The Wartime Memories of Mary (Molly) Clarke [ATS]

MC:  There really can’t be many of us left at all.  I might just as well say I’m coming up to 98.  So yes.

CB:  We’ve met people from the Navy and the RAF and the Army.  The week before we met Lord Bramall.

MC:  Oh did you.  That was interesting.

CB:  He told us about his time in Normandy.  He was very generous with his time.

MC:  Oh I’m sure he was.  They usually are.

CB:  It was great to come and have an opportunity to come and see you.

MC:  Oh thank you very much for coming.

CB:  No it’s great.

MC:  Hope I can do you some good.

CB:  So tell me which year were you born.

MC:  1920  29/12/20.  I shall be 98 this year.

CB:  That’s fantastic – what’s the secret to living a long life what you would you say.

MC:  I don’t know – well I’ve had a very good life – a very energetic one.  Very interesting one – I’ve looked after my parents.

CB:  Did you grow up in Wiltshire.

MC:  Yes.  I was born in Salisbury.  We moved to Wilton and my father started a business in Wilton when I was about seven I think and I have been here ever since.  Except for my four and a half years I did in the Army during the war and I was in the First Mixed Heavy Ack Ack Regiment that was formed.  We were formed at Owestry and there was a big decision.  General Sir Frederick Pile went to Churchill and told him he wanted some more men and Churchill said I can’t get them.  He wanted them for the Dunkirk effort and I don’t know who said have you thought about women and Sir General Pile said well no he hadn’t so this is how we came about and we went to Owestry and we did a lot of paperwork which we didn’t know what we were doing but we did it if you understand what I’m saying and the Regiment was formed in Owestry and we were the First Mixed Heavy Ack Ack Regiment to be formed and we were 129 Mixed Heavy Ack Ack Regiment 455 Battery.

CB:  And do you still remember your regiment number.

MC:  Yes.  W262270.

CB:  So what year did you join.

MC:  I think it was early 41.  I did four and a half years.

CB:  And in the build up to that time what were your memories of the early, the wartime and the efforts.

MC:  Well I was working in service.  I was a General.  There was a girl there with me we were both sort of 18 and I said we are going to think of doing some war work.  We should be called up.  I didn’t want to go into munitions – I’m not an inside person and so we went into Salisbury with the view of joining the WAF.  Well Edie had her papers and she was gone within a week and time went on.

CB:  She was a friend of yours

MC:  A friend of mine yes we worked together.  She was the house parlour maid I was the cook general so I thought time was going on and to be perfectly honest I am sorry Dad, Dad and I had words and I decided I had, had it.  But I was waiting to hear you know for my call up.  So I went into Salisbury office down the bottom of Castle Street and joined the ATS.  That was on the Monday and I went to Reading on the Friday.

CB:  Were there any other women joining at that time.

MC:  There were several others but I didn’t know who they were.

CB:  Did you know anything about it.

MC:  I didn’t know a thing about anything

CB:  So you said you wanted to serve.

MC:  I just joined and I took each day as it came.

CB:  What were your motivations for signing up to join.

MC:  One reason I knew I would be called up because of my age and I didn’t want to go into munitions so I wanted to do something that I wanted to do and I went into the army and that suited me fine and I joined as I said the First Mixed Heavy Ack Ack Regiment – wonderful. 

CB:  So after signing up what was the process you went through.

MC:  Well we went to Reading and we were sent to Owestry down in Wales and that is where the regiment was formed and there were four batteries to a regiment and we were trained on some of the instruments then we were sent to our gun site which was at Merilease camp where we were trained on the height and range finder predictor number tracker, spotters on top and plotters in the plotting room and that was where our training took place and after that, that was when we went and formed the regiment and we saw a lot of action actually but it was very interesting.

CB:  What was it like in the headquarters – were you working alongside men and women.

MC:  Oh yes – the men should be the predictor and height and range firers and what the men used to do on the instruments was replaced by women because they wanted the men for the Dunkirk effort I think.

CB:  Did you enjoy it.

MC:  Oh loved every minute of it.  If I hadn’t got married I would have made a career of it but I would have gone into physical training because we were disbanding the Ack Ack unit.  As soon as the war was over we didn’t exist.

CB:  You served for four years.

MC:  Four and a half.

CB:  Yes.

MC:  Don’t forget the half.

CB:  What was the reaction to having men and women together.

MC:  Well I don’t think there was any adverse objection to it.  Well it had to be.  You didn’t have a choice anyway you either wanted to do it and if you did you did you knew it was going to be a mixed heavy Ack Ack concern and we were kept apart from the men except when we were on the instruments or we were firing that’s the only time really but we had a naffy we had our own canteen we used to have spelling bees to keep us amused to keep us going and we would run dances. Make our own amusement.

CB:  Were there social events with the men and women.

MC:  Oh yes and so we came together.

CB:  Did anyone form relationships.

MC:  Oh yes they got married and got together pretty obvious isn’t it.  But there weren’t all that many men really.  The men were just well we had 4.55 guns heavy Ack Ack do you know the guns.  Are you familiar with the guns.

