Grantham reunion brings back memories of happy days for WRAFs at Spitalgate
More than 60 former members of the Women’s RAF reunited at the weekend to take a trip down memeory lane at the Prince William of Gloucester Barracks in Grantham.
The women, who all trained at the site, then known as RAF Spitalgate, were guests of the barracks from Friday through to Sunday. They travelled from far and wide, including the Orkney Islands and Holland.
Pauline Cantrell-Stephenson, who organised the reunion, said the women were given the opportunity to be accommodated in one of the old reception blocks to enable WRAFs to “relive their heady, enjoyable and nostalgic youthful days again and to attend buffets and events in the Sergeants’ Mess where various military entertainers will perform”.
This was the third reunion and by far the best attended. Those WRAF veterans who wore their uniforms are members of the Royal Air Force Association Women’s Royal Air Force Branch (RAFA WRAF), but for the purposes of this special RAF Spitalgate reunion, sported the WRAF Depot Blazer Badge on their uniform jackets instead.
One of those attending the reunion was Moira Byers, who arrived at RAF Spitalgate in 1967. She was just 17 and came from the small island of Eday in the Orkneys, home to little more than 100 people.
Moira said: “I find it quite unbelievable that I did this at such a young age. It’s incredible to come back and find I was part of all this.
“I feel very proud to come back and be part of the WRAF.”
Pauline Van Dyke travelled from Holland, where she has lived for 50 years. She was at the base in 1965.
“It’s like going back in time,” she said. “I love it. I think about how it all started and it was here.
“I am English with a Dutch passport, but I am English through and through!”
The women were invited into the officers’ mess to share their memories and get to know each other.
Pat Sparkes said: “This is hallowed ground! We would never have been allowed to go in there.”
Barbara Ann Clough, from West Yorkshire, said: “It’s fun to be back.”
Some of the WRAF veterans continue to be involved in organisations such as the Royal Air Force Association WRAF Branch and the Royal British Legion, taking part in Armed and Allied Forces Parades and Wings Appeal events around the country to raise much needed funds to support service personnel.
This year, WRAF veterans will take part in the Cenotaph Parade, Whitehall, the Rememberance Service at The Royal Albert Hall and the Ceremony of the Keys at The Tower of London.
An ex-WRAF officer, who was stationed at RAF Spitalgate to assist with WRAF training, Flt Lt KT Elliot, attended the reunion and she is currently writing a book on the history of RAF Spitalgate.
Reunion organiser Pauline said: “Post reunion, the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive, particularly for the 40 or so ladies who were fortunate enough to be accommodated on camp. This enhanced the trip down memory lane, as 12- bed space rooms and shared ablutions were a legend of almost five decades ago, but could have only been last week when we were there!
“With no TV, radio or Wi-Fi, we were transported back to a time of camarardarie, conversation and communication, a welcome respite from bombardment of today’s multimeddia.
“To a (wo)man, we would do it all again and join the WRAF.
“The opportunity to tour the barracks and visit buildings that had not changed since our time there, and to be hosted at dinners within the Sergeants’ Mess, was an opportunity we could not afford to miss.
“All of this was made possible by the Commanding Officer of Prince William of Gloucester Barracks and his men, who looked after us so well, and to whom we shall be eternally grateful.
“The reunion period also afforded us the opportunity to visit RAF Coningsby’s Battle of Britain Memorial Flight Museum to see their historic aircraft, the Lancaster, Spitfire, Hurricane and Dakota.”
In September 1958, the first Women’s Royal Air Force (WRAF) trainees entered the gates of RAF Spitalgate, Grantham, to undertake six weeks’ basic training to prepare them for their chosen RAF careers.
On June 30, 1960, RAF Spitalgate was disbanded and reformed as the WRAF Depot on July 1, 1960.
The last passing out parade took place on March 20, 1974, before the camp was handed over to the Army, and became Prince William of Gloucester Barracks.
In that period, thousands of WRAFs completed their training and went on to a varied range of trade training courses throughout the UK, before being posted at home and abroad.
Some WRAFs even returned to the the WRAF Depot at RAF Spitalgate as officers and non-commissioned officers to train future WRAFs.