Saturday, 13 August 2022
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Young mum22852158 1996377177298499 1051457243680247884 nAs told over several years to her son, Robin Ashby

During the Second World War, at the time of the Dunkirk evacuation, Marie remembers a soldier who lived downstairs below her mother's flat in then very unfashionable Islington north of Kings Cross Station, returning having lost most of his clothing. In the summer of 1940 as a17 year old she evacuated herself to a house in Kent. It was owned her mother's former employer, who had written suggesting it. She did some light domestic work, but as it was "more dangerous in Kent than London" with so many air raids (against the Kent airfields where her future husband was serving) during the Battle of Britain she went back home.

She then went to work in an office of a supplier of special inks to the Bank of England etc. (by applying via a Labour Exchange). This was off Holborn. The hours were 0800 to 1700, plus Saturday morning. She was promoted four times, including being a telephone operator.

Rationing was in force at that time. There were coupons for clothes, furniture, food - about the size of a postage stamp - and shopkeepers using scissors cut these out of booklets. Coupons were decreed to have either a unit or price value. Beer was rationed by quota to pubs, restaurants by price allowed to be charged.

Some nights during the war she watched the Blitz (including the burning of the Tate & Lyle warehouse in the docks 7 September 1940). The man she met and married 6 years later was at the Personnel Dispatch Centre at Uxbridge waiting to go abroad, and he also saw the reflected glow in the night sky. Some time later (possibly autumn 1941) she was walking back along York Way when a bomb hit the Royal British Legion poppy factory ahead of her. Shaken, she sheltered in a doorway

In Spring 1942, during her lunch break and on the spur of the moment, she walked to Adastral House on Kingsway and joined the Women's Royal Air Force. The recruitment centre was at Gloucester where she spent three weeks before moving to Pucklechurch, Gloucs, where she trained to be a barrage balloon operator for several months. She broke her foot when walking from there to Filton.

On completion of training she was posted to South Wales (Cadoxton between Cardiff and Barry, protecting the docks) where she spent about six months, losing the first of her career total of three balloons because she didn't turn it to the wind when guarding it (asleep!).
From there she went to Sheffield (Attercliffe), losing one wrapped round a house chimney (put on a charge; minor punishment given, having broken a thumb swinging a winch which kicked back so appeared with arm in sling and got the sympathy vote).

Next she went to Ruskin Park near Dulwich, where she lost another balloon which she brought down too quickly because she wanted to go to the cinema. The sketch above is an artist's impression drawn in the 21st century, but rendered fairly accurately. She didn't stay there long, so re mustered because the demand for barrage balloon operators at that time was declining.

Marie was retrained as an instrument repairer group 2 but while waiting to go on a course was posted to Malton, North Yorkshire in the equipment section responsible for ammunition. She spent a happy three months there, billeted in a mansion. By this time she was an ACW1 (this was some time in 1943).

The retraining course of 6 - 8 weeks was at RAF Melksham, Wiltshire. From there she was posted to Sealand near Chester, working on classified decoding equipment. This was related to Enigma. She wound telephone machines (Typex). Because it was so secret, nothing was written down, everything had to be remembered. She would never speak about this even after the Enigma secrets became known in the 1990's. She wangled a compassionate posting to Henlow, Bedfordshire in 1944, where she stayed until leaving the Air Force around October 1946.

By 1946 she was a Corporal in charge of the instrument section of about four girls luminising watches and aircraft instruments. There were also some preliminary experiments on fluorescent markings. She was part of an RAF stand at a national exhibition.

Here she met a Sergeant, just back from Africa, who was the inspector of the work of the section and who kept rejecting it. Syd was constantly reprimanding her and others for not having their hair covered properly (they were using paint containing radium). The workers were given extra rations of milk, supposedly as protection against radioactivity. Very much later in life he had mild leukemia, possibly associated with this. She went out with him because as a Sergeant he could go to the front of the cinema queue...

He proposed after 3 months and they were married in August 1946. She was obliged to leave the Forces (normal at the time) and their first son (the author) was born 10 months later.

Author's note : By strangers, she was always called Marie in the French fashion – the "a" as in ham....She stressed she was pronounced MaaaaRee – named after the great musical hall star Marie Lloyd, who had been laid out after her death by her grandmother....

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British military casualties - Editorial policy

In the service of our country.

Eulogies for all personnel killed on UK operations in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere are posted as soon as they have been released by the UK Ministry of Defence. Each eulogy we publish for men down in operations brings a lump to the throat. We are losing the best of the best. Politicians must ensure that, when the newspaper cuttings have faded, their sacrifice has had some meaning, has helped bring about a good result. Anything else would be a waste for which they will be eternally condemned.

There is invariably at least a 24 hour gap between the official release of news of an event and the naming of the dead. This is to allow families to be informed and proper eulogoies to be produced. Occasionally families request no euologies or comment. We abide by guidance we receive on such sensitive matters. We regret that information on those who sacrifice almost as much through grave injury is seldom released by the MoD for operational reasons, and so we are unable to pay tribute.


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