CB:  No.

MC:  Well a 4.5 gun is a static Ack Ack gun and they are very heavy things.  That was what the men were on.  We were on the instruments that fed like the height the brains and the ballistic readings to the men on the guns.

CB:  Was that from the radar.

MC:  Yes and we had radar girls.

CB:  So you had some social events.

MC:  Oh yes.

CB:  And where did you spend the time were you stationed in one location.

MC:  We had our own gun site and we had firing camps and the firing camps were always on the cliffs I cant remember all the places off hand but you could have your guns on the cliffs and you were facing France.

CB:  So your guns were stationed along the south coast – you can’t remember the locations of all of those.

MC:  Do you realise how long ago it is.

CB:  Well it’s important this is why we are trying to well it is so long you see.

MC:  Well I’ve got a list here somewhere – that’s the Forth Bridge that’s our first camp was down here and the Forth Bridge was our vulnerable point.  On the Forth Bridge there was a poster thing or whatever and that was a vulnerable point as it was termed that was what we were guarding.

CB:  So you were up in Scotland.

MC:  Scotland was our first base yes.

CB:  So did they move the guns around.

MC:  Oh yes.  But only when you moved from one battery to another.

CB:  How many guns did you say there were.

MC:  We had four.  We had the predictors, height and range finder and the trackers and of course there were girls that did spotting which was obvious and the plotters, which were down below the plotting room.

CB:  So tell us how the procedure would be for an attack.

MC:  Well you would have the spotters on the gun part and normally she would say something like target so the guns would line up the term was and you would get all your information from the instruments from the predictor and the height and range finder that went through to the guns because we on the height and range finder would be on the target and that information I would send through to the guns as they called it laying and it was a case of you know on target fire and that was it.

CB:  And you would see from the radar how many planes were coming would it be hundreds.

MC:  The most we had when we are like that was when we were in Kent and we were under canvass when the doodle bugs came over and that was a constant stream but they were such an easy target because they flew at a constant height and a constant speed so you couldn’t miss them.  Well if you missed them well god help you.  You know what I am saying but they were so easy at a constant height and a constant speed and there we were under canvass and we had the lighter guns which were just       seven.  Very interesting it was.

CB:  But I imagine it was quite exciting and satisfying.

MC:  Well it was well you were young in those days I was probably about 22, 23 so we were all young people.

CB:  Have you got any pictures.

MC:  We weren’t allowed to take pictures.

CB:  But any of you in uniform.

MC:  Oh yes I’ve got a uniform up there.  That’s my off duty one.

CB:  Can I have a look.

MC:  Yes you can.

CB:  Take a photo.

MC:  That was our off duty other than that we wore battle dress boots gaiters same as the men and steel helmets don’t forget that.

CB:  Did you get promoted.

MC:  I had one stripe and I was waiting to go to pre-op when the war ended.

CB:  Could women rise to high ranks.

MC:  Oh yes you could do the same as the men doing a man’s job.  So why wouldn’t you.

CB:  Who was the highest-ranking woman in your battalion. 

MC:  There was somultans then they went to captains, which was the same as the men.  Then major same as the men. Then CO – commanding officer.

CB:  Do you remember your CO still.

MC:  Well I don’t remember the names.

CB:  There were multiple commanding officers.

MC:  Oh yes.  To me it was a wonderful life it suited me down to the ground.

CB:  What sort of skills did you need for that role.

MC:  Well I don’t know really you always had to be pretty well up with maths well you had to what we call line up the instruments.  We used to what they call laying on a star look through your scope and pick up a star and you would take a reading on the star does that make sense and that would all be passed through to the instruments.

CB:  So it was high tech at the time.  So you were shooting at aircraft as well as the rockets.

MC:  Oh yes.  Our first firing was when we were at Donny Bristol Point in Scotland when this plane came in believe it or not flew right under Forth Bridge.

CB:  A German plane did.

MC:  But he was busy going home dropped his bombs as he went.

CB:  Did you manage to shoot it.

MC:  No we didn’t he was too low.  We were too low.  But we saw a lot of action when we were in Kent.

CB:  Was it in the Battle of Britain.

MC:  When the doodlebugs came over.  We went into London we were moved into London well I think it was the last move but one and we did see a little action there but you can imagine what London was.  It was really horrific but you don’t think of it in that way you haven’t got time.

CB:  Did you ever fear for your life.

MC:  No.  no.  I never gave it a thought I had two brothers in the army.  One was in the artillery and one was in the tank regiment so I am pretty well up with army life you know and it suited me down to the ground.

CB:  Where did your brothers serve.

MC:  My eldest brother was in the Middle East he got wounded out there.  My youngest brother was in Gibraltar.

CB:  Did you manage to stay in touch.  Were you writing.

MC:  Oh yes.  We made a pact that if any of us were worried about anything we wouldn’t worry mum and dad we would write to one another and this is what we always did and we wrote masses of letters.

CB:  And they came through they were ok.

