The WAAF at War, John Frayn Turner

The WAAF at War, John Frayn Turner

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The WAAF at War, John Frayn Turner

The WAAF at War, John Frayn Turner

During the course of the Second World War over 180,000 women served in the Women's Auxiliary Air Force, carrying out an incredibly wide range of duties (almost everything short of actual combat). This book is made up of a series of first-hand accounts of those duties, linked by a useful narrative that puts the individual memories in context. This means that the book avoids becoming a series of unconnected anecdotes.

Some chapters examine a particular period - the Battle of Britain or the Blitz. Others look at a particular role - nursing, ferry pilots or SOE operative. Finally one chapter looks at the daily life of the WAAF and another at the limited use of WAAFs overseas.

Chapter nine, which examines Constance Babington Smith's contribution to the photographic interpretation effort that identified the V-Weapons is fascinating, and differs in that it is dedicated to the activities of a single WAAF. Given that it is about photographic interpretation it’s a shame it doesn't include any of the aerial photographs, but that’s a minor flaw in an interesting account of a very specialised duty.

This is an interesting look at the impressive achievements of the 180,000 WAAFs, a force that played a major part in the successes of the RAF during the Second World War.

Introduction - How the WAAF was born
1 - The Battle of Britain
2 - The 'Blitz'
3 - One WAAF's Log
4 - Bomber Command
5 - Angels of Mercy
6 - Special Operations Executive
7 - The WAAF at Home
8 - The Ferry Pilots
9 - The V-Weapons
10 - The WAAF Abroad
Appendix - Awards

Author: John Frayn Turner
Edition: Hardcover
Pages: 224
Publisher: Pen & Sword Aviation
Year: 2011

The WAAF at War, John Frayn Turner - History

Highly experienced author John Frayn Turner has succeeded in capturing the indomitable spirit of the WAAF during WW2. His book vividly describes the many roles played by members of this highly respected organization, whether on the ground at air stations, under the ground in control bunkers, reading radar monitors or plotting the course of air operations.

In addition the WAAF flew all types of aircraft, often with minimal training, regardless of weather.

Most poignant are the hazardous exploits of those WAAF who volunteered for SOE. Perhaps the best known of these incredibly gallant girls is Noor Inayat-Khan GC who was executed at Dachau in 1944 but there were many others whose stories are told here.

The WAAF at War is a long overdue tribute to the war winning contribution played by all its members.

WAAF at War by John Frayn Turner (Hardcover, 2011)

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The Brave Women of the Battle of Britain

The Battle of Britain was the first major all-aircraft campaign of World War II. It was marked with several episodes of intense aerial combats.

Swarms of Luftwaffe aircraft surged through the skies, bearing destruction on their wings. The British Royal Air Force (RAF) patrolled the airspace, determined to keep their homeland safe.

The Battle of Britain was not just another platform that put the spotlight upon men. There were women in the limelight, too, women of outstanding devotion and courage.

Heinkel He 111 bombers during the Battle of Britain.

Sergeant Joan Mortimer, Sergeant Helen Turner, and Flight Officer Elspeth Henderson were members of the Women‘s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) stationed at the RAF Biggin Hill, Kent.

RAF Biggin Hill was at the center of the Battle of Britain and suffered some of the most brutal Luftwaffe strikes.

During the Battle of Britain, the WAAF was crucial as they maintained communication with the air commands, highlighting positions of enemy aircraft.

WAAF recruitment poster.

As sporadic, small-scale German attacks slowly intensified, Hitler’s air force continued to push their way into southern England. By the 30 th of August 1940, South East London was under siege. With the Luftwaffe’s aim of crippling the British air force, RAF Biggin Hill became a primary target.

Sergeant Joan Mortimer, Flight Officer Elspeth Henderson, and Sergeant Helen Turner of the WAAF were discharging their duties as telephone operators when the alarms began to sound. The Luftwaffe had come upon them.

Operations Room at No. 10 Group Headquarters, Rudloe Manor (RAF Box), Wiltshire, showing WAAF plotters and duty officers at work.

Members of the WAAF were ordered to the air raid shelters. RAF squadrons took to the air in readiness, as the attacks loomed even closer.

