Anne Barbee - Interview 1 Part 1

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Anne Barbee - Interview 1 Part 1

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Interviewee: Anne Barbee Interviewer: Ken Samuelson Date: July 6, 1998 Place: Transcriber: Peggy M Date: 01/09/19

KS: This is Ken Samuelson and I'm here with Anne Barbee. Today is July 6, 1998. And I live at 545 Southwood Dr. in Eden, NC. My telephone number is 623-7787. Anne would you identify yourself and where you live and phone number?

AB: My name is Anne Barbee and I live at 3301 NC 14 in Reidsville, NC.

KS: And your telephone number?

AB: My telephone number is 336-342-1991.

KS: Anne, you were born in Scotland, right?

AB: Yes

KS: What city were you born in?

AB: Dundee

KS: And Dundee, where is that located in Scotland?

AB: On the east coast, north of Edinboro.

KS: And when were you born?

AB: I was born on February 24, 1921.

KS: And what was your maiden name?

AB: Mooney.

KS: And how do you spell Mooney?

AB: M-O-O-N-E-Y.

KS: And what clan is that in Scotland?

AB: I'm told that we belong to the Frasier clan.

KS: The Frasier clan. Do you have a tartan design and so forth that's supposedly yours?

AB: We have the Dundee tartan.

KS: The Dundee tartan.

AB: That's a city tartan.

KS: So you were born in 1921. Since you were born in Scotland as compared to the US where most of the people I talk to are obviously from the United States. What was it like growing up in Scotland for you family?

AB: Actually back then I had nothing to compare with because I had never been out of the same small town and it was a small town at that time.

KS: How large was it, would you say, if you had to guess?

AB: Oh, not very large. It was close to several other smaller towns and beaches.

KS: A few thousand people?

AB: I would say about maybe 100,00, but that was small in comparison.

KS: To some of the other larger cities.

AB: Yes. And we were just sort of home folks. No one traveled very far. I think before I was in the Air Force, I don't think I traveled more than about 50 miles from home.

KS: So you went to grade school?

AB: I went to grade school at St. Mary's Catholic School. And mostly we were in Dundee.

KS: And then you went to High School?

AB: It wasn't called High School. Being a Catholic school, they had their own names for the different grades. I would say I had the equivalent to what is known as High School now.

KS: And did you go through the age of 16 or 17?

AB: Yes, 16.

KS: After you graduated from High School what did you do?

AB: Well I had some jobs. Different little jobs to start with and then I went to serve and apprenticeship to be a tailor. That took five years. I always loved to sew, even when I was a little child in kindergarten, I can remember doing all the needlework and things. I started out making a dollar and a half a week. That was my pay. Over the years, it increased and I served four years just like I would have had I been in college. The last year was called an improver's year. That was when you worked and were given all sorts of jobs so that your employer could tell if you were really ready to go into the open market. And that's what I did until I was drafted.

KS: Your work as a tailor carrier up through what time?

AB: I was 20 when I had to leave.

KS: 1941?

AB: Yes

KS: Let me ask you this. In 1939, there was a lot going on in Europe. What did you know as a young person? Did you pay much attention to what was going on? Did you read the newspapers? Did you have good communication?

AB: Not like we do now with television. We had a radio but no television. I didn't read the newspapers a great deal. I was interested in other things. I remember the Sunday morning when the prime minister announced on the radio that we were going to be involved in the war.

KS: And this was 1939?

AB: 1939

KS: This was Chamberlain?

AB: Yes, at that time.

KS: Prior to Churchill

AB: Yes. Churchill did eventually come in.

KS: What was your reaction when Chamberlain was on the radio and you heard him.

AB: Of course everyone was a little bit afraid. My mother was crying because she had two sons who would probably be going off. Everyone was quite upset. Of course, immediately, we had a black out. All the light were cut off. You dare not have a light on after dark. There were no lights.

KS: Was this every night?

AB: Every night.

KS: The bombing hadn't started, I don't believe.

AB: No. It hadn't started, but that was in preparation for it.

KS: You knew that you were subject to it, even in Scotland.