MC:  Oh yes they did thank god.  But my oldest brother got severely wounded and it was uncanny really because my dad in the First World War was shot through the head and my oldest brother was in the tank regiment and his tank got blown up and when he got out of the tank or he got blown out of the tank the Germans bashed his head in so he got sent to Durban and a black doctor operated on him and re-built his skull.  The only thing was he had to come out of the tanks because he wasn’t what they called A1 but he went into the military police that suited him fine. 

CB:  Are you the only one surviving.

MC:  I’m the only one left I’m the younger.

CB:  Were you the youngest.

MC:  No I’ve got a sister three years younger than me.  She’s no longer here.  I’m the only one left keep all the best things till last.  Sorry about that not really.

CB:  It must be really exciting to be part of that.

MC:  Oh it is.  It was a life that suited me I think being brought up with the two boys I was a terrible tomboy and a dreadful rebel.  I was a shocker I don’t know how my mother coped.  It was a life that suited me I couldn’t see anything wrong with it.

CB:  Is that because of the action or because of the discipline.

MC:  I like the discipline it didn’t worry me I liked the comradeship and I certainly liked the action.  I mean you would go to bed and sleep with your steel helmet on but going into action was quite something.

CB:  The alarm could go off at any time really.

MC:  It could yes.  There were alarm bells all over the place.

CB:  You were in billets.

MC:  Yes we were.  Not under canvas.

CB:  In Kent.

MC:  Lydd on the Romney Marshes.

CB:  So there was a group of girls working together.

MC:  To me it was a great life.

CB:  Can you remember seeing the planes coming over in waves.

MC:  Yes.

CB:  Future generations will find it hard to remember.

MC:  I don’t suppose you can expect them to know I mean it’s difficult to explain sometimes but the actual life itself suited me I suppose the tomboy side of it.  I just enjoyed it there wasn’t the hassle and I volunteered I wasn’t called up.  It took a bit of settling down when it was all over.  It was a big decision I was waiting to go to pre-op two when everything was disbanded then my boyfriend as he was, was a prisoner of war and he came back thankfully and it was a big decision and I thought he may not want to marry me when he comes back.  We hadn’t seen one another for six years and six years is a long time.  We were engaged by proxy I’ve got the very ring he was a prisoner of war and he kept proposing and I kept telling him I would wait until the seas ran dry.  Of course l’d wait why wouldn’t I and then he said would I go and choose a ring I was in Scotland at the time and a girl came with me we went to Hamilton Inches down Princes Street and you will never believe this and every time I think of this it, it amazes me I told the whole story to the jeweller I’m in uniform I could have been anybody and I said he has proposed to me he has asked me to buy a ring until he comes back and I have told him to come to you and all this that and the other and everything else and they kept that ring.  Oh and  he wanted our names put inside – don’t you want to see it.  Oh don’t drop it.  Whatever you do don’t drop it.  And another sergeant in the mess put it on my finger.  You can’t put it on your finger Molly they said.  Jim and Mary and the date May.  1st May.

CB:  The year is covered I think.

MC:  About 42 I think.

CB:  So how did you meet.

MC:  I was working for Colonels wife at Larkhill I was their house parlour maid and they liked their staff to go the dance which is held every week at Durrington.  Do you know Durrington at all.  There is Stonehenge and it’s at the bottom of the hill that’s where it was.  So there was the nanny, the footman and there was me and we got to the top of the hill and these soldiers came out of the Stonehenge Inn they were not drunk they didn’t have enough money but this particular one was quite cheeky – are you going to the dance girls.  I said ignore him.  So I went down a bit further.  Oh are you going to the dance.  So I said no we are not.  So we were going a bit further down and it was obvious where we were going and when we got outside the Durrington Dance Hall he said I thought you were not coming to the dance and I said well we are but we are not coming with you and you will not believe this I spent the whole of that night trying to get rid of him.  When he asked me for the first dance I said I am sorry I don’t dance.  Alright he said I’ll teach you.  I must have walked over his feet all night and then it came to the end and we were having the last waltz.  May I take you home.  No I am sorry I said I’m going home with my friends.  Oh he said I am sorry but your friends are going home with my mates and I had no alternative but to go home with him.  Go back to where I worked which was Strangeways the Officers quarters.  The other ranks were not allowed round there but he took me right round.  I said you are not allowed round here but he said I’ve got to see you home to the door, which he did and then he went.  If he’s been caught I don’t suppose he would have cared a less I suppose.  Then I used to see him I used to meet him.  Then when war broke out the Colonel was due a move and I was going to go with them and then as the war broke that was all put to one side.  The Colonel went somewhere else.  We were sent home and I stayed home for a little while and I got a bit fed up and my friend she was fed up as well and like I said I knew we would be called up and I didn’t want to go into munitions I couldn’t stand working indoors.  So I joined the ATS.  Anyway we wrote letters of course and he kept proposing.

CB:  Where was he from.

MC:  Originally his home was Middlesbrough but he was a regular soldier.

CB:  He was in the army before.

MC:  Oh yes he was regular.  He was royal artillery.

CB:  Of course he was based near Larkhill.

MC:  At Bullford actually.  He was a driver.  We got married at the war end.  The war ended we were married in 44 or 45.

