A regimented life in wartime RAF
A VETERAN has told of her experiences during the Second World War.
Elizabeth Mortimer-Cook was 17 when her father signed a form for her to join the RAF.
"Because I was underage I had to nag my father to sign the form," she said. "I chose this service because one of my close boy friends had been killed on the first dambusting raid over the Ruhr river in Germany, and I was so upset and wished to do something to help the war effort."
Mrs Mortimer-Cook remembered her mother buying her a new suitcase and clothing in preparation for the trip.
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"The only problem was that I had to get into the dirtiest truck and everything got filthy," she added.
She was taken to Adastral House in Kingsway, London, the headquarters for the recruits of the RAF and the Women's Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF), and then Gloucester.
She was kitted out and given injections in case she was sent abroad.
A few days later the Hurst Farm Road resident was sent to Morecambe Bay to be taught marching, saluting and how to lay out kit at the end of her bed.
Mrs Mortimer-Cook and five other girls were taken to a house to share with a family in the same area – this was called billeting.
"We only slept there and were fed elsewhere," she said.
The time came for Mrs Mortimer-Cook to be posted to camps all over the country.
"I wanted to be a plotter, which meant moving models of planes on a huge map with instructions from the pilot flying over different areas," she said.
"I was disappointed to be posted to a camp called West Drayton, in Middlesex; the RAF station was attached to bomber command under Group Captain Rose.
"They were very short of clerical staff at this HQ and I landed up there."
Mrs Mortimer-Cook settled into her new routine of parades first thing in the morning at 7.30am, then off to the "cookhouse" for breakfast and then off to her job as a clerk.
She was given the task of typing up 100 lists per day of the vehicles in a compound, noting mileage, petrol and type of vehicle.
During this time she was only allowed two weeks off a year and sleeping-out passes, when she could stay at her mother's.
"On one occasion I was going back to my camp and shrapnel was bouncing off a wall as I passed – a German plane was flying so low," she said.
"It was frightening and I ran all the way to the station to take cover."
Mrs Mortimer-Cook's family were lucky to have their own air-raid shelter in their back garden.
"When I heard air-raid sirens go off when I was on leave I stayed in the house as I hated small spaces. Often dogfights were carried out overhead," she said.
Mrs Mortimer-Cook was stopped by airmen just as she was about to get on a train to London to join No 1 Fighter Command.
She travelled back to station headquarters where she opened a Secret Registry in one of the hangars.
"The work was highly confidential and I had been chosen and signed a form not to talk about my work," she said.
"When I was demobbed in the early 1950s, returning to civilian life was hard. I was used to having lots of people around me and life was so regimented."
Mrs Mortimer-Cook celebrated her 90th birthday on Sunday. She is a lifetime member of the Royal Air Forces Association and is also of East Grinstead Macular Support Group.