With the following letter, so begins the most exciting period of my young life so far.
I am 19 years old living in Plymouth, Devon England where I was born, and ready for something new. Leaving school at 15 years and one month, I am hardly qualified for anything other than low paid dead-end jobs until, like everyone around me, I get married.
This was NOT the life I wanted so I applied to join the Women’s Royal Air Force – WRAF – and to my amazement, I got in, based on a medical fitness assessment! I only did it for a lark, to show off to my friends. I did want to leave home, and at the same time, manage to find accommodation, feed myself and find a job. Joining up offered all that and more.
I soon received the following letter and travel documents, based on acceptance after passing an x-ray examination and a selection interview at RAF Spitalgate, In Lincolnshire. I was issued with a Kit list (including an apron! Stockings! Suspender belt!) and travel documents.
Travel Warrant and Kit List
I left my home in Plymouth to Kings Cross railway station in London then a 4 and 3/4 hour journey.From there, another train from Kings Cross to Grantham, Lincolnshire railway station where, with several other nervous-looking girls we discovered a phone on the wall prominently displayed with the first order of our careers. It read:
PHONE FOR CAR”
Once on ‘camp’, we were ushered into a room in a large barracks. There, we received more of the many orders in our 6 -week training. RAF Spitalgate was the WRAF training camp. Our Corporal introduced herself and took us to our barracks, and then to the mess for our tea. The food was really good!
On our first day, we had medical exams, Xrays general fitness tests and vaccinations. We started out with about 22 girls which whittled down to 17 after day one. We slept in a room with 10 beds either side spaced out with a locker and a wardrobe for each of us. We were taught how to make a bed the RAF way, keep our ‘space’ clean and tidy as we had inspections every day.
Our bathrooms and toilets were at the end of the room, and for many of us, hot running water and baths every day plus central heating, this was a first. After a few days of the central heating, I developed sinus problems along with several other girls. We were used to cold houses, fires, and baths once a week.
Every Wednesday, was ‘bull night’ meaning cleaning! Deep cleaning. We had a large heavy flat ‘buffer’ that was pushed from side to side to polish the floors, heavy and cumbersome but good for the stomach muscles! We would have our ‘bull night’ bathe and brush our teeth the night before, then put newspapers on the floors, and nobody was allowed to walk on those polished floors so that everything was shiny and bright the next morning at 6am for inspection.
We managed to have fun though. We had parts of our uniforms issued over the next few days, including the laughable ‘passion killer’ knickers. Pale blue, down to the knee and we were each issued three pairs, I don’t think anyone wore them at all, except here for one night only as a giggle. Also in the photo below, is the ‘buffer’ on the right to polish the floors to a high gloss.
Holding the dustpan and a cigarette, and wearing the pale blue ‘passion killers’ is me
The next day off to classrooms and for the next 6 weeks, where we learned to wear our uniforms properly, tie our ties, make sure hair was off the neck and how to wear our berets and best blue hats. and most importantly, how to salute an officer. That lead to learning badges and who to salute and who not to salute.
We were shown the NAAFI (Navy Army Air Force) shop where we were ordered to buy shoe polish, then taught how to clean our shoes to a very high gloss spit and polish and repeat for hours on end
We learned how to march in order, together. Not as easy as it sounds. We had ‘camel marchers’ These were girls who just could not march. They tended to march with the left arm and left leg together, instead of opposites. We marched every day, and everywhere from day one, chanting out loud left-right-left-right, halt! Each day we practised marching on the parade ground for one hour, then off to classes.
In class from 9am to 5pm we learned all about the history of the RAF, and the trades available. Which uniforms to wear such as ‘fatigues’ and ‘best blue’ and how to keep our ‘kit’ clean. We had hygiene classes informing us how and when to brush our teeth, take a bath and keep ourselves clean. We had Pt classes to keep fit. It was exhausting and exhilarating
After our first bull night, an officer inspected us the next morning with white gloves which she ran along surfaces. We had to all stand at attention whilst she inspected our quarters. The first few weeks everything had to be ‘done over again’ as she ripped out sheets and blankets and shouted at us saying the beds were not made properly, complained about the dirty surfaces and how dirty the bathrooms were. We could do nothing right for the first three weeks.
We had no uniforms yet, so every day we marched in ‘civilian’ clothing with just a beret on. We felt silly.
It was a great day when we were eventually issued with our uniforms and full kit.
Our best blue uniforms at last! Me on the left.
After six weeks of basic training came our ‘Passing Out Parade’ and the next day, after our goodbyes, we were all posted to our various trade training camps, but that is another story!