Janet Foster (1947)

Growing Up in Darren (Darwen)

I was born at 80 Redearth Road, Darwen, in the front bedroom, at around 12 noon; I know it was about this time because mum said she heard the sound of clogs on the cobble stones and the clanking of jerry cans as the men went home from their factory shift at dinner time.

This is the earliest photo of me taken at a photograph studio in Darwen.


I'm guessing I'm about one year old in this next photo of me, my cousin Kathleen and my mum in the backyard at 32 Ratcliffe Street. We spent a lot of time at aunty May's house; I used to be quite scared of their toilet as it was a drop- toilet and I was frightened of falling down it (not to mention the smell)!

My parents split up when I was born so I don't recall my father at all. I do, however, remember visiting our grandparents in Preston. I remember it being a big house with a garden at the front and a pond with goldfish. Here is a memento of one such visit: my cousin Kathleen is at the front, I am sitting on grandma Foster's knee, aunty Jennie is behind us, my mum is in the middle, then Stephen is sitting on grandad Foster's knee with aunty Dorothy in the background.

Here is one of me on my own in Redearth Street taken at the same time as the small photo at the top of the page. Photos were black and white then but you could get photo paints and colour them: the blotches on my face and legs were my attempt at colouring!

This next one was taken on holiday somewhere, I can't recall where, but it shows me and Stephen peeping out of the window of a caravan with my grandma having a cup of tea and my cousin Kathleen.

80 Redearth Road was a two-up, two-down, corporation house with a backyard and outside toilet and coal-shed. We had a tin bath which me and Stephen would share when we were little. Me and Stephen had the back bedroom, my mum and grandma shared the front bedroom - grandma had a feather bed!!!!

There are two versions of the next photo which is taken in the front room at number 80. It was taken in about 1950. The one on the left shows me pointing to the fairy at the top of the tree because I had been asked what I wanted from the tree (clearly a sign of things to come). The one on the right shows me and Stephen with our mum - I hadn't seen this one until I visited aunty Dorothy in about 2000 after Stephen had died and not long before aunty Dorothy died. It makes me quite sad because it shows me with a squint: I had whooping cough when I was three-and-a-half which made my eyes turn. From then on I wore glasses.

I recall having to regularly visit a clinic in Blackburn to get my eyes 'straightened.' It used to embarrass me having to have time off school. I would sit and look through these frames and do exercises like placing a cat on a mat to train my eyes out of squinting. The process stopped me squinting but I had to wear glasses for the rest of my life. Whenever I see a small child wearing glasses my heart goes out to them.

Here is one of me wearing my glasses, it was taken in 1953 at the Redearth Road party to celebrate the queen's accession to the throne; I am the little girl on the right, holding a union jack. I don't remember the name of the woman holding my hand; the girl on the other side is with her mother - they used to run the fish and chip shop at the bottom of Redearth Road. At this point the procession is in Crown Street.

I don't know where my mum is, probably at work. But writing this reminded me of when I was five years old and had to have my tonsils out. My mum took me down to the Infirmary and left me in the ward; I think I was in for about a fortnight. There were no beds in the children's ward so I was placed in the women's ward. There was one other little girl in this ward and her daddy was in the army so they allowed him in to visit her as a special dispensation because he was home on leave. Other visitors came to see the women on the ward but the rule for children was that they couldn't have visitors. Every day when it came to visitor time I would get up on the window seat and look for my mum. She never came. I didn't understand the rules, I just thought my mum had deserted me. She often referred to this event years later as being significant in our relationship - she said I never forgave her for not coming. It was clearly very painful because I am crying as I write this and we are talking about nearly 60 years ago!

I went to St Johns Church of England Junior School which was a big, ugly, Victorian building that was pulled down in the 1960's. I don't have fond memories of Junior School. I remember most of the teachers preferred the better dressed children. There was only one teacher who I liked and that was Mr. Painter; he was the son of the local dentist.

Here are two school photos, on the left I am about seven or eight, on the right, ten:

I remember being smacked by a teacher once because I made a hole in the page with my rubber as I kept getting the sum wrong - the red marks were still on my leg when I got home. My grandma went into school the next day and gave them hell! I got off quite lightly - I recall a young lad, who had Downs Syndrome, being pushed and slapped by the head-master in assembly; to this day I am still shocked at the thought of it.

We used to go on walks regularly; here is a shot of a group of us taken, I think, in Bold Venture Park; I am at the front, right, next to me is Ivy Eccles, then her cousin (I've forgotten her name), Stephen is at the back with Stella Wilson. The one on the right is, I think, Sunnyhurst Wood. I am on the right, then Stephen, Stella Wilson and her cousin Michael.

It's a pity I don't have any photos of the long walks we used to go on with Redearth Road Methodist Sunday School, especially at Easter time.

