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The Betty H. Carter Women Veterans Historical Project

Oral history interview with Vera K. Griffin, 2002

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Object ID: WV0238.5.001

Description: Primarily documents Vera Keen Griffin’s service in the British Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) from 1941 to 1944.

Summary:

Griffin gives details of her early life, including her education, living during the Depression, and the outbreak of WWII. She mentions her father’s service during WWI and her sisters’ service during WWII. Topics about WWII include: the onset of the war in England; the fear of poison gas; buzz bombs; the fall of France; and the destruction of London.

Griffin discusses the opportunities for women in the British armed services and how she enlisted in the WAAF. She describes marching, instructors, and receiving uniforms during basic training at Innsworth, Gloustershire; and cook training in Melksham. Of her time stationed in Liverpool, she mentions working in a Merchant Marine hotel, living at Huyton College, dodging bombs, and socializing. Griffin also discusses her marriage, her husband’s death in Tunisia, transferring closer to home, working at the Coastal Command Headquarters, and receiving airmail. She shares her opinions of Winston Churchill; her memories of meeting and marrying her second husband, Ken; being discharged when she became pregnant; and VE Day and VJ Day celebrations.

Other topics include moving to the US and settling in Baltimore, Maryland; residing in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and Bethany Beach, Delaware; one of her son’s military service; and her other two sons’ service in the National Guard.

Creator: Vera Grace Keen Griffin

Biographical Info: Vera Keen Griffin (b. 1923) of Ewell, Surrey, England served in the British Women's Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) from 1940 to 1944.

Collection: Vera K. Griffin Papers

Rights: It is responsibility of the user to follow the copyright law of the United States (Title 17, U.S. Code). Materials are not to be reproduced in published works without written consent, and any use should credit Jackson Library, The University of North Carolina at Greensboro.

Full Text:

ERIC ELLIOTT:

My name is Eric Elliott and I am with the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. This is an interview for the Women Veterans Historical Project at the university. Today is January the 9th in the year 2002. Time is marching on, and we're here in Greensboro today at the home of Vera Griffin.

Mrs. Griffin, I just want to thank you on behalf of the school for sitting down and doing this exercise in self-examination with me, but it should be very painless, I hope. I just want to start off with a question that I ask of everybody right at the beginning, and that is, could you tell us where you were born and where you grew up?

VERA GRIFFIN:

I was born in Ewell, Surrey [England]. I was born in the house next door to where I lived the part of my life in England, which nowadays is a good thing. I mean, I travel quite a lot over here, you know. But it was very peaceful.

EE:

Well, tell me, how big a town is Ewell?

VG:

Very small. One high street.

EE:

What's the nearest big town to Ewell?

VG:

Epsom. That is a borough of Epsom and Ewell, and that's quite a nice town. Where I lived was like a village and it was very, very—

EE:

So, everybody knew everybody?

VG:

Everybody else. Yes.

EE:

And helped everybody out.

VG:

Yes, we did. Yes. It was very nice. I'm not very vocal, am I?

EE:

No, no, no. Let me ask you, did you have any brothers and sisters?

VG:

I had the two sisters. One was like a half-sister. She was the one that was the VAD [Voluntary Air Detachment] with the Red Cross. She was called up September 3 and she reported to London. My other sister was younger than I am, and she wasn't called. She had to register. It must have been about three years after I joined up, two or three years. She had the choice of going in the army, land army, or munitions.

EE:

Oh, my goodness.

VG:

So she took the army, but she didn't like it. I liked the air force, but she didn't like regimental. She was not a person that liked to do things, you know, in order. I do. [laughs]

EE:

And then you have, is that a brother up there?

VG:

No, that's my husband up there, up the top there.

EE:

Okay. So you just have the two sisters?

VG:

Two sisters, yes.

EE:

So you're right in the middle.

VG:

Yes, I'm the middle one. Yes.

EE:

Okay. When were you born? What year was that?

VG:

Nineteen-twenty-three.

EE:

Nineteen-twenty-three. What did your folks do for a living?

VG:

My father—well, towards the end he was a porter in a hospital, which had been where he was during the war, actually. He had gone to France and then he came back, and he was put doing work in this hospital over in Epsom. That's what he did. Mother was home most of the time, as we all are, you know. I've always been home with the children.

EE:

You were telling me before we started the tape that in Ewell, boys and girls went together in school till they got to the upper grades, and then the girls—

VG:

Yes.

EE:

You went to Ewell Girls School.

VG:

No. We just went upstairs.

EE:

Just upstairs, where the girls were separate.

VG:

Yes, upstairs. That was the girl's school, and then the boys had to go to the school down the street.

EE:

So you were in a one-building schoolhouse for—

VG:

Well, it's still there.

EE:

Still there.

VG:

If I had time, I'd show you a picture. It's still there and it's still-actually, it's a young children's school now, and it's still perfect.

EE:

I'll bet it's beautiful.

VG:

It is. And during the war they took all of their iron railings down for the war effort.

EE:

Oh, to use for the—

VG:

Now they've got them back.

EE:

Okay. How old was the building? Sounds like it's been around for a while.

VG:

About a hundred.

EE:

A hundred while you went there.

VG:

Yes. A hundred years.

EE:

Did you have a favorite subject in school? Were you somebody who liked school?

VG:

Loved it. History, poetry—I did, I liked school, and I loved basketball and all that.

EE:

So you did a lot of sports, as well, when you were there.

VG:

Yes.

EE:

Now, in this country, basketball was a half-court game for women, but you didn't play full-court basketball. It was sort of set plays. Is that the way it was there?

VG:

That's right. That's right, yes. You had a person stayed in the goal—

EE:

Right. In the box.

VG:

Two of you, actually. One was—you only were allowed to go to a certain area, about halfway, yes. Yes.

In the service I wanted to comment right here that over there you had to wear regulation everything, shoes, stockings. No earrings. You were not allowed to carry umbrellas. Very little makeup. You put your makeup in your gas mask bag.

EE:

So, everybody looked the same.

VG:

Yes, when you stood in line. Yes.

EE:

Right. Do you have any remembrances—you were [born] in '23. What impact did the depression have on your life?

VG:

I honestly didn't know there was one. I had a mother and father that if we were poor, we were poor, but we always had plenty of food.

EE:

It never impacted your house.

VG:

No. No. It didn't impact the village at all, because I had aunts there and they had shops, and they did the same business. I don't think it impacted quite as much the small villages, or even England, as much as it seemed to have impacted over here.

EE:

Right. Did you travel much when you were young, or did you stay pretty much close to home?

VG:

We stayed pretty—we went away just one week a year. In fact, when war broke out we had just gotten back from a place that was about just a few miles from Dover. It's called Deal, and we'd just gotten back from there to Waterloo. We looked around and we saw all these sandbags being put against all the banks, you know, and we thought, what's going on? Because, I guess, being away on vacation, we hadn't sort of noticed too much, and that's where the marines are all stationed, down there. But no, we didn't go away a lot. We stayed pretty close to home.

EE:

This would have been in '39?

VG:

Yes.

EE:

In North Carolina at that time, high school did not last as long as it does now.

VG:

Oh, no. No.

EE:

It was only eleven years. How old were you when you finished Ewell Girls School?

VG:

Fourteen. This was 1937. Since then, children attend school until they are eighteen years old or more.

EE:

Fourteen. That was the end of the school.

