"Why did we join? Why did we join?
Why did we join the Royal Air Force?
Ten bob a week. Nothing to eat.
Damn great boots making blisters on your feet..."
These were the words to a song that Eileen Smith and her pals used to sing under their breath as they route-marched round the country lanes near Wilmslow whilst on basic training for the WAAF (Women’s Auxiliary Air Force) in the early years of World War II.
Eileen answers the song's question herself in this charming and nostalgic book, in which she recalls the many experiences and friendships of her years in WAAF uniform.
She and thousands like her, joined the WAAF in order to ‘do their bit’ for the war effort and although the facilities were Spartan and the work less than glamorous, they knew that this would be a time of their lives that none of them would ever forget.
After basic training – interrupted by a spell in hospital with suspected TB – Eileen (known as ‘Smithy’ to her service pals) was posted to RAF East Kirkby, an operational bomber station in Lincolnshire, home to 57 Squadron and 630 Squadron, both equipped with Avro Lancasters.
It was 1944 and Allied air raids on Germany were at their peak, as were the losses of Bomber Command aircrews. With the young flyers facing the very real possibility of 'getting the chop' on their next mission, romantic liaisons took on an extra dimension and Eileen does well to recapture the emotionally-charged atmosphere, which inevitably led to all manner of relationships ... and all kinds of trouble. There are many laughs to be had at the high jinks she and her fellow servicemen and women indulged in to relive the tensions of their situation, but there is sadness too, of course, for the many young men who did not live to see the end of hostilities...
A good balance is struck and the result is an entertaining and a historically valuable record of wartime life in the WAAF that is highly recommended.