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WAAF and WRAF

The Women's Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) was formed in 1939, growing to approximately 180,000 by 1943, serving duties vital to the war effort in meteorology, transport, telephony and telegraphy, codes and ciphers, Intelligence, Security and Operation Rooms. In 1949 it was reformed as Women's Royal Air Force (WRAF).
WAAF
ACW1 Alice Gross: Trained to be a clerk or so she thought!

Life as a WAAF volunteer and return to civilian life 1942 - 1947

Left: Alice Gross 2419735 (courtesy Alice Anson nee Gross)

In 1942 as I approached my 18th birthday I knew I would be called up and decided to volunteer for the WAAF as I did not want to work in a factory and thought it would be good to have complete change in my life

It was not till March 1943 I was actually called up and had to report to lnnsworth in Gloucestershire, I don't remember very much of the 4 weeks initial training, except we had to do PE on the open parade ground in our issued knickers which were air force blue and long down to our knees and very embarrassing as the parade ground was overlooked! 

I had originally wanted to be a driver like all girls, but they had no vacancies, so I was put down as a clerk, though I did not have any clerical experience! 

From training I was posted to Madley in Herefordshire, a training station for Observer air crew. It consisted of 4 wings where the trainees were billeted and the WAAF wing was a bit further away near the HQ and parade ground. I was working in the HQ office and was taught how to read the "Bradshaw" a universal train timetable, my job was to route any personnel who had been posted elsewhere issue train vouchers and ensure transport was booked for their arrival at the nearest station. It was mostly a routine job but the occasional coffin too, as a result of accidents happening during training 

   

RAF Farnborough, Hampshire. Morrison Shelter (both courtesy of Imperial War Museum)

I was able to ask for re mustering to be trained as a photographer. So in February 1944 I was posted to RAF Farnborough the then No 1 School of Photography. This course lasted 3 month with different subjects every week and a test to ensure we could carry on. One Friday I had a telegram telling my father was dangerously ill and had to ask for leave which I got for the weekend. But when I got home he was already dead and so I got an extension till Tuesday, the funeral was on Monday, so I retuned the next day and even managed to pass the following test! The course finished and I even passed out as ACWl and was posted to Croydon. Why I never found out as there was no photo section there. I helped in the office, and our quarters for WAAF were in requisitioned houses and we had to sleep in a "Morrison shelter" as the buzz bombs had started and had the first lot came down in Croydon! We also had to wear our tin helmets all the time when out. I was soon posted to Gatwick but again there was no photo section there, s I was told to help the dentist and learned how to mix the amalgam for the filling of teeth. The HQ for this station was called "the Beehive" which is still in existence, but on the outskirts of the airport, but still preserved as part of Gatwick 

Summer 1944 I was posted to High Wycombe in Buckinghamshire, to HQ Bomber Command and actually worked in the photo section, with interesting work. The photo workshop was underground and next to the photo interpreters whom we worked very closely. The most interesting work was when one day a small section of an aerial photo of a print taken in the north of France, was marked out, it was the size of a postage stamp, we had to copy and enlarge it to 20 x 16" and send it back to be analysed. It was in this print they found the traces of rails leading underground, and it turned out to be where the VI was fired from! In September 1945 I was posted to Lincolnshire "Sturgate" where many Bomber command stations were very active. We had to develop and print some of the rolls of 5" film taken by the bomb aimer aerial cameras, automatically when they pressed the button to release a bomb. Whilst there I celebrated my 21st birthday and my then boyfriend took me out for 2 eggs on toast which was quite a treat for those days! 

RMS Samaria (courtesy Ted Finch)

I had volunteered for service in Europe but was actually posted to Egypt. I got embarkation leave and on return was kitted out with "KD" Khaki drill shirts, skirts and trousers and a Forage cap which I loved! The photo of me in those trousers was actually mentioned in a book later, showing off that in those days the fastening of the trousers was on the side for the girls!! We travelled by boat in March 1946 on the RMS Samaria which took a week to Alexandria from where we travelled to Heliopolis near Cairo a holding camp by coach. As I got off the bus the very first person I saw was "Billy" one of the fellows I had known in Madley way back 

 

WAAF's dressing by the right, Egypt. WAAF's standing by their beds during kit inspection, Egypt (both courtesy of Imperial War Museum)           

The girls where billeted in tents which blew away during a 'chamseen' a sand storm which created chaos and some funny events. One of the girls had put cream on her face and now had a sand mask as it stuck to her face. Soon after arrival I was posted to Ismailia a very nice camp with lots of social facilities including sailing, of which I partook and learned, we also could swim as it was good to cool down as it started getting very warm. It also was the time to change uniform to the lighter KD. 

During that time there troubles started and some bombs where thrown so we had to be careful when going out where it was safe to travel. Altogether girls had to be careful when travelling on a tram if you had to stand we had to cross our arms for cover to stop roving hands! 