VG:

That was the end of it.

EE:

So, what did you do from '37 to the time you joined the WAAF [Women's Auxiliary Air Force]? What kind of work did you do?

VG:

I was doing like, I was looking after a little girl, things like that. I was there about two years, I guess.

EE:

So it was sort of like a nanny position for somebody in the neighborhood, or babysitting?

VG:

Yes. It was looking after them all day, all day. Yes.

EE:

Okay. Childcare, then.

VG:

And then I was fourteen. That was sixteen. And then after that, like I said, I joined up when I was seventeen and a half, and my mother and father had to sign for me.

EE:

Tell me, because your father had been in World War I, do you recall before that day in Dover, him ever talking about what was going on again in Germany with Hitler, and the world? Because—

VG:

No, not really. We used to listen to the radio, because in those days we only had the radio, and we used to listen to that. We knew—as I said, my aunt had a shop. Of course, we had newspapers, plenty of newspapers. But no—

EE:

But you don't recall politics being really a topic of discussion until the war started then, at your house.

VG:

No. No. Politics was not a great discussion. They had their own polls right across the street at my school. The only thing I can remember about that is the politicians used to send taxis and cars to pick you up.

EE:

To go pick you up.

VG:

Oh, yes. If you want to go vote, they'd find you.

EE:

They don't care about you until it's election day. Then they chase you down.

VG:

Yes. Because I used to, because being across from the school, I used to watch the taxis and all come along, you know, and they'd make sure you went to vote. But we never—my mother and father were very, very interested in their country. You know? We had big pictures of the king and queen in the kitchen. It was just very—we were just very ordinary, I would say. Very ordinary. We were just brought up to know what we should do, and we did it.

EE:

How did life change for you after that September in '39? What happened in your household and your day-to-day routine?

VG:

Well, the first day of the war, sirens went. Right after war was declared, sirens went, and we all run around, and my mother said, “You'd better get some newspaper, dampen it, put it around the fireplace and all around the windows,” which we did. Because during the First World War, my father had been in France and there had been gas.

EE:

And that was the fear that they might launch gas immediately.

VG:

Yes, yes. Exactly. We didn't know. And we had an uncle who just came over from Canada. We didn't know him. We'd never seen him in our life. He came in on us the day war was declared, so my mother took him across the street to the air raid shelter and she got him—I think it was a gas mask. It was unfortunate he came then, because we were all in a state of confusion.

EE:

Sure.

VG:

My sister had gone, and the first air raid warning, we didn't know quite what to do, you know.

EE:

Had your sister already joined up the VAD?

VG:

Oh, yes.

EE:

When did she do that?

VG:

Oh, a couple of years before that.

EE:

So that was totally independent of the war. She just wanted to be part of the Red Cross.

VG:

She liked to learn how to bandage and how to make beds and all. That was part—that was all the VADs really did. It wasn't nursing.

EE:

Right. Had she trained for nursing?

VG:

She trained—I don't know if she trained for—she took training, but I don't know exactly what she took training for, because before the war they didn't really train nurses.

EE:

So your folks were probably very worried about what was happening with her when the sirens went off.

VG:

No. We didn't really think about that. We were just worried about what was coming, you know.

EE:

Right. How close were you all to the coast?

VG:

Well, we were closer to London than we were the coast, because you can imagine, on the train it was twenty minutes ride, twenty-five minutes ride.

EE:

Well, that's fairly far.

VG:

Of course, I can remember the buzz bombs, and I can even remember, one person I heard giving speeches said there was no daylight dogfights. Well, there was.

EE:

That would have been in '40, with the Battle of Britain, you would have been—do you remember seeing the planes overhead?

VG:

Yes, I did.

EE:

Did they teach you all how to identify what was—

VG:

No.

EE:

You just, anytime you saw activity overhead—

VG:

We knew.

EE:

You knew.

VG:

Yes. And at night you could hear them going over to London, you see. Before I joined up they used to come over every night, and there'd be swarms of them, swarms. And I can remember when France fell. I was scared. That was about the only time I've ever been scared, I think. And I was really scared that night. I thought, “Oh my goodness, what now?” So when I went to bed that night, I hate to tell you what I did. I took a can of pepper with me. [laughs] I really was scared that they were coming. See, my mother used to go to the air raid shelter every night.

EE:

Did she go to help out there?

VG:

No.

EE:

Just, she was that afraid.

VG:

Well, everybody did. Everybody—my dad didn't. He stayed at home with us. But—and, of course, Freda was gone. It was just Joyce and I. But she went every night. Even after we all left, she still went to the air raid shelter every night. I think we only had about three bombs in Ewell altogether.

EE:

Was anybody killed from those bomb attacks?

VG:

No. We could look. We could go to the railroad station and there was the bridge, and we could see the fires in London. We could see their docks. The Surrey docks, they'd be ablaze. You could just see the fire. The sky was all lit up with red. And then when you went into London you could see the houses. And when I went to Liverpool, they had finished the real heavy bombing by then. That would be, what, 1941.

EE:

Fourty-two? Yes, '41, when you went in there.

VG:

Yes, '41.

EE:

'40 was really the bad bombing.

VG:

Yes. And mainly, like, there would be like rows and rows of streets, of houses, just gone.

EE:

I guess they were attacking the bigger cities and not little places like Ewell.

VG:

They did.

EE:

In some sense, you were protected by being out in the country.

VG:

By being, yes. So, when I was stationed up there, we were stationed, billeted about half and hour, twenty minutes from Liverpool. And then we were taken in every day to this place, you know, this huge—it was a Merchant Marine hotel. We were taken there, and of course we worked. And two or three nights a week we'd have to stay down there, but we'd be underneath the ground almost. All the airmen would be up top, in that hotel.

EE:

So, they basically were sheltering women, is what they were doing, by having you all down there.

VG:

All down there. There was only four or five of us in one room. We were down there, and then we'd have to get up like 5:30 and start work, start working.

EE:

Let me ask you how you got to Liverpool, by deciding to join. You wanted to join. You wanted to do something right when the war started.

VG:

Yes, we all did. I mean, it was just, you just did it.

EE:

Did you have other friends of yours that immediately went and joined things?

VG:

No. No. I was alone. Yes.

EE:

You had to wait, because you were underage.

VG:

No. No, I didn't have to wait at all. I went right in. I joined—

EE:

Okay. You had to get your parents' permission?

VG:

Yes. Yes.

EE:

Okay. Tell me, because the opportunities in this country were very limited for women's service. It's different when your country is under attack.

VG:

Yes.

EE:

So tell me and the folks who will be reading this the benefit of, what were the opportunities that women would do for joining the service? The traditional role would have been to do like your sister and to join the Red Cross or some kind of volunteer organization that would—nursing role and Red Cross probably would have been the ones that would have been before the war. When was the WAAF formed? Was it right there at the beginning, in '39?

VG:

I think so. It must have been.

EE:

What were the options for service within that branch? What could a member of the Women's Auxiliary—

VG:

It was limitless, actually, except for flying and going to combat. The girls, a lot of them were balloon operators. I think they worked on ack-ack [anti-aircraft artillery]. Almost anything. Some of them worked in that decoding place. I mean, you can read stories here of all the girls, what they did.

EE:

So it's a whole range of skills.

VG:

Just almost anything.

EE:

Everything except flying.

