It feels like the last few months have passed with truly breakneck speed. So much has happened I can barely remember it to write down. I have been too busy to pay attention much this journal so I will have to be brief in recounting some of the detail lest this journal turn into a book, for I am certainly no Virginia Wolf!
I have to leave out certain details though, in case this journal ever falls into the wrong hands. Some locations and names must be protected from the eyes of the enemy.
I finished my VAD training in due course at a certain small town in the south of England. My instructor told me that I had a natural “knack” for plugging in phone lines in their different sockets and conversing in the French language under stressful conditions. Each call was to be connected in under ten seconds—this was our standard time frame to aim for. I seem to be good at it. Who would have thought!
There were men training at the boards as well, about the same number as women, but as the training went on, more and more men either dropped out or were disqualified. I think my recruiter was right. Women are really better at this.
During training, hands darted about like hummingbirds on the boards and the chatter was non-stop. It was even more so and in bigger numbers when I came to where I am stationed now, a village I can not disclose.
I must mention the trip across the channel. When we got near to the French coastline a very heavy fog beset us. This made it impossible to approach the harbours, so the captain had to anchor three miles offshore. We waited for two days, most of the time out on the open deck. This was bad enough, but then they told us that one out of every four ferries crossing the channel had suffered hits from German Bombers. We were completely open to attack for the entire time!
Sleep was almost impossible though I did manage to snatch a few hours, curled up with my head on a life preserver and covered with a thin blanket. Of course there were no cabins or even hammocks to sleep in.
When the fog lifted we hastened to shore at full speed. In all likelihood the same fog that kept us from the shores had also protected us from the eyes of the German air force.
We arrived by train after about a day’s journey overland to find the assigned station undermanned and in disrepair. We were some distance from the front so the bombing was not an issue, but there were simply not enough workers to answer the calls and keep the place tidy. We set about at once to do some cleaning and small repairs. I was one of five women amongst fifteen men newly arrived here. After a good night’s sleep I took over a station, much to the relief of the young man sitting there. His French was rudimentary and the task had been very trying for him.
My very first call was from a general in Paris connecting to a squadron leader, giving orders for the bombers to take off and start their mission.
The second call was from a soldier near the front. He was asking for the correct time of day.
The third call was a French women operator who connected me with the leader of a resistance group behind German lines. I connected him to a British supply depot sergeant who spoke only English. I had to translate the list of supplies that the resistance fighter was requesting.
My fourth call was from a French soldier who was connecting through an English operator to a medical unit. He was trying to get by with his broken English, so I told him I could help translate for him. Sounding desperate, he asked for medical supplies for his own unit. He thanked me profusely for my help and told me that to hear a women’s voice on the line gave him such comfort. It was like talking his sister, he said. His voice cracked, and I had to gather my own emotions to finish that call.
My fifth connection was from a battalion leader at the front (I cannot reveal the place), who needed to get permission from a General in Paris to retreat from their position. He sounded like he was barely old enough to enlist. With such intensity, he spoke of heavy artillery bombardment and much loss of life. He himself had been wounded in the shoulder by an enemy rifle. I could hear gun fire and bombing in the background along with the shouts of men. The general gave the order to stand their ground.
I am in the thick of it now.