Liberating Europe
LIBERATINGEUROPE
From D-Day to Berlin: The Allied Liberation of Europe

Life in the Womens' Auxiliary Air Force

  • May
  • Mary
  • 82; born in 1923
  • W.A.A.F.
  • Tickton
Photo of Mary May
 

Summary: Mary May joined the Womens' Auxilliary Air Force as an 18 year old and spent the years between 1940 and 1945 helping the war effort behind the scenes.

Mrs May was interviewed at her home on 27th June, 2005.

Can you tell me your name, please?
Mary.

(indistinct asides)

Well, it was May, nee Illingworth.
Yes, Illingworth.
I-L-L-I-N-G-W-O-R-T-H.
Could I ask how old you are now please? I know it's a rude question, but er...
82.
82, and how old were you when war broke out, can you remember? I mean I could work it out but er...
*Cliff May* 16?
16.
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Two brothers were in the Air Force, so I wanted to be in the Air Force as well, so I joined.
Mary May, W.A.A.F.
16, 'cause I went in at 1940, (Addendum - 1941) that's right.
What did you do in 1940 (Addendum - 1941)? Who did you join?
1940? (Addendum – 1941?)
Did you join..?
I joined the Womens' Auxilliary Air Force.
Did you, er...were you called up or did you volunteer, or..?
Volunteered, yes.
You volunteered, so where were you living then?
Leeds.
So at s...how old were you when you volunteered?
Seventeen. (Addendum - Eighteen)
Seventeen. (Addendum - Eighteen) And why did you do that? What was the reason for you joining?
Just to join up.
Did you feel...?
Two brothers were in the Air Force, so I wanted to be in the Air Force as well, so I joined.
So you wanted to do your bit, as well?
Yes.
Yes. You felt...did you feel a duty?
Well, I suppose so, in a way, yes.
What were your, er...what was your role, or what were your duties in the Women's Air Force?
Well I was a clerical. I used to do office work.
Yeah, and what did that entail?
Well I don't really know. You just did office work, admin, you know? Making sure things were done, and letters were sent and people got their passes, and leaves, and signs and, you know, things like that. Just general office work.
So you were part of the massive team that did all the paperwork and..?
Did the office work, the paperwork, yes.
How long were you in the Women's Air Force for?
*Cliff May* 'Bout '45?
Until I was de-mobbed. About '45, wasn't it? Just after the war finished.
'45.
About five years, I suppose.
Did you move around when you were in (the W.A.A.F.)?
Oh, yes. I went to Bridgenorth first to do my training. 'Square bashing', whatever, and when I'd finished there I was posted down to Gosport, which I'd never heard of.
Where's that?
That's down near Portsmouth. And I wasn't very happy there because it was such a long way from home, and I'd never get home, and the W.A.A.F. Officer knew that I wasn't very happy, and I was billet in a room with two more W.A.A.F.s who weren't very pleasant, and never having been used to mixing with a lot of women, and having two older brothers at home, it took a bit of getting used to. And then this posting came in, and if your name wasn't on the posting then they could send whoever they liked. There was no name, so this posting came in for a clerk to go to Cambridge, so I went, and I was happy to get away from these two girls, and I was happy because I knew that Cambridge was further up North, towards...going towards Leeds. So I was quite happy, and when I got there it was very good because it wasn't a station or anything, it was just a big house like...
*Cliff May* Small mansion I suppose.
Yes, and I was, apart from the W.A.A.F. Officer, I was the first W.A.A.F. to be posted there, so I said...I thought that was very good because I got spoilt, and it was very good, and I was billet out into a private billet. I went to a house, and this couple kind of looked after me, down Trumpington Road, which was the main road from Cambridge down to London. And to be quite honest I got spoilt because I got things. extra things. We used to have to get...we used to have equipment and we used to have three of everything, and the underwear was diabolical, so I used to let my mother have them. As the knicker legs came down to nearly your knees, so I used to let my mother have the knickers, and told her not to throw them away, that I had to have them back, because when they were worn you could exchange them for some more. So she gave me some clothing coupons so I used to buy my own knickers, like. And being well in well in with everybody, I used to get, extra clothes that I shouldn't have had really. I always had twice as much as anybody else, and then, unfortunately, we got this Warrant Officer, and he took an instant dislike to...well there was another W.A.A.F. came, and he took an instant dislike to us, so he had us posted out, still belonging to 74 Wing but out, and I finished up at Bawdsey, which was out on the coast. Er, it wasn't too bad - usual routine and everything, and used to play tennis, and badminton and life went on. We weren't allowed on the beach, of course, because it was all mines and things on the sand. You weren't allowed there. And if the air raid sirens went, which having said that, all the time I was in, I was never, ever, touch wood, in an air raid, but if the air raid sirens went, I always used to want to be last in, so that if we could get out I could be first out, because I didn't like being shut in, and I came out and we over...we overlooked Ipswich, and I can remember once, and that was a long way away, and you could see these flares - I think they call them 'Onion flares' or something, coming down and they said that was over Ipswich. And that was more or less all I'd see...all I saw, anything.
Yes.
And then, from there I was posted to a place called Drem, just outside Edinburgh. I thought, "Oh, here we go again! I don't want to go there." So, I went home instead, and my father was a bit strict and he knew that I shouldn't be there, that I should have gone to wherever, and he wanted to know why I'd got all this equipment that I'd got. Anyway, that was beside the point, so he made sure, he took me down to the station, because he got it out of me where I should be going. So I got down to the station, and I had to change at Newcastle, and when I got to Newcastle, I had to inform the Station Master that the train had to be stopped at Drem, which was roughly about half an hour from Edinburgh, and the station...and he train stopped and I was the only one that got off, but there was an R.A.F. car waiting for me, to take me up the hill to the station, which was R.A.F. Drem, but we didn't sleep there, there was quite a few W.A.A.F.s, we didn't sleep there because there was no accommodation. There was more or less like for men and aeroplanes and whatnot.
