Elsie gets a permanent posting.
|WAAF=Women's Auxiliary Air Force. LACW=Leading Aircraftwoman. ACW1=Aircraftwoman 1st Class. ACW2=Aircraftwoman 2nd Class. NAAFI=Navy Army & Air Force Institute. MT=Motor Transport.|
"Quiet!“ the corporal yelled and the laughter stopped. She stared at me. "Troublemaker are you?” she said. “We can deal with trouble makers, as you will find out. Now get to the back of the queue. You can be last.”
I stood naked at the back as the queue went slowly down and the girls came back into the room got dressed and sat on the benches. When I was the last one it was humiliating. All the others were dressed and I was standing there alone and naked. I heard some giggles and hoped that they were not giggling at me. I stood there for a long time and it seemed as if they were keeping me there deliberately for longer than necessary. I was sure Corporal Coutts was behind it.
All the girls passed the examination except two who were sent to the station sick quarters for a second opinion. From there we went to be kitted out with our uniform. We had to put everything into a white sack and take it back to the hut.
It was warm in the hut. There was a cast iron stove in the middle of the room and Janet had lit the fire. Janet was sitting on my bed. I could see why. All her kit was neatly laid out on hers.
The corporal walked in and Janet stood up. I was relieved that it was the tall corporal and not my fat friend. “Right, listen up,” she said. Empty the white sack onto the bed and get changed into your uniforms. Put all your civilian clothes into the sack including any items in your locker. Put your name and number on the label. Leave the sack and your travel bag or suitcase at the end of your bed for collection and then get over to the mess for lunch. Don’t forget to take your utensils.” She stopped at Janet. “That’s a good effort. After lunch you can all copy this layout, and it needs to be perfect. There will be a kit inspection at three o’clock.”
After the corporal had left I emptied the sack onto my bed. “Don’t put your knickers in the sack,” Janet said. “Keep them in your locker, unless you want to wear these.” Janet lifted a pair of bloomers from my bed. “I think they are a surplus from The Great War,” she said.
After an abysmal barely edible lunch we all returned to the hut to start on our bed layout. Janet was going around helping everyone with their bed cover stacks. There was a steady flow of girls going to her bed to check how to lay out the kit and utensils. At five to three we all stood about our bed spaces waiting. “Is my layout all right?” I asked Janet.
“It’s perfect, but it would be with all the help I gave you.”
Dead on three o’clock the two corporals entered the hut. The tall one stopped by the door and, Corporal Coutts, the tubby one stopped at Janet’s bed. “Very well done, as expected,” she said. She stopped at my bed and gave me a stare. “So, troublemaker, let’s take a look. What is this mess supposed to be? This bed pack is rubbish. She picked up the blankets and threw them across the room. “Do it again.” She said. She worked her way along and got to the girl from Glasgow. “And what do you call that shambles?” she said.
“I did my best,” the girl said.
“Don’t answer me back you moron.” She threw the girl’s bed pack across the floor.
“Don’t call me a moron,” the girl said.
“I told you not to answer back, didn’t I? And I called you a moron because looking at the mess on your bed that is what you are. A Scottish moron.”
I could hear the crack from my bed space as the corporal’s nose seemed to explode following the powerful and well aimed punch from the Scottish girl. The corporal fell back with blood pouring from her face onto the floor and she was moaning in pain.
“Isn’t someone going to help her?” One of the girls said. But we all just looked at each other, not wanting to get involved, knowing there was going to be trouble.
I looked towards the door but the other corporal had gone. One of the girls came forward and sat the corporal up and placed a handkerchief to her nose.
The other corporal returned with two male military police corporals. “That’s her,” the tall corporal said pointing at the Scottish girl. The two men manhandled the struggling girl out of the hut. “All right get your kit put away and clean this place up,” the tall corporal said. She helped Corporal Coutts up and took her out. Possibly to see the medical officer, I thought.
