he was roaring, wa-a-ar. And so I remember that. But because we were in the country, we never thought anything about it. The nearest thing we had to war was the ack-ack [anti-aircraft] guns and the searchlights. I mean, that’s all, had Hitler made, instead of going through the lowlands, if he’d have come right across the [English] Channel, he would have caught us with our pants down. We had nothing, had nothing. Before I joined the air force, I was a, I may have, should have put that down as service too, in the air raid precautions, right in London, and the air raid there. Something you never forget. The old ladies there, they swept up the glass just like, paid no attention to it, swept it up, put it in the dustpan, into the dump and went back into the house, like nothing had happened. Very tolerant, very resilient. We used to go out on light patrol. You weren’t allowed to have any lights shining out of your windows; they had to be absolutely black. And on the cars and bicycles, the top part of the lights were shaded, so that they could not be so easily seen from aircraft. I went to London when I was 18. I joined the ARP, air raid precautions; and I served in that air raid precautions until I left and volunteered for the air force, and lived in London all that time. I remember at first, when you joined that, at first, you’re more or less a messenger. So I went out with two of the wardens and I remember walking around the church; and they were counting, they counted to seven. I said, seven what? They said, that was seven bombs. And that’s how I found out what a bomb sounded like. But where I lived, well, nobody had a glass window. It was all boarded the best way they could board it with whatever you could get. And there wasn’t too many courses that were open to ladies. I mean, [barrage] balloon [defense against low-flying aircraft] operators were all women. As a balloon operator, you pay it out by the winch for so many feet and then release, and it goes automatically. But it’s put at a height that would keep the German aircraft high enough so that they couldn’t hit the targets. If they came down, which they sometimes did, below the balloon, then when they hit that cable, it would jerk up and down; and it would cut and cause a drag on that plane, eventually bringing it down. So that’s what a balloon does. When you were the balloon operator, you had to keep that balloon, the nose of the balloon in wind, otherwise, if it got out, well, it went skewiff [were messed up]. So they had big cement blocks attached all down that side and all around the balloon by ropes to ropes that are on the balloon. And I blame my sore back for that. Because there was, I think, they weighed close to 200 pounds and you had to keep lifting them to keep the balloon in wind. Well, when I was a balloon operator, not too far from where our balloon site was in London, I served in London for balloons, there was a school that was bombed. And the German plane came so close, you could see the pilot. And there was 213 children killed at that schoolyard. [The German plane] came over and they sprayed them. No bombing, but just killed them. Well then, after the Battle of Britain, we were fatigued or so-called fatigued, so they asked us to re-muster. So I re-mustered to flight mechanic engines. We trained 22 weeks for that. And you had to, first of all, they gave us a piece of metal, about five by three, about three eighths inch thick, and you had to file that to a certain degree until it was, that was the main training. Then we had to do the training on the engine; and I always remember induction, compression, power and exhaust. That’s one thing that always stuck with me. And then we had to do the training on the engines. Then when we went out on the field, well, there was flight mechanic engines, flight mechanic aircraft, but the flight mechanic engines had to strap the pilot in his seat; and I remember when we went out first, the pilot said, oh no, no woman’s going to strap me in the seat. I said, you’ll get the best strapping you ever had. But they were doing that just to josh. But they did tell us that we were more conscientious than the men.
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