AB: Yes

KS: Did you have much industry around where you were that might be a target?

AB: There were some jute mills and they made what they used to put on the backing of the carpeting. Sort of like canvas. They had difficulties too. Of course I was quite young and didn't have much interest in all that. I was just afraid going out in the dark.

KS: You just knew there was something going on at that time. What did your mother and father- what was their attitude during this time? What did they say to you? Do you recall?

AB: We didn't discuss it a whole lot. My mother was basically really upset about the war and the boys having to go away.

KS: Did they eventually go?

AB: Oh yes. However, it didn't occur to her that her daughter might have to go away too. That came a wee bit later.

KS: In '39 you knew that you were at war. You were working as a tailor at that time. Did you have any military clothing you were working on then? Did you do anything related to the war effort?

AB: Mostly my employer worked for and took orders from gentlemen farmers. Tailoring back then was done mostly for people who maybe had a disability or, say, didn't have a normal build. That was most of our tailoring. Later, of course, it picked up and we were sewing covers for gas masks. Everyone had to have gas masks.

KS: When did that occur? Do you recall? Was that in the 40's?

AB: I would say '40 or '41.

KS: Right before you were drafted?

AB: Yes.

KS: So you were making covers for gas masks?

AB: Little canvas bags to slip the gas mask in. Everyone was required to carry one.

KS: So the company you were working for made these?

AB: Besides the other work and clothing.

KS: Getting into 1939 now, of course London was being... well I guess 1940 was when the bombing and the Battle of Britain really occurred. Was there any bombing that you know of between-before the Battle of Britain occurred- was there much bombing taking place?

AB: That didn't start really until about '41 because it started shortly before I was drafted.

KS: I know the Battle of Britain occurred in July of '40 through August or September.

AB: But then they had really intense bombing down in England.

KS: From September '40 I think was when they went into the night bombing.

AB: Right

KS: What did you think when all this was going on? I mean you read the newspapers and heard the radio every day. Were you glued to the radio every night?

AB: No. After a while people just took it in stride and went about their business.

KS: Of course, you were not quite in the hot zone.

AB: It didn't occur to me that I was going to be leaving there.

KS: Was there any bombing in Scotland?

AB: Yes there was. Later. I would say around the end of '41 or the beginning of '42- I can't remember the date. We started having air raid warnings frequently. Especially in the summer time.

KS: Was there a particular time of day when this occurred?

AB: 11:00 at night. I know that to be a fact because I was usually walking home from being dancing.

KS: Oh, you were going dancing?

AB: That was my thing to do. I loved to dance. And I still do.

KS: While the war was going on, you were like a young person. You wanted to dance. Where did you go to dance?

AB: There were ballrooms all over town. You paid an admission and they had a band. Usually it was from 8-11. Everyone had a group of friends that would meet on a given night- maybe a Tuesday night or a Thursday night- the same groups would meet at the same ballroom. Then you always knew partners there. We were just a group and enjoyed dancing and that is what we would do.

KS: Were there many servicemen there?

AB: Not at that time. No. I don't remember seeing a lot of servicemen until I went away.

KS: In Scotland

AB: Yes

KS: So as you left your dance hall at 11:00, how long a walk was it home?

AB: Sometimes I ran all the way home. My mother had a 11:00 curfew and I always wanted to be there when it closed down. And I would run all the way home-uphill.

KS: Would you be hearing the air raid sirens?

AB: Yes. Most of the time I would meet the folks coming out of their homes with their fur coats on and their little suitcases with the jewelry and their nightgown on under the fur coat running to the air raid shelters.

KS: Did you go home or did you go to the air raid shelter?

AB: I went home.

KS: Why didn't you go to the air raid shelter?

AB: I didn't want to go to an air raid shelter.

KS: Were there any bombs that fell in your area?

AB: Not in our town, but they did a few times, machine gun, come down close, and machine gun some homes on the next street.

KS: There were aircraft flying over and they would machine gun some homes.

AB: In the summertime, when they changed the clock back, it's usually just sort of gray. It never really gets dark in the wee hours. and then it's daylight again. I don't know if you've been to Norway, but you know how the lights are there. It's almost daytime. Ours was not quite that bright, but almost.