You will see from the photographs that there are 'natural' ones of me, when I was being myself - a natural tomboy - and the posed ones of me looking pretty. My mum or grandma would spend hours putting my long hair in rags to produce ringlets. Here is a photo of me looking very innocent with long ringlets and the other is taken behind my aunty Lily and uncle Tom's house in Morecambe:

We went to stay with aunty Lily and uncle Tom several times for holidays. I remember once me and Stephen fishing for crabs and I fell in; I had to walk all the way back to the house dripping wet.

My life changed dramatically in 1961: my mother married Jim Tyman and we moved across the road to live at 77 Redearth. We now had a bathroom but it came at a price: we went from almost total freedom to having this step-father who I hated. He used to make us do chores: mine was to set the table every day (Stephen had to make the fire) and every week I had to clean mine and Stephen's bedroom (we continued to share a bedroom until I left home: the big room was divided by a curtain)!

My step-father would inspect our bedroom and if he found any dust I would have to clean it again. He used to make us eat all of our food and insisted we had a slice of bread with our meals. If we didn't eat everything up we would get it next day.

The next batch of photos are all taken when we were on holiday. I have to say, I usually didn't like going on holiday, especially with my step-father, or going to Sunnyvale Holiday Camp just outside Rhyl: partly because my step-father was there and partly because my mum would always enter me for the fancy dress competition. Here are two photos, one of me dressed as a poppy girl (I won first prize), the other as a Hula Hawaiian girl (I won second prize). I remember on the latter occasion I forgot what I was meant to be and told them I was a mermaid!!!

Here are two from a later holiday which was spent touring around Skipton:

Here are two more from the same holiday, both are with my mum, in one I am wearing my step-brother's helmet and holding his trungeon - when he was in the army he was in the Military Police, so it was a natural step that he became a policeman when he came out. He was stationed in Skipton at this time.

And here is one of me on the beach, I thought it was Blackpool but the beach would have been packed so it must have been Lytham St Annes - we used to go there a lot and played in the sand dunes. I was a good swimmer. We were taught to swim at junior school (by the mother of the teacher who slapped me. Her way of teaching people who were scared was to push them in at the deep end to force them to swim). I loved swimming; we used to go, me, Stephen and Ivy Eccles, with her dad, Ralph Eccles, to Darwen swimming baths regularly on a Sunday morning and get back in time for the morning service at Redearth Road Methodist church.

It is interesting that me and Stephen chose to go to Redearth Methodist (because we went to the youth group there and also wanted to be in the pantomimes). My mother wasn't particularly religious but the Hamer family were, as my great grandad was heavily involved in the methodist church in Rossendale and my grandma Foster's (nee Hamer) sister, Gladys, got married at Redearth Road Methodist church - but I only discovered this as a result of my geneological search.

I used to love being in the pantomimes, here is a photo of the last one we did, although you cannot see my face, I am on the right (I was one of the 'hags'), next to me is Gerald Bibby and behind him are Sybil Bibby and Sharon Kay. On the front left is Pauline Roberts, then her sister, Valerie, then Helen Harwood and in the middle the wicked witch, Hilary who was the Sunday School teacher.

We staged a musical show to raise money for the roof (unfortunately, it wasn't enough and the church closed down and was later pulled down). I borrowed my cousin Tommy's air gun and sang "You Can't Get a Man with a Gun." Believe it or not, as part of the chorus in the pantomimes we used to dance, sometimes a bit of ballet (once to "Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairies" as well as tap dance - in short pink gingham dresses, tapping to "Thank Heaven for Little Girls."

Here is a school photograph from when I was at Avondale Secondary Modern School for Girls.

When I sat the 11+ I felt ambivalent: I didn't want to go to the grammar school because I thought they were all snobs, I didn't mind going to the tech, but my results were border-line so I ended up going to Avondale. I loved being at Avondale. Whilst some of the teachers were snobbish (like most at St John's), many were not. I really liked Miss Holden who took the first year pupils as well as maths; she was tough but also fair. I remember well her saying that 'we all have the same grey matter, it is whether we choose to use it or not' (or something like that).

I was in the 'A' stream throughout my time at Avondale. I loved sport (especially as I had a crush on the gym teacher, Miss Simpson) and played in the school netball team (goal defence). I also liked art and often came in the top five in the exams. My other favourite subject was history, again because I liked Miss Whittaker, and again I used to regularly get good marks for history.

Music was a disappointment and this was because I didn't like the music teacher, Mrs Briggs, who seemed to have her favourites and I wasn't one of them. I was upset when I was only chosen to be in the choir for Hiawatha, rather than have a specific role. I was upset because a) I was used to being in the pantomimes and b) I knew I could sing! It is worth noting that the year Mrs Briggs was off sick and the head teacher, Fanny Trippet, took over, I came second in music (although the fact that I had been for a few guitar lessons which included starting to learn music must have been a help!)

I bought my first guitar, made of plastic with a picture of Elvis Presley, from a jumble sale. My step-father was learning to play the tenor banjo and when he saw I had an interest in music he bought me my first real guitar. This is the only thing of importance that I recall him ever buying me. He also paid for the lessons but after about three or four I stopped going as I couldn't be bothered to learn to read music - I'd rather play 'by ear' and so from then on I taught myself.