I put my kit away and started to re-do my blanket bed pack. Some of the girls set about trying to clean the blood from the floor. Janet went down and re-did the Scottish girl’s blanket pack, but we never saw the Scottish girl or Corporal Coutts again.
Five thirty the next morning and the Tannoy blasted out again followed by the tall corporal walking into the hut. “Right you lot,” she shouted. “Get yourselves ready, get into uniform and go across for some breakfast. I’ll be back here at 0630 hours and we will be starting drill and saluting practise.”
After she left I turned to Janet. “The Scottish girl hasn’t come back. What will happen to her?”
“She’ll get court marshalled and sent to military prison, no doubt.”
“But it wasn’t her fault. The corporal called her a Scottish moron.”
“The court won’t see it like that. Come on, let’s go for breakfast.”
The drill was a complete shambles and I wondered if we would ever get it right. The tall corporal was joined by a sergeant and she and the corporal spent most of the time screaming instructions at us. Most of us soon picked it up but the ones that didn’t sent everything out of place. They were the ones who got the most abuse and strong abuse it was. Being called a moron would have seemed mild. After lunch it was more lectures in the class room. That night I noticed that Scottish girl’s bed had been occupied by the timid girl who I sat next to on the shuttle bus and I went over to her. She had been in a part full hut with only six girls and now there was only five left in there. She was not happy to come into a full hut.
As the weeks went by the physical training made us fit and the continued practise and shouting made our marching almost perfect. The time came for our pass out parade and I have to admit that I thought we looked terrific. Some of the girl’s parents were there to watch, but mine were not.
We were ready for our next training camp. We were issued with what they called a kit bag. It was a long white thing like a giant worm. We had to pack everything into the bag which was quite a task. It was heavy and I would have struggled if Janet had not helped to lift it onto my shoulder where it hung down both sides. I got ready to leave the next morning. A coach was taking us to the station where we would all go our separate ways to our training camps. I was looking forward to the next stage in my career at the Motor Transport training depot. I was confident of passing the assessment.
The tall corporal came in at eight o’clock with Corporal Coutts replacement. “Right you lot, get out and into the coach.”
I didn’t even get time to lift my kitbag.
“Not you, Godsalve. Put all your kit back in your locker, you are not going anywhere.”
“Have I done something wrong, Corporal?”
“Not that I know of, no. There are problems at the MT training depot. Put your kit away and I will be back to see you shortly. The rest of you, move or you will be stopping behind as well.”
I had become good friends with Janet and was sad to have to say goodbye to her. She was off to be trained as a balloon operator. An LACW came in and changed all the beds for fresh bedding but just left it piled up at the ends of the beds. The tall corporal was soon back.
“Right, you can be the room monitor and show the new girls how to do their bed packs and set out their kit on Tuesday for inspection. The new girls will be in here tomorrow afternoon.”
“When will I be able to go to my training camp?”
“You are not. The sergeant at the MT section was at one time an instructor at the MT school and is qualified to do your assessment here. Get down to the MT section, but tell them you have to be back here after lunch on Monday. Don’t forget the inspection on Tuesday so you will need to be back here after lunch on Tuesday as well.”
I made my way to the MT yard and reported to the control office. “I have come for an assessment, Sergeant.”
“You have kept my corporal waiting. Not a very good start.”
“My hut corporal has only just let me go.”
“Don’t answer back. That was not a question.”
“Come on, girl,” the corporal said and I followed him into the yard.
“Are you doing the assessment then?” I said.
“No, I’m doing the driver training.”
“But I don’t need training; I can already drive.”
“So, what experience do you have?”
“I used to drive the baker’s van where I worked.” We had walked across the yard past a variety of vehicles in covered bays on both sides of the yard. We stopped and the corporal leaned against the cab of a big Bedford lorry.
“Oh, so you don’t need any training then?”
“Not really, no. I just need the assessment.”
“That’s good. It makes my job easier. Get in then.”
“What?” Surely he doesn’t think that I am going to drive that big lorry.
“Get in the cab and we’ll see how good you are.”