VG:

Yes. Yes. As far as I know, there were no flyers.

EE:

Well, now, in this country most of the women—the phrase was, “Free a man to fight.” Is that what the WAAF was doing? Were you taking roles that would have been normally done by men, or were these—

VG:

Yes. Yes, I would think so, because my son Bruce brought me that big placard out there. You can see it when you go out. It says—he just bought it for me in England this last year. It says, “Help the RAF [Royal Air Force]. Join the WAAF.” I mean, it was just—to me, it was something you had to do, and it was something that I had always wanted to be around flyers. Well, I wasn't, really. There wasn't that many flyers in our group. They were mainly radio operators. The men—when we went downtown to Liverpool, I was with all the men. But there was also another secret place in Liverpool that the women went to.

EE:

Right. This would be more for intelligence than [unclear]?

VG:

I don't know. All I know is most of them were radio operators.

EE:

Were there similar auxiliaries in place for the navy or the army?

VG:

Yes.

EE:

So you could have, at age seventeen and a half, decided to join the equivalent for navy or the army.

VG:

Yes, either one. Yes. Yes.

EE:

But I would imagine your experience, having watched that dogfight over your head—

VG:

I always like flying. I still love it. I love to go anywhere now. If it wasn't for the fact that I'm so old and I have to sit in the airport, you know, and that puts me—

EE:

The long lines, right.

VG:

My granddaughter's having a tenth wedding anniversary and she called me up, wanting me to go to Baltimore. I said, “I don't know. I just can't sit around anymore.”

EE:

There was a recruiting office in Ewell where you signed up?

VG:

No.

EE:

Or you had to go to Epsom?

VG:

No, I went to London.

EE:

To London.

VG:

It was just a little insert in the paper and it told you where to go.

EE:

So you responded, basically, to an ad, then, at the end of the day?

VG:

Yes. Yes.

EE:

Your folks obviously signed the permission slip for it. Were they proud of you?

VG:

Yes. Yes, they were.

EE:

Your dad having served in the war, and having daughters, I know he had to be proud just to have you come home in uniform.

VG:

All three of us.

EE:

All of you had uniforms?

VG:

Yes. We all three came home. Yes. He was just a very quiet man. He didn't say too much. Very, very quiet. And we all married servicemen, all of us. And both—my sister, the oldest one, she's eighty-five now, she's still married, and it's the same man.

EE:

That's great.

VG:

Yes, and Joyce is, too.

EE:

When you went in to sign up, I assume it was probably for the duration of the war.

VG:

Yes.

EE:

It wasn't for a set limit.

VG:

No.

EE:

Did you have any choice in the kinds of work that you were—you talked about they were balloon operators, ack-ack. Did you have a choice, say, “I'd like to try to do this?” Or did they simply say, “We're going to test you and see where your skills are at?”

VG:

No, they actually didn't test us. We just, you know—at that time we really did what was most needed at that time. I think as the war went on, there was more scope for women. You know, like the MTs [military transports?], you know, the drivers, and almost anything. They did later on, almost anything.

EE:

You went in and you were telling me before we started the tape that you went to Innsworth in Gloucester for your basic. Tell me what basic training is like in the WAAF.

VG:

Well, we were all, most of us, about the same age, a little bit older. We were taken from London down to Gloucester. And then, well, it was quite awful the first few nights, you know. We went into this long hut and you had to learn how to make your bed, you know, with the three biscuits. Then they had a—I think about—

EE:

Tell me, I'm letting three biscuits pass. What do you mean by three biscuits?

VG:

They were about this big, and that one made the mattress, so that you could take the three biscuits and just pile them up and then put your blankets on top. They're to be done a certain way. What else? Well, we had to learn to march and we had to—marching was fun, but it was early in the morning when it was foggy, foggy and frosty, even then.

EE:

This was March when you joined up.

VG:

Yes. So this would be April. It's cold in England.

EE:

Tell me. You joined, and we talked about it before and I want to make sure to try to get this sort of in order. You're not just concerned with the war. There's a fellow that you've met.

VG:

No.

EE:

When did you meet him? Was it in '43 that you all got married?

VG:

Which, my former marriage?

EE:

Your former husband.

VG:

No. I met him in 1940.

EE:

Forty.

VG:

Yes. And I had become engaged to him, but he was at the other end of England the whole time, so I, you know, we—

EE:

So you got engaged in '40, and when did you all get married, the first husband?

VG:

Forty-three. Beginning of '43.

EE:

Okay. So he was fine with you joining into the WAAF—

VG:

Oh, yes.

EE:

—because he was off. He was army?

VG:

Yes. He was a Welsh guard. Yes. In fact, I've been over to North Africa twice. Ken [my husband] took me over there the first time, and then I went over about three years ago. That was a wonderful experience. The British Legion take you over.

EE:

Oh, that's great.

VG:

It's a beautiful place. And we met the vice consul and had afternoon tea and all that. You were talking, I notice, a lot in your things—we did see Glenn Miller and his orchestra. They played and there was dancing. It was one of the service clubs. And I'll tell you another thing. I went to see This Is The Army, and what's his name, he was in it. The author?

EE:

George [unclear]?

VG:

No. No.

EE:

Irving Berlin.

VG:

Yes. It was the little man.

EE:

Yes, Irving Berlin. Right.

VG:

Yes. My sister took me.

EE:

Oh, that's great.

VG:

We did, her and I—she was in London for quite a lot of the time, and I'd meet her there when I was stationed in Northwood. And we'd go to different places, her and I. Then, like I said, that was when I was stationed down in Northwood. Up in Liverpool, well, that was—

EE:

Well, now, you were there in Innsworth for only a couple of weeks.

VG:

Yes, yes.

EE:

Were most of your instructors men, or women?

VG:

You know, I don't remember. Because we had our shots there. I do know a lot of the RAF men fainted when they had their shots, and all of us women were standing there laughing, you know, because we were a bunch of girls. I swear, let me see what—oh, of course, we did the delousing bit and medical, and then you get issued all of your clothes, and you have to wear exactly what they tell you. Your stockings had seams in those days and they had to be straight, and your hair had to be off your collar. It was very—we had to do what men had to do, basically.

EE:

Was Innsworth a training facility both for men and women, then?

VG:

Well, it was men there. I don't know if it was training. We didn't take too much interest, really. When we could we went out for the evening, you know. Actually, we went to church. [laughs]

EE:

And then while you were there for those couple of weeks, did you request being a cook, or you said that's what they basically told you that was needed, “We need somebody to help the cook.”

VG:

Yes, that's what they basically said.

EE:

And then you went to Melksham—

VG:

Melksham, yes.

EE:

Melksham in Wiltshire.

VG:

Yes.

EE:

And you were there for a couple or three weeks, learning those basic skills.

VG:

Yes. Basic skills, yes.

EE:

So when you come out of Melksham, what rank are you? What's the equivalent starting rank, I guess, for the WAAF?

VG:

I guess it's AC-2. That's Aircraft Woman 2. That's the lowest rank. And while I was in Melksham, the Duke of Kent [Prince George] came to see us. He got killed not long after, I believe, didn't he? In an airplane. Yes.

EE:

How many women were going through this training at about the same time you were, both at Innsworth and at Wiltshire? How many were in your class at basic?

VG:

In my class? Well, I always figure there's about thirty-five in a hut. Honestly, I couldn't say for sure whether it was seventy. And when we were at the cooks' training, we had to like take cold showers, and I mean it was really basic.