I started writing my own songs at 14 and wrote just over 30. There was one occasion at school when I was writing out the words to my first song called "What Do You Do?" Mrs Whalley, the geography teacher, asked what I was doing when I passed the paper to a friend. I told her. She made me get up in front of the class and sing; that was bad enough but when I finished she then took me to the staff room and made me sing it in front of the teachers which was even more embarrassing as one of my favourite teachers was there!

The saying goes, "Three times a bridesmaid, never a bride." Well, I was a bridesmaid five, yes five, times! Here are the photos, the first one is my cousin Tommy's wedding. On the back row are my cousins Kathleen and Jimmy, then Tommy and Winnie, then Winnie's dad and her sister, Annie, on the right; at the front are Winnie's two nieces and me (without my glasses but with the obligatory ringlets). It was a winter wedding and we wore white dresses and little, red velvet, hats. In fact, I think it might have been new year's eve as Tommy and Winnie always had a party on new year's eve because it was the anniversary of their wedding:

Then it was Jimmy's turn. Here he is with his wife, Doreen. The three people to the left of Jimmy are, I think, their best man and Doreen's brother and sister. To the right of Doreen is her dad then my cousin Kathleen and, I think, Doreen's niece then Tommy. I am the one with ringlets on the front (without glasses) and the other little girl is, I think, another neice from Doreen's side.

The third time was at my step-brother, Ronnie's, wedding when he married Ruby Brass. They met when he was in the army at Catterick as Ruby came from Barningham near Barnard Castle. I always liked Ruby and her family, they were very friendly and relaxed compared to my step-brother and step- father. I remember when we went up for the wedding and her mother cooked us all Sunday lunch: she served it the traditional Yorkshire way, having a large Yorkshire pudding and gravy first. I thought this was all we were going to get and so ate about three! When the rest of my dinner came I couldn't eat it as I was full. I recall going cycling with Ruby's sisters and using the term 'topping a brew' and they didn't know what I meant (being able to cycle up a hill).

All of the people in the photograph are related to Ruby with the exception of the best man, me (again with ringlets but this time with my glasses) and Kathleen Kaye who was the daughter of my step-father's friends; she is second from left on the front row.

My cousin Kathleen's wedding was the fourth time I was a bridesmaid. And I could have my hair as I wanted it - so I had it in a pony tail and not the dreaded ringlets! My mum made mine and Christine's (my cousin) dresses, they were green. My cousin Barry is on the left, then Christine, Jack's brother, Norman, Jack, Kathleen, uncle Jim, cousin Marion, me and Stephen. In fact, six of the nine grand-children are present, the other three being Kathleen's brothers Tommy and Jimmy and Christine's sister, Winifred.

The final one is when Stephen married his first wife, Lilian. I am on the left (with contact lenses which didn't last for long as they were too painful), Stephen, Lilian and my mum. I was in the RAF at the time and about to be posted to RAF Akrotiri.

Here is a compilation of photos of me from the 'early days': When I left school in December 1963, having been at secondary school for three-and-a-half years - because my birthday was at the end of November I was able to leave in December - I went to work at Darwen Paper Mill (DPM, or Dimox's). I did want to stay on at school but my step-father wouldn't let me, he said if I wanted to learn short-hand and typing I could go to evening class. This I did, but working full time as well as going to evening class was too much for me - I was earning the money so I wanted to be able to go out and spend it and have a good time.

I hated working in the factory; it was piece work, sorting paper and taking out those sheets which had been damaged in the paper-making process. When there were enough good sheets you would count them into reams then weigh the bad sheets, totaling how many reams you did a day and how much the waste weighed resulted in your wage. However, I was never any good at it, I used to cut my hands all the time on the paper. When I got the opportunity to move to either packing 8 x 10 or 11 x 13 paper I jumped at it as I could make money doing this. I also enjoyed sticking the labels on the larger reams of paper that the men packed.

When I used to stick the labels on I could see the people working in the time and study office and thought, I could do that!

Nearly everyone smoked, so I started smoking, Consulate (as I didn't like the taste of ordinary cigarettes). Smoking meant you could take regular breaks!!! The only good thing about working at Dimox's was that I was a member of their netball team.

Here is a photo of the DPM offices, I worked in the Bail Street factory which you can just see on the right-hand side.

Cotton Town provided by Blackburn with Darwen Borough Council for use in the Cotton Town digitisation project.

I left Dimox's after about a year mainly because I was bored, I could never make any money and because I used to go and 'camp' (chat) with the first aid girl (who I fancied) rather than get on with my work - I thought I was likley to get the sack. So I went to Caruses, a surgical textile firm. There was more variety of jobs at Caruses but, again, I wasn't able to earn much money on piece rate except for when I worked on Terry's nappies: me and another woman had big sissors and we would cut the huge pieces of terry cloth into squares so that other women could sew the edges for nappies. Other, more monotonous jobs included wrapping disposable nappies and folding gauze dressings but I hated both of these alternatives.

