A personal account of time during the war by Joy Caldwell
Remembering Joy Caldwell
Joyce York, although of course we all knew her as Joy Caldwell, but back in 1940 she was a young 18-year-old WAAF when she was sent to the operations block at RAF Hornchurch, and of course at this time it was a Battle of Britain Sector station and in the front line of the Luftwaffe’s attacks. Born on 2nd March 1922 in the village of Hornchurch, Essex.
Joy recalled her vivid memories of one of the worst days bombing that she experienced on the airfield on 31st August 1940 when the Luftwaffe made two attacks on the airfield. My best friend Joan Dudman and I were on duty in the Op’s room with hundred plus German raiders coming onto the plotting table. Just before the raids began Our Op’s controller Ronnie Adam would tell us to ‘put our tin hats on girls’ some of the other WAAF’s had already done so in preparation of the attack. During the second raid there had been one fatality involving the 54-squadron canary.
The Op’s room at Hornchurch was heavily sandbagged all around the strange bungalow type building and you felt quite safe once inside, although during any raid things would start to rattle and bang but I don’t think that we were ever really scared, because we were too young to worry about what could happen.
On 15th October 1940, the Sector Operations room moved from Hornchurch and for a brief period the Op’s room personnel spent some uncomfortable weeks in a small unoccupied grocers shop in Rainham village.
In 1941, the Lord Lambourne Masonic Hall in Western Road Romford was requisitioned by the Air Ministry as the new Operations Room for RAF Hornchurch.
Closely associated with the Operations room was the Signals Section, under the control of Flight Lieutenant Pyke and was also located at Romford near the Sector Operations room. Its responsibilities included a Traffic Office, Teleprinter Service, Signals Workshop, Radio Telegraphy silence cabinets, emergency Wireless Telegraphy equipment as a standby within the Operations room.
I had left Hornchurch in 1941 but was to return in in late 1942 and was sent straight over to the Masonic Hall where the Op’s room had moved too. While there in Op’s B’, I worked alongside Richard Hillary, the airman that had been very badly burnt during the Battle of Britain while he was flying from Hornchurch with 603 sqn, he had become one of Archibald McIndoe’s Guinea Pigs down at the Queen Victoria Hospital in East Grinstead.
On 18th February 1944, the final order for the closure of the Hornchurch Sector Control Room was received and not long after the Op’s room at the Masonic Hall was stood down, with the release of all staff back to their normal duties.