The Luftwaffe struck, dropping bombs and letting their guns roar. The RAF engaged, firing their weapons at the raiding enemy formations.

Planes dropped out of the sky as the two sides exchanged hostilities.

WAAF Corona System Radio Operators: “German-speaking WAAF radio operators in England eavesdrop on German frequencies.” The Corona system was where WAAF operators would eavesdrop on Luftwaffe night-fighter frequencies and attempt to countermand their orders to cause confusion.

The enemies had retreated, leaving the aerodrome in a mess. Thirty-nine personnel at the airbase lost their lives in that attack, while a number of others sustained various degrees of injury.

Following the attack, every remaining member of the WAAF returned to duty.

Perhaps some of them believed it was over, but this was just the first raid. The second episode was to be more accurate and more deadly.

When the Luftwaffe struck the second time, RAF Biggin Hill was bound to be left in shambles. But even in the midst of the attack, the aerodrome did not cease its operations. Constant communication was maintained, and aircraft successfully took off and landed with proper guidance.

Supermarine Spitfire Mark Is of No. 610 Squadron based at Biggin Hill, flying in ‘vic’ formation, July 24, 1940.

Flight Officer Elspeth Henderson was instrumental throughout the raids. During the first raid, when several members of the WAAF were buried underneath a collapsed trench, she led the efforts to dig them out.

When the second attack came, Henderson was in the operations room, communicating with Fighter Command Headquarters in Uxbridge. The operations room took a direct hit, falling apart as Ju 88 bombers struck. Orders came for the room to be evacuated immediately.

The Ju 87 “Stuka” dive-bomber was used in blitzkrieg operations. By Bundesarchiv – CC BY-SA 3.0 de

Everybody headed for safety, but Henderson stood her ground, unwilling to break contact with headquarters. She only made her way out of the room, through a crashed window, when there was nothing else she could do since the roof was melting and bombs were dropping everywhere around her.

Also in the same building during the air raid was Sergeant Helen Turner who was serving as a switchboard operator when the evacuations began. However, she maintained her position for as long as she could, only leaving when the building gave way to the fires.

WAAF radar operator Denise Miley plotting aircraft on a cathode ray tube in the Receiver Room at Bawdsey ‘Chain Home’ station, May 1945.

Firefighters tackling a blaze amongst ruined buildings after an air raid on London.

Sergeant Joan Mortimer was in the armory room when the chaos came. Given her location, she was surrounded by explosives as she operated a telephone switchboard. Yet she bravely continued working at her post, relaying messages to all the RAF defense positions in the airfields.

At one point, she went outside with bundles of red flags. She sought out and marked every unexploded bomb with a red flag. In such a threatening environment, she remained undaunted, even when one of the bombs exploded nearby.

A street in Coventry, England, after the Coventry Blitz of 14–15 November 1940.

In November 1940, Mortimer, Turner, and Henderson were told that they were to receive the Military Medal which was considered a “man’s medal.”

Military Medal (George VI) used for WWII.

Throughout WWII, the WAAF received only six Military Medals, and three of them were earned by these brave women during the Battle of Britain. The decoration was awarded, according to the official citation, for “acts of gallantry and devotion to duty under fire.”

In 1974, in their honor, three roads at RAF Biggin Hill were named after Mortimer, Turner, and Henderson.

The WAAF at War, John Frayn Turner - History

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The Battle of Britain was one of the crucial conflicts in the history of civilisation. It started officially on 10 July 1940 and ended on 31 October 1940. Hitler&rsquos plans for the invasion of England were thwarted by two types of fighter aircraft, the Spitfire and Hurricane, and a relative handful of young pilots, The Few.

This fine book tells the momentous story of this unequal struggle, from the key events leading up to it, by graphic day-by-day accounts recording the action and commentary on the strategy.

The author&rsquos personal knowledge of key figures means that there are many thrilling first-hand accounts by the aces, such as Peter Townsend, Bob Standford Tuck, Douglas Bader, Richard Hillary, Sailor Malan and other great men.

This well-rounded book covers the contributions of Fighter Command&rsquos three Groups (10, 11 and 12) as well as the key roles played by RAF and WAAF groundstaff without whose tireless efforts the Battle would have been lost.