As well as playing in their netball team, I was also a member of their darts and dominoes team and used to throw a mean dart!! We had works' rideouts. On one occasion we went to Blackpool to see Cliff Richard. I went to the stage door to try and get his autograph and thought the bus had gone without me so ended up getting a bus to Preston then getting stuck as there was no other way of getting home. I went to the police station and they put me in a taxi. Boy was I in trouble when I got home: my mum, aunty May and uncle Jim were all waiting outside the Blackhorse for me. I got a right telling off then went to bed. I hadn't been in bed long before there was a knock on the door; it was my cousin Christine and the coach was outside - she had come to tell my mum what had happened. I then got my second telling off from Christine (and the rest of the women the following week at work) as they had driven round Blackpool trying to find me. And I didn't get his autograph!

One of the things that kept me sane during this period of my life was my music. I knew that I preferred girls to boys and made several attempts at kissing my girlfriends. One way I dealt with my feelings was to write songs, but instead of putting girl's names I put boy's names. I have to say, most of these songs were rubbish, although there were a couple that I thought were quite good. Because I couldn't write music I asked the organ player from church to write down the tune of my song. I then took it to the leader of a local pop group to see what he thought; he rejected it saying it sounded like a hymn! Here is one that I wrote when I was about 15 called Each Night.

When I was 15 I sang in a local pop group called The Beathovens. I remember one of the gigs we did over the Co-op dance hall (where I had seen the Beatles). When I sang House of the Rising Sun I got a wonderful response with people applauding me. I didn't stay with The Beathovens for long, for one thing they didn't really want a girl singer and I clashed with the new male singer but for another I wasn't your girly-girl type and didn't really enjoy having to get dressed up. Furthermore, I didn't want to sing girl's songs!!

I had to find some way of getting away from working in the factory and from the narrow-mindedness of a small town where everyone knew everyone else's business. I didn't know any other 'homos' as they were called in those days. I also had to get away from home, at this point I hated my step-father and couldn't bear the way he put my mother down and them rowing all the time.

Despite this, I loved my childhood: I have my mum and grandma to thank for the love, stability and freedom we had as kids; freedom which I believe set me in good stead for being adventurous in the future - I won't repeat all the stuff about the Blackhorse gang as I cover it in Stephen's story. My childhood went downwards when my mother married my step-father and I couldn't wait to leave home.

I remembered one of the girls from Dimox's had joined the army so me and my two best friends, Pauline Roberts and Linda Whitelaw, said we would join the RAF. As it turned out, I was the only one who went through with it. And thus begins the second chapter of my life.

Women's Royal Air Force

I took the pledge and joined the WRAF in Preston in September 1965. I'd gone to see my dad for the first time ever at the pub he ran in Preston, with my cousin Barry, a few weeks before. My dad thought Barry was Stephen.

Anyway, on the day I left my cousin Tommy drove me to Preston to catch the train to RAF Spitalgate, which is where all the ordinary ranks did their six-weeks basic training. How I survived this I will never know, it was the hardest thing I think I have ever done in my life.

Here are two photos from when I first joined up, one was done in a studio (the one in uniform) whilst the other was a passport photograph; don't the glasses show it was the 1960's! My mum used to have this photo of me in uniform on her bedroom dressing table.

We were up most mornings around 5 or 6 am, to bull our shoes or lay out our uniforms for inspections - these had to be laid out in a specific way, woe betide you if you got it wrong. Every morning we had drill on the square. We learnt about the history of the RAF, different ranks, how to march, how to salute, how to make sure your shoes glistened with spit and polish, how to iron your shirts and uniforms. Several girls dropped out at this stage as they found the routine and discipline too much to take.

Here is a modern video from You Tube which shows what the basic training is like now - actually, part one is very like when I joined up in 1965 - I'm not bothering with part two because it is nothing like back in the 60's - women couldn't use guns! Gosh, I would have loved to be able to learn to shoot! Basic Training RAF.

I was friendly with three Welsh girls, here they are, Brenda is on the left, then Sweeney, then Di:

They taught me the Welsh national anthem (in Welsh, of course) and I got into trouble with them: We were messing around trying to hypnotise each other. My cousin Barry had given me a Greek medallion that he had brought back from one of his trips. I used the medallion to hypnotise Di. To my surprise, it worked. But I forgot to say to her that when I count to three or clap my hands you will come out of the trance. She was under it for about 36 hours. We had to call the Medical Officer - he said she would wake up eventually, which she did. Meanwhile I got hauled over the coals by a senior WRAF officer. "You are a snowdrop, falling gently from the sky, you are going into a deep sleep...."

Reminds me of my favourite ever poem that we had to learn at school called "The Ice Cart" by Wilfred Gibson.

