Betty's War #WW2 1944

Betty was born in 1922, in a croft on the Gareloch in Scotland.  She had two brothers, one older and one younger.  Her father, Alec, was 30 and her mother, Lizzie, was 22.  There was no electricity or gas at the croft and Alec worked long hours every day on his uncle’s farm.  When Betty was 4 they moved to the farm where she and her brothers grew up doing their chores, like collecting eggs and calling in the cows for milking.

Doing well at school, especially at maths, Betty left after completing her Highers, age 17.  She found employment at the Clydesdale bank but she had to help milking the cows every morning before running down to catch the bus into town.  War with Germany had been declared in Britain six days before Betty’s 17th birthday.  In September 1942 she would become eligible for conscription and she feared that she would be assigned to the Land Army, working on someone else’s farm, so to avoid that, she volunteered to join the Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS).

Leading up to D Day on June 6th 1944, Betty worked on supplies for the Normandy invasion, Operation Overlord, although she had no idea whereabouts in France it would be, or the specific date.  In August, she and her colleagues set off from Portsmouth to Arromanche.  She was part of the vast 21st Army Group, established in London during July 1943.

After she died in 2010 I found many years of diaries written in tiny untidy writing and gradually I have transcribed some of them.  These are some of her entries for the period around D-day leading up to her journey first to France and then on to Brussels and Germany.

These first entries were while she was billeted at Oxted, Surrey.

4th June 1944
Went to Church of Scotland service in the chapel at St Paul’s Cathedral.  Met Elizabeth and Ana and sat in St James’s park.  Visited Westminster Abbey and Westminster Cathedral.  Met Mary, Greta & Greta’s boyfriend.

Like many in the forces, Betty knew invasion was imminent as her work involved supplies.

6th June 1944 (D-Day)
Couldn’t sleep for the noise of planes in the early hours.  Waited expectantly for news.  D-Day things went very well.  Heard the King’s speech in WVS club lounge.  Rang Greta & Elizabeth.
8th June 1944
Went to concert in Assembly Hall at Charing Cross.  Looked after a poor Canadian on the train on the way back & was touched when he held my hand wishing me luck.
9th June 1944
David Niven “The Way Ahead” & newsreel of the Invasion.
11th June 1944
We have a new SSM, very pernickety, we will have to watch our steps
12th June 1944
"Gone with the Wind" for the 2nd time.

On 13th June the first V1 flying bombs, often called doodlebugs in Britain, were launched from Calais over south-east England. 

15th June 1944
Sirens and gunfire.  Pilotless planes (V1) above.  Very tired in morning.
16th June 1944
Reached West Kensington and the siren went off.  During the night had to go to the Shelter- hardly slept again.
17th June 1944
Bought some cornflowers to brighten up the bedroom- had to bargain for a good price.  Saw "Fanny by Gaslight" (Stewart Granger & Phyllis Calvert). Siren & guns kept us awake but we didn’t get out of bed -3rd night no sleep.
18th June 1944
Pilotless plane came down 50 yards from our billet- shook us up. Slept together in the Recreation Room.
19th June 1944
More explosions. First aid lecture boring so I darned my stockings.
20th June 1944
Spent most of the day in the office calling out figures as usual.  Fed up with sleeping in Rec. Room.
22nd June 1944
Went to visit friends in Purley (Surrey).  Glorious walk along avenue of Lombardy Poplars and then Rose Avenue.  Wild flowers and gardens so beautiful.  Spent the night in the Shelter.
Saturday 24th June 1944
PT this morning which nearly killed me.  Busy at the office but left at 5.30.  Came up to Kensington, walked up Notting hill & through Holland Park.
Sunday 23rd June
Worked till 4 pm then went up to Victoria & sat in St James’s Park.  Walked along Embankment, past Big Ben to Trafalgar Square & then Piccadilly.

In July, Betty was posted to Wentworth, near Virginia Water, but she had volunteered to work overseas, as women were not sent abroad if they didn’t volunteer.

Betty on far left
11th August 1944
Rose at 2 am to pick up my Kit and board the truck. 
Mulberry Harbour at Arromanche

12th August 1944
Arrived in Arromanches on board an LST (Tank, Landing Ship) which took us to shore.  Beautiful sunset- ships silhouetted against it. Men cheered us as we travelled in the truck to our camp.
13th August 1944
Sunbathed.  Tea on Tommy Cookers.  Walked into Bayeux with Hazel.  Beautiful architecture
14th August 1944
Office till 8.30.  Found a tent with a wireless so we listened to the news.
15th August 1944
Finding it rather strange under canvas, everything so damp.
The office at Vaucelles near Bayeux
 18th August 1944
Browned off with such long hours in office & no time to read, sew or write.
22nd August 1944
Mobile baths a good laugh.
23rd August 1944
Bayeux festooned with flags to celebrate the Freedom of Paris.
26th August 1944
ENSA show Kay Cavendish, Florence Desmond, Sandy Powell and Flannigan & Allen.
8th September 1944
My birthday (22) Day off with Pat & Hazel.  Met 3 fellows in the afternoon & hitched into Bayeux.  Got into the theatre for an amusing ENSA show, autograph from Alice Delysia.  Wandered round the cathedral.  Found a hotel where we were able to get dinner.  I must hand it to the French, they know how to cook meat.  Didn’t think much of their Calvados.  Walked back to Billet by 9.  Had tea & biscuits at NAAFI.

In September, Brussels was liberated and many of the ATS were posted to HQ 21st army group.

Caen September 1944

29th September 1944
Reveille at 4.30 am.  Quick breakfast & on lorries by 6.30.  A bumpy journey which made me feel sick.  Passed through Caen & Rouen.  Saw some awful sights on the way.  Night in hostel at Amiens.

30th September 1944
Left at 8 am and arrived in Brussels at 5 pm.  We are so impressed by our block of flats.  Luxury after tent life.  After tea we settled into life in Avenue Louise.  There is a marvellous view from the balcony overlooking the whole city.  Wonderful by moonlight.
Sunday 1st October 1944
Trotted along the Avenue to the office at 10.  It is lovely, just like a Civie (Civilian) one.  The chestnut trees in the Avenue are wonderful.  Our Mess is in a school, polished tables and panelled walls.  It all seems too good to be true.

This was to be the best part of her time in the ATS.

To read more  about Betty's time in Brussels

1 comment:

  1. Fascinating. I hope you'll give us more. Exhaustion must have been the default mode for so much of the time with all those sleepless nights.