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Lilian Helene Louise Hodgkiss 'Bebita'

Born in Rio: March 16th, 1919. Died: Atibaia, São Paulo, Brazil: November 11th, 2001

Researched and written by Anderson Subtil, Carlos Motta and Ricardo Lavecchia - submitted to Aircrew Remembered September 2017. (see original article here)

If the story of the Anglo-Brazilian volunteers flying the Royal Air Force (RAF) during World War II is to an extent unknown, much less publicised is the fact that a select group of young women, mostly daughters or grandchildren of British Brazilians went to the same destination, entering the female body of this force, the Women's Auxiliary Air Force, or simply WAAF, as it was more commonly known. So it was with great joy and enthusiasm that we got in touch with Mr. Lauriston James Hodgkiss, whose parents, both Brazilian-born, volunteered for the RAF in 1942. His father. Commander James Hall Hodgkiss, was an instructor for twin-engined aircraft and Horsa gliders, flew two-engine De Havilland Mosquito in Coastal Command and ended the war as a test pilot at the Airborne Forces Experimental Establishment. His mother, the carioca Lilian Helene Louise Hodgkiss, known by everyone as Bebita, was a member of the WAAF and served in the RAF weather section. This is his story:Daughter of the Scotsman John Armstrong Read, a senior employee of the Canadian holding company Brazilian Traction Light and Power Company, they had the electric power generation and distribution services concession and electric tram lines of the then federal capital, she was born in Rio, on March 16, 1919. The nickname "Bebita", for which he liked to be called, was given by a Spanish nanny. Like other daughters and sons of Britons living in Brazil, she had a privileged childhood by the national standards of the first half of the 20th century, taking the junior course in the United Kingdom. During this period, every six months during the school holidays, the whole family traveled through Europe, having known Italy, the former Czechoslovakia and Austria, among others. Bebita met her future husband in Rio de Janeiro, and together they went to the British consulate as volunteers for the war.

In early 1942, along with the fiancé James Hodgkiss, she departed for England, marrying in London on March 23, shortly after her 23rd. Birthday. The following month, both began their training in the RAF. While her husband is selected to train as a pilot in Canada, she, like any WAAF volunteer, went to the recruit depot, where she underwent a seven to ten day period of regulatory medical recognitions, inoculations, and various tests and assessments for indicate the function best suited to your skills. There followed three weeks of basic training, including physical training, regulations and other elements of the service, and after the end of that period, recruits were sent, according to their skills, to specialised training, which could one to seven months, depending on the complexity of the job. Bebita Hodgkiss must have impressed the evaluators with their knowledge in numbers or science, as these were precisely the skills required for the WAAFs assigned to the role of meteorological assistant.

Although there was a women's organisation in the RAF between 1918 and 1920, the body known as Women's Auxiliary Air Force officially emerged only on June 28, 1939. Initially, WAAF volunteers were recruited to fill positions such as secretaries, kitchen helpers , telephone operators and drivers in order to free men for front-line duties. However, as the war progressed, the functions filled up by female assistants were diversifying and soon they also became telegraphers, radio operators, code-breakers, and even aircraft engineers and aircraft mechanics, among other functions. Some of the most important work performed by the WAAFs was the operation of bomb balloons against bombers and the role of operators of radar control systems, notably during the critical months of the Battle of Britain.

Volunteers with specific skills also served the Special Operation Executive (SOE) and were trained as spies, operating in France in other corners of occupied Europe, mainly as communications specialists. There was also a RAF nursing service, Princess Mary's Royal Air Force Nursing Service, and more than 150 women served as pilots in the Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA), which had the function of moving aircraft from the factories to the air bases within the Great Britain. In fact, ATA members were never considered to be an integral part of WAAF, but rather civilians hired, as the RAF thought it was unacceptable for women to fly military aircraft.

By 1943, the Women's Auxiliary Air Force had more than 18,000 members, a large number of them operating outside the British Isles.

Above: RAF Dunstable.

At the end of her training, Aircraft woman Hodgkiss was now assigned to serve at the RAF Central Office of Prediction, a high-security meteorological facility located in the small town of Dunstable, Bedfordshire, just 35 miles from London where they were received, analysed and dispatched all the weather predictions of Europe, essential in the planning of any allied air operation. His son Lauriston recounts an unusual episode with her in Dunstable:

"when she was waiting for the coming of one of those reports, which was very important to the operations of the night, and the Commander came after her and asked if the x report had already arrived. She, already tired of answering that not yet, said, without turning her head: "No! And you know what to do with it !! ", thinking it was a colleague. The Commander smiled and left in a deafening silence. Only then did my mother almost bother to find out who was behind her chair. "

The son revealed to us that the mother, just like her father, were reluctant to speak about themselves, but that she left several of her memories of her time in British lands during the war, as described below:

"She recalled that while at the WAAF, upon entering a train, upon seeing another person in uniform, she was going to have a conversation with that person.

In one of these episodes, when the Sicilian / Italian invasion, she got on a train and found a military chaplain.

