Islington People: Women who kept flying aces in the air
PUBLISHED: 17:01 06 November 2011
»Much has been written and spoken about the bravery of RAF fighters who fended off the Nazi onslaught during the Battle of Britain.
However, little is known about those on the ground who directed them – and the startling fact that they were all women.
Islington-born Eileen Younghusband, 90, is keen to make people aware of the role she and 30 other women played as plotters in the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) during World War Two.
“The reason our section of the RAF’s defence programme never received the attention it deserves is because of restrictions placed upon us under the Official Secrets Act,” says Eileen, who was born in Prah Road, Finsbury Park, in 1921.
“My husband has been dead for 30 years and he never knew about my work.”
Eileen was drafted into the WAAF in 1941 because of her ability in mathematics.
Working in the “filter” rooms of Fighter Command, she used information gleaned from the radar to calculate the position, height and number of enemy forces in the air.
“It was air-traffic control without computers,” says Eileen. “Radar was in its infancy and time was of the essence. We had to make life or death calls in a matter of seconds.
“It’s also worth pointing out that those filter rooms were small, crowded and always bustling. The noise generated was immense as you also had 30 girls constantly repeating plot lines.”
“We got two 15-minute periods for refreshment breaks which, given the nature of our work, were not always afforded to us.”
She joined the WAAF two years after she visited pre-war Germany for a summer holiday.
“Everyone was so regimented,” recalls Eileen. “All the shops had a picture of Hitler on the wall.
“When customers requested an item they were required to prefix it by saying ‘Heil Hitler’.”
“On one occasion two of us went into a greengrocer’s, gave a smart British Army salute and said: ‘God save the King and a kilo of plums please,’ in our accented German. As you can imagine, it wasn’t well received and the shopkeeper looked terrified.”
After the war Eileen married and settled down in South Wales. She became a successful hotelier and has, among other things, run a perfume business, taught English and even bred pigs.
At the age of 87, she graduated from the Open University with a degree in Spanish and creative writing.
Eileen’s memoirs, entitled One’s Woman’s War is available now from all good bookstores.