KS: So you were running home with the air raid sirens going off. What did your mother tell you after you got home?

AB: She was usually angry with me for being late.

KS: But you never went to the air raid shelter?

AB: No.

KS: But you saw a lot of other people going to the air raid shelters.

AB: Not everyone would go to air raid shelters. I think the reason for that was there were some that had collapsed and people were injured and shut in them and had to be taken out.

KS: Where was the air raid shelter? How far from your home and what type of building was it?

AB: They weren't too far apart. Some people built their own. There were other shelters put up for people to go to. It was just a matter of having a concrete block building with benches along the inside. You just sit there.

KS: Were they underground?

AB: No. Not all of them. Some of them were, but not all of them.

KS: The shelter you would have gone to, would it have been underground?

AB: I finally had to go to the shelter when I was in the Air Force.

KS: That was in London, I guess.

AB: No, no. That was in Leuchars. It's close to St. Andrews.

KS: What else can you tell me about that time frame? What was your mood? You were just a young girl then. Did you pay much attention to the war?

AB: I remember going to the movies. I had a date and went to the movies with this young man. They used to show the Pathe Gazette. It was a little news program. I remember they showed what was going on in Germany. I remember saying- that will never happen here-there's no way that can happen here. That was my thoughts on that. And it was shortly thereafter that it did.

KS: For a long time people like you said - it's not going to happen to me.

AB: That's right. That's the way young people are all over the world. It's going to happen to somebody else, it's never going to happen to me.

KS: So you were finally drafted, but I think you said you were drafted and got a deferment. Tell me about that.

AB: I got the notice to go.

KS: When was this, do you recall?

AB: The first one, I think they were about three months apart. I got two notices and my employer went to city hall or somewhere and told them that he needed me in his business. And so they let me stay. After the second one they said if she gets another one, she's going this next time, so don't try it any more.

KS: Were many of your friends being drafted at the same time?

AB: No. Not to my knowledge.

KS: Why did they pick you?

AB: I have no idea. I guess my name came up in the lottery and age and all.

KS: But not too many of your friends were drafted.

AB: Not my immediate friends.

KS: Were many of your immediate friends ever drafted?

AB: Some of them moved away. Whether they were drafted not, I don't know, we sort of lost touch. I was gone for three years, with just brief visits.

KS: So this was late 1940's?

AB: 1942

KS: Was it late '42?

AB: The date is marked on my pay book. The little blue book. The date is marked on there. September 14th is when I went in.

KS: September 14, 1942 is when you went in. You had been deferred one time. For three months.

AB: No, I had three deferments before I finally had to go.

KS: And your employer kept saying that you were needed. Was his work the type of work that was important to the war effort?

AB: He had started getting some Army alterations on Army things and also he was working on gas mask covers. That was for the government. Little things like that.

KS: Did everyone in your family have a gas mask?

AB: Yes, everybody had to have them. They were required to have them.

KS: Every citizen in Scotland?

AB: We had to carry them for a long time. Then they sort of relented on that later on.

KS: When you went to your dances did you carry your gas mask then?

AB: No, I didn't have them then, until I was about ready to go off, that they started with that rule.

KS: So the requirement didn't start until about the time you were actually drafted.

AB: Yes.

KS: OK, that carries us up to about 1942. During this period of time, the war was going hot and heavy. What was your thought when you read about London being bombed? Didn't you have more of a feeling that hey, this could really happen to me?

AB: No, I had never been to London so I didn't know what was going on.

KS: London was still far away.

AB: It was far, far away. About three hundred miles, which was a great distance back then. As I was saying earlier, we were very conservative people. Nobody traveled a great deal from home.

KS: So you were concerned, but it didn't effect you personally except in a very general way until you were drafted.

AB: I suppose the thing that bothered me the most was the rationing. We couldn't get good bread-the bread was made with potatoes. We couldn't get a lot of the things that we were used to. You couldn't get tea and tea over there is like coffee is over here. It's a requirement. Everyone has to have it. That was difficult. It was more difficult for my Mom and Dad. Older people miss things more so than younger people. We just shake it off and go on. I didn't eat very well anyway- just a lot of sweets and things like that. I wasn't caring about the bread.