Yes.
And, so every morning and every night we were taken down and brought back to North Berwick, and we had a house down there where we all slept. That was quite good. That was not too bad. I made quite a few friends, and I lost two friends - one was an Australian and his plane came down on Havington Moors and that was a bit upsetting. Anyway, from there I got posted down to Rudloe Manor, and I'd got all this equipment to take, and I had a blue writing case with a zip round, and I had addresses and pens and goodness knows what inside, and I couldn't even get it into my gas mask holder, so I had to carry it. Anyway, I got down to London, and I had to change there, for the train and, I got to the station and a car came down, picked me up and took me up to the R.A.F. station. I got a telegram from my mother to say that my blue writing case was at Yotton (phonetic) railway station, which was about two more stations further on than where I got off. Anyway, I got in touch with the Station Master and he sent it back and I picked it up and I was all right.
Erm, the life was just normal. Not very far away there was a huge underground ammunition...I think it was an ammunition factory that I could remember, and we were allowed to go. Trucks used to pick us up you could go, and we could go to the dances and...but we couldn't wander round and that was it.
Then from there I got posted to Preston, just outside Preston. That was just the normal routine, but from there, there used to be a big, USA station - I think it was at Warrington, near Warrington, but they used to send three trucks, three big trucks of...to take your W.A.A.F. personnel, and of course there always had to be someone in charge and they used to take us down, but you weren't allowed to wander around, and we went in the dance, out, back into the trucks, no wandering around, but they were ever so good to us because they used to give us big boxes of 'candy', they used to give us cakes and all sorts. Things that like, you know, we never used to have. Then when we used to get back we used to share - share and share alike.
And then from there I was posted down to Nottingham. I got promoted down there. I'd gone from an AC2 to an AC1, and an AC1 to a LACW, and then from there I got promoted to a Corporal, which was very good - more money, more pay. And that was just the routine.
I had a friend who, 'cause I never went abroad, I was never posted abroad, and I had a friend staying in London. She was waiting to go abroad, so I went down for the weekend and spent the weekend in London with her, and I remember buying these shoes. They had square toes and, suede up the middle, and they cost me a lot of money. They'd be about four or five pounds, which was a lot of money in those days. And I can't just remember which train I got back but we had to change, to get the train to Nottingham but anyway, we got off the train 'cause it was stopping, and, just to get a cup of tea and by the time I'd got the tea the train had set off, and there was an American Army Sergeant and he got stranded as well, so he grabbed hold of me, and we went and got a taxi, and we followed the train, and every time we got to the station it was just setting off. Anyway we caught up with it eventually, at Nottingham, and somebody had kindly handed my shoes in, and that's all I was bothered about. That I'd got my shoes back, but he was very good - I thanked him very much, and I thought, "I hope he doesn't ask me for any money because I haven't got any."
Anyway, he paid the taxi, so that was it. And then from there I was posted down to London, and I was on what they called 'AMRU strength' (phonetic - please replace), and it was like a team. We had two officers, and whatever there was. There was a team like a pilot, and a gunner and a rear gunner, and a clerk, and we used to go to different stations, and it was like 'time and motion' that we used to have to do, and this particular time I was at Cosford, and that was when the war finished when I was there, and it was quite good because when you went to these different stations you were never put on duty. I was never put on duty Corporal for anything because we didn't belong to the station, we were a unit of our own so we never got involved, which was quite good. And, as I say, I was de-mobbed from Cosford. I think I was glad in a way. I think I'd had enough, and I think it was about time, since the war was over and I felt I'd done what I could've done. You know, and that was it.
Can you remember V.E. Day?
No, not really.
*Cliff May* Tell him why?
Eee, I can't remember where I was. I would have done, but I can't just remember.
And what was your uniform like? Did you wear a uniform?
Oh, yes! Usual W.A.A.F. uniform. Blue hat with a peak on, peak on the top.
*Cliff May* Thick stockings.
Oh, yes, thick stockings. We had to wear those, unless of course you were lucky and you'd got some clothing coupons and you could buy some thin ones, which occasionally you did if you went out at night time. But, you got three of everything, apart from uniform; you got two, like three shirts, and three ties, and three of this and three of that. Three pairs of horrible knickers (laughs) that I never wore, but it wasn't bad, it was good, but I was glad to get back home, but life was different when I got back home. It was, you kind of came back down to earth. You know, you had your parents there that said, "No, you do this, and you do that. You be in at such and such a time", which I'd never been used to.
Yes. So you'd basically gone from being a school child at home with your parents, to having a life of independence, where you were your own person, and then went back home and you were back with your parents again, under their control.
That's true. Yes.
*Cliff May* Then you met me.
Then, yes, I was going to say, then I met Cliff. Met Cliff in the August, and then he went down to London, September, came back Christmas, we got engaged, then we got married in the June.
Did you wear your uniform when you got married?
Oh, no! Got married in the June, and then we went to Newcastle to live, but having said that, if I hadn't have met Cliff, and I hadn't have got married, I wouldn't have lived at home. I would've left home, 'cause I'd got a younger brother, sister and brother, and there was like six years and what have you between us, you know, it wasn't my cup of tea, and I would have left home.
*Cliff May* We lived opposite each other.
Oh, right.
I would've left home anyway. Yes.
Thanks very much.
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