A superb book which is unlikely to be bettered in its class.

John Frayn Turner is a distinguished historian and author. Pen and Sword have published numerous of his books including VCs of the Second World War, Service Most Silent and Periscope Patrol. He is the author of Douglas Bader &ndash The Biography and The Bader Wing.

He lives at Leatherhead, Surrey.

The book does a great work at dissecting the campaign in a day-to-day narrative, detailing the contribution of all pilots and squadrons from Fighter, Bomber and Coastal Commands, with a focus on 12 Group with its Big Wing and in the involvement in the defense of London, while also not forgetting the contribution of the ground crews and the WAAF.

Read the full review here

The Aviationist

For almost four months, between July and October in 1940, the famous Battle of Britain took place as Hitler planned to invade England. Through twenty one chapters, this fascinating book gives detailed facts, accounts and stories all about the the conflicts as well as the key events leading up to it to bring the true feeling of bravery, courage and frustration to life for the reader. Recommended to those interested in war and war aircraft as many photographs and descriptions of the fleet are included, particularly the Spitfire and Hurricane. Written by established author John Frayn Turner who has written a fine collection of war books including 'British Aircraft of World War 2' and 'Service Most Silent', this is sure to be an excellent addition to your collection.

Kate (Customer Review)

"The Battle of France is over," proclaimed Winston Churchill in 1940, "the Battle of Britain is about to begin."
With the French Army defeated and a miraculous rescue of the British Expeditionary Force at Dunkirk, it was only a matter of time before the German Army invaded England. Plans for Operation Sea-lion, the German proposed invasion of England, had been drawn up and a significant number of resources had been diverted to building up the invasion force. There was however, one thing that stood in their way: the RAF.
This brilliant book is a must for anyone with a passion for military history. With over 100 excellent illustrations and gripping text, the book gives a detailed blow-by-blow account of the Battle of Britain, one of the most crucial and decisive conflicts in history. With the author's personal knowledge of key figures of the conflict means the book contains many excellent accounts from RAF Aces including Peter Townsend, Douglas Bader, who fought on despite losing both his legs, and the South African pilot, Sailor Malan. The book looks at Luftwafe's major offensive against England, Eagle Day, and how this huge attack ultimately fizzled out when put against the Hurricanes and the Spitfires of the RAF. The book also covers the key roles played by Fighter Commands three groups, (10, 11, and 12) which covered the whole of south east England and bore the brunt of the Luftwafe's attacks, and also the key roles played by the RAF and WAAF ground staff, for without their expertise in the operations room, they would not have been able to direct the pilots.
This well-written book is the ideal way to submerse yourself back into the lives of people of the RAF and WAAF, and to re-live how, with the whole world watching and against insurmountable odds, they triumphed over the seemingly invincible Luftwaffe and thwarted Hitler's plans to invade and ultimately changed the course of the War.

Paul (Customer Review)

Highly respected, and with personal knowledge of the key figures, John Frayn Turner provides a thorough and perhaps definitive account of the infamous Battle of Britain. His expertise provides accurate commentary on strategy and tactics, and his privileged insiders' position ensures there are gripping first-hand accounts from aces interspersed with thorough coverage of the chronological, day-by-day narrative of the battle. The many dramatic photographs complement the text well, and as well as pleasing the enthusiast with its detail, Turner's accessible prose provides a military history novice with an intriguing way into the story of the thwarting of Hitler's plans for the invasion of England through innovations in aviation, the Spitfire and the Hurricane, and the talented band of elite young pilots nicknamed 'The Few' by Churchill.

Jayne (customer review)

The Battle of Britain is perhaps one of the most recognisable episodes of the Second World War. Fought between July and October 1940, this struggle for supremacy in the skies over South-East England pitted a handful of British, Commonwealth and Allied pilots against the might of the victorious Luftwaffe. In this comprehensive account, experienced aviation author John Frayn Turner details the day-by-day development of the battle, whilst extensive eye-witness accounts put the reader in the cockpit with 'The Few' and those against whom they flew. Turner takes a national perspective on the battle, highlights the invaluable contributions of both RAF and WAAF ground staff to the battle, and provides a particular insight into the often overlooked role of 12 Group, placing this in its proper historical context. The overall effect being to provide a refreshing new look at a familiar subject.