KS: What else weren't you able to get?

AB: Meats. The butcher shop started to open only one or two days a week. When you'd go there you'd have to get in line. You would get very little meat. We all had ration cards.

KS: Were they little coupons that you tore off?

AB: Yes. We got about 2 ounces of tea. The butter, sugar, and tea and things like that- it was just ounces that each person got. We might get one egg in 6 months. Each person. Each one had to have a ration card.

KS: Even at your young age you had to have a ration card?

AB: Yes, even the babies and children. For the necessities.

KS: How about gasoline?

AB: That wasn't a requirement. Nobody I knew had a car. You walked or rode the street car. Later they had city buses.

KS: How about bicycles?

AB: No, I never learned to ride a bicycle until I went into the Air Force. My parents wouldn't allow me to have a ice skates or a bicycle, in case I got hurt.

KS: That takes us up to about the time that you were drafted. Why did they draft you again? Why did they draft women?

AB: I have no idea. Nobody bothered to explain that to me.

KS: I may be wrong, but I don't think they drafted women in our service, I thought it was all volunteer.

AB: No it was volunteer here, but back then if you remember Field Marshall Rommell in Africa. That was when the Battle of Britain was going on. Then they had all the men, they kept taking more men and sending them to Africa to deal with Rommell. It reached a point where we had women services, but it was on a volunteer basis. When all these men were being called, they had to fill the positions- they had anti-aircraft guns all around London- women had to take the places.

KS: There weren't enough men.

AB: There weren't any men. At one time the Germans did get a toe hold in England. I've forgotten the name of the little town but they did get a toe hold. It was just a small unit but they found them in time.

KS: We'll talk about that. Don't forget to bring that up later as we get into this. If you can recall. They drafted you because there was a tremendous shortage of young men. Did you notice this in the town that you lived in- that the young men are all gone?

AB: It wasn't so remarkable. I don't know where our heads were, but I don't remember being so upset about all that. Friends knew what was going on but we just accepted it, I guess. That's just the way it is- so we'll see you next time you come home. These women volunteer services were not getting any more volunteers. Not nearly enough to fill the positions that were vacant. That's when they started drafting women. They passed a law.

KS: They would have been 1942?

AB: I think 1942, close to it. I don't know exactly when it started, but that was the reason for that.

KS: You went into the RAF. Were you drafted into the RAF or just into the service where they told you where you were going to go?

AB: No, they just took me into the RAF-said that was where I was going.

KS: Were there other women that were drafted into the Army or the Navy?

AB: Yes. They had the Army and the Navy and I don't remember what they called the ladies who did the farming. The Land Army. That was volunteer services. Women had a choice, if they didn't want to go into the Navy, Air Force, or Army, they could volunteer to go into the Land Army. That's where they went to farms and worked as farm laborers for farmers. During the war only. That's what they did.

KS: Another form of conscription. Women farmers.

AB: When they needed more women, and no one was volunteering or not enough, that's when they started drafting.

KS: So you were drafted into the Royal Air Force instead of the Army as you possibly could have been. You got a notice? What happened? A letter?

AB: My first day was the 14th of September. Everything happens to me in September- the good , the bad, the indifferent. September-still yet.

KS: Where did you report?

AB: I had to go to Bridgnorth. It's in England.

KS: Did they pay your way to get there?

AB: Oh yes. We got there in the middle of the night.

KS: How did you travel?

AB: By train.

KS: Trains were still running?

AB: There was a group of us from different towns around. We got down there in the middle of the night. You've been in the service, haven't you? I know what happens. They fed us with something they had left over from some other time. I was devastated. I couldn't believe what was happening. I never thought I would have to do that. My family, my mother was going crazy. They had pulled all kinds of strings because I was their only daughter. However, my brother was in the Army and my other brother got into civil defense. That was his war-time effort.

KS: Where did your brother serve, the one that served in the Army?

