Barbara's story
Her work with Special Operations Executive

I was born in Oxford in my maternal grandfather’s house where our mother had been brought up. , had just been posted to York where we spent a short time. When I was 3 my father, who was an officer in the Royal Engineers, was sent to India; he took the family with him and we settled in Kasauli in the Shimla hills. When I was just 8 we returned to England at the beginning of 1933 and the subsequent years were spent by me catching up on my education.

Our father retired in 1937 and was out of uniform but continued in a job working for the War Office and commuting to London. We had moved into a large old house in Wokingham. At that time, of course, there was was much talk of War, of Hitler and the Nazis and the grown-ups’ memories of the last war.

 
Eventually came that Sunday in September 1939 when I was sitting on the nursery table dangling my legs and wearing my Sunday best. We were listening to Mr.Chamberlain on the radio telling us that we were at war. That really worried me as I had been brought up on so many sad memories of World War I, still so fresh in the memories of the adults. Our father had arranged for an air-raid shelter to be made in the garden and a gas-proof room at the back of the house. He was in uniform again. I was 14 and at school.
 

When I was 18, the war-time call-up age, a really big change came in my life. It was in 1943 and I joined the First Aid Nursing Yeomanry, shortened to FANY (now known as the Princess Royal's Volunteer Corps). This was, and still is, a voluntary organisation of resourceful women keen to serve their country.

Only after I was recruited and attending an induction course, in Overthorpe Hall, near Banbury, did I learn the FANY history and found I was to be trained to serve with the top secret Special Operations Executive. This had been formed from the three existing intelligence organisations in July 1940 on Winston Churchill’s orders. I was to be trained as a wireless operator. The job was to act as a communications link with agents who were dropped by parachute or landed at night into enemy territory.

Unfortunately I fell ill with an ear infection and I was not recovered enough to be in action for D. Day, a great disappointment especially as my group of fellow FANYs were moved on ahead of me. Instead I was sent home and then for a month to a Station in Dunbar, near Edinburgh, where I could continue my practice in using the Morse Code. The war in the far east was still being bitterly fought and I had already volunteered to serve in India. The thought of returning to India after a ten or eleven year gap seemed very exciting. My childhood recollections of India were happy ones. Soon I was off by train overnight, from where to where we did not know (in wartime no stations had their names up) until next day we eventually arrived at Greenock. From there we sailed and in three weeks we were in Bombay.
 
Barbara continues her story with her experiences of life in Colombo and the excitement of her return to England after the war. Click here to read that next.
 
 

Stories Map Food ELDERS