Roger Fielding

Beginning officially on 10 July 1940, and concluding on 31 October 1940, the Battle of Britain is notably recalled as one of the most pivotal conflicts in the history of mankind. Turner's thrilling account of Hitler's dashed plans to invade England incorporates accounts of the key events in its manifestation, graphic daily retellings of unfolding battle in action, as well as the provision of specialist commentary on the implemented tactics and strategies which, in the end, won the day. Key roles played by, and the contributions of, Fighter Command's three Groups (10, 11 and 12) and the RAF and WAAF groundstaff, are portrayed through engaging text, detailed illustrations, and all-round fascinating personal contributions from aces such as Peter Townsend, Bob Stanford Tuck, Douglas Bader, Richard Hillary, and Sailor Malan among others. All this makes this fine book an idillic means by which to re-live this momentous event, in effect, first-hand.

James Tweal

"Never have so many owed so much to so few" was Churchill's tribute to the heroic efforts of 'The Few' pilots who fought solidly for over three months in 1940, over our own skies in what is surely one of the most famous conflicts in history and crucial to thwarting Hitler's planned invasion. Romantic notions of the Spitfire, of Douglas Bader, 'Tally Ho' and all that are ingrained into our psyche but John Frayn Turner's book gets us right into the thick of the real action with a gripping in-depth account of the key moments in battle all the way through to eventual victory. Day-to-day, almost diary-esque accounts of the events, coupled with first hand testimonies (including from Bader himself) aid in fully immersing the reader as the battle rages from Dunkirk, Biggin Hill and epic raids over London skies, towards the eventual crescendo. It would however be churlish to say that Turner's fine work focusses only on the action in the sky this well-rounded book also covers the sterling support work done on the ground, including Bomber Command communications and the efforts of the Women's Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF). Aviation enthusiasts will also enjoy the brief history of the famous Spitfire and Hurricane planes. What the author makes clear from the outset is that the book actually focusses more on 12 Group (those with existing knowledge will know that it was actually 11 Group who bore the brunt of the fighting) which gives a different perspective to the battle and therefore still offers enough fresh interest more well-versed readers. For the rest of us, this is a fitting guide to one of the most epic struggles in history.

Carl (customer review)

About John Frayn Turner

John was the highly respected author of thirty non-fiction books &ndash mainly militaria and biography associated with World War 2. We are proud to have sixteen of his fine works in print including all the titles mentioned below.

Although born in Portsmouth with a Naval family background, he became closely connected with aviation and the Royal Air Force. During the Second World War, John worked at HMS Vernon on magnetic and acoustic mine trials before being conscripted from 1946 to 1948. Shunning a career in accountancy, he went into publishing culminating as editor of House Beautiful magazine. In the 1960&rsquos John joined the Air Ministry and was responsible for RAF publicity and recruiting literature. He made numerous test flights, flew at twice the speed of sound and accompanied the Red Arrows. He later became managing editor of five London-based arts magazines. He wrote countless theatre and film reviews.

In 1968, already a well-respected author, John met the legendary Douglas Bader. The two men worked closely on Fight For The Sky and The Bader Wing. Bader wrote the Introduction to John&rsquos classic British Aircraft of World War 2.

Our list also includes acclaimed epics like Invasion &rsquo44, arguably the first full account of D-Day, Fight for the Sea, The Battle of Britain and the definitive VCs of the Second World War and The Awards of the George Cross. He also wrote The Life and Selected Works of Rupert Brooke.

Start of Battle of Britain

The Battle of Britain was the first major campaign to be fought entirely by air forces, and was also the largest and most sustained aerial bombing campaign to that date. Beginning with Channel Battles on 10 July, the Luftwaffe moved on to attacking RAF defences, airfields and ports.

The Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) and the Battle of Britain

When Biggin Hill was suffering one of its worst raids from German aircraft during the Battle of Britain in 1940, three brave members of the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) remained at their posts. As the building tumbled around them Sergeants Elisabeth Mortimer, Helen Turner and Corporal Elspeth Henderson worked throughout the attack to keep the station operational: they were later awarded the Military Medal for their bravery. This is just one example of how important for British victory were the roles played by the WAAF.

The WAAF was first established in 1939 by King George VI. There was previously an Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS), the female force equivalent to the Territorial Army, but the WAAF itself sprung into being when the Government decided that a separate women’s air service was necessary. The WAAF was not an independent organization, nor was it completely integrated into the RAF. Rather it was interlinked with the RAF so that whenever possible RAF personnel could be substituted for women.

Originally the roles of the women of the WAAF were relatively domestic duties such as cooking and driving. Women were certainly not permitted to fly and it seems that their general abilities often doubted in the early years. However, during the Battle of Britain the RAF were under huge strain, resulting in a change of role for the WAAF. It became essential for the women of the organisation to take on more technical roles, and they were trained in radar plotting, the maintenance of barrage balloons and photographic interpretation.

There were several thousand young WAAFs in Fighter Command during that summer of 1940 and they played a vital role in the Dowding system of defence. This was essential during the Battle of Britain and later in guiding night fighters against the bomber formations attacking the UK. Initially, women served as radar reporters, using the huge Chain Home radars to locate raids and report their positions, as well as plotting these reports in the Sector Control Rooms. It was the plotter’s job to obtain information from the signals staff, often WAAFs themselves, who were listening to the reports from radar and Observer Corps’ posts. This information was then transferred to visual plaques on racks which were then positioned on the map, showing the position and direction of the raid as it progressed. Every raid was allotted a serial number and a prefix to indicate if it was friendly, hostile or unknown.

Many WAAFs were based at Fighter Command airbases such as Biggin Hill, Hawkinge, and Manston, which put them in great danger: these were all targets in the first raids by the Luftwaffe in the Battle of Britain. Without the tireless work and bravery of the WAAF the RAF would have struggled to cover all the necessary angles, which ultimately could have affected British victory. Many women who were possibly undervalued before their efforts in WAAF were transferred to the after the Battle of Britain had been won. They were not only valuable to the war effort but also to the general role of women in society. Through their exceptional work the women in the WAAF proved that women were fully capable of aiding the British war effort.

The Battle of Britain

The Battle of Britain was one of the crucial conflicts in the history of civilisation. It started officially on 10 July 1940 and ended on 31 October 1940. Hitlers plans for the invasion of England were thwarted by two types of fighter aircraft, the Spitfire and Hurricane, and a relative handful of young pilots, The Few.This fine book tells the momentous story of this unequal struggle, from the key events leading up to it, by graphic day-by-day accounts recording the action and commentary on the strategy. The authors personal knowledge of key figures means that there are many thrilling first-hand accounts by the aces, such as Peter Townsend, Bob Standford Tuck, Douglas Bader, Richard Hillary, Sailor Malan and other great men.This well-rounded book covers the contributions of Fighter Commands three Groups (10, 11 and 12) as well as the key roles played by RAF and WAAF groundstaff without whose tireless efforts the Battle would have been lost. A superb book which is unlikely to be bettered in its class

Originally published: Shrewsbury, England : Airlife, 1998

Includes bibliographical references and index

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Douglas Bader : A Biography of the Legendary World War II Fighter Pilot Paperback / softback

Douglas Bader was a legend in his lifetime and remains one today 100 years after his birth.

A charismatic leader and fearless pilot he refused to let his severe disability (loss of both legs in a flying accident) ground him.

He fought the authorities as ruthless as he did the enemy and not only managed to return to the front line but became a top scoring ace.

His innovative tactics (The Big Wing) ensured his promotion and he led a key group of squadrons during the dark days of the Battle of Britain. His luck ran out when he was shot down and captured he only escaped his burning fighter by cutting away one of his artificial legs. As a POW he was a thorn in the Germans side and he was sent to Colditz Castle. As this perceptive book reveals Bader, the hero, was at times a difficult over-bearing man, no doubt in part due to the pain he suffered.

But his strengths far outweighed his weaknesses and his place in the annuals of British history is secure. This is a timely republication of an important biography.

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