CB:  What happened to Jim.

MC:  They were on the way back to Dunkirk and they were caught.  I don’t know where actually.   He was a prisoner of war in Poland.  He was captured on his way to Dunkirk he didn’t actually get to Dunkirk.

CB:  So he was retreating.

MC:  Yes. 

CB:  He was in the VEF.

MC:  Well I suppose he was.  It was the VEF then.

CB:  So he was taken to a camp.

MC:  Then I didn’t hear from him for a long time and I wrote to him mum.  She hadn’t heard either and then we both got one of those cards that says I am safe you know and we had an address we would write to him he was in Stallagad 8A.

CB:  So he was there for how long.

MC:  Four and a half years.  I didn’t see him for six.

CB:  Did you recognise him.

MC:  When he came back I was on a 72 hour pass because I was in the army still and I had, had this letter from his mother actually so I am off up to Middlesbrough and I thought I’m never going to know him and when I got off the train in Middlesbrough I helped an elderly lady off I know the feeling now.  I started walking down I had the complete station to myself and there were hundreds of people outside you would not believe I said to one of the chappies to worked on the railways is nobody allowed on the station.  Oh no he said and I was quietly walking down and all of a sudden I am passing a lamp and a voice said and where do you think you are going.  I literally threw myself at him.  It was if he’d never been away.  It really was.  Grabbed my hand and we ran from there until we got the bus.  We got home to his home that was of course as you could well imagine the house was full of relations but after a while they all disappeared and there was just him and me so I had another proposal.  I put the engagement ring back in the box because he might have changed his mind but he didn’t I had a very nice knee bender another proposal.  He was a lovely bloke.  He was Mayor of Wilton at one time.  Yes he was a really lovely bloke.

CB:  So he stayed down here.

MC:  I thought we would be going back to his but no he stayed down here.  Worked in the civil service the camp.  It’s a true love story I can assure you.

CB:  Was he very skinny.

MC:  No.  Well if you had known Jim.  Well he never let things get to him.  He never seemed to be cross.  He was a lovely bloke wasn’t he.  Everybody seemed to like him anyway he was on the council and he was made Mayor.  He worked up the camp.  He was a referee and an umpire – cricket and football.  Very interested in local.  He really did do himself a lot of good down here had the makings of it.  He just did what he wanted and enjoyed it.  He was great fun.

CB:  Was he ever resentful about prison.

MC:  No.  No.  Used to talk about it I’ve got photographs I think.  There he is that’s where he’s in Cairo.

CB:  When’s this then. 

MC:  That was before the war.  It’s all written on the back.

CB:  Which one of those two is Jim.

MC:  That’s my Jim.

CB:  Which one’s he there.

MC:  There he is in the middle.  Course he was handsome.

CB:  Was this before you knew him.

MC:  No after I knew him.

CB:  So he stayed in the army.

MC:  He was a regular.

CB:  Until which year.

MC:  Well he came out just before we got married he decided to come out.  That was taken in Egypt it’s all written on the back.

CB:  Just an idea of what it’s like and plenty of rocks and hills place at back is the Dubies – that’s me middle on left.

MC:  As if I didn’t know.

CB:  Which year did you meet again.

MC:  Well we met after the war.

CB:  Not before the war.

MC:  I was still waiting to be discharged actually I was waiting for my discharge so the war was over because he wouldn’t have come home until the war was over and I was home on a 72 hour pass.  Then was when I got the letter from his mother to say Jim’s home can you come.  Down south I was living with mum and dad so we had an office with an officer in it.  I went down and I got 10 days leave then off to Middlesbrough I went.  All the way up I thought will I know him.  Course I knew him. 

CB:  How often did you write.

MC:  I wrote without a word of a lie a letter day without fail.

CB:  For four years.

MC:  Four and a half years.  Because I thought he’s bound to get at least one.  In fact he once wrote and said that he was the only chap who had so much mail.  Used to pass him letters around to chaps who didn’t have any mail to read.  When I think of what I put in them.

CB:  Have you still got all your letters.

MC:  Got them upstairs actually.  In my writing case.  I looked at them this morning.

CB:  And all the letters from him and the ones he kept from you.

MC:  Cos I’ve got written on an envelope.  I want to keep these he’s written on it.  So they are still there.  He was a lovely chap.  He was a good dad a good husband.  They don’t come often like that. 

CB:  Were you sort of glad he was a prisoner.

MC:  No I wasn’t.

CB:  Or would you have preferred if he had been fighting.  Because I don’t know which would be worse.

MC:  Well obviously nobody likes to think of anybody being a prisoner of war.  I mean they had their good times and bad times but I don’t really know what my thoughts were just the fact that he was alive was sufficient that was the main thing.  When he came home my parents thought the world of him would do anything for him my mum I used to say to her you spoil him more than your own.  She said no I don’t I said yes you do.  But he was a likeable chap he was very popular and why wouldn’t he be he loved his kids.

CB:  Did he tell you what it was like in the camp.

