Phyllis

Phyllis has chosen to tell of her war time experiences in the ATS in Doodlebug Alley. She was trained to operate the Ack-Ack instruments (Predictor) that enabled so many doodlebugs to be shot down before they could land on English soil and explode causing destruction and consequent loss of life.

Phyllis was born Newton Abbot 1921. In April 1942 I received my conscription papers to join the ATS. Also enclosed was a single rail warrant to report to Wrexham.

After being fitted with uniform, tin helmet, gas mask and taught march and drill by a frightening male Sergeant Major, I left there for Oswestry to learn anti-aircraft procedures on a predictor (that’s in that book). This was an instrument which received information about planes and was fed to the guns. After a month practice firing camp followed at Whitby, up and down there were 199 steps, sometimes twice a day. You been to Whitby? You know what I’m talking about? The gun site was right at the top and I can remember walking all through those little streets and it was all jet in the shops but the only place you could get jet, real jet, jewellery in the little side streets. It was a quaint old place. PE, marching drill and fatigues still had to be done.

The badge of the Ack Ack

The badge of the Ack Ack

Badges of the ATS uniform

Badges of the ATS uniform

Ten days leave followed and then to 478 Battery, Royal Artillery at Leeds and various gun sites in the Midlands. In June 1944 Hitler unleashed a secret weapon, the V1 or doodlebug. This was a pilotless, cigar shaped missile travelling faster than our fighter planes. With many other batteries, we travelled to doodlebug alley by lorries, no signposts – we hadn’t got a clue, there wasn’t a signpost anywhere. If you went through a town, you could shout out ‘Where are we?’ but the beggars wouldn’t tell you. Going back, there was a little joke about that, I didn’t put it in. A Spitfire said to a doodlebug one day, ‘ why are you travelling so fast?’ Well, of course the doodlebug had the flame coming out the back. And the doodlebug said ‘well, so would you if you had a flame coming out of your backside like I have.’ That’s beside the point.
No signposts but we got to near Hastings under cover of darkness and hid under hedges for 2 days while the guns and instruments were connected. Action started almost at once. The ATS were billeted in a field under canvas. We dug our own slip trenches and dived into them if the doodlebug engine cut out. When you heard the engine cut out you counted up to 20, dived in – before that usually. Water was brought to the camp, toilets were buckets surrounded by hessian, 6 in a row, and when dysentry broke out it really was ‘bucket and chuck it’. For baths, one a week, the ATS were taken by lorry to Hastings White Rock. Our 24 hour on duty alternate days meant trying to sleep beside the instruments (fully clothed). Unless in action after several weeks the V1s were directed to the south east coast so guns and instruments moved to Felixstowe. Early 1945, AA (ack-ack) was disbanded. I was posted to the Pay Corps in Edinburgh. This I hated, being in an office after outdoor life. To be nearer home I gave in 2 stripes to be transferred to Bournemouth pay offices. My demob day came in 1946 when I returned to civilian life. I have never regretted my 4 years in the ATS. At times, in action, very frightening but there were happier times too."

Phyllis, 1943

1943

The heart, ring, cross and little aeroplane were carved from the perspex canopy or wind shield of a crashed German Junkers 88 bomber

The heart, ring, cross and little aeroplane were carved from the perspex canopy or wind shield of a crashed German Junkers 88 bomber

Shane: ’So the accommodation in the Nissan huts then – hot and cold running water, nice carpets, television?’

Phyl: ‘Oh God, you’re joking! The Nissan huts were, we’ll say 6 side by side, joined up with what they called the ‘ablution block’, that was where the baths and toilets and all that was. But you also got to remember that there was no lights anywhere. Did anyone explain to you about the car lights? Those little slits. You had to be so light conscious in the barrack rooms. Everywhere you went there were boards up for the windows and ….. I remember I was in this big hotel, 3 or 4 floors, and if they didn’t pull the curtains over properly, you hadn’t got a clue which room it was but you had to go and try and find it.’

Maggie: ‘When you were on leave were you allowed not to wear your uniform?’

Phyl: ‘You wore it because you were proud of it.’

Maggie: ‘If you didn’t wear it did people have a go at you?’

Phyl: ‘No, they knew who you were.’

Maggie: ‘Did life seem very dull afterwards? Did it take a while to settle back down?’

Phyl: ‘Oh yes. I mean when I was put in the Pay Corps in Edinburgh. It was a massive football place like Littlewoods, just outside of Edinburgh. We were taken there by coach every day and we were working alongside civilians. Now I forget what my pay was, it wasn’t very much, but they were getting so much more than we did. I don’t like figures at the best of times but we had to work out the money, exchange rate, of men that were coming home from abroad. I didn’t like that.’

On leave in Heathfield

On leave in Heathfield