The family of former WAAF Elisabeth Stewart (nee Brewster) have informed us that Elisabeth sadly passed away at the end of 2017.
Elisabeth joined the WAAF in 1940 when she was just 18 years old and was posted to RAF Bentley Priory early on in her career. Whilst based at RAF Bentley Priory, Elisabeth worked as an Operations Room Plotter. She remembered that they were often joined by senior officers watching them from the balcony above and on occasion, Winston Churchill would also be observing.
In December 1944, Elisabeth was the first to hear the message that Glenn Miller’s plane had gone missing. Just four months earlier Glenn Miller and his band had played at RAF Bentley Priory.
Later, Elisabeth was commisioned as a Codes and Cipher Officer and was posted to the Orkneys. There she met her future husband who was serving in the army. Their daughter went on to join the WRAF.
When sharing memories of her time in the WAAF with us, Elisabeth noted that there was “a great sense of community and belonging”.
We have been informed by the family of Joan Arundel (nee Grogono) that Joan sadly passed away earlier this year, aged 100.
Joan joined the WAAF at the very beginning of the war and learnt much of what she was doing on the job, whilst based at RAF Bentley Priory. It was all such a new venture when she first started that initially she didn’t even have a uniform – she wore her own clothes and an armband she was given with “WAAF” written on it.
Joan features as one of the bronze models in our Filter Room gallery, where started as a plotter, then moved to teller, then Corporal in a matter of weeks. She did almost every job there was in the Filter Room.
We have been informed by the family of Georgie Pearce (Caudwell) that Georgie sadly passed away on 11th October 2017.
Her family have said, “Georgie really valued having the opportunity to contribute her stories to the museum development, and felt it would be helpful for you to know that at the great age of 98 she has used her wings for a different flight”.
Georgie is pictured here, third from the left, with TRH Prince Charles and The Duchess of Cornwall and fellow WAAF veterans at the opening of Bentley Priory Museum in September 2013.
Nigel Rose joined the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve in December 1938. Upon the outbreak of war in September 1939, he was drafted into full time pilot training.
After completing training in June 1940, he joined 602 squadron at Drem, flying Spitfires. He and his squadron were engaged in combat from August 1940. He was wounded a month later, putting him out of action for a month before returning to duty.
Later in the wat he was posted across the UK and then to the Middle East in 1944. He was released from the RAF in February 1946.
After the war he continued his training to be a Chartered Quantity Surveyor in June 1948, which he had started before joining up.
Rose was a regular supporter of the Museum and very pleased that the aspirations of the Few were met when the museum opened. He is pictured below (back row, far right behind chair) at a dinner at Bentley Priory in 2012, joined by other Battle of Britain veterans.
Ken Wilkinson joined the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve in March 1939, aged 20 and was called up on the outbreak of World War II.
During the Battle of Britain, Ken flew Spitfires with 616 Squadron, later moving to 19 Squadron in October 1940. Ken continued to serve in the RAF until 1945, followed by a further two years in the RAFVR.
Later in life, Ken became a Quantity Surveyor and one of his projects was Birmingham’s New Street Station.
Ken was a keen supporter of the Museum. He is pictured below (back row, second on the left) at a dinner at Bentley Priory in 2012, joined by other Battle of Britain veterans.
In September 2013, Ken was also a guest of honour at the Royal opening of the Museum. He joined fellow RAF and WAAF veterans at a reception with the Battle of Britain Trust’s patron, Prince Charles, and Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall.
Patricia Clark (nee Robins) joined the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) aged 19 in 1940. She was selected for Clerk Special Duties and trained as a Plotter/Teller. She was posted at both RAF Rudloe Manor, Headquarters No. 10 Group and later RAF Watnall, Headquarters No. 12 Group.
Later on in the war, Patricia was posted to Stanmore, where they were tracking incoming V2 bomb attacks on London.
Following the war, Patricia followed in the footsteps of her mother, the romantic novelist Denise Robins, and became a novelist herself, under the pen name “Claire Lorrimer”. She wrote over 80 novels, but also wrote her autobiography, “You Never Know” which includes her life in the WAAF.
Patricia was very supportive of Bentley Priory Museum and was a guest of honour at the opening of the Museum in September 2013 where she was able to show Prince Charles and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, a new bronze statue of her wartime self and others in a replica Filter Room.
At the age of 19, Eileen Younghusband (nee Le Croissette) volunteered for service with the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF). She was trained as a Filterer Officer, sent initially to 10 Group and later transferred to Headquarters Fighter Command at RAF Bentley Priory. As required at the time, Eileen signed the Official Secrets Act and did not speak of her wartime work for 30 years.
Eileen became an incredible advocate for her generation, highlighting the remarkable contribution of ‘ordinary’ men and women who worked within The Dowding System. Eileen’s book ‘One Woman’s War’ gives an invaluable insight into the work that was undertaken, and in 2016 a revised version was written and published for children – to engage younger generations with this important history.