MC:  Not at first and I never asked.  I don’t think it’s a good idea they will tell you when they are ready.  Then he would.

CB:  What the conditions were like.

MC:  Good and bad but they were put to work. He used to do a lot of decorating they were sent out to do decorating and things like that round local houses.  He came over he had a photograph of two girls I said who are these.

CB:  Did any of the other girls have boyfriends.

MC:  Well I don’t know I don’t know anybody who had a prisoner of war boyfriend.  That I can think of not now.  There were boyfriends and some of them were married usual carry on I suppose that there was with them.  But not he had only been the one that I ever wanted.  I could never imagine being with anybody else.

CB:  Luckily there was that dance.

MC:  Yes, glad I went to the dance.   He was talking to somebody who was around.  They said what was it you saw in Mary they called me then.  He didn’t even know me – he said that’s the girl I’m going to marry.  I said how did you know that I said you didn’t even know me.  He said I just knew and that’s what he said.  How he knew he was going to marry me but he did.

CB:  I bet he was glad to know he had you back at home and he had someone who was looking forward to him coming back to see.

MC:  I literally just threw myself at him I could not believe he was home.  Just where do you think you are going and it was really as if he had never been away and he caught hold of my hand and we ran all the way up to the bus and got home and all the relations were there.

CB:  From that moment until your wedding how long was that.

MC:  Only a couple of weeks.  Yes we had decided we did sit down because I gave him back the ring which he quickly put back on my finger with a knees bend and well he might have changed his mind but I knew I hadn’t and then we talked about getting married and we thought September so we had time to get to know one another.  Within a fortnight we were married white wedding the lot.

CB:  That’s quick.

MC:  My dad had already made the cakes for both my sister and me because she was engaged.  We had a church wedding we were married down in Wilton church had a reception down in the church room.

CB:  How many children did you have.

MC:  One couldn’t have any more.  In fact I was lucky to have one and he’s such a blessing.  I’ve spent the day with him yesterday.  Every six months we have a mayor’s reunion – past mayors and because I mentioned that Jim was mayor.  Edward comes with me – that’s my son and so we had a meal down at the Pen and he comes home and we chat about old times and everything else.

CB:  Where does he live.

MC:  Southampton.

CB:  Not too far.

MC:  Yes he’s a good lad.  There he is there with his own family – one on the end on the left.

CB:  You have three grandchildren.

MC:  And I have three great grandchildren.  There’s the two great grandchildren.

CB:  So that’s you.

MC:  That’s me and that’s my sister.

CB:  Who are these people in this photograph.  The black and white one.

MC:  On the end that’s us four – two brothers and two sisters.

CB:  That’s great.

MC:  We had that done for mum and dad during the war.

CB:  What were your brothers called.

MC:  My eldest one was Jim and my youngest was Bob.

CB:  And your sister’s name.

MC:  Evelyn or Babs.  Actually I’m Mary but I’m called Molly.  That’s because of my youngest brother he called me Molly for some reason he couldn’t say Mary.

CB:  Both brothers were sergeants.  Who was wounded.

MC:  The eldest one.  Jim.

CB:  They repaired his head.

MC:  Built his head up. Built the skull up.  He was in what was it the institution for three months like the Old Manor place like that.

CB:  There’s a little statue here.  The ATS statue.  Where did you get this.

MC:  It was given to me.  I think it was David Bowles gave it to me.

CB:  Do your grandchildren ask you about your service.

MC:  No.  I don’t think we ever talk about it to be quite honest.

CB:  They should be proud of you.

MC:  Well thank you very much.  No I don’t think so well it was an experience something that you don’t go through every week.  I enjoyed every minute of it took me a long time to settle when I was discharged like I said I was thinking if we hadn’t got married I would have made a career of it because I was going to pre-op as they call it but I was a part-time physical training instructor which you had to have on sites which I liked I enjoyed and I would have gone into physical training because ack ack was abandoned.

CB:  The physical training was that mixed was that men and women.

MC:  I don’t know whether that would have been mixed or not I am really not sure.  I don’t think so because the men would be in the men’s battery and the women.

CB:  What was the daily life like on the camps. 

MC:  Well you had your normal breakfast and then there was a parade and you always had marching.  When I look back I think the main thing was to keep us fit because once you got the bells you knew there was going to be a raid you had to be out there and ready for action in three minutes and you had to move.

CB:  So you would be outside.  When the raid happened when the doodlebugs were coming over were you outside near the guns or how far away from the guns were you.

MC:  Not very far they were far enough away for safety’s sake because you have got the re-coil and the ammunition and all that stuff wouldn’t take you long to get up to the gun post.

CB:  Was it noisy.

MC:  That’s why I’m hard of hearing.

CB:  Must have been really loud.

MC:  Oh yes.

CB:  How loud.  How fast could the guns fire.

MC:  Rapid – makes fast noise.

CB:  And when the planes fell did you feel a sense of.

MC:  No. That’s another one.

CB:  Really.

MC:  Yes.

CB:  Were you thinking we got all the calculations right.

