Thursday, 22 November 2012

In the life of the N.A.A.F.I

Tea Brewed: Ceylon (mmmmm yum)
Song: 'The nearness of you' by ella fitz and louis armstrong

Hi tea Fans,

I found this diary story online when researching the NAFFI during ww2 and adored this ladies personal experience of the days in the war helping keep the troops going with tea and food. This was the days before generators and lpg tea urns which would seem like a nightmare to most outdoor caterers today. Running a travelling tea room in the middle of a festival field has its issues and takes tremendous hard work but nothing compared to what these amazing hard grafter ladies did for our country during the war.
Please take 5 mins out of your day today with a cuppa and read this.
Rhoda Woodward, if only our society today all carried your hard work attitude and efforts. x

In 1942, I was working in a factory making surgical corsets. I didn’t
like it there very much, but in the war years you could not leave your
place of employment without special permission. So I was more than
pleased when I was 18 years old, and had to go and register for War
Work. While I was being interviewed, I had said, that before working
in the factory I had served teas in my mothers small tea shop, which
had since closed. My fate was sealed.
I was given the relevant forms and literature to join the N.A.A.F.I.
Having passed my medical, I then had to get a passport photograph for
a special identity card, that would allow me to gain entrance to
military camps.
My first posting was to a Royal Air Force camp about eight miles from
home. I arrived on my bicycle at about ten o’clock, and was then
issued with a cap, overalls, sheets and blankets and told to make my
bed. I was rather dubious when I found that it had lost a leg. It was
propped up with a biscuit tin, but tins were tins in those days and it
did the job.
I reported to the kitchen, a small Nissen hut, on the side of a larger
one, which turned out to be the W.A.A.F. canteen. Morning break had
just finished and it was now the staff coffee break. It was a very
large kitchen with four large sinks, two on each side. In the centre
was the biggest kitchen range I had ever seen. There were also, two
large scrubbed top tables, and a smaller one with an aluminium top.
This was called the beverage table. It was used for making tea and
coffee etc. It was one of my many jobs to keep that table top highly
polished with whitening.
I was just finishing my coffee and getting to know Nellie, the other
assistant and the cook, when this voice seemed to come from nowhere
“All R.A.F. personnel will assemble in the W.A.A.F. canteen, at
1930hrs. The bar will remain closed.”
This was my first experience of the Tannoy. It was something I would
soon to get used too, as in all military camps, we were never too far
away from a speaker. They were even installed in the bathrooms. Our
manageress laughed.
“You will have an easy night tonight.” she said.
Nellie looked up and answered.
“Yes.We’ll have to keep the kettle boiling, just in case we have any
bodies.” I kept quiet, not liking to ask what was going on.
I soon found out what they were talking about. A couple of young
airmen were brought into the kitchen. They had passed out during what
I thought in my innocence, was a first aid lecture. I was then
informed that it had been a men only lecture on Venereal Disease.
At the lunch-time break, I was shown how to weigh the tea and coffee
into white cloth bags, ready for putting into the tea urn and coffee
pans. I began to adapt and was soon out on the bar serving. In the
mornings, I had to be up at 0700hrs, to rake out the flu’s, clear the
ashes and get the fire lit. The kettle had to be boiling on the big
old range, so the girls could have a morning cuppa at 0730hrs
The cook would have breakfast ready for 0800hrs. Then there was the
bar and our billet to clean. The cook had to get about 200 cakes ready
for morning break. Everything was done on those ranges. There was
always a constant supply of hot water for the tea urns and large pans
of coffee. The only electricity we used, was for the lights.
After morning break, there would be more cleaning to do in readiness,
for the lunch break. During this time, the cook would be making pies
and puddings for the evening suppers.
One of my jobs, was to make sure that the big yellow boiler was kept
stoked up with coke.
“Watch the dial.” I was often warned. “Watch the dial.”
Nobody told me why, until one night I found out for myself. It began
rumbling like thunder and spat all the hot water, out onto the roof.
It didn’t stop until it had completely emptied and filled with cold
water again. As you can imagine, I wasn’t very popular that night. It
was nearly closing time and we still had all the washing up to do.
We used to serve about 200 suppers a night. Each one having to be
carried from the kitchen through to the bar. We also sold beer. It
