“I’d do it all again” – Reflecting on joining the WRAC

Carole joined the WRAC when she was 17. Find out how she was told to learn the tuba, became a mother and joined the special constabulary.

Carole joined the British Army at 17. As she was under 18 she had to get her parents to sign a form, which she got around by forging their signatures.

“My Dad was ex-Army so the military influence was always there.”

“If you wanted to leave home it was difficult. My parents rowed all the time and I wanted to get out of the house.”

Learning to play the tuba

Leaving her parents and sister in her home town of Grimsby, Carole left home and joined the army – initially she wanted to be a typist (as she could type already) and perhaps a driver (as she wanted to learn how to drive). Before joining up she played a bugle and drums with the Church Girls Brigade, and used to march about the streets with the band.

Credit: Alison Baskerville/The Royal British Legion

“When I went to the recruiting office they asked me about the WRAC staff band. I said I’d love to play, thinking it was one day a week. I didn’t realise it was full time! I thought I could be a typist and play in the band.”

“If a man came into NAAFI on the camp, the recruits used to whistle and wave.”

“We were all issued khaki bloomers that went down to your knees. No one ever wore them but we had to have them ironed and folded for kit inspections.

As Guildford was a training camp, there were 500 women but only a few men (including the butcher). If a man went into the NAAFI (Navy, Army, and Air Force Institutes) on camp all the recruits would whistle at them.

“I really enjoyed my five-weeks basic training. I felt more grown up when it finished.”

After her basic training in Guildford, Carole was assigned the tuba. 

“I’d never even seen one before! I was tall and strong and the tuba was so heavy, so that’s how I ended up with it.”

After basic training the women could go into Aldershot to the dances in the NAAFI.

“I remember my first night at the disco in Aldershot and seeing boys socially for the first time in weeks. It was great.

Though Carole was stationed in Guildford she visited dozens of camps and places, playing in concerts and marching on parades. She used to go to London to play on the radio for the BBC’s Friday Night is Music Night, and she appeared in the first Carry On film, Carry On Sergeant, as a tuba player.

Carole holds a picture of when she played the tuba during the Edinburgh tattoo (Carole is second from left). Credit: Alison Baskerville/The Royal British Legion

Carole had a number of pen-friends that she would write to, and one of whom was called Don.

“Don was my pen-friend for about a year, he was in the RAF in Singapore and we met in Guildford in November 1958 when he returned to England. We got engaged in December, we fell in love at first sight.”

They were married in April 1959, their first daughter was born a year later in March, with a second following in June 1964.

The military life

Carole has lived in 33 houses since she was born (and went to eight schools) due to her father being the in forces, and then marrying into the forces.

“Following my dad about and then marrying an RAF man, it was lucky that I liked moving. I enjoyed seeing new places and meeting new people.”

Carole and Dom on their wedding day (left), and on their Golden Anniversary (right). Credit: Alison Baskerville/The Royal British Legion

Carole left the Army to live with Don in the RAF married quarters.

“It was impossible to really have kids and keep your career in the Army at that point. You had to make a choice.”

“But even when I had the kids I missed the uniform life so I joined the Special Constabulary. I used to get picked up and dropped off from my duties and I remember one of Don’s RAF friends saying ‘Why are there always police cars outside the house?’

“I loved the uniform life and being involved in something. Wherever I’ve lived I’ve wanted to work and to do something useful.”

“I loved the uniform life.”

Alongside the uniform life Carole raised her children whilst Don served in the RAF, sometimes overseas.

“Don was working on bomb disposal and was often away for weeks at a time. He also went on a second tour to Germany while I stayed in England as my youngest was settled in a school doing O-levels to become a nurse.

“I can turn my hand to most things, changing plugs, taking stuff apart and fixing it."

Carole still has her uniform from when she was a special constable. Credit: Alison Baskerville/The Royal British Legion

Carole served as a Special Constable for 25 years. During her time she used to look after female prisoners, which was a paid role that had the title Matron. 

“If I didn’t have kids and get married I would have definitely joined the Met Police”

Over her time Carole has been an Army Bands woman, a Special, a bus driver, a Mental Health Assistant, a Detention Custody Officer, an AIDS awareness volunteer, an Auxiliary Nurse and now a standard bearer and Chairman for the Grimsby branch of the WRAC association.

Carole is the Standard Bearer and Chairman for the Grimsby branch of the WRAC Association. Credit: Alison Baskerville/The Royal British Legion

“I still keep myself busy, gardening, and as a Case Worker for the Legion. I still role play for the police in their training exercises.  My role is always the obnoxious old lady, confused old lady or the lost old lady - I’m good at all of these!

“I always say don’t ever be bored, be a volunteer.”

“If I had my time I’d do it all again.”

On talking about women in the military Carole comments “If you’re capable of doing a job then it should be offered to you, regardless of being male or female, and whoever can do it best should get it.”

“The military was like a big family to me and we kept in touch for years and still do. If I had my time I’d do it all again.”

Credit: Alison Baskerville/The Royal British Legion

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