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Postscript to history

Today is the 40th anniversary of D-Day and I think the time has come to pay tribute not only to the men but to the women who went to war. According to the old adage: ''Behind every successful man there stands a woman'' - and at no time was this truer than during World War II. Unfortunately, history has not said much about this and the present generation has no way of knowing what it was like 40 years ago.

In Britain, conscription was introduced for all women from the age of 19. They worked in factories, on the land, and in other essential services but most went into one of the women's services. I joined the Women's Auxiliary Air Force and the range of occupations women performed for the Royal Air Force was extraordinary.

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Among my colleagues were: meteorologists, flight mechanics, wireless mechanics, wireless and radar operators, parachute packers, WAAF intelligence officers who debriefed air crews returning from operational sorties. There were all-WAAF barrage balloon units who hoisted aloft the silken monsters soaring over our cities, protecting them from German bombers (in quiet periods the WAAFs would mend the torn fabric with patches and splice together any broken cables).

In the operations room on RAF stations most of the staff of plotters and signals personnel were women. In cold and windy hangars on the edge of airfields , WAAFs tested spark plugs, charged up the batteries of fighter and bomber planes, and drove the tractors pulling the bomb trains from the ammunition dumps to the bombers. Using R/T, radio telephone, they transmitted take-off and landing instructions to bomber planes and in remote outstations known as ''fixers'' took bearings on fighter planes enabling the controllers in the operations room to direct the pilots to their targets.

WAAFs were cooks, nurses, typists, pay clerks, teleprinter operators, and photographers. They drove motor vehicles of every sort from heavy trucks to staff cars.

When the Luftwaffe bombed the RAF airfields during the Battle of Britain, WAAFs were killed at their posts alongside airmen. Bombs do not discriminate between the sexes.

On June 6, 1944, I was in Kingswear, in Devon. The estuary of the River Dart was crammed with ships filled with troops setting sail for France. I was in the hills above the town in a wooden, bullet-riddled tower in a farmer's field. My friend, Margaret, and I sat side by side wearing earphones. We listened to the voices of RAF pilots transmitting for ''fix.'' We swung our VHF aerial around and passed the bearing through to Exeter. Our efforts contributed to the defensive air cover given to the D-Day assault troops to the RAF fighter planes.

Many of us are grandmothers now and our lives have taken different courses. But today I think we'll all be one again in spirit and memory of that unforgettable day.

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