EE:

So the facilities were not nearly as good as they were at Innsworth?

VG:

No.

EE:

After you left there you go to Liverpool. This is where you said you were stationed in the Merchant Marine hotel.

VG:

Well, that's where I worked during the day, and that's where I stayed two or three nights a week. But I was billeted in this Huyton College. It was a college for Christian women, I think, before.

EE:

And that was in the city proper?

VG:

No, no. It was way out. It was called Huyton, and that was out of the city, because they trucked all of the women in, the radio ops and us, into the city every day.

EE:

Okay. And there's a lot of activity going on in the Liverpool area, with shipping and everything.

VG:

Yes.

EE:

You had watched London being bombed in '40. Were you concerned about being stationed in a large city?

VG:

No. I think being young, it doesn't concern you. I was never concerned. The only time I was really had a fright was before I joined up and I was out with my fiancé, and there came an air raid and we were in the movies. We got on the bus. Well, the bus had to stop halfway because the air raid sirens started, and we took shelter halfway between Epsom and Ewell, and incendiary bombs came down. They dropped incendiary bombs.

It didn't hurt us. I mean, it just came near us. You know, they're just there to light up the place, so you get out of there quick. And you did get a lot of the ack-ack from London, because it was all around. You see, the ack-ack was all around. But like I say, we were young, and dying really didn't enter your mind.

EE:

Did you know anybody before your husband, first husband passed on—did you have any close friends who had been killed in the service?

VG:

No, not really. Only one we knew from Ewell was my sister knew him, Freda. He was in a submarine. But no, I didn't know anybody at all.

EE:

Tell me about your day-to-day work in Liverpool. You're in this Merchant Marine hotel. Tell me what a day is like for you, a typical day.

VG:

Well, we took shifts. If you got at six o'clock, say, 5:30, six o'clock, then you worked till about, I don't know, 12:00 or 2:00. Then there's people came on at 8:00 till 4:00, and then some came on at 12:00 to about 8:00, I guess. We'd just get up. Of course, we had all those things like powdered milk and powdered eggs. Even the officers had all that. I mean, we all had that.

EE:

Yes. Everybody was missing real eggs, huh?

VG:

Oh yes. We'd get up. We'd do the breakfast. And then we had people that did the vegetables, you know, and stuff like that. But we did have to clean our own floor and our own tops, you know. We did a lot of pies, like meat pies and stuff like that. It was very good food, really. It really was.

EE:

Was the person in charge of that kitchen detail, was that an RAF officer?

VG:

Well, we had—

EE:

Or did you have civilians working with you as well?

VG:

No. No civilians in sight. No. Never had civilians near us at all, ever. I don't understand that civilian bit.

EE:

Right. Because in this country, civilians were often working in it.

VG:

I know. We didn't have—nobody, nobody. At the entrance we had these two Service Police, you know. They were checking people in and out. The men in charge of us, we had two corporals, one in charge of each shift. Then we had a sergeant or a flight sergeant. Then later on, two of the older girls in our group were made corporals, so they were just above us, but they all stayed in the same—well, in Huyton, we had, I guess, four or six to a room. It was, like I told you, a college, and it was very nice. We never ate much there because we weren't there that much, because we were always in with the other place. But it was quite near. It was called Lime Street. It was right on that place I showed you where we marched, only it was towards the docks.

EE:

Right. Closer to the Mersey then. How many days a week were you working? Was it a six-day week, five-day week?

VG:

I think it was a seven-day week. But you see, we had different shifts.

EE:

So you had, maybe worked two weeks and then get a week off or something like that. [No.] Did you socialize with the other women that you were working with?

VG:

Oh, yes. You had to, because, you know, I didn't know anybody out there. I had one particular friend there, and she did a lot for me. They were all nice girls, really, basically. And the men were very good to us, very good.

EE:

I imagine there were a number of folks who in your position, who had loved ones who were serving someplace else, in other branches in other places.

VG:

Yes. This best friend of mine, her husband—her fiancé was in the navy. I think he got killed, as a matter of fact, later on. But we all had somebody; very few that wasn't.

EE:

Did you ever get a chance on your leave to go meet up with your fiancé?

VG:

He came up twice, I think, twice a year maybe. He was from North Wales, and so we used to go on the train. If I did have a forty-eight hour leave, we'd go on the train to North Wales.

EE:

Which wasn't too far from you, actually.

VG:

No.

EE:

That was convenient.

VG:

Oh, it's lovely there. Have you ever been there? Beautiful.

EE:

My only trip to Wales, I went up, I guess, going through the south, I came up from Bath to Cardiff. I just saw, what's it, the Carnarvon Castle down there?

VG:

Yes. South Wales isn't like North Wales.

EE:

No. North Wales is much more rugged.

VG:

North Wales is more beautiful. South Wales is industrial.

EE:

That's right.

VG:

Yes. It's different from England. England is—industrial's up the north.

EE:

The farthest I got out was to St. David's head at the very coast. I took a train out that way, but I never did get north.

VG:

Was it near Holyhead?

EE:

Yes.

VG:

That's where he was—he was from right near there, Bangor.

EE:

Okay.

VG:

Yes. Right near Holyhead.

EE:

Great.

VG:

Yes. Beautiful country. First time I went there we went to Canarvon Castle, and we got—I think we got off the train and we hitchhiked a ride from Canarvon Castle. That was another thing in those days. Oh, people were so nice to each other.

EE:

Well, now was he speaking, I assume, a native Welsh speaker?

VG:

No. He didn't speak native. A lot of them do. Lot of them do. But you know, the country's changed. You've got Irish people want to speak Irish and Welsh want to—Scottish want to speak Scottish. It's changed. In those days the country was—

EE:

Was more unified.

VG:

Yes. And you'd go into London and you'd get every nationality on earth there.

EE:

That's right.

VG:

I mean, it was—

EE:

How often did you get down to London?

VG:

From Liverpool?

EE:

From Liverpool.

VG:

Hardly ever.

EE:

Hardly ever. You were there, and then at some point, on one of these trips home, you all must have decided to get married. And this was in January?

VG:

No. Actually, I got a telegram. Then he came up there. We were going to get married, like I said, in February we had it set. My poor mother had to make all the arrangements. But he was a very good person, very good person.

EE:

So he shipped out in January, after you all—

VG:

No. I went back. We got married on the twenty-eighth of January and I went back to Liverpool five days later. Then the next month he went—which was February. And I think it was the 8th of May he got killed. And when I went over to North Africa, oh, the country's—I liked it over there. I always thought it was desert, but it really doesn't look like a desert.

EE:

I guess it's what's now, what, Tunisia and Libya?

VG:

Yes, Tunisia. Yes. Very, very nice place. People are very nice, very nice. But Ken and I, we have been all over.

EE:

That's great.

VG:

Yes. Well, after the war we could go on Space A [Space Available Travel], and we'd go over to Germany, then from Germany to England. But once your husband dies, you can't go.

EE:

Right. So, you'd requested a transfer down from Liverpool to this area closer to home?

VG:

Yes.

EE:

Was this after your husband was killed?

VG:

Just after, yes.

EE:

Just after, so then, summertime, early summer. June, maybe, of '43?