MC:  Oh yes.  ECBC fuse factor and bar.  Work that one out.  That’s what we had to do basic correction.  Fuse factor and barometer.  Well it’s all readings on the charts and instrument.

CB:  Then you would have to process that information.

MC:  You were looking at it through a scope.

CB:  Looking at the plan you mean.

MC:  And you pass it through to the gun.  You picked up the target.

CB:  So you were looking at the plane.

MC:  You picked up the target.  Target.  Fire.

CB:  So were each of you looking at a different plane or were each of you attached to one of the guns.

MC:  Oh no you are attached to a gun.

CB:  How many people were in the team.

MC:  I’m trying to think how many there was of us.  Four on the height and range finder.  Three on the predictor.  Then there was the plotting room and the spotters.  We had one girl she was fantastic who could spot a plane when it looks like silhouette black you can’t see the colour of a plane.  When you are learning what aircraft are it’s all in silhouette it’s all in black and this female she reported one night aircraft with six engines.  They couldn’t believe her at first and it was one of the German ones they brought out a six engine fighter aircraft and she picked it up she was brilliant.

CB:  Just from her eyes.

MC:  Yes just watching brilliant she was.

CB:  Do you remember her name.

MC:  Donny MacDonald.  Brilliant there was no doubt about that because nobody else had picked it up.

CB:  So you were trained to spot.  Did you have a chart.

MC:  Yes.  You had to know.  We were on the instruments the height and range and the predictor and you had to know the aircraft.  I mean you could have shot your own.  You could have brought your own down so you had to know the different idiosyncrasies on the aircraft I mean this one had six engines and she picked it up and I always remember Donny MacDonald.

CB:  Were there any planes that were easier to shoot down than others.

MC:  Well the Messerschmitts were just the common everyday fighter aircraft.

CB:  They were quite easy to hit.  Easier than the bombers.

MC:  Oh no bombers don’t go quite so fast you see.

CB:  They would be at a different altitude.

MC:  Doodlebugs were the same height and the same speed they were easy.

CB:  Until they dropped.

MC:  Yes they dropped straight down.  They don’t glide as soon as their engine is off they are straight down.

CB:  What about the sound of the engine.

MC:  Oh you could hear that.

CB:  Did you learn to distinguish different planes from the engine noises.

MC:  You got used to it put it that was and I suppose same as learning it you could recognise them and the different planes too.  Very interesting when you look back but when you are actually doing it it’s an everyday job then but sometimes I sit down and think good lord did we really do that.

CB:  Were you paid the same as the men.

MC:  No we were not.  We didn’t have a union either.

CB:  Do you remember what your wages were.

MC:  I think in the end it worked out to be £2 7/6 pence it’s only meagre wages really but then I mean you had your rail fares paid this paid and that paid but we didn’t get a lot of time off at all.

CB:  You could be on duty any hour of the day.

MC:  Oh yes.  You always did a 24-hour duty.  That was overnight and you didn’t sleep certainly if you were guard commander you didn’t.

CB:  That’s amazing.

MC:  Interesting when I look back.  I mean then it was just a job you know the war was on everybody was involved.

CB:  Did you ever think looking back did you ever think that Britain would loose.

MC:  Oh no.  How could you think that. NO.  Who do you think was going to win the war what do you think I was doing.

CB:  So it was just a question of when.

MC:  Just a case of when yes.  We knew we were going to win Churchill said.  We had all the top officers coming round.  General Sir Frederick Pile and he came round and he was head of royal artillery and I was doing what was called no. 1 on the height and range finder and he came round and started to talk to me never even mentioned the job I was doing he wanted to know was I married no.  Did I have a boyfriend he wanted to know all that did I have brothers and sisters.  That was all he asked me.  Do you miss them very much.  No.  I’ve got my own life you know.  I couldn’t believe I thought he was going to ask me questions about what I was doing.

CB:  So he was more interested in you as a person.

MC:  I think he probably thought he was more interested in my private life.

CB:  Did you ever see Churchill.

MC:  Yes and he weed in one of our trenches.  We shall never forget it and I was doing no. 1 that day and one of the girls said hey Churchill’s over there peeing and it was in the trench could you believe.  I said how dare he.

CB:  In one of your shelters. 

MC:  No the trench.  It was a wide-open trench he was walking round the trenches because those who weren’t on duty had to get in the trenches.

CB:  During the raid.

MC:  Yes.

CB:  Did any bombs ever come close to where you were.

MC:  Yes we were lucky but the other one further down the road a girl got hit but I think she got over it but she was on a predictor but yes it was all war.

CB:  Risky.

MC:  Risky I suppose but I never seemed to worry about anything.

CB:  Maybe that’s the secret to getting to 98.

MC:  Well it was interesting in lots of ways.  Let’s face it something you wouldn’t ever do or you never even thought you would do and when they did the regiment up and finally we were a battery then you moved and you were this battery it suddenly dawned on you that it was all different you know your life in a way was a lot different you couldn’t compare it to civilian life at all. 

CB:  What about your parents were they back in Wiltshire.

MC:  They were home yes.  My father you think I was the only one in the army he was so proud but we had, had words the day I joined up.  Terrible.

