Rita Burden - War Memories
I was born Rita Burrows and I lived in a stone cottage down School Lane, by the side of the river just over the bridge. It is still there. I stayed there until I went into the Forces in 1944. The Appleby and Froddingham Iron-stone Works were still there then. At one time, my dad was the gamekeeper at Easton estates although he was born in Norfolk. He used to visit the Sir Isaac Newton pub at Woolsthorpe with another gamekeeper. My grandmother kept this pub and my mother used to help her. That is how my mother and father met. After they were married. they lived on estates in various parts of the country. During the time that my mother and father lived away from the village, they had two daughters and a son. Work on the large estates was fine for a while. The kids had the park to play in.
They had a dog-cart which my dad`s gundogs would pull. When my father gave up life as a gamekeeper, they all came back to the village. My grandmother had left the Sir Isaac Newton and was then living by the river. When my mother, father and family came back they moved into the cottage and grandmother went to live in the Bede Houses where she died. My dad did all sorts of jobs of work, one of them helping to build Saltby airfield. When the Ironstone started up, he got work there and things looked up from then on. Three people started at the same time, Mr Bailey as General Manager, Mr Rudd to do the wages and my Dad to run the pit. My father worked there as pit foreman. He overlooked all the working of the pit and all those big machines. He started at Number One Pit, near where Mr Bailey lived at the bottom of School Lane. The ironstone workings opened up there and then they went over the Woolsthorpe Road and towards Stainby and that was Number Two Pit. Eventually they came over to the north of the Woolsthorpe Road and that was North Pit. My father was the pit foreman at Number One Pit and then at Number Two Pit.
By that time he was getting pretty old and they made Mr Woods up to Number Two Pit- (Number One pit having finished by then) - and Mr Watson for North Pit. Our cottage was owned by the Easton Estates. It had a big range on which Mum did the cooking. Later on, British Steel bought the cottage and improved it by putting in a water supply and a toilet. She got a wash-house with a copper which made it much better. Up until then, she had to boil all her white linen in an iron bucket on the stove. Shortly after dad began work with Appleby Froddingham, as it was then, I was born very much a surprise. My sisters were in their early twenties and my brother was seventeen. I went to Colsterworth School under Mr Harrison. Mrs Harrison also taught and Miss Ball was still there in the infant class. We got a good education at the school. They were good teachers going by today`s standards. Mr Harrison was all right until he got mad. Miss Lowe taught me and my children. She was an excellent teacher. Miss Waller came later.
I left school at fourteen and was a hair dresser in Grantham. I went on the bus every day. The service was much better in those days, every hour, and a lot cheaper. I served an apprenticeship for three years. We used those terrible perm machines where curlers came down on wires from an electric machine which heated them They used to get so hot people used to complain. We used ammonia in the solution we put on the hair and sometimes when we took the curlers off, people would have got burnt or blistered. They would sue you now. The smell was horrible as well. I served the three years and stayed on another year. My employer got me deferred which meant that you were not called up. I don`t know how she did it, because hairdressing was not usually considered a reserved occupation. My brother was in a reserved occupation which meant that the work you were doing was vital to the war Effort. He looked after all the big engines on the ironstone and repaired them to keep them all going. He was often called out at night to do repairs in the dark. There were no lights. He joined the Home Guard in the village.
After I had completed my apprenticeship, I thought that they began to use me and take me for a ride unfairly because they had got me off war work I either had to stay or get called-up. I soon got fed up with the job and as I was eighteen now, I decided to join up. I went to the Labour Exchange and said that I wanted to give up my deferment. She said 'Are you sure?' and I said 'Yes, I am!' I was offered work on the railway, in a factory, land work or one of the three Services. I said, `Well, I`m not going on the railway, I`m not going in a factory and I`m not going on the land. I am not well-educated enough to go in the Navy, I don`t like khaki, so I`ll go in the Air Force.' I had to report to Lincoln. I was given a railway pass and met up with other people on the way. I was sent up to Wilmslow in Cheshire for a six-week`s basic training, getting used to it and making new friends. It was July and very hot. We had to do P.T. in baggy knickers, twilights we used to call them. It was very embarrassing but doing all those exercises did us good, I expect. I didn`t really know what I wanted to do so I was asked if I wanted to be a Clerk SD ( Special Duties) . This was decided at Lincoln before I went to Wilmslow. I agreed at the time although I didn`t find out what Special Duties were until I got there.