VG:

June, yes. June. The odd part was—well, it wasn't really odd. I didn't get a notification from the War Office first. I got a letter from his officer. I walked into the orderly room, got this air letter, and I didn't think nothing of it. And he had it all written down.

EE:

So nobody personally notified you.

VG:

No. No. And then about a month afterwards, I get the notification. It was—well, you know, I mean, things were very, very hard, I think, then. A lot of things going on.

EE:

You would thought they might have at least notified your CO [commanding officer] first, and have her help break the news.

VG:

Yes. I walked into the orderly room and got this letter. In fact, I've got two letters from him. And he got killed later on, this officer. He was a good friend of my husband's.

EE:

So he was killed there in Tunisia, then.

VG:

Who?

EE:

Your husband was killed.

VG:

My husband was, yes. Right there, not far from Tunis. It was called Hamman Lif or there was another place. But we went. As I said, I went over there with the British Legion the second time. The first time I went over with my husband and Bruce. Bruce is my youngest son.

EE:

He's the one, I think, he works at the school, doesn't he?

VG:

He does. Yes.

EE:

Yes. Well now, you came back and you were working at the Coastal Command Headquarters. Tell me the kinds of activities that are going on at Coastal Command, if you can. What can you tell me about that?

VG:

Truthfully, there was very few enlisted people, very few. We had no sick bay. We had no entertainment. We had nothing. We were in alone. The airwomen were all the way to one side of the camp, and the airmen were this side. There wasn't a lot of either one of them. There was a sergeant's mess, I know that.

I don't know if there—I guess there was an airmen's mess, but, of course, I never went to it because I was with the officers. We never saw the officers, only our immediate officer. We didn't see the officers, because they had a steward, and he served them, you see, upstairs. But we'd get there early and we'd make the scrambled eggs, you know, with the—and then we had just this one small range. Then we'd have this huge old-fashioned range. It was almost as big as the wall there. It had a fire in it.

EE:

So somebody had to be continually stoking the fire?

VG:

Oh, yes. Yes. If you got there in the morning, you had to do that before anything. This one man was French. He was the corporal. Very good cooks. Oh, they were good cooks. And then the sergeant was a very good cook, too. We had very good cooks there.

EE:

You know, in this country they often used German prisoners of war to help out with some of the tasks. Did you ever use prisoners of war?

VG:

No, not the prisoners. The only time I ever saw a prisoner of war was when I came to this country; was an American base in Wiltshire, and the Italian prisoners of war had to clean up and do everything. I'd never seen them till then, till I came—we had to go through this awful place, horrible.

EE:

So, that was also, I guess, a seven-day week there, similar, with you trading off, on time off, your workday—similar shifts?

VG:

Oh, yes. Yes.

EE:

You weren't living at home but you were close enough to go visit home more frequently.

VG:

Yes.

EE:

I assume you're getting—you know, this country we had the V-Mail during the war, you know, for where they'd shoot down the microfilm.

VG:

Yes. I think this is what we had. I'll show you this because I do know. I've got the airmail letters. I keep the airmail letters in here. I've got my medals, but I've given them to my son, given all my medals to my son. And then I don't want to give—these were what we have.

EE:

Right. It's very similar, very small. They reduced it down. Was your mail censored, as it often was other places?

VG:

From him?

EE:

Yes. From him it was?

VG:

Oh yes. That was from the officer. And there's the other one from the officer. He sent me one at Christmastime. Yes, this is the one. Yes. He sent me a nice letter at Christmastime also.

EE:

That's it. It's a precious letter.

VG:

Yes it is. And this one, then he just said how wonderful, you know. It just—that's why I said, when this war broke out, I don't feel sorry for myself, but I feel sorry for young people. They don't know what they're going into over there.

EE:

No. You go in and you don't know because you're young and the world is—there's nothing bad in the world.

VG:

Nothing. No, nothing. Well, up till then, there wasn't. I can't say everything was fair. You know, it wasn't.

EE:

What helped you get through that time?

VG:

Again, you're going to think me funny. I used to pray in the restroom, because it was a getaway from the girls, you know. I'd just pray. And this lady, she was the preacher's wife, I guess, the rector's wife, she gave me a book and she also told me a poem, and I still remember that poem, and I still say it. It was—I know I went home, and I didn't want to go back, of course. You know?

EE:

They give you, I guess, some time off.

VG:

Yes. They gave me, and then I asked for an extension. This was my service stripes.

EE:

So you came back that summer. You're working at a place, from the name of it, my guess is that a lot's going on there, if you look at what comes up in June of '44 with the D-Day invasion. They're certainly planning some things.

VG:

Well, I imagine Coastal Command was very busy. There were all these big offices and a lot of security round there. Like I said, nobody was allowed in that camp at all.

EE:

You mentioned some of the showbiz personalities you saw, Glenn Miller and everyone. Did you see any military brass?

VG:

I guess on and off we did, but you didn't notice, you know. You don't notice who you salute. [laughs]

EE:

Usually, I ask folks about what their impressions were of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt, because they're different. What was your impression of Winston Churchill?

VG:

Oh, he's my idol. He's in the living room there. Oh, he was my idol. I just thought he was—I just thought he had the spirit, a spirit that nobody else could have ever given anybody. He was—I don't think England would have made it without him. I don't think so.

EE:

Did you listen to the radio broadcasts when he was—

VG:

Yes. Yes. And after the war I went to the war cabinet rooms. Did you ever go there?

EE:

I have not been there. I went to Chartwell [unclear].

VG:

Yes, I've been there.

EE:

That's a beautiful place.

VG:

And I've been to, what's the other place, where he was born? I forget. Anyway, it's a huge place where he was born, because his mother was American, I think.

EE:

Yes.

VG:

But he's just—I have never seen him, but I got the impression he was small, very small.

EE:

Well, they call him “The Bulldog” for a reason. I think he was—sit down.

VG:

Oh, God, yes. But, you know, people criticize him in some things. I just never could, because I figured what he did, nobody else could have done.

EE:

Were there other personalities that were important in your remembrances, as far as public figures that you were impressed with?

VG:

[Field Marshal Bernard] Montgomery. Montgomery was one of my idols. I just felt like he got the job done and didn't have a lot—I just don't go in for a lot of show. And another—one of my moments was when it was [the Battle of] Dunkirk. And I cried because it was on the radio, all those little tiny boats going over, you know? And it just impressed me so much. I think that impressed me more than anything. All of those men getting in their little boats and going over.

EE:

Doing whatever they could to help one or two just to make it across.

VG:

Yes. Yes, one or two off. Yes. My brother-in-law was, he went over on, I don't know, D-Day Two or D-Day Three to help get rid of mines. He won't talk about it. He doesn't talk about it. Never talks about it.

EE:

I had an uncle who was there in the invasion, the same thing.

VG:

He will not talk about it.

EE:

I think so many of the people who had combat, they don't feel like they can talk about it with anybody except somebody else who was there.

VG:

Maybe that. He was—he didn't even join the Legion, you know, the [Royal] British Legion. He didn't even join that, and he never said anything about remembrances or anything, you know. So I imagine it must have been very hard for them.

EE:

This is your older sister's husband?

VG:

No, my younger sister's husband. He was in the army. I'm trying to think what he was in. No, my younger sister, she married a man that joined the army.

EE:

This is Joyce.

