Driving for King and Country
Betty Sneddon, a resident at Hesletine Court in Clacton-on-Sea, tells us about her experiences as a driver in the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) during World War Two.
If you went looking for Betty when she was growing up, there’s a good chance you’d find her behind the wheel of the dodgems at Hampton Court Fayre!
“They’d say ‘where’s Betty then?’ – ‘She’s on the dodgems!’ I was always on them, driving and running into everybody,” Betty laughs.
It was this love of driving that inspired Betty to sign up for the WAAF during the Second World War.
“I was 20 when I joined up on my dad’s birthday on 1st August 1940,” she says. “I already had my licence in Hampton but I needed to go through the RAF training school. I remember I actually took my test for the WAAF in an old Rover!
“After three weeks’ training I spent my last night having my 21st birthday party at the pub. Then the next morning I was posted to Hendon in London for two and a half years to drive the staff cars.”
“At Hendon I was driving big wigs around when they came into London, often from RAF Hendon Transport Command to the Air Ministry,” Betty explains. “I drove some very nice people but one I do remember vividly was Guy Gibson, who led the Dam Busters Raid in 1943.
“At the time he was just another wing commander to me but driving him always sticks out. We were stopped on the Edgware Road for his documents to be checked and he said to the man, ‘I’m Guy Gibson. I’ve got a very important meeting, I can’t waste time talking to you!’ He was a bit of a devil I think!
“Then after Hendon I went to Liverpool where I was driving three-tonne lorries. The convoys would bring supplies from America and we’d pick it up from the docks and drive it to bases all over the UK. I was delivering all sorts – from salmon and fruit to airplanes that we towed on their own wheels.”
But it wasn’t all work and no play for Betty and her fellow corporals. While working at RAF Hendon they lived together in bungalows in nearby Hendon Way and during their time off would let off steam in London.
“We would go up the West End to a club called the Coconut Grove,” she says. “We’d have dinner and dancing. And of course you got to know all the officers after driving them around.
“When I got to Liverpool it was such a different life. I arrived to this great big Victorian house and it was so quiet. ‘What a dump!’ I thought. But I soon settled down and had some good times there as well.
“I think those five years were the most carefree and happy days of my life,” Betty says. “And it’s just like people say – the comradeship was great.”
After the war Betty married and started a family, eventually moving to Clacton-on-Sea and starting a photography business and running a gift shop with her late husband, George. But the WAAF has remained a big part of her life.
She’s a devoted member of the Clacton RAF Association where she was membership secretary, and was the treasurer for her local WAAF branch for 14 years. In February she attended their annual general meeting (AGM). Then last Christmas Betty had a real blast from the past when she reconnected with an old friend and fellow WAAF alumni who she hadn’t seen for 70 years!
“Joan and I had been together at Hendon but I last saw her in Liverpool in 1945,” says Betty. “We’d always kept in touch with Christmas cards and then last year my daughter took me to see her. We had two and a half hours of constant chat about what we used to get up to.”
And the end of the war didn’t mean the end of driving for Betty. Her passion kept her behind the wheel, at first as a delivery driver and later just for fun. Betty says she’s been lucky: “I’ve had a very happy life doing what I love most.”
Five girls came from Glasgow
Betty has so many memories of her time in the WAAF but one gentleman made sure the memory of him and his wife would stand the test of time.
When driving three-tonne lorries from Glasgow to Liverpool, Betty and four other drivers lodged overnight with a couple in Lockerbie. The husband commemorated the visit with a poem, ‘Five girls came from Glasgow’.
An excerpt from the poem:
They were tired and hungry
And feeling rather blue
But the hearts of these
Was British thro’ and thro’