PERCHED on my city office-stool,
I watched with envy, while a cool
And lucky carter handled ice. . . .
And I was wandering in a trice,
Far from the grey and grimy heat
Of that intolerable street,
O'er a sapphire berg and emerald floe,
Beneath the still, cold ruby glow
Of everlasting Polar night,
Bewildered by the queer half-light,
Until I stumbled, unawares,
Upon a creek where big white bears
Plunged headlong down with flourished heels
And floundered after shining seals
Through shivering seas of blinding blue.
And as I watched them, ere I knew,
I'd stripped, and I was swimming too,
Among the sea-pack, young and hale,
And thrusting on with threshing tail,
With twist and twirl and sudden leap
Through crackling ice and salty deep--
Diving and doubling with my kind,
Until, at last, we left behind
Those big, white, blundering bulks of death,
And lay, at length, with panting breath
Upon a far untravelled floe,
Beneath a gentle drift of snow--
Snow drifting gently, fine and white,
Out of the endless Polar night,
Falling and falling evermore
Upon that far untravelled shore,
Till I was buried fathoms deep
Beneath the cold white drifting sleep--
Sleep drifting deep,
Deep drifting sleep. . . .

The carter cracked a sudden whip:
I clutched my stool with startled grip.
Awakening to the grimy heat
Of that intolerable street.

We were taught how to read maps and sent on an exercise: we were taken, in groups of eight, in a large truck about ten miles from camp, then left with a map and a compass and had to find our way back. Our group got lost and were the last to arrive back to camp, just before they sent out a search party! Here is a photograph of our group, I'm on the left - I think you can see from the look of us why we got lost:

After the six weeks training we had a 'passing out parade' where the parents and families of the girls came to watch us proudly march on the parade square to a band. It was a glorious day and I was ever so proud that I had actually made it. A tear came to my eye when we were given the 'eyes right' salute. The only sad thing was that my mum and step-father didn't come to see me. Here is a video of a modern day passing out parade. It is a bit long so just have a glimpse to get the feel of what it was like to take part in one: Passing Out Parade.

I was posted to RAF Bawdsey in Suffolk for my trade training as an air defence operator.

After the rigour of basic training, trade training at Bawdsey was a doddle. The role of an air defence operator included tracking potential enemy aircraft/practice interceptions on the radar screen; watching the radar screen for IFF (identification friend or foe) signals; assisting fighter control officers in practice interceptions; tracking aircraft on a big map in 'the well'; writing information about air manoeuvres on a big perspex screen (you had to write backwards). Here is a link to some photos from RAF Bawdsey taken a few years before I was there but very little had changed. This is where I worked.

Bawdsey was famous as it was the place where radar was first developed. On a recent holiday to Norfolk I visited the RAF Radar Museum at Neatishead. Here is a video about the museum and going down into the bunker. It is a bit long, but you get the flavour of what it was like working in an underground bunker: RAF Neatishead

The first pictures of the Surface Control Room depict RAF Neatishead many years after I left - we didn't use computers then to track aircraft, it became much more technical. But when the visitors go down into the bunker, that is exactly what it was like going down into the bunker at RAF Bawdsey. We worked quite long shifts down there. Often in the dark so that we could see the radar screens better. Some aspects of the job were boring, such as being on IFF, but most were very involved, especially working on Mullards when we would make appropriate actions using the machines (pretending to be pilots) whilst the trainee fighter control officers gave us directions on how to intercept a possible enemy plane.

It was even more interesting when we had big NATO exercises, then things could get really hairy. But the most scary time was when I was on watch once and about fifty Russian aircraft came into our airspace over the top of Scandinavia. They came closer and closer approaching our airspace and we were all worried. Once they got to our airspace they turned around and went back to airfields in the Soviet Bloc.

It was also interesting tracking all the aircraft which came out of any Soviet Bloc country and seemed strange many years later when I went on holiday to Budapest.

After the basic trade training (I can't remember whether this was three or six months), you were posted to one of the various radar stations around Britain. RAF Bawdsey, as well as being the fighter control and air defence operator training centre, was also one of the radar stations used as part of the defence of Britain. I was lucky enough to be posted to RAF Bawdsey, where I stayed for about three-and-a-half years.

I loved Bawdsey, it was a bit like a Butlins holiday camp. Of course, we did work, shift work. This entailed a morning (07.30-12.30) and evening (17.30-22.30) followed by an afternoon (12.30-17.30) and night (22.30-07.30 - we usually slept half of the night and worked the other half) with one day off, then this was repeated with three days off. But living by the sea was wonderful. Here is a link to a You Tube video of what it was like on the sea side of Bawdsey Manor, which is where we used to go to swim: Bawdsey Manor, Cliff Side

RAF Bawdsey was part of Fighter Command when I was stationed there but in 1968 Fighter Command merged with Bomber Command to become Strike Command.