CB:  He fought in the First World War.

MC:  Oh yes.  This is what I said he was wounded in the head shot through the head and my oldest brother had a head wound in the Second World War.

CB:  Your father survived and how old was he when he died.

MC:  I think he was about 80 because he lived with us we had him for about 13 years.  He was a great man fit used to love his tug of war, liked his glass of beer, liked his darts.

CB:  Your memories seem very clear.  It’s fantastic you’ve got such vivid memories it’s a long time ago.

MC:  It is a long time and you know sometimes you can’s always remember names but I think it’s something that’s so unusual that’s happened to you that you wouldn’t have thought you would ever go through probably and then all of a sudden you realise what you have been through and think good lord did I do that.  The spit and polish on your shoes and everything else.  It was an education.  I was doing sergeant one night and I’ve never forgotten and I was going round and it was lights out and we only had single beds and I came up to this bed and there were two girls in it and you know what I am saying so I took the bed up out they got on a charge the were posted one way one the other.  But how they could have got into a single bed I don’t know.  Tipped them out.

CB:  Were you quite strong.

MC:  Oh yes fit as a fiddle.  We you couldn’t leave them.  If I hadn’t reported them somebody else would probably I don’t know never thought about that I just tipped them up put them on a charge that was it.  I don’t know what happened to them after that but when I look back she was only a little girl Bridget in think and how I got into ack ack I would never know.  The other one she looked every bit a boy she really did.  I had quite an eye opener it was an education to me in more ways than one I can assure you and when I found them both in bed I thought oh dear.

CB:  Were there any other things like that happened can you remember.

MC:  No I can’t really think of anything like that.  There were two men in my section I don’t know what they were having an argument about but they were having a right old fight so I left them alone for a little while I thought let them have a fight see if they will knock each other out but they didn’t I had to go down I was on duty anyway and had to sort them out I don’t know what the fight was about couldn’t have been about a boy you know.

CB:  I imagine people were quite tense back then.

MC:  Well obviously it’s a different life and your living conditions.  You were in a barrack room say 14 beds.  We CO’s had a room on the end so that we were literally cut off from them once it was lights out and there was this carry on there was hair being pulled so I got rid of them.

CB:  What rank were you.

MC:  Corporal.

CB:  Did you stay in touch with anybody.

MC:  No I didn’t really.  Not when I came out.  A big girl she married a prisoner of war.  Some of the girls Jim wrote and said would some of your girls write to some of my mates who are not getting any mail so I called a meeting and said the letter I had had read it out to them so they knew what I was talking about then I said would any of you care to write to some of these boys and some of the girls did and I know one got married but I don’t know what happened to the others but they did write to the boys.

CB:  So they feel in love.  Brilliant.

MC:  Yes.  So it was I suppose for some reason or another why some of them didn’t get mail.  I wrote to Jim everyday and I thought he is bound to get one isn’t he and then I found out he’s passed his letters round to everybody else.  When I think of what I put in them.

CB:  Did you ever send parcels.

MC:  Yes you could send parcels through the Red Cross.  That was how it was done.  Now what was it his mother used to say to me.  She used to send him underwear and I knitted him sweaters.  When he got his new sweaters he would pass his old ones on to somebody who didn’t have any.  I kept him in socks knitted socks.  Oh yes he wasn’t neglected anyway.

CB: It’s hard to imagine.

MC:  When you think about it you think did that really happen but it did there’s no doubt about that.

CB:  Things today must feel so different.

MC:  Oh yes not the same life at all.  As I said I did find it a little difficult to settle down when I first came out.

CB:  Then getting married.

MC:  Anyway we had Edward and that was all that mattered and he’s lovely sitting here with his mum yesterday.

CB:  So the little book you have there is this the diary you kept.

MC:  Just the autographs bits of this and that I expect.  Most of them I expect have been autographs from the war.

CB:  Mary J. Spencer.

MC:  That’s my maiden name.  What’s the initial – that’s my brother Jim.

CB:  People used to keep autograph books.  How are you in a greeting not a question. 

MC:  That’s our site sergeant.  Not tell your friends about your indigestion how you is a greeting not a question.

CB:  Did you get on well with the sergeant.

MC:  Yes.

CB:  People used to sign each other’s books like this.  But you weren’t allowed to keep any notes about where you were.

MC:  Oh not we weren’t allowed to take photographs either.

CB:  No diaries.

MC:  Oh I don’t know about diaries but we certainly weren’t allowed to take photographs. 

CB:  Best wishes to you Spence.  Sergeant Buck.

MC:  She was in our section little short fatty.  Comes back to me.

CB:  Who is Ada.  Giving or taking sleeping or waking wherever you are whatever you do whether you are home or whether you roam God’s blessing rest on you from a little ack ack girl Ada.

MC:  Must have been one of the section girls.

CB:  Very sweet writing isn’t it detailing.  Best of luck Molly.  Did people write this when you were disbanded.

MC:  That was during the war.

CB:  You said you had dances and social.

