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Nearly six months after the great Battle of the Somme, where nearly 20,000 British soldiers had been killed during the initial day, Jan. 14, 19017, my mother learned than her husband, Reg Bareham, had been killed on that tragic first day of the battle.
Later in 1917, she placed me, not yet 2 years old, in the care of her relatives and joined the newly-formed Women’s Royal Air Force. This is her story, which she typed herself at the age of 95, when she was living in Shelby County.
I have condensed these memoirs for publication, without changing a word and only correcting the few typographic errors it contains. I have used a few subheads to show edits in the text. This is the conclusion of that entry.
A Short Resume Of My Services in the Women’s Royal Air Force, W.W. I (Continued)
By Florence Van Stockum
Since there were no entertainment facilities in the Camp, a dance now and then was improvised, and some of the men who, were by that time, mostly Americans, were invited to come over from their side of the installation to dance with us. The choice of partners was always eeny, meeny, miny, mo on both sides, but that is where we in England learned to do the fox trot. We had never seen it before, and we thought it was the weirdest thing we had ever seen. However we straddled and dipped and rocked to the tune of “Alexander’s Rag Time Band.” I could never master it, but I split my sides watching others try to do it.
Drills ‘til we drag
Now after all these goings on Mrs. Hall saw that we really did need some discipline, so she immediately arranged through the Base Commander to have a Disciplinary Sergeant Major to come and drill us. He came over to our quarters, slapping his thigh with his swagger stick. He lined us up, looked us over, didn’t know what to do with us and couldn’t believe that he had sunk so low. He took a minute to return to himself, then he high stepped us around the court for a while – no doubt to get used to the sight. Then he right dressed us, barked orders at us of which we could not understand a word, but fell all over each other trying to execute. Then he started us on calisthenics. By that time our backs were aching so badly that we could hardly stand, and I asked him how much longer we had to do this because I couldn’t stand any more. He said, “If that’s the case, we’ll dismiss.”
A new game to play
After the drilling had proved a failure Mrs. Hall said that we must have some outdoor sport. We knew nothing about baseball, football we couldn’t play, and since you can’t bounce a tennis ball out of a mud puddle, hockey had to be it. So one afternoon I was told that I was wanted on the hockey field right away. I hurried to my barracks for a pair of sturdy shoes, which I knew were under my bed, but found that they were not there. I enquired about them and was told that Mrs. Hall had impulsively given the order that all shoes found under the beds were to be picked up and locked in the store room.
I managed to find someone who could get the store room unlocked and I saw a huge pile of shoes tangled together on the floor. I knew at once that I would be late for hockey. I hurriedly dug into that pile of shoes turning them all over, but I could not find my shoes. I found lots of lefts and rights belonging to the other girls, but not one of my own. Finally I found somebody’s right that would fit, and then later I found somebody’s left that I could wear, so I put them both on and hied myself of to the hockey field. The game was in progress, but they found my place and I started to play in my unmatched shoes. Now I knew absolutely nothing about hockey, but I saw what the other girls were doing so I grabbed a stick and started to hit (and miss) that puck. I didn’t know whose side I was on but I did justice to the game as I saw it. I swatted that puck all over the place in every direction with such vigor, that everyone thought I was a good player. But that was, you see, because they knew nothing about hockey either.
The whole Aerodrome itself was well conducted, every one I am sure being fully aware of the perilous condition of the Country. There was no rowdyism, and I never saw any one the worse for drink. It was perfectly safe for any girl to walk out by herself at night, and we girls found the men of the Air Force courteous and kind.
End of the tour
As a young girl I learned a lot about life from my experience in the Air force, and I principally liked what I found. Time passed, and Mrs. Hall became more of a tyrant. The cold wretched weather, inadequate heating, damp beds and surroundings began to make their effects shown on our health by way of constant colds and other difficulties, so as soon as the war was over we applied for our discharge which was mercifully granted.
Next: Coming to America