Working Lives

The RAF radar operator (1945-1960)

Location: Norwich, Neatishead

Janet talks about her life, wartime rationing and working at RAF Neatishead as a radar operator in the 1950s.

I was born in North Norfolk and had three brothers and a sister. I was eight when the war started and I can remember rationing, I remember that I couldn’t have sugar in my tea; because my father worked he was allowed the sugar. Cornflakes came out at that time I think and if I had cornflakes and milk, I couldn’t have milk with my cup of tea.

We used to get a very small portion of butter, two ounces I think, but my mother always used to swap it with someone who wanted butter and we used to have margarine. So we had bread and margarine and bread and dripping for breakfast and sandwiches. I can remember having a plate of cauliflower with a knob of butter and vinegar on it.

Mother used to make a lot of stews, although with meat rationing we weren’t too short as the butcher had a pig farm so we would often get extra pork, and liver and stuff wasn’t rationed. Mother was limited money-wise too so we couldn’t buy extra anyway. We never went actually hungry, but never thought nothing of it if you couldn’t have something. Not like today where you have a choice of what you can eat. So that was different, times are different.

I went to school in Sprowston and after I left when I was 14 I went to work for the Norvic Shoe Company. I worked for the part with Kiltie’s shoes, they used to give people who had bought shoes a free birthday present. I arranged for those presents to be sent out.

I worked there until I was about 15 and then had several jobs, including working at British Road Services before I joined the RAF.

Joining the RAF

I got to 21 and my mother said that there weren’t room for me at home. When I was 13 she’d had twins and one was a girl and though I lived in a three-bedroom house my room was only a box room and they wanted it for my sister. And I was told that I would have to find somewhere else to live.

I couldn’t afford to go into lodgings or anything like that so as I belonged to the auxiliary air force I decided to join the RAF. The auxiliary air force was a sort of club where you could meet people, like the Territorial Army.

I went to Wilmslow to sign up and do my junior training, which took about three months I think. They sent rail passes and you just went on the railway, you didn’t have to take much with you, you lived in your RAF uniform and they supplied everything. When you arrived they sorted your size and just plonked you with a load of stuff and a kit bag.

I hadn’t left school with qualifications but you did have to have a reasonable amount of knowledge to be radar operator. They asked me what I wanted to do and I said, ‘Radar’. I had no idea what they were looking for in a person.

After training I then had to go and learn all about the chain radar and we went to different areas where they had the chain. I went down to the one they have done away with at Bawdsey.

Then we got posted at Coltishall; of course in those days women didn’t go very far because they had to be in segregated accommodation. It weren’t like today where I think they would mix people. The men’s accommodation was a long way away from the women. Vice versa. I then got posted to Neatishead.

We shared a dormitory, about 12 of us, and then when I got Corporal I shared a room with just one other. We shared toilets and there was a toilet block where you could do your washing and hang it out. All your shirts and things went to the laundry so we didn’t have to wash those. You had to keep your shoes clean and ourselves tidy, very tidy.

We had inspections and you had to stack your bed every day. If you’d been on night shift you could stay in bed but all your clothes had to be stacked in a certain layer. If they weren’t, you had to keep doing it until you got it right.

We worked using screens and because you couldn’t work on the screen all the time we did shift work. Depending on the time of year, you worked dawn until dusk. So in the summer you’d go at dawn until breakfast time, go home, get your breakfast and go to bed. Then daytime shift, you’d have your breakfast, go to work and come home at teatime. If you were the evening shift you went from five after you’d had tea until the shift had finished that evening,

I can’t remember how many people I worked with but the most people were on the plotting tables, and the officers were down there, very vigilant, seeing where the planes were going, so it was quite busy and we were always very busy.

I used to work Christmas day so that I could have New Year off, as you couldn’t have both off.

In our spare time we used to meet in the canteen and we often played cards, whist or bridge. We didn’t get much money, and all our meals were included, breakfast, dinner and tea, whether you liked it or not, you got what you got. Sometimes you’d be playing cards and you’d forget the time and miss your meals and then you’d have to go and buy something from the canteen.

The food in the RAF was better than rationing but it was still basic, you wouldn’t get any fancy food. I mean I can remember when I was young going out and buying a ha’p’orth of chips, or if we had a penny a pennyworth and share it.

I left the RAF after I had done the four years and went to work for Norwich Union until I got married in 1959. We got married in a registry office in Rose Lane, which has gone now.

I then had my family. I didn’t have a mother-in-law as she died when my husband was 17 and his youngest brother was three. She got bitten by a cockerel and not known to her she had diabetes and died. His father worked and there wasn’t home care at that time, no one to look after the children,

My husband was a bricklayer with RG Carter before starting up on his own. I could have gone back to Norwich Union and probably earned more than him but I stayed at home to look after the family.

Janet Frosdick (b. 1931) talking to WISEArchive on 19th January 2023 in Hethersett.

© 2023 WISEArchive. All Rights Reserved.