came in quart bottles and there was a special way to tip the glasses,
so that each one, held a full pint. You could soon hear the loud
complaints, if someone had a short measure.
Sweets, soap and cigarettes were all rationed. We had to collect
special coupons. We were sent an assortment of brands which were quite
unheard of: Robins, Walters and Sunripe are three that I remember. I
think that the ration may have been 40 each, twenty of the more
popular brands like Players, Craven A, or Senior Service and twenty of
whatever else we had. Most of the girls would just take the well known
brands, so we used to keep the rest in a box for the lads.
We got into trouble one day when the supervisor was paying us a visit,
as she’d heard one of the airmen asking for cigs off ration. I told
her, that we had already collected the coupons. She knew what was
going on, and told us to make sure that we sold them to the
W.A.A.F.’s. first. Then the lads could have them.
Occasionally we got a consignment of cosmetics. The girls always had
first choice, but after a week, they would be available to the airmen,
to buy for their wives.
It was always very hard work. Some of the larger N.A.A.F.I.’s had more
staff, but the girls often got posted or left. We really needed our
three hours off in the afternoon; although we had to take turns in
starting back half an hour early to get tea. We had one day off a week
and one weekend a month.
There were no modern aids or washing up liquid. We just used to use
soda or dry powders like ‘Freedom’, ‘Vim soap’ and scrubbing brushes,
but as the saying was then “There’s a ruddy war on”, so we just had to
get on with it. Most of us hadn’t got mod cons at home anyway, so we
really appreciated having the luxury of a bathroom and hot water; at
least most of the time. We did have some hard winters though, when the
pipes froze and burst during the thaw. We really were flooded out.
Of course we got to know quite a few of the W.A.A.F.’s and airmen, as
they spent their evenings in the canteen. A couple of the camps I was
stationed at, had a piano and one or two good pianists. Once a week we
would have a camp dance, when we’d serve refreshments until 2130hrs.
We were convinced, that we would be too tired to go to the dance
afterwards but we went just the same. The manageress would usually let
our dancing partner’s come and help with the last of the washing up,
while we got ourselves dressed and ready.
We were lucky, we were allowed to wear Civvies. Our hair had to be
kept above our collars on duty. We used to make a head band out of the
top of an old stocking and roll our hair round the band. This style
was known as the ‘Victory Roll’. Afterwards, when brushed out, our
hair turned under into a pageboy style quite easily.
These evenings, were very romantic affairs, with aircraft lights in
the corners of the room, that shone onto a large mirrored ball in the
centre of the ceiling. The coloured reflection used to flicker
amongst, us as we danced to the R.A.F. Band.
Although we were not in an area suffering the air raids, we watched a
lot of the devastation they were causing, on the Pathe News at the
local pictures house. We heard of boys we had grown up with being
wounded, killed or taken prisoner.
At one camp, there was a lot of Polish personal. Often, the new
arrivals, had come straight from the Concentration Camps where they
had suffered terrible injuries from the torture. Many of them didn’t
have any hair. It was surprising though, how after a few weeks they
looked years younger and were wanting all the best makes of shampoo
and even hair nets. Their one burning ambition was to train as air
crew in order to return to the fighting. Some were just boys when they
were taken prisoner from their school. Probably because of their
parents politics.
We hardly saw the air crews, it was mainly at the dances. It was a
strange feeling seeing these young lads enjoying themselves, knowing
that maybe they would soon be flying off and getting killed within a
short time. We used to lay awake in bed listening to the planes taking
off or going over from other bases. I can still see so clearly in my
mind, how I sat up one night with the manageress, listening to them
flying overhead for the D.Day landings.
During those times there were laughter and tears. We seemed to live
for the post as we waited for letters from home, bringing news of
brothers, boyfriends and husbands. I can also remember how we all felt
one morning, when one of our staff received the sad news that her
brother had been killed.
At last, it all ended. We all gathered on the airfield, Officers,
Airmen and W.A.A.F.’s for an open air service, and as the camps
closed, we all went back to a very much changed, ‘Civvie Street’.
Things would never be quite the same again.
Rhoda Woodward.
Banbury. Oxen.

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