VG:

Joyce's husband was the one that had that experience. Then Freda's husband, he was an orphan and he joined the army when he was—as a bandsman. I don't know how old he was, whether he was thirteen, fourteen.

EE:

Oh gosh.

VG:

Yes, because they used to take youngsters, especially out in India. He went to India and all those places, you know, Kenya. He really did tell you some stories, because he was in a band, you know. He was really something. Of course, that was Ken at the top there. That was my husband.

EE:

That's great. Well, now, you're there—

[End Tape 1, Side A—Begin Tape 1, Side B]

EE:

When did you first meet Ken?

VG:

Must have been October, same year. He was in London with a friend of his and they were buying toys. They were going to have a party for the children near the base, have a big party. So he was in London buying toys. And the first night I met him there was an air raid, and he was going to take me to the tube because I wanted to get back to base. I told him, “No. I'll go. You go on back,” and then, about a week or so afterwards he sent me a Christmas card and some chocolates. And after that, we started out being real good friends, real, very good friends, I mean.

EE:

Was he assigned to that base where you were working?

VG:

Oh, no, no. He was in—

EE:

Because he was in the U.S. Army Air Force.

VG:

Yes. He was down at Thetford in Norfolk.

EE:

Okay.

VG:

He was a long way.

EE:

So you just happened to run into him in London.

VG:

Yes. In London, yes. I was with another girl. He was with this man called Mr. Bevan and his friend Will. I went down there a lot, and he came up my place, you know. He went to my family's because he just walked right in, because he was so happy there. He was just happy being with my family, my mother and my father.

In fact, after the war he said to me would I like to stay over there, you know, but there was no place to live because of all the bombings, and there was no jobs. He had a very good job. Well, he didn't have a good job at the beginning. He worked for the railroad, the B & O Railroad. I said, “No, you have a job,” so we came—I came over with Kenny. He was seven then, seven months old. We lived with Ken's mother for about a year and a half, I guess, his mother and father.

EE:

You'd met in October. How long before you decided it was time to get married to this fellow?

VG:

Well, it was in the spring. I was going to volunteer to go—I don't know if it was Malta or Gibraltar. I said, “Ken, I'm going to volunteer to go out there.”

And he said, “Well, if you volunteer to go out there, I won't be here,” you know, “when you get out,” which, I guess, was right. So I decided not to. But I liked traveling. I just like to go to see people. I like to see people. I think everybody's different. It's wonderful. It's wonderful. Do you have a family?

EE:

I sure do. I sure do. And because I was in Germany for a year, they finally went to Europe. They would never have gone to Europe, had they not come following me.

Well now, did you say you got married in early '44? When did you get married?

VG:

August.

EE:

August of '44?

VG:

Yes.

EE:

Okay.

VG:

My dad wouldn't sign for me because he was upset about Llew dying, you see. So I had to wait till I was twenty-one.

EE:

So you had to sign to get permission from him to stay in the service while you were married, or what was this permission for?

VG:

No. My dad wouldn't give me permission to get married, because I was underage. You had to be twenty-one then. Remember?

EE:

Okay.

VG:

So he said no. He said, “You wait till you're twenty-one,” so we both were twenty-one. I got married on my twenty-first birthday. [laughter]

EE:

I guess when it's time, it's time.

VG:

Yes. Yes. We were married like—when he died, we'd been married forty-eight years.

EE:

That's great. That's great. So you were working at Middlesex then, when D-Day happened. Tell me about that, your remembrances of D-Day.

VG:

I didn't have a lot of memories of D-Day. D-Day was—no, I didn't. I heard it on the radio. I didn't have—just went about working.

EE:

That was the same year that Hitler started the buzz bomb attacks on London. Tell me about your first buzz bomb experience.

VG:

Yes. Well, not a lot to tell. They used to come over Ewell to go to London, and as long as you could hear that noise, you were alright. And Ken, he went to London the day before we got married, him and his best man, and he said he was shaving, and, of course, the air raid was on, and the buzz bombs, he could hear the buzz bombs. He said they ran downstairs, you know. But as long as you could hear it going, you were all right. But if you heard it cut off—it cut off and there was silence, and then that was it. They were awful. They did a lot of damage. And then you had what was after the buzz bombs, was the V-2s was it?

EE:

That's right.

VG:

Yes. But unless you have been there, you'd have no idea. People were very, very together, very together.

EE:

Some people said that the world—we were more patriotic back then.

VG:

We were. We were. I didn't think twice about volunteering. It just, it was a natural thing to do, and Freda, she was the same way. You just, I don't know. People were different then, very different. I know we were—one time I was sent to sergeant's mess and we were four of us, were billeted with a couple way up—I don't even know the name of the place. We'd come down in the morning. Of course, we had nothing to eat or drink, you know.

And one morning she gave us a piece of real hard toast, and I don't know whether it was coffee or tea, and we thought it was wonderful because, you know, we'd get into this little truck and go to sergeant's mess, because you never had anything to eat. So the people were very kind, very kind to us. In Liverpool, we'd have Sunday afternoons, we'd have concerts, I mean, beautiful concerts, all kinds of music, classical, military. They had quite a few canteens in Liverpool, too. Of course, London did, but I didn't go to many canteens in London.

EE:

Was there a lot of—you ran into Ken in London.

VG:

Yes.

EE:

Was there a lot of organized contact between the Americans and the British troops? Or, what was the general attitude about the Americans on the street?

VG:

Well, it's hard to say. The first time I ever saw a colored man was a big soldier, and I'd never seen a colored man before. They behaved themselves, all of them. Ken was the first one I ever went out with. I didn't particularly like them, but it was just because I didn't have much to do with them, you know. But, well, I was a little worried when he came to my village the first time. [laughs] Because, you know, everybody knew me and he walked along the street and I thought, “Oh, gee.”

EE:

[laughs] Yes, sometimes it's a disadvantage to have everybody know your business, sometimes.

VG:

Yes. So, at first—but mother and father took him all in their stride, you know. And my sister Joyce, she was going out with a French Canadian at the time, and Freda, well, she mainly went out with Englishmen, because she was kind of older.

EE:

Right. You got married in August, and then when did you leave the service, at the end of the year?

VG:

Yes. It must have been the beginning of December. I got ill, let me see, must have been November, and they sent me to the local hospital, because I told you we didn't have a sick bay. So they sent me there, and I didn't—you know, I was very ill. I went there and then after they took all the tests, they found out I was pregnant then. Yes.

EE:

But you were—after you got married, did he still have to report back to Thetford, and you were still at—

VG:

Yes. Yes.

EE:

So you saw each other on the weekends?

VG:

Oh, yes. Yes. He didn't—like when we got married, he only had forty-eight hours.

EE:

So after you got married, well, after you left the service, did you go back and live with your folks while he was still in the service?

VG:

Oh yes. Oh yes.

EE:

Okay.

VG:

And even when he came back to over here, about four months, five months—when did he come back? Anyway, he came back in November or December of the year, and then I came in the following year. I was one of the first to come over. I came in the end of February.

EE:

So he came back stateside in '44, before the end of the war.

VG:

No. It was the end of the war.

EE:

It was after. Okay.

VG:

Because the war ended—VE [Victory in Europe] Day was—

EE:

May of '45.

VG:

May or June, wasn't it?

EE:

Right.

VG:

June.

EE:

And then, so he came back over later that year, back stateside, and then you came back to the U.S. in '46?

