Sea Time with BOAC 1944-45

Round about Christmas time 1943 I found an advertisement for “Educated women with yachting experience and a knowledge of engines” to apply to Bristol, where I then went for an interview and was told that it was “to learn to cox the power boats in Poole Harbour as it was expected that the male coxswains would be called up before long”, and “it would be a splendid job for young women”! They would provide smart uniforms and all we had to do was to find accommodation, which I did in Poole – it was a smallish bungalow, with two bedrooms and an Anderson shelter which served as the dining table, and underneath as my son’s bed!

So I started with about six other young women – we were all in our thirties – to learn to drive the powerboats, semaphore, morse (which I knew from my Girl Guide days), buoyage and anchorage; also how to clean the bilges, scrub the decks and polish the brass!
It was hard work but I enjoyed it and they were a very nice lot of men and women. The job was to ferry passengers and freight to the BOAC flying boats, and in the event of an air raid – of which there were many – to fetch the night watchman from any flying boat that should be moored in Poole Harbour overnight. The women never did drive the boats as coxswains because, although the younger men were called up, the older seamen remained.

Our uniform consisted of navy blue trousers, white shirts, blue sweater with BOAC and ‘the bird’ on our chests, uniform hat and a very nice greatcoat, naval style, with brass buttons. I got into trouble for bending my hat and was told by our boss that I was not in the Air Force! One silly thing was that the men were issued with tin hats, but not us; and one felt very vulnerable in a uniform hat going out in an air raid with things falling around.

I had to bicycle to work – about three miles, but on the flat; daylight in summer, but cold and dark for the early and late shifts in winter. The shifts ran, as far as I remember, from 6am – midday, midday -6pm and 6pm – 6am. I wasn’t allergic to early hours then! For the night shift there were beds to sleep on, fully clothed of course, in the office building on the quay; that is until the woman in charge of female staff, who worked in the office in town, heard that men and women shared the bedroom. She was horrified and decreed that the women were to sleep in the boats moored at the quay. This nearly caused a strike from the men, who said they were not going to have their crew women there, where any drunk could climb in! So she had to climb down.

I was there for D Day. For several days before ships had been massing in the bay, a magnificent sight. Then before dawn on June 6 1944, I was woken by hundreds of aeroplanes going over – bombers, landing craft, troop carriers, the lot, and later we could hear the guns from France. It was all very exciting”.

Mrs V Bainbridge