AB: I have no idea. I don't remember. He was a bit older. He was about 14 years older than I was. That was too far for me to remember. We went to Bridge North and we were fed and then we had a "DI" inspection- head to toe.

KS: Did they issue your uniform? What kind of uniform?

AB: No, we had to have the physical first. I was one of these lucky kids, my mother did not believe in being vaccinated for anything. She wouldn't allow any of us kids to have vaccinations. So, of course, when it came my turn to go down the line, every time there was a roll call for shots, my name was on it.

KS: Because you hadn't had anything-right?

AB: Right. From day one, I always needed something. Both arms. I'd go down the line and some was grabbing this arm and someone was grabbing the other arm. After that we got the straw pillow and that's about when I cracked up.

KS: Straw pillow?

AB: A straw pillow to lay on those hard- we called them biscuits-it was like cushions, but they were hard. When I had to put my head on that straw pillow, that's when I just couldn't take it any more. I was down there for six weeks. I survived basic training.

KS: What kind of uniform did you wear? A skirt?

AB: Yes, I wore a skirt and we were issued some slacks and I think we got a battle jacket type thing- a gray one. Blue-gray- Air Force gray. I was sent to a training unit.

KS: Tell me first about your basic training. What was a typical day like? What did you do as a female?

AB: I got up early in the morning about 5:00- always early in the morning. Saturday, Sunday, you name it.

KS: Tell me where this was again.

AB: Bridgnorth.

KS: How far is that from London or any other large town.

AB: I couldn't give you directions.

KS: Were there any other large cities near by?

AB: Andover- there is a big air base at Andover. I went to the training unit. It was only eight miles from home. That's where they were training the pilots to operate the Spitfires.

KS: Tell me about your basic training. You got up at 5:00- what did you do?

AB: We would go on runs all over the countryside. We had all kinds of physical training.

KS: With a full pack on your back?

AB: Oh no no. Nothing like folks over here. Nothing like that.

KS: You had your fatigues on of some kind?

AB: Sometimes we had light weight clothes. Whatever the Sargeant told us to do.

KS: So you ran?

AB: Yes, we ran. We had three meals a day.

KS: Did you have any school work?

AB: Sometimes we were in class for different things. I don't remember what. They filled the day up.

KS: I guess you had to keep your barracks I guess spit and polish.

AB: They were inspected every day.

KS: What kind of discipline if they didn't pass? Do you recollect anything?

AB: I don't remember anyone in my group ever having any problems. We had some that were extremely religious and we had some that were the other side of the coin. That was mostly the complaints that you would hear. I was very quiet because I had never been away from home before.

KS: What did you think about the enlisted men that were training you? Were they tough on you?

AB: Not like I've seen here. That's the truth. I don't remember talking back or having any problems. We had women-NCO's and things like that-which was maybe a little different.

KS: How many months or weeks was it?

AB: Six weeks

KS: Six weeks of basic training. There was a lot of conditioning to get you physically fit I guess.

AB: Trying to make a sense of this kind of life style. For women, it was unheard of for women to go into the service. You can't visualize that after living today and seeing what's been going on for the last few years, with all the women in the service. It's unbelievable that people lived the way we did.

KS: When you were finished with your six weeks of basic training- then you got some orders?

AB: Got some orders. I was going to Tealing. That was the training unit. Where they trained the Spitfire pilots.

KS: So that was a training base for Spitfire pilots. Any other aircraft besides Spitfires?

AB: There may have been a few but mostly Spitfires. That was eight miles from home.

KS: So the training base was in Scotland?

AB: Just eight miles from my house. There was no way to get out there, not having a car. And I couldn't walk that far. So I had to learn to ride a bike- and I did. I fell off a lot but I did. Then I had a friend who lived in the same town and she rode a bike also and we would meet and go down King's Highway. It was a straight shot to the base. So we would work all day and go back home in the evening.

KS: So you commuted from home.

AB: As long as I was there. It was quite nice.

KS: What did you do at this training base? What were your responsibilities?