Here is a photograph of our mess:

And here is one of Janice Walmsley and Marion Crouch - this shows the billets we lived in, we often sunbathed when we weren't on duty:

Here I am, having been at Bawdsey for a number of years because I was now an SACW (Senior Aircraft Woman):

There are too many memories from the time I spent at RAF Bawdsey to include, but here are just a few: I began playing hockey whilst stationed here and I also played badminton a lot - I was a member of the badminton group and used to play singles, women's doubles and mixed doubles. We used to go to the USAF bases nearby, at Bentwaters and Woodbridge, not least because their drinks were cheaper but also because they used to get quite famous groups from the USA performing. Several of my friends married US airmen; this photo is when my friend Lyn married - I am second from the left on the back row:

I first met Joan Hopkins at Bawdsey, when she was a Flying Officer. I played badminton a lot with Joan and her fellow officers. Joan encouraged me to smarten myself up and take my promotion exams. She was a real inspiration. I tried to contact her in 2010 only to discover that she had died in May that year - I cried. Joan eventually became the first WRAF officer to command an operational RAF station when she took over command at RAF Neatishead. Before she retired she reached one of the highest ranks, Air Commodore. It was a privilege knowing Joan.

I tried to learn to sail and to water-ski whilst at Bawdsey - but failed miserably. Here is a compilation of photos sent to me by Shakey Pitt who contacted me via Forces Reunited a while back. I am in two of the shots, as well as my friend Gillian Pearce and Mick Navesey:

My good old guitar kept me company a lot and I regularly took it when we were playing hockey so that we could have a sing song on the coach. I had fallen for a friend who was straight and remember writing this song about her: When Shadows Fall.

I was lucky enough to be sent on a three-week detachment to Malta as part of a NATO exercise. Thus began my love-affair with Malta! We were billetted at RAF Luqa (now Luqa airport), I remember it well because we were next to Foster Block! But we worked at RAF Fort Madalena, which was a few miles away. Here is a photograph of the entire detachment as well as some of the local Maltese workers; I am on the middle row, eighth from the left next to my mate Trish on my left. Terry Bunce, who was on my watch at Bawdsey, is on the back row, seventh from left.

And here is one of me just outside the fort:

Here is a link to photographs put up on the net by Kerry Walsh: RAF Fort Madalena.

Not long after my return to Bawdsey I learnt that I was being posted to RAF Akrotiri in Cyprus. As with all of the camps I was stationed at, we lived in blocks on the main site but travelled up to the radar site; in Cyprus this was 280 Signals Unit. Here is a group of us messing around in the WRAF block where we lived, that's me playing the guitar:

Needless to say, lots of time was spent on the beach or swimming, here is a snap of me on the beach at Famagusta:

And here is an action shot, impressive or what?

I was in a pop group called East Layn, here are two photos of me performing with them:

Whilst I was out in Cyprus it was the 25th Anniversary of the Royal Air Force and I was on parade, that's me to the left of the officer:

There was also a big anniversary back in the UK and RAF personnel were invited to apply to attend this. Myself and my friend Eileen (seen in a photograph below) were both selected. When we got back to the UK instead of going to the parade we both decided we would prefer to go and see our relations, so we did (we never did get found out!). On return to Cyprus I wrote the following poem which was printed in the Darwen Advertiser:

I was a member of the Base Broadcasting Service and had two shows, one on soul music, with Sweet Soul Music as the theme tune and a late night show with the theme tune Moonlight Serenade.

Limassol was the nearest town to Akrotiri, so we used to go there for kebabs; I recall the 'Yellow House' was a favourite coffee house for the forces. Here is a link to some old photographs of Limassol - although they are taken a few years before I was there, they give you some idea of what Limassol was like when I was out there.

I used to love having kebabs, they were superb, for something like ten shillings you had several courses with free wine (usually san panteleimon, I can't remember what the red wine was called); it began with sausages, pieces of lamb, then chicken; all the time the salad, yogurt and pitta bread as well as the free wine, was replenished. Fresh fruit of the season completed the meal. It was an all night affair. Here is a photo of one such occasion, I am with Chris Gibbons and my friend Eileen with her future husband Carl:

I think this is one of the last photos of me in Cyprus because I was involved in what was called a 'witch hunt.'

I was coming to terms with being lesbian and was interrogated by the SIB (Special Investigation Branch): two big butch sargeants got me just as I had come off night duty. They asked me all sorts of questions and searched my kit to find evidence of me being a lesbian and to try and implicate anyone else.

Of course, being gay in the forces was illegal then. I confessed to kissing a girl and was sent to the camp psychiatrist who asked me a lot of personal questions but decided that, as I was only 20 years old and had only kissed a girl, and as I said I thought I was heterosexual (but I thought that meant bisexual), I didn't get thrown out of the RAF but posted back to the UK - I only completed six months of a two-year tour. I don't have many regrets in my life but this was one, I would have loved to have served the full two years out there.