MC:  On a Saturday night mostly you know we would organise a dance for the naffy and recreational training was Wednesday.  We used to quizzes, spelling bees that was another thing.  Well you had to something otherwise you would have gone absolutely bonkers.  Oh yes. 

CB:  Did you give the guns names.

MC:  I don’t think so.  That’s the 45 that’s the heavy ones.  Oh yes.  That is the heaviest ones.

CB:  Did you feel a lot of animosity towards the Germans they were raiding and damaging the country.

MC:  Well you know what you are like when you are young you know I’ll get the buggers.  They were the enemy and that was it.  Excuse the French. 

CB:  You never felt remorse about the shooting the planes.

MC:  You had to do it.

CB:  As one height finder to another all the best Mary Dorrington.

MC:  She was a very tall girl.

CB:  Good friends are so hard to find but do bear these four lines in mind that good friendship lives for a long long time.  W. Maddocks.

MC:  Bill Maddocks he was treasurer.  Sergeant Maddocks.

CB:  I stood on the gun park at midnight when the thought came into my head what a fool I was to be standing there I might have been easy in bed.  Moira Bootyman.

MC:  Oh yes little Moira.

CB:  I’ve heard this one before.  Remember me by the river.  Remember me by the lake.  Remember me on your wedding day and send me a piece of cake.  I imagine many of these people are no longer alive.

MC:  As I said there are not many of us left.  I’ll be 98 this year another couple of months.  I’m waiting for the Queen’s letter.  Joyce was in our regiment she was in our battery.  She I mean the Queen she joined as a driver but I don’t know what happened to hear as we didn’t see much about her and of course she didn’t sleep in the barrack room like everybody else so you know she wanted to do something.

CB:  Have you ever met the Queen.

MC:  Yes.  I’ve got a photograph talking to her.  I think it’s in the dining room.  It was wonderful to meet her.  She’s so easy to talk to.  This photograph was up at Larkhill but I’m in civvies I expect it’s something to do with Jim and the army why we were up there.

CB:  Did she ask you about your time.

MC:  No.  Before that.

CB:  What did she ask you.

MC:  Can’t remember what we talked about now.

CB:  These are all your great grandchildren up here.

MC:  Sam and Chloe.  Sam is so intelligent.

CB:  Do you see them a lot.

MC:  Yes, fairly.  That’s my grandson Alan he’s a teacher in Wakefield another one full of brains.  Lovely.

CB:  You’ve got medals for your service.

MC:  Got medals.  I shall have them out in a couple of months when I go to church on Sunday.

Talking about Molly’s cat.

Talking about picture of Molly, Royal Artillery chap and the Queen.

MC:  Talks about gunners no matter what rank you are you are still a gunner.  A Major General is a gunner.  We are very proud.

Talks about her friend Marilyn.

MC:  I go to a Thursday club.   They pick me up at 10 o’clock on the community bus and we go down to the community centre.  First thing you get is a cup of tea biscuits then it’s chat, chat, chat.  I sometimes take my knitting.  I do a lot of knitting I make baby shawls.  Shall I show you one. 

CB:  Did you knit during the wartime.

MC:  Yes I used to make my Jim’s sweaters, socks, mittens I told you.

CB:  I bet he needed those in Poland.

MC:  Yes of course he did and if he didn’t somebody else did.  He wouldn’t let anything get him down the situation he was in.  I think he coped quite well.

CB:  Do you think people were generally resilient people of your generation.

MC:  Well he was a prisoner in Poland and he used to be sent out decorating and he had in his pocket a photograph of two of the girls where he used to go decorating and they used to treat them very well.

CB:  Do you think people were tougher and put up with more hardship compared with today.

MC:  Well you either had to tolerate it or surrender.  Well I can’t see me giving in to anybody.

CB:  My granddad’s just the same he’s just got such a sort of strong will.

MC:  You’ve got to have a strong will don’t let people walk all over you no way.

CB:  Is that what you tell your grandchildren is that the best.  What’s the advice.

MC:  Don’t give them any advice.

CB:  You don’t give them.

MC:  I bet you should

CB:  I bet you’ve got lots of good advice.

MC:  Only if they ask me things.  I would never tell them not to do this or not to do that.  If they ask me things you know.  Great grandma that’s Alan he’s got a posh voice it as something to do with the computer.  I said I really don’t know how to work this.  That’s alright great grandma I’ll show you.  Seven.  Well they do round with these things.  I’m amazed at what the children do.  I really am.

CB:  You can use the computer you can get on with that.

MC:  Oh yes.  I’ve got to remember to press the red button on that.

Brings everything to a close and says goodbye.

Great to meet you.

Talks about transcript and meeting everyone and what going to do with transcript.

MC:  Most important thing is we were the first Mixed Heavy Ack Ack Regiment 129 455 batteries.

CB:  How many were there in total.

MC:   Four batteries in a regiment 455  445  454  444.

CB:  But in the whole of the country.

MC:  No I don’t know.  I wouldn’t know how many I just know our own regiment.

CB:  Once I write everything up I will let you know and you can have a review.

MC:  Thank you very much.

Goodbyes and thankyous.


Author: shane

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