One time a request came to the photo section for us to cover a funeral, it was for an ATS who was killed and they needed the photos to send to her family and it was me who got the job. For this kind of work we had a 'Speed Graphic' camera which was very good and versatile and later became a well-known press camera

Another posting came through for me to 107 MU (107 Maintenance Unit, Kasfareet, Egypt) further South which again did not last long 

The next posting came for 4 of us photo girls to go to Deversoir along the great Bitter Lake. When we arrived there they had not been notified and were puzzled as it was an all male camp and they had to billet us in the medical quarters where we stayed. It was quite a sensation as these men had not had any women there before, and we had to walk through the billets to the cook house for meals. Also there were many German prisoners stationed there who were able to walk about freely as there was nowhere to go anyway, but they worked along with other photographers. I was asked to help in the Warrant officer's office where some of the prisoners worked as well. I thought maybe I can listen to what they were up to as I understood their language, but they were so happy to be there as they were well looked after and did not have to fight and there was nowhere to escape to anyway 

A village on the coast of Bitter Lake (courtesy Australain War Memorial)

The colder weather came and, it was time to change into the usual uniform. Our accommodation was fine and we had a great view of the Great Bitter Lake and in the distance we saw the wrecks of some of the Italian boats which had been through the battles earlier 

Beginning of December a notice came to the office notifying that any WAAF with a certain demob number was due to go home. I was the only one who was affected and was rushed to Alexandria to catch the boat as the notice had come late. The boat landed just in time for Xmas, and I was lucky to get the leave to go home and report back for demob on the 1 st January 1947 at Morecambe. It was the very cold winter that year there was no heating and we had to sleep with our underwear to keep it dry and warm. The winter in Egypt was very much warmer I returned home to Finchley, North London, for a 3 month leave but hoped to get work soon within the field of photography. I had no friends to see as most had got married or moved away so it was a very lonely existence. I managed to find work as a photo printer, which was all done individually by hand then! Later, I got a job as a photographer using a Leica camera with an agency cover events in the "Rag Trade" for the "Drapers Record" 

I then worked for a society photographer covering a great many and varied events and even had some photos published in the Tatler. This did not last long as it was only a temp position. I never got another photo job, as it was rare for women to do this work in those days. So it was mostly office work which kept me employed. Things changed when I met and married Colin in 1951 also an ex service person with the army Commandos 

Children followed with 2 daughters and a son and stayed at home with the children till the youngest was at school. Started work in 1966 in the voluntary sector and later only as a volunteer. As a founder member of the newly formed Women's Aid helping in the refuge, later training as a councillor for Rape Crisis and then as a founder member with Women's centre, with who I am still involved as much as my strength will allow as I am now aged 90. So I am still helping with the women's centre, more by email then in actual attendance. But we are happy and content in our bungalow after 63 years of marriage and 3 married children and 7 grandchildren and the first great-grandchild due in a month 

Alice Anson nee Gross January 2015

Alice also sent a poem, but she doesn't know where it came from (are you able to help?)

War Time W.A.A.F.

We were only beginning to enjoy our teenage years

When war broke out the unknown caused our parents tears

Our country needed us, we didn't hesitate at all

We joined the W.A.A.F. you and I looked smart, walked tall

Dark grey silky bloomers, almost down to our knees

Woolly ones in the winter so we didn't freeze

Everything was rationed, even toilet tissue

One sheet per person per sitting was the total issue

Sent here and there, obeying orders making new friends

Certainly had no worries about the latest trends

We loved and lost many times. Sometimes our hearts were broken

Top secrets were kept not a single word was spoken

Those years helped us gain strength and sheer determination

Taught us how to deal with most any situation

Age is our problem now not everything seems to work 

But one thing is for sure W.A.A.F. friendship is a perk  


Acknowledgements: Sources used by us in compiling Archive Reports include: Bill Chorley - 'Bomber Command Losses Vols. 1-9, plus ongoing revisions', Dr. Theo E.W. Boiten and Mr. Roderick J. Mackenzie - 'Nightfighter War Diaries Vols. 1 and 2', Martin Middlebrook and Chris Everitt - 'Bomber Command War Diaries', Commonwealth War Graves Commission, Tom Kracker - Kracker Luftwaffe Archives and Fred Paradie - Paradie Archive (both on this site), Robert Gretzyngier, Wojtek Matusiak, Waldemar Wójcik and Józef Zieliński - 'Ku Czci Połeglyçh Lotnikow 1939-1945', Anna Krzystek, Tadeusz Krzystek - 'Polskie Siły Powietrzne w Wielkiej Brytanii', Norman L.R. Franks 'Fighter Command Losses', Aircrew Remembered Databases and our own archives. We are grateful for the support and encouragement of UK Imperial War Museum, Australian War Memorial, Australian National Archives, UK National Archives and Fold3 and countless dedicated friends and researchers across the world.
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Last Modified: 27 April 2015, 19:18