AB: The women had to work with an airman. Each airman had a WAAF on the job. We worked at station armory-that's what they called it. We missed telling about the aptitude test. We had to take aptitude tests to see what we were going to do. I came out with a choice of being a flight mechanic or an armorer. I didn't know what either one would have to do. I didn't have a clue. This girl who had befriended me told me - whatever you do, don't take the flight mechanic job. You'll be out in the snow and the rain, all hours of the day and night. Take the armorer's job. I didn't know what an armorer did. So I did.

KS: That's why you wound up at the Spitfire training base.

AB: What we had to do was, when the pilots brought the Spitfires in after having a training run, they would leave it and we would have to go out there and take the Browning machine gun out of there.

KS: How many were there?

AB: I'm not sure if there were two or one, but there were two of us that had to get on the job and do it. We would take it back to station armory and I remember that I was the one that had to take it apart and put it in that anti-freeze.

KS: Anti-freeze?

AB: Oh yeah. They had big metal pans. What you did was put it on the bench and dismantle it. Take it apart.

KS: You had to take the whole machine gun apart?

AB: Right.

KS: Then you put it in the anti-freeze?

AB: Put it in the anti-freeze and you had that fine emery cloth and plenty of rags. We had to be sure there wasn't any rust or any deposits on any of the pieces. You would dry it all off on the cloths.

KS: How about the barrel? What did you do about the barrel?

AB: Everything. I don't remember how we cleaned it but everything.

KS: Why was it anti-freeze?

AB: That's what cleaned the guns.

KS: How heavy were these guns?

AB: Pretty heavy.

KS: You had to be pretty physically fit to do this

AB: Yes, I was alright. But I wasn't too happy because I didn't even wash dishes at home. I had my hair coiffed up all the time and long fingernails that stayed polished. They put me in this mess and I'll tell you, I was very unhappy.

KS: It wasn't very clean work then.

AB: No. And the people were a bit coarse. I didn't like anything about it actually.

KS: Now these Spitfire pilots, when they went up, they were shooting at targets in all this training. So the machine guns all got well used. Did you find that a lot happened to a gun during one day's routine that it would have to be taken out of service or something? What might happen to a gun?

AB: I don't remember.

KS: They didn't break down?

AB: No. Nothing like that. They just had to be cleaned. When they were cleaned, we had to take them back, install them, and put the ammunition in. To be absolutely sure, we had to give them a few bursts. Press the button and make sure they were firing properly.

KS: How many rounds, do you recall? How many rounds of ammunition?

AB: I don't remember. It was a definite amount that went in it.

KS: Was it in a box that designed to hold the specific number of rounds? Did you have to put them in a belt?

AB: It was in some kind of contraption on the side. You had to manipulate the thing around and it would push the bullets up.

KS: Like a rail-like affair that would push the bullets into the gun as opposed to a belt?

AB: It wasn't a belt.

KS: You had to load these shells or bullets into this contraption. Did you get up into the cockpit then?

AB: No. We didn't take a lot of time. I don't remember why we didn't, but there was the man and me, the pair of us, we just put our finger on the button and try. There was an open area where there wasn't anything.

KS: This button was in the cockpit, was it not?

AB: Yes, but where we were shooting...

KS: So you loaded the gun and crawled up into the cockpit and hit the firing button.

AB: That's what we did every day. It was old hat. After that, if there was nothing going on or there wasn't any more coming in that day, the girls all had to go to the rifle range and do our target practice. In the evening, they had a roster. There would be an airman and an airwoman would have to go around the perimeter track and take a turn. You didn't have to it every day. You would take your turn on the list. There were guns around the perimeter track in stations. We had to go there and check those things and clean them once in a while.

KS: What kinds of guns were those? Machine guns or rifles or...

AB: I have no idea. I don't remember. It was around the perimeter.

KS: Were these guns for training or for actually protecting the base?

AB: I guess it was for defense if it was necessary.

KS: So these were actually guns around the perimeter for defense in case of attack or whatever.

[Interview stopped for a break.]

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“Anne Barbee - Interview 1 Part 1,” Veterans Oral History Transcription Project , accessed May 17, 2021, https://omeka.ncpedia.org/items/show/11.