Eileen was also a vocal supporter of Bentley Priory Museum, and supported its creation in 2013 – particularly the recreation of The Filter Room. A bronze cast model of Eileen stands proudly in this gallery within the Museum. Her story and contribution will not be forgotten.
Flight Lieutenant Owen Valentine Burns was a air gunner on Bristol Blenheims during the Britain of Britain.
Born in 1915, Burns volunteered for the RAF at the beginning of October 1939. He became an air gunner and in May 1940 was posted to 235 Squadron at Bircham Newton in Norfolk, which was part of Coastal Command and was equipped with Bristol Blenheims.
235 Squadron was assigned to Fighter Command to replace losses during the Battle for France. Burns flew with 235 Squadron throughout the Battle of Britain, either from the Squadron’s base or on detachment at St Eval in Cornwall or Thorney Island near Portsmouth.
Because the Bristol Blenheim lacked the speed of single-engined fighters, Squadron duties were mainly aerodrome protection and fighter escort to aircraft crossing the Channel.
Returning from a dusk patrol over the North Sea on 14 February 1941, Burns was caught in an enemy raid. The aircraft crashed on landing as the flare path had been extinguished. The navigator was killed and the pilot spent a year in hospital, but he escaped with a broken collar bone.
He was later with 279 Squadron, and was commissioned in 1943. In January 1945 he was appointed Gunnery Officer for 19 Group, Plymouth and a month later he became PA to AOC, AVM CBS Spackman. Burns left the RAF in 1949.
Owen Burns was a great supporter of the creation of the Museum at Bentley Priory.
The photograph shows Burns with fellow Battle of Britain Veteran William Walker at Bentley Priory, during the restoration works.
Flight Lieutenant Bill Green was a Battle of Britain Fighter Pilot.
Green flew Hawker Hurricanes for 9 days during the Battle of Britain, between 20-29 August. During this time, he was shot down twice. On 24 August he was shot down and crash landed at Hawkinge, and on 29 August he was shot down over Deal in Kent.
Green was born in 1917 in Bristol and left school aged 14 to work in a cardboard box factory. In 1936, Green joined the Royal Auxiliary Air Force as an engine fitter and later trained as a pilot.
On 19 August 1940, Green joined 501 Squadron. He had less than 200 hours flying time and less than 7 hours on Hurricanes when he was sent into action on 20 August 1940. Green considers himself to have been one of the least trained pilots during the Battle of Britain and lucky to have survived.
On August 24, Green’s 501 squadron based at Hawkinge in Kent was scrambled to intercept a raid against the nearby airfield at Manston. Green closed in to attack an enemy dive-bomber when his aircraft was hit by the airfield’s anti-aircraft fire. His Hurricane was badly damaged and the engine stopped, but he managed to glide to Hawkinge, where he discovered half the undercarriage had been shot away. He crash-landed and scrambled from the wrecked aircraft.
The first thing Green knew of being shot down on 29 August 1940 was a large hole appearing in his armoured windscreen and he never saw the aircraft that shot him down. He managed to exit his aircraft but his parachute initially failed. His boots were ripped off his feet during the ensuing high-speed fall. As he fell towards tree-tops, the parachute eventually opened and he landed in a farm in Folkestone. Green had been hit in the leg and was unable to walk. Two men came out of the farmhouse with shotguns and once they realised Green was British, took him inside for a cup of tea.
Green did not fly again during the Battle of Britain, but once recovered he continued to serve with the RAF.
Wing Commander ‘Bob’ Foster flew Hurricane fighters during the Battle of Britain, when he was credited with destroying and damaging a number of enemy aircraft; later in the war he destroyed at least five Japanese aircraft while flying from airfields in northern Australia.
Robert William Foster was born in 1920, in Battersea in South London. After leaving school, he worked for Shell and BP and became a member of the RAFVR in 1939. He was called up as war was about to be declared.
Foster was commissioned in June 1940. In July 1940 he was posted to No 605 (County of Warwick) Squadron, then at Drem near Edinburgh.
On September 7, having re-fuelled at Abingdon, so as not to be low on fuel in the area of most action, the squadron arrived at Croydon, as the first large attack on London was taking place. From the next day the squadron was suffering casualties. Foster remembers one occasion when, from the air, he could see bombs exploding in the vicinity of his family home at Clapham, however the house only suffered broken windows.
With a damaged engine on September 27, he landed in what appeared to be a Sussex field, but was surprised to realise that an RAF “erk” was standing beside the aircraft. His answer to the question, “Where am I?” was, “You have landed at RAF Gatwick, sir”.
Foster moved to instructing in the autumn of 1941 before becoming a Flight Commander with No 54 Squadron. In 1942 the squadron was sent to Australia as part of the country’s defence against the Japanese, being based first in New South Wales and then at Night Cliff in the Northern Territory. Foster was awarded the DFC on August 13 1943. He returned to the UK, went with the Air Information Unit to the continent in July 1944, before serving at HQ Fighter Command, Bentley Priory and in ground appointments at RAF Bentwaters. He left the RAF in 1947, but later served in the RAuxAF until 1957. Bob Foster was Chairman of the Battle of Britain Fighter Association.