Hazel Remembers

Photo:Hazel Kirby

Hazel Kirby

Rebecca Mason-Bond

Photo:Hazel Kirby and friends at Ventnor Sanatorium

Hazel Kirby and friends at Ventnor Sanatorium

Rebecca Mason-Bond

Photo:Hazel in 2008

Hazel in 2008

Rebecca Mason-Bond

Working at the Ministry of Aircraft Production

By Rebecca Mason-Bond

I was working at Odham’s Press in Covent Garden. My father had worked there and they took me and my brothers on after he died. I didn’t like it, but then the war came and there was a paper shortage. That’s when I applied for a job at the Ministry of Aircraft Production on Millbank. I would have been around 18.

I had a clerical job. It was a large office and half the office was for people who wrote up the contracts between aviation factories and the government … one man and his staff dealt with engines, another plugs and sockets and I was in the aircraft equipment production section. There were other floors that did other stuff. I think one of them included Watson-Watt. He invented radar.

When letters came in you had to write a précis of them in case they got lost. You used to have to take them round to the different production offices on the hour – it was terribly well-organised because of the war effort. Then they would write their letters, which would come back to you and you’d file them away. Messengers used to come up every hour and take away the post, it was that organised.

When I was working at Millbank I was living in Norbury. I went to work on the tram or the bus and it stopped at Westminster or Blackfriars. The transport ran okay at first. When the air raid siren rang you used to get off and go into a shelter, but after a while, you were young and you looked at it totally differently, so you carried on. You looked out and saw bombed things and you just went on, it didn’t register a lot.

I finished work at 6pm. Five or six of us used to walk home together from work – somebody lived in Brixton in a flat with their mum, somebody in Kennington, somebody at the side of Streatham Common and I lived at Norbury. It used to be really foggy – thick fog. Your hair would be dripping wet when you got home. Peasoupers they used to call them. It was hard to find your way, absolutely awful.

You worked most Sundays and on that day we used to go up to Quality Inn on Leicester Square to eat. It wasn’t on coupons so you could pay cash for a decent meal.

One memory of working at the Ministry of Aircraft Production really sticks out for me. A lady came along Millbank one day. She was shouting up to the building. There were typing pools there, where all the girls sat. Her husband was having an affair. It was pouring with rain and she was shouting and so upset.

I worked there until early 1945, when a mobile screening unit for tuberculosis (TB) came round. It was set up along from the office on Millbank. I went along voluntarily and they took a radiograph of my chest. They said I had a shadow on one side and a cavity on the other.

You had to go home and wait – you were supposed to go into a local hospital but there were hundreds of young people like me  – so a car came and just took me away. Took me all the way to a sanatorium in Ventnor on the Isle of Wight. You were spoilt in some ways then by the hospital service.

I was there for over a year. At first you had bed rest. I had a haemorrhage so they let part of my lung down and that sorted it out. Then you were gradually allowed up, for two hours or so a day. Then you had whist drives with the men! Exciting!

The girl I first shared a room with was married and her husband lived in Lymington. He used to come and see her. I remember being stuck in bed and I’d get the newspaper and try to make out I wasn’t there! I nipped to the loo a few times!

I shared with another girl down on the ground floor. One day she said ‘do you mind if I ask for a single room, it’s not that I don’t get on with you, but I’ve got a boyfriend over in the men’s section’. You’ll think I’m completely naïve, but I didn’t think about sex. It was only 70 odd years later I thought ‘oh, that was the reason!’. He used to visit at night, parkland surrounded the sanatorium and in a downstairs room you could leave the door open – very convenient!

They kept my job open for about a year but I was away for longer so I didn’t go back. It’s a shame – I was hoping to go to Europe with the army of occupation, I don’t mean fighting, but helping with background tasks, like clerical work.


This page was added by Rebecca Mason-Bond on 25/10/2010.
Comments about this page

I believe my late mother worked at the Ministry of Aircraft Production at some point during the war - although she also joined the WRNS. It would be wonderful to see whether the author of this piece remembers her. Is there any way we can ask her?

By John Webb
On 15/08/2017

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