VG:

No, I'm sorry. Forty-six. Let me see. That's another thing I have, my orders. I kept my orders. 1946. They're putting in wood flooring over there, and every once in a while—

EE:

Yes, there's the noise.

EE:

So February of '46 is when you're—and this is, I guess, for U.S.—

VG:

So he must have come home in '45, then.

EE:

Was he from this area?

VG:

No. He was from outside of Baltimore.

EE:

Okay.

VG:

Near Arbutus.

EE:

So before I get you back stateside, let me ask you, what do you remember about VE Day?

VG:

Oh, that was a calamity for me. I was pregnant. And he went to London. He said no. My mother and he said, “no, you can't go, because you'll get hurt.” So I had to stay home, and he went to London. [laughs]

EE:

So he got to celebrate.

VG:

Yes. He got to celebrate. I didn't, but it didn't matter. And then on VJ Day, I was in hospital with Kenny, because I looked out of the window and I could see all the bonfires. They had bonfires burning for VJ [Victory in Japan] Day, and they all around, up on the hills. I could see all the pretty bonfires burning.

EE:

I was in, I guess, east of London, and they had the anniversary celebration of the Spanish—repulsion of the Spanish Armada, I guess, 400 years. This was in 1988. When you say the bonfires in the hills, because of the way the hills roll—

VG:

Yes, they do.

EE:

—you'd light, and you could see it as it was just coming up. They would do that, I guess, to mark where the armada was then, but this is what the celebration was.

VG:

Celebrations were, yes. They still do that. They still celebrate with bonfires. That's why it's rather funny over here. You fly flags for disasters a lot. Over there you fly flags just for victories. It's very different, because the first time we went home, I took the two boys and we went on the maiden voyage of the [SS] United States. That was a blue-ribbon event, because they won the blue ribbon, and that was quite a big event, you know, over there. And then, like I said, I usually used to go home every year and see my sisters and their families. Mother and father's been gone a long time.

EE:

So you came back in February. Where did you all—did he immediately get discharged from the service after he came back?

VG:

Oh, yes. He got discharged—

[Tape recorder paused; off-tape conversation.]

EE:

You came back and your husband was decommissioned. Where did you all move? What did you all do after you came back stateside?

VG:

We had to move in with his mother. His brother, two brothers came back from the navy. He had a younger sister and brother. I'll bet it was a huge house. It has three or four—it had an attic, and then bedrooms, then the downstairs and it had a basement. It was huge. But there was a lot of us there, because we couldn't find an apartment here.

EE:

Housing shortage was tremendous and everything then.

VG:

Oh, it was terrible.

EE:

And everybody was coming back and starting families at the same time.

VG:

Yes. We eventually moved. There was a big—we looked in—this was, once again, out of the paper. We saw that there was going to be houses. They were being built. We went over there. In fact, I think we had to walk that day. We went over there and so Ken said, you know, we liked it. So the man said, “Would you like to put a down payment?” So the man said to Ken, “How much do you have?”

He says, “Five dollars.” So he took the five dollars as a down payment. [laughter]

EE:

Well, that's humbling to anybody who's going shopping for a house today.

VG:

Today. And I mean, you know, it was so different.

EE:

Well, see, that was a matter of trust.

VG:

Yes.

EE:

People knew what people had sacrificed.

EE:

Well, I imagine he had a lot of goodwill if he took five-dollar down payments.

VG:

I think they were Jewish, Rosenthal or something like that. In fact, there was two of them. Yes. It was hard, though. We lived there for quite a few years. Then we moved to a nicer house.

EE:

So you stayed in the Maryland area, then.

VG:

Until my husband had to go for his work to Pittsburgh, because he worked for the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. So we had to go to Pittsburgh for five years, but I didn't like it. Neither did he. So we came back to Maryland. Then after he got ill and he got discharged, you know, he took his—

EE:

So he was a career employee with the railroad.

VG:

Oh, yes. And plus he was with the National Guard for over forty years. He got—when he used to come down from Pittsburgh once a month, so he could go to the guard, I mean, he just loved it. He often said he should have stayed in. He loved it. After that, when he retired, we moved down to Bethany Beach. It's a beachfront, you know, beach place in Delaware. I stayed there about five years after he died and then the boys said, you know, Bruce and Charles said, “You have to come down with us, Mother.” So they found me a place, and then I found this place and I liked it.

EE:

So how long have you actually been in North Carolina?

VG:

Five years.

EE:

Five years. So your husband died about ten years ago?

VG:

Yes.

EE:

What did you do after you raised the kids? You had three boys that you had to raise up.

VG:

I never went to work. Only time I ever worked was I went to Hecht's one Christmas because I'd come back from England. It was when the boys were little and we'd gone on that ship I told you about. I was kind of homesick, so Ken said, “Well, why don't you?” You know. But he didn't like minding the children Saturdays and nights, so I didn't work after that.

EE:

And what kind of work did he actually do with B & O?

VG:

With the railroad? He was a safety supervisor, a lot like—I'm going to tell you a funny story. When he died—Charles is quite a speaker, my son. He's quite a speaker. And he stood up and he said, “This will tell you how much we love my father, what kind of a man he was,” he said. “I'm a football coach, which my father always wanted to be. My brother is a safety supervisor,” which my husband was, which Ken was. He said—and my other boy's in the military. He said, “What does that tell you?”

EE:

Tells you they all liked their Daddy and whatever he did.

VG:

Whatever he did, was right. I mean, he put those boys before anything.

EE:

Well, tell me. I see from the picture that you do have the one son who joined the service.

VG:

The other two are not into that.

EE:

Not into that.

VG:

They are this generation, very much—and I hate to tell you what I call this generation.

EE:

[laughs] It's different.

VG:

It's different.

EE:

So when did he join the service?

VG:

Who? Bruce? Charles? Kenny? I don't know. He went into it and then—

EE:

Was it during Vietnam?

VG:

It was funny that you say that. Yes. Now, do you remember—I don't know if you remember the riots in Baltimore, Maryland.

EE:

Yes.

VG:

They were both in it then, in the National Guard. They were both in it.

EE:

So they joined the National Guard first, before the regular army?

VG:

Neither one of them joined the regular army.

EE:

Actually, I thought that he was a National Guard.

VG:

He was National Guard, but they put him on active duty. I don't know why. I think it was because he had to go out of the country so much for them.

EE:

They have done that a lot lately, with this. They call up National Guard. Well, with Desert Storm ten years ago they called up National Guard.

VG:

Yes, he was in that. He was in that. I don't know—of course, not living near him, I didn't know everything he did. But I was lucky. I had three good boys. We didn't have very much money, I'll tell you, after the war.

EE:

But you did get to go back home on a fairly regular basis, to go visit?

VG:

Yes, I did, but not right away. That one trip I took, it cost my husband a lot of money, and he saved for a year, and he worked three or four jobs.

EE:

What was the biggest change coming to America for you?

VG:

I think not being around people that were like me. I was very different. You know, we never made a big fuss about going to football games and I thought, you know, my husband loved it. People were very different. They really are different.

EE:

Was some of the cooperativeness missing after the war that you felt during the war? Because people, generally, during the wartime were awfully eager to help each other, I think.

VG:

Oh, yes, it was different. Well, no, it didn't change too much, because I came over here not long after, really. How long was it, about a year or so? And people hadn't changed that—not where I lived.