All chaplains, irrespective of their religious denomination, were called the Father. Then, sitting next to this chaplain, she asked if he had found many atheists during his battlefield ministry, to which he replied that none, for the soldier mortally shot in his last moments always calls for God. I've never forgotten this story. "

In April 1943, more precisely on the 10th, Leading Aircraft woman (LACW) Hodgkiss was ordered to leave her duties momentarily in Dunstable and perform at Hendon, an RAF Air Station in London, to take part alongside Brazilian authorities and the British, of the symbolic ceremony of incorporation to the RAF of two fighters Supermarine Spitfire. You are acquired with resources donated by members of The Fellowship of the Brazilian Bellows. Among the personalities gathered for the event were the Brazilian Ambassador to the United Kingdom, diplomat José Joaquim Lima and Silva Moniz de Aragão, English Air Minister Sir Archibald Sinclair, and some high patents from the RAF. In addition to that, Brazil also represented the Brazilian ceremony at the other ceremony, LACW Jean Clark and the Curitiban Cosme Lockhood Gomm, a famous bomber pilot, commanding officer of the 467 (RAAF) Squadron. (shown right)

(Webmaster note: W/CDR. Gomm SDSO. DFC. was sadly killed on the 15th August 1943. Piloting Lancaster III ED988 PO-Y on an operation to Milano when they were shot down by Ofw. Josef Bigge of 2./NJG2 at 23:23 hrs, crashing west of Chartres, France, 5 other crew also killed, however his Flight Engineer survived - taken PoW.)

Left: Grave of Cosme Lockhood Gomm.

In September of the same year, eager to review after so long her husband, who had just returned to England, she tries to get in touch by telephone with the hotel indicated by him, resulting in another unusual episode, described as such in her diary:

"... in my ignorance, I thought Harrogate was a London suburb and I asked the operator to give me the hotel number where Jimmie was. She informed me that Harrogate was in Yorkshire, in the north of England, and that the Queen Hotel had been requisitioned by the RAF and therefore the number I wanted was restricted ... I said that my husband had just arrived from overseas. I read the telegram aloud and told him that I had not seen him for a year, etc., etc. He told me to turn off and wait for the return, even though it was against all regulations, because it was a restricted number and "please do not do this any more!" ... Finally a man's voice answered and I asked him to call him P/O. Hodgkiss. The voice told me sharply that officers were not allowed to receive private calls on that line. I began to heat up and thinking that I was talking to some unpleasant corporal on duty, I remember saying, "Well, to hell with your stupid bureaucracy! At least you would not be able to give him a message - PLEASE ?! "Once again, fortune favored me, and in spite of his resigned tone, his voice said: 'well,' give me his name and patent, and I'll take action to receive his message. "And that was why, when Jimmie entered the mess hall that night, among the orders posted on the board, there was one that said," Message to P/O. James Hodgkiss. Wife tells you to go to Dunstable. " It was signed by Officer Commander RAF Harrogate. "

At the height of the London winter of 1943, the humidity and cold of the English capital was too much for the young woman's health and she contracted pneumonia. So, as was often the case in cases of more serious illness or pregnancy, she had to move away from her duties for treatment. Bebita Hodgkiss still went through the Wartime Broadcasting Service of the famous BBC radio station in London, but, on medical recommendation, eventually left the WAAF and going to Scotland, where the dry climate would help a lot in its restoration. The couple settled in Fochabers, a small village in the parish of Bellie, in Moray, north of Scotland, on the banks of the River Spey, where they rented from a friendly local widow a 16th century building with thick stone walls and fireplaces in all the rooms. A peculiarity of this locality is that there was a camp with more than a thousand Italian prisoners of war, all captured in North Africa, who were guarded by a single sergeant, who was limited to only closing at night the gate of the field and to return to open it in the morning. Not by chance, the best food in the area was found there. Interestingly, in the frequent fund raising for war efforts, it was precisely the prisoners who collaborated the most.

While James Hodgkiss served as an instructor in England, Bebita remained for the remainder of the war in northern Scotland. And it was in that part of the British Isles, on April 9, 1945, that Bebita gave birth to a boy, the first child of the couple, baptised, at the suggestion of her husband, by the name of John Francis. According to a telegram sent by her to James, then based in Fairford, the delivery took place at 23:10 p.m., in a Forres hospital, 35 km from Fochabers, by Dr. John Adams, a physician recently released from the Royal Army Medical Corps (RAMC).

The couple remained in the United Kingdom until mid-1946, when James Hodgkiss retired from the RAF. Again in Brazil, they settled in São Paulo, where Lauriston James Hodgkiss was born. In addition to taking care of her family, Bebita dedicated herself to journalistic activities, having edited for many years the monthly newsletter of São Paulo Women's Club. Later, in the 1970s, when the family moved to Mairiporã, he began to write for the local newspaper and, in the 80's, also published in the Magazine of the truck driver.

Lilian Helene Louise Hodgkiss lived her last days happily but absent at an Alzheimer's clinic in the city of Atibaia, where she died on November 11, 2001. Her body is buried in the Peace Cemetery in Morumbi , along with her husband and her first child.

Acknowledgments: Researchers Anderson Subtil, Carlos Motta, and Ricardo Lavecchia would like to thank Mr. Lauriston James Hodgkiss for his inestimable assistance, without which this work would never be possible.

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