I was posted back to RAF Stanmore Park, well, that is where we were billetted but we worked at RAF Bentley Priory, Headquarters Strike Command. Stanmore no longer exists whereas Bentley Priory is now a sort of museum which has regular open days. Here is a photo of me with another girl from our watch called Ann, we had been taken out for a trip by a sargeant but I'm afraid I have forgotten his name, this was still during the period when I was trying to get used to contact lenses, eventually I gave up:

When the film, "The Battle of Britain" was launched I volunteered to help at the premier at the Dominion cinema in Leicester Square - I presented a bouquet of flowers to the mayoress of Camden Town! Sorry for this poor photograph but it is a copy of one that appeard in the RAF News. I am second from left on the middle row:

Whilst at Stanmore I joined the Entertainments Panel and organised several dances and folk evenings. I even went for an audition to "Opportunity Knocks." Most singers didn't get beyond one song but they asked me to sing two - I thought I had made it. If Hughie Green had been present the day I auditioned I think I might have got on the show as he may have given me a chance, having been in the RAF himself.

I should have been promoted to corporal and there were several girls promoted who hadn't served as long as I had. Joan Hopkins, who was now a Squadron Leader, was also stationed at Bentley Priory and I was on the same 'watch' as her. I asked her if she could find out why I had not been promoted (remember, it was Joan who had encouraged me to get my promotion exams). I was sent for by the WRAF Admin officer who told me that because of what had happened in Cyprus I would need at least a two-year clean slate before they would consider me for promotion.

What I forgot to say earlier, is that the experience in Cyprus had traumatised me that much that, for two years, I tried to make myself straight, going out with lots of men. After my two years 'clean slate' I was promoted to corporal.

Here is a photo of a group of us on a visit to RAF Wattisham, we are standing by a Lightning aircraft.

I was going out with a sailor at the time called Nick. I was trying to force myself to believe I was in love with him. On promotion I had to go back to RAF Spitalgate for a three-week NCO (non commissioned officer) training course; here I am with the rest of the newly promoted corporals, I am in the middle, second from the right. Part of this training was to give a five minute presentation, which I gave on electro magnetic cathode ray tubes. The tutor was so impressed she said I should consider teaching!

What I wasn't expecting was that I would immediately fall for another woman. So when I returned I ended my relationship with Nick. After falling for women (it began as falling for girls when I was eleven years old), I eventually slept with a woman which made me realise there was no turning back. At the end of my six years service I decided to leave the WRAF to see if I could make it in civvy street and if I could make it as a lesbian.

Whilst at Stanmore I recall seeing my first colour television show, it was Ella Fitzgerald. I played a lot of badminton and I swam and played table-tennis for Strike Command; in fact, I was told that if I decided to stay in the RAF I would be coached to join the RAF table-tennis team. Of course, I continued to play hockey as the following team photograph shows, in fact, I captained a 7-aside team which won a B cup which was presented to me as a leaving present when I was demobbed in 1971 - I still have it. I am on the front row, second from left.

Civvy Street - Coming Out!

On demob I decided to stay in London. I found a flatshare with four other girls, two of whom had been stationed at Stanmore Park. It was in Hendon. I had enrolled on a TOPS training course for speed writing and typing at Princeton College in London. To be honest I cannot remember how long the course was but I enjoyed it.

I was one of the top pupils and took to being a full-time student like a duck to water. I would finish my homework on the way home on the tube. There was a student's union room with table-tennis, I had a whale of a time beating all the young men!

However, I didn't enjoy the first few months after demob. I was coming to terms with being lesbian; I went down the Gateways Club off the famous Kings Road in Chelsea: I didn't know how to act so I wore a suit (with a skirt) and put on a bit of make-up. A butch lesbian offered me a drink and said how delighted she was to meet a lesbian wearing make-up and a skirt. I never went down again in a dress or skirt...or make-up! But I did become a member of the Gateways. The Gateways appears in "The Killing of Sister George."

I was trying to come to terms with being lesbian, being in civvy street, attending a course, sharing a flat with mostly strangers, drinking a lot and trying to find other lesbians. On top of all that, my mother had to have open heart surgery and I was travelling back home to Lancashire on weekends. It was probably the hardest three months of my life - harder even to deal with than the basic training for the RAF - that was physical, this was emotional.

I didn't find a female partner at the Gateways Club but, instead, met my first partner, Anna, on the TOPS course. I wasn't happy at all living in Hendon and after a short time moved in with Anna and her dad in Streatham. Anna had been in the Merchant Navy. She was a real stunner - looked like Glenda Jackson. We found a flat together in Brixton, then moved to Clapham Old Town, which I really liked, and then to Battersea. So the Gateways Club virtually became our local as we lived just over the river. I remember how jealous I was the first time she went out without me, so I sat down and wrote this song: "Hello Anna."

