Monday, November 1, 2010

25 Gloucester and Pershore

In January 1946, the Records Office, Gloucester, housed the records of one million, one hundred thousand service men and women. All the records were written by hand, or typed on manual typewriters. It was a paper world of enormous proportions. We were billeted at R.A.F. Innsworth, a few miles away, which, at that time, housed about 5,000 people, mostly women, so that meant a hell of a lot of burning (STs not women) to be done! As usual, there were about sixteen girls to a hut and I cannot say that I remember one of them, except for one very uncouth girl who had a magnificent head of naturally blond hair. During a medical inspection it was found that her hair was full of nits, and she nearly went mad because she was expected to cut it all off. Somehow she got it clean but it was a big drama. Our hair had to be kept off our shoulders, so we used to tie it up and stuff it under our caps. The rule at training camp about stacking one's bed square before going to breakfast still applied, and always did until one reached the rank of corporal and slept in a single bunk.

Breakfast was served at seven, and then we waited on the Barrack Square for the lorries to arrive to take us to work. We always seemed to be waiting round in the cold. We marched in the cold, we queued for transport in the cold and we stood in line for food in the cold. We were issued with ground sheets, a smelly sort of rubber sheet that we could put round our shoulders as protection from the rain in winter, and could spread on the grass as protection from the nettles in summer!

My job was utterly boring. I typed hundreds and hundreds of letters, on an old manual typewriter, granting men release from the service under category B. To release every wartime serviceman at once would have caused chaos. Imagine a million or so men, mostly without jobs to go to, all wandering around looking for work. As long as they were in the services they were getting some pay and their families were getting an allowance. Then there were returning prisoners of war to be resettled, and the wounded who would never work again to be looked after. England really had a Government to be proud of in the war and post war years. Men released under “category B” were farm workers, engineers or those who had specialised work waiting for their return and whose skills were needed to help rebuild Britain. The most difficult to place must have been the lads who had volunteered as boys of eighteen and now, at twenty four, were mostly untrained and did not know how to earn a living. So I typed away, day after day, sitting an exam and being awarded the illustrious rank of LACW – Leading Aircraft Woman, I think the rank was equivalent to that of a lance corporal. My pay went up to thirty two shillings every two weeks and for that I had to line up, step forward when my named was called, stand smartly to attention, salute and say “Lawley, 2170968, Sir!” while a clerk from the Accounts Department counted out a one pound note, a ten shilling note and two one shilling coins.

I soon had a boyfriend, Corporal Michael Smith, who was quite serious about me and took me to meet his very up-market family who lived somewhere outside Manchester. The Smiths had a beautiful, eighteenth century, converted manor house in lovely gardens. Mrs. Smith invited me to stay for the week-end and Michael bought tickets for us all to visit a theatre in Manchester, which was very exciting, but first we went to Mr. Smith’s very posh Club for a nice meal. We arrived at the theatre, bought a programme and took our seats. Oh horrors! Michael obviously did not know anything about the show and as the curtain went up his parents froze, and I was suitably embarrassed. It was Gypsy Rose Lee’s show, very beautiful, tastefully posed nudes. The show had been passed by the City Censors under the ruling that, “If it moves it’s rude, if it’s still it is art!” But in 1946, not family entertainment. The Smith’s were horrified and I seem to remember that we left during the interval.

Michael was a talented artist but was going to be released to do market gardening and wanted me to apply for a ‘B’ release so that we could get married and I could work with him, but I was not keen. During the war I had answered a call for people to spend their summer holidays voluntarily working on the land. I did not have suitable boots and as we were picking up the sheaves of corn, after the combine harvester had rolled and tied them up, and propping them up to dry in tent shaped stacks, my ankles and feet were badly cut by the sharp stalks still left in the ground. It was very hard work.We had been accommodated in large tents; it rained most of the time so our contribution to the war effort was not of great merit. Buried among my memories of ‘smells’ is that of sleeping in a tent and waking up to the cold, damp fresh smell of the early morning dew on grass. We did have a lot of fun, but the experience did not instil in me a love of the land.

Back at camp Michael and I spent our evenings in the lounge of the NAAFI, cuddled up on a settee in front of the fire trying to keep warm. A movie was shown in the canteen hall once a week which we viewed, sitting on hard folding chairs. It was all a far cry from the crazy life I had lived in London. Many years later I read an article in a newspaper about Michael being an artist, living in a cave and being supported by his wife who was a nurse. So, maybe the market gardening did not work out!

Surprise, surprise! I was posted to RAF Police Training School at Great Sampford in Essex. Michael didn’t want me to go, but he was soon to be demobbed anyway; the sergeant in charge of my section didn’t want me to go and tried to get the posting cancelled, telling me that being surrounded by R.A.F. Police would be far worse than the working at Records Office. But, I was so tired of standing on the parade ground in the rain, waiting for lorries to take us to and from work, that I was prepared to take my chances.

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