“But it’s a lorry.”
“If you want to be a motor transport driver you must be able to drive lorries and other plant. We don’t have any baker’s vans here. Now let’s go.”
I climbed up into the cab. I was nervous, frightened almost as I had not realised I would have to drive big lorries. I started the engine and crunched the gear lever in first gear. I started to pull away and the lorry bounced up and down as I went forward.
“All right, stop,” the corporal said.
I stopped and put the handbrake on. At least I got that right. “I’m sorry,” I said.
“What’s your name?”
“I know that, but what’s your first name?”
“Right, Elsie, forget about the baker’s van. I need to teach you to drive this lorry by Friday when the sergeant will assess you. If you fail then you will get another week of training and if you fail the assessment again, you may not get a third try and you will just end up as a labour assistant to whoever requires you.”
I was not expecting this. If I don’t become an RAF driver, I can’t think of what will become of me in the RAF. “How can I learn to drive this great big lorry in five days?”
“I will guide you through it. You will pick it up I assure you, but we must be confident enough to drive on the public roads, because that is where you will be assessed. So shall we work together to get you through?”
I thought of Ronnie and how he had faith in me when he first taught me to drive. I felt a similar feeling about this corporal and I was eager to get started.
The following morning my driving had improved a lot. I was well-pleased with my progress and the corporal seems a little impressed as well. After lunch I met the new girls in the hut and on Tuesday after lunch I helped the new girls with their kit inspection layouts. Some of them picked it up well but others struggled to get the bed packs right and I helped them as much as I could. The corporals came in and we all stood by our beds. The tall corporal stood at the door and the new corporal did the inspection.
She stopped at my bed space. “Very good effort, Godsalve,” she said. She completed the inspection without throwing any bed packs across the room. “Mostly good,” she said. “But there needs to be a marked improvement in some of the bed spaces next week or there will be consequences.” The corporals took the girls out and I made my way back to the transport section. I had to meet up with a mechanic and learn about driver checks and maintenance, which I found interesting but I would rather be driving. I managed to get more proficient as the week went on thanks to the very good help and instruction from the corporal. Friday morning I was nervous when I went out with the sergeant, but I think he must have expected it. I think I did well and although I made a few minor errors, the sergeant passed me.
I saw the corporal in the yard and walked over.
“Well, how did you get on?” he said.
“I passed, thanks to you.”
“That’s good news, but I knew you would. You are a natural. Come back after lunch and I’ll get you to drive the tractor.”
I sat in the mess and all I could think of was having a drive of the tractor. I was eagerly looking forward to it. It was not like a farm tractor, it was a huge four wheel drive beast. I was impatient, rushed my lunch, and hurried back to the transport yard. The corporal soon showed up and we went to the tractor.
“What is this used for,” I said.”
“It just tows the generator trailer when it is needed. But if you get on a flying station you will find them towing aircraft.”
“Right, let’s get started,” he said. “First do the driver’s checks and then climb up onto the seat. Just like before, just listen to me as I guide you through it.” he said.
I started the engine and I could feel the power of the engine and the vibrations were intense. It was magical to me. I did crunch the gears for a while but with the corporal’s help I eventually picked up the correct method of changing gear.
At the end of the session I got off the tractor laughing.
“That’s you all done then, Elsie. Ready for your first posting.”
“Thank you, Corporal, for all you have done for me.”
“You are very welcome. It has been a pleasure working with you. Now go and get your RAF driving permit from the sergeant, you’ve earned it.”
I couldn’t hide the huge smile when the sergeant gave me my permit. “I have spoken to the WAAF admin,” he said. “Your posting came through last week subject to the assessment. You are to go to station headquarters and pick up your forty-eight hour pass from the WAAF admin’ officer. You will get a travel warrant to go to your home and to go to your unit on Monday morning.”
“Where is my unit, Sergeant?”
“RAF Uxbridge in Middlesex. The admin’ officer will fill you in with all the details. Off you go Godsalve, and good luck to you.”