My first secretarial job was working for the Committee of Vice Chancellors and Principals of Universities in the UK on the corner of Tavistock Square. It was at the time when wearing trouser suits in the office was just about allowed. I stayed there six months but then got the chance of working at Francis Day and Hunter, the music publishers. I still fancied myself as a song writer and had continued to write songs so I thought this was a good move. When I played a tape of my songs they said they didn't like the songs but liked my voice. However, when I realised I would have to dress up and be 'girly' I told them I wasn't interested. I did make a demo of some of my songs at this time and a friend got someone at EMI to listen to them but, again, the response was no; although they did like one of the songs called "Don't Touch" which was a bit provocative.

I then got a job at Columbia Pictures in Wardour Street, working for the export manager. I really enjoyed working here. I liked my boss, Colin, who accepted me as a lesbian. We used to get free cinema tickets to the latest films and on one occasion I met Ingrid Bergman when she came into the office to view a film (we had a screening cinema).

I realised I would not get promotion unless I got some qualifications (I had previously tried to acquire some GCEs when I was in the RAF but found it difficult attending lessons after night duty). My partner, Anna, had decided she wanted to enrol at Hillcroft College for mature women students in Surbiton. I was doing temp work at ITN and had been offered a job either as secretary for Reginal Bosanquet or working in their archive department. I was at a cross-road: do I go to college and continue my education (which I had always wanted to do) or work for ITN? I opted for college - my mum thought I was mad.

Second Chance at Education

I have to be honest and say that I cheated in the entrance exam. Our friend Gillian, who had already been for the admissions interview and test, warned us what it would be like and advised us to take a small dictionary. We had an extract from one of the broadsheets. We had to precise it and explain what certain words meant. Don't know how I would have managed without the dictionary. When I was in the RAF I started doing crosswords whilst on night duty and became quite good at the simple crosswords and then graduated to the cryptic ones. And as a secretary I had to be able to ensure letters were spelt correctly, so my vocabulary increased gradually. But nothing quite prepared me for the entrance exam.

I managed to pass the test and interview and, in fact, after the first three months we were all interviewed by the principal, Mrs Janet Cockerall, who told us how we had got on. In a nutshell, there was only one person told she was material for university and that was me!!! Janet Cockerill confessed that she nearly didn't accept me: I expect a butch lesbian with a strong northern accent and no formal education wasn't exactly college let alone university material. But she was wrong, like my full-time course at Princeton College, I took to studying with great ease and a lot of determination.

I loved ancient Greek and Roman history and thoroughly enjoyed reading Herodotus and Thucydides and writing essays on them. I think it is possible my time in Cyprus in the RAF, when I visited the mosaics at Pathos, as well as my cousin Barry's influence, gave me an interest in ancient history. I also remembered getting a drawing of a Roman centurion put up on the wall by Mr Painter at junior school. But my success lay at the foot of Mrs Fox who was also a working class woman who had, as a mature student, ended up at Oxford reading history. She taught us how to read a book, how to plan an essay, how to prepare for exams.

I enjoyed History of Art, having never been into an art gallery until I visited the National Gallery the day after my demob party and I drank that much the night before the smell of the gallery when I went into the first rooms, which were all religious paintings, quite frankly made me want to vomit.

The tutor, Doreen O'Neil, gave us an insight into art history from Greco-Roman times right up to modern art. To be honest, I liked the Greco-Roman stuff but wasn't switched on again until we hit the Renaissance but then came the Pre Raphaelite Brotherhood, Impressionism and early English water colourists like Thomas Girtin : I had a facsimile of his White House at Chelsea, framed and on my wall for many years and visionaries such as Samuel Palmer.

To this day it gives me tremendous pleasure going round art galleries.

I aquired the equivalent of A Levels (CNAA Certificate) which enabled me to apply for a univeristy place. I applied to several universities; remember going for an interview at University College, London - the woman who interviewed me had two degrees, one in ancient history and the other in anthropolgy, it was a joint ancient history and anthropology degee. she asked me questionas about anthropololgy (of which I knew very little); I came out of the interview feeling a few inches tall. I got an unconditional acceptance at Kent University to read Ancient History and Reading. Got an interview at Royal Holloway and also Queen Mary. The Queen Mary one came first and I was interviewed by a lovely man, Professor Balme. He offered me an unconditional place which I accepted and didn't bother going for the interview at Royal Holloway. I think I am right in saying that I was the first student from Hillcroft College to get into London University.

Queen Mary (as it is now known, dropping the College bit) was in Mile End Road.

I was living at the time with my partner, Anna, first in Battersea and then (because the landlord was harassing us to pay more rent as my brother, Stephen, had come down and helped us decorate our flat and put wardrobes in the bedroom and cupboards in the kitchen) we were rehoused by a Housing Association to Brockley in South East London. It was a lovely flat but poorly converted so we could hear the couple downstairs having it away.

Anna was doing her degree at Ealing Poly (two years as it was a CNAA degree and she got the first year knocked off because of the two years we did at Hillcroft) whereas my course was a three year degree. It was grossly unfair - Anna had to complete twelve course units in two years (bloody hard word) whilst I only had to complete nine course units over three years!