EE:

Right.

VG:

I come from a street where you know everybody, and when Kenny was born, everybody would come and take a look. You know, I mean, they were just friendly. But I do find that—I always thought that down South people would be a lot friendlier than they are.

EE:

Things changed?

VG:

Maryland—it's changed. I like Maryland. I really love Maryland. But when you're alone, you just make your own way, you know? I'm lucky. What church did you say you go to?

EE:

Methodist. Seven Day Methodist Church in West [unclear].

VG:

Oh, yes, my husband went to Methodist. In fact, that's where we first—

EE:

Well, that's a good English tradition you have.

VG:

Well, actually, I go to a Presbyterian.

EE:

Well, my wife's Presbyterian, so it works out. [laughs]

VG:

Actually, I'm an Episcopalian.

EE:

Well, my mother-in-law's Episcopalian, so we've got the English covered.

VG:

Yes. Yes. I go there because I have a friend who takes me.

EE:

Oh, that's great.

VG:

She takes me on Sunday, a very nice girl.

EE:

Well, I think having a friend to help you negotiate, whether it's the service or a new country or a new area, is always an important thing.

VG:

Yes. Well, I did have a very good friend in Maryland, but she died. Very good friend.

EE:

Did you meet other—

VG:

Oh, yes.

EE:

But when you came back, you were not the only war bride.

VG:

Oh, no. I belonged to clubs. I had wonderful friends. I belonged to a TBPA, which was the Transatlantic Brides and Parents [Association]. I belonged there—as long as I was in Maryland, I belonged to that. Then when I went to Delaware I belonged to the Daughters of the British Empire, and they were all English people, Scottish.

EE:

So you really kept up your—

VG:

Oh, yes.

EE:

And how important was it to bring up your boys with stories about your home and what it means to be British heritage?

VG:

Well, it seemed like—they love to go over. Charles is going this year with his wife. Last year I went and I didn't want to come back by myself, so I had Bruce come over. He stayed a week and then he brought me home here, because I don't like sitting in that International Lounge by myself, and you get—it's so noisy. I said—of course, I'm seventy-eight. Yes, seventy-eight. And I said, “I just can't sit there by myself.” So he came over and picked me up and brought me back.

EE:

That's great.

VG:

Yes. So I'm not planning on going this year.

EE:

If a young woman came to you today and said, “I'm thinking about joining the military,” what would you tell her?

VG:

I would tell her that if she's ambitious, tidy, wanted to meet people, I think that's the best place. And I liked it. Not everybody does. Not everybody does. You all join for a different reason, and you've got to have the reason to do it, I think. But like I said, Ken loved the military and so did Kenny.

EE:

They have changed, and I imagine probably in Afghanistan they've even got more women involved, but just in the last couple of years, we actually, in this country, have women serving in combat. You were telling me before we started that to your knowledge they still have a separate women's RAF, that the women are kept separate from—

VG:

The men, yes. But they do fly now, I do believe.

EE:

They fly.

VG:

I do believe, because they had a—what was it? We have church service, and it was something in here, and they said this little WAF girl came along, and she had wings.

EE:

Well now, how do you feel about that? Do you think that women should be allowed in combat?

VG:

Not in combat. No. I feel that if they can fly, to take planes. I think that during the war—

EE:

[Unclear]

VG:

I'd like you to read that in the back. Read that little bit down there in the back. I thought it was rather nice. I'm trying to think where I saw about that little girl. My friend wrote to me, because she's—

EE:

Oh, yes. She's an ensign in the RAF, the young lady wearing her pilot's wings.

VG:

Yes, that's the one. So I thought that was rather nice. And then, I get that like twice a year. I can go to any of those meetings. I have never yet been to one, because I really, I wanted to keep in touch with my friends there.

EE:

The last of this piece that you gave me to read says, “The differences between people are [unclear]. No one wins in a war.” It was the biggest—you lived through a war, a total war, which hopefully we won't go through in our time.

VG:

I don't think you'd ever go, because you are a bit removed from Europe.

EE:

Right. What was the biggest lesson you learned out of the war experience? What changed the most in you after the war?

VG:

In me? I don't know. I really don't know. I just—

EE:

Did it change your view of human nature?

VG:

Well, like I told you, I had fairly good experiences with human nature during the war, very good experiences. People would be good to you. They would give you lifts anywhere. I mean, you could—you didn't have to worry about it. I had one friend, a RAF friend, and he took me to friends of his, a man and a woman and a child. We had to travel on the bus, and they would give you their real eggs, and they'd fry you up French fries. And I mean, that was a big deal to me. [Elliott laughs] Big deal. But people were nice. They were nicer. People were much nicer and friendlier. You'd go onto a bus or a train and they'd speak to each other. Now they just look at each other, you know, in London especially, daggers.

EE:

Everybody says a fear, almost, of getting close to each other.

VG:

Exactly. They do, don't they? I noticed it here. I've got a very nice girl next door. She's a police sergeant, and the one next door to her is a schoolteacher. They're very nice, but they're there.

EE:

The biggest change in my lifetime, when I grew up in the South, everything was unlocked. And then suddenly now, everything is locked.

VG:

My mother's house, the front door was open, not even unlocked. It was open the whole time.

EE:

That's the way society is. If your door is unlocked, people are open, too.

VG:

Exactly.

EE:

But if you lock your—everybody gets protected.

VG:

That's why I don't understand people, you know. Like people will say to me, “Make sure your door's locked. Make sure this, and—,” you know.

EE:

Yes. It is different.

VG:

It's very bad. That was the best thing, I think, and everybody worked together. And I never—I saw a lot of unselfishness. That's the main thing, I think. And to get on a train, and everybody would talk to one another, especially, of course, service people. You'd get on a packed train. There used to be a corridor train in those days, and we'd just—and sometimes it would be packed, and some would be sitting on the floor. I mean, ooh.

EE:

But people made the best of it.

VG:

Yes, we did. We all did.

EE:

You volunteered to join. Looking back, if you had to do it over again, would you do it?

VG:

Oh, yes. I just thought it was the right thing to do, and I think it helped me. It gave me a broader sense of people. I understood people more. Yes, I would do it again. I know my younger sister wouldn't. Freda would, but Joyce wouldn't.

EE:

Well, as you say, everybody has different experiences, which is why I'm so glad you took the time this morning to share your experiences.

VG:

Yes, we all do have experiences. To me it was just like a home away from home. I mean, it was lonely sometimes. I mean, we'd go out sometimes at night, the girls and I, and we'd go to a canteen or something. We'd always find somebody to talk to, you know. It was fun that way. And everybody was proud of being what they were. You know? And no amount of talking can convey that, really. Can it? You've just got to have it in you.

EE:

And it's the memory of that feeling, I would guess, that makes you—one of the happier things you take out of that is the note that people touched you and you were able to touch other people that way.

VG:

Yes. And, you know, like this young lady across the street, she says to me one day, “You're so independent.” And I said, “Well, you know, I mean, what else can I do?” I've learned to be independent. I was brought up independent. My mother was very independent. She was a real—you know. She didn't know the meaning of the word fear. [laughs]

EE:

Well, that's great. Thank you, and thank your family for all you've done, and I just appreciate it, on behalf of the school, for you sitting down with me and giving us a view of the other side of things.

EE:

Good. Well, thank you.

VG:

Yes, thank you.

[End of interview]