After basic training, I went to RAF Watnall. It is now a meteorological place doing weather forecasting. I was trained to be a plotter. not the sort you see usually on the television. I was in the filter room, not an ops room. There were radar camps all around the coast picking up signals on the radar. These signals were passed to the Filter Room and we had to put the plaques on the table. They showed the height of the aircraft and the direction it was flying. We would plot the Germans in and over the country, also our fighters and bombers going off , and we used to plot them back. We would plot them so far over the North Sea until they were out of radar, and pick them up coming back.. We would plot them out in a group, as they went out all together in formation. But coming back it was different as the aircraft came back separately, some straggling a long way behind the others. If one disappeared off the screen, the Air-Sea Rescue would go out and we would plot them out as well. It was very interesting work. We had a map of the country on a great big table and we all had an area we had to look after, about twenty or twenty-five of us. The messages came to us through earphones and mouthpiece and we used plaques to indicate on the table where the planes were.
We used a long stick like a cue to move the plaques about. They had numbers on them which corresponded to the speed, height, and whether it was hostile or friendly. There were different colours for that. The officers would stand above us on a balcony, deciding what tactics to use, when and where to send out the fighters and whatever. There are quite a few of the radar installations still there up and down the coast. I was at Watnall when the buzz-bombs came over across the North Sea. The area I was covering was East Anglia at the time. We were warned that the V2s would come over the East Coast and I got the very first one. We would get the signal one was coming and it would move that quick, nothing like an aeroplane. It would whizz and then be gone suddenly. It would be more or less on the table and then gone. They were rocket propelled. The offices we working in had been constructed deep underground. The hours were very long and we suffered from lack of sunlight, so the powers that be brought sunlamps into our rest room for us. In my memory all we did was work, eat and sleep. I was at Watnall until the end of the war but then we weren`t wanted. No more enemy action! We had to remuster and change trades and I came to Cranwell to train as a Teleprinter Operator.
We learnt to touch type with a guard over the keys to stop us cheating. Your eyes had to be on the text you were printing, which had to be correct. After this training, I was sent down to Northwood in Middlesex to Headquarters Coastal Command. I used a machine like a big electric typewriter. it was quite a thing in those days, it was at the start of modern technology. You would have to get in touch with the switch-board first. They wouls get the call sign of the receiving camp, put in our call sign and make the connection. Then you would type in the text which would be transmitted. The text you sent would be printed by the receiving machine. Sometimes the message was in code. In would be in figures in groups of five. They were difficult to send because if you made a mistake with one f the figures, it would send the code wrong. The no-one would be able to make any sense of it. You had to be spot on. We received messages as well. They would come into your machine and the text would be printed and come out of the back. Then it would be torn off and probably delivered by hand to somewhere on the site. It was like being at the heart of the Air Force down there.
As for the food, it was not exactly what I was used to. I can remember pease pudding! I will never forget the pease pudding! It used to come out in a solid block which was plonked on your plate anyhow. It was not served up nicely. We stood in a line and it was doled out from great big tins. Northwood is still going but is now the Ministry of Defence, and that is down below as well. I always seemed to go to a job where I was working in offices which were underground. I didn`t feel any safer for it, I don`t think. You don`t worry when you are young. I never used to worry about anything. I came out of the Air Force in 1947. I did not think of staying in, not then. I came back home and worked in the office of the British Steel as a typist. I did not want to go back to hairdressing. The methods had changed by now. The old machines were not used. I had learnt to do this spiral winding which you put in the machines and in the heated curlers as well. But where there had been heat, gradually it became cold perming. And the hair styles were all different. Why go all the way to Grantham when I could just walk a short way to work?
I met my husband at a dance in the old Village Hall. He came up from Grantham with a friend and we met and took it from there. We were married in Colsterworth Church by the Canon Goodrich from Corby. It should have been the Reverend Barraclough but he was away at the time. I was all in white with a bouquet and four bridesmaids in a sort of cream colour. It was not so easy to get material for clothes because clothing was still rationed in 1950, I think. You had to have clothing coupons until 1953. I used to be very slim. I should like to see me getting in that WAAF uniform now! We have been married 55 years. We have a son and two daughters. We have six grandchildren, five boys and a girl ranging from thirteen to twenty-seven. One grandson is twenty-seven and has done three years at university. He is working in a home where they look after children who have had problems with abuse and drink and so on. He is really loving it. I enjoyed the times I was in the Air Force because you get all types together, you are all in the same uniform and we all got on very well. When we were at Northwood, we were only allowed a small amount of coal, so we used to go out into the forest and bring wood back to burn. I spent some very happy hours in the billet sitting round the stove, having a good old natter, a giggle and a laugh.