From WAAF to War Bride

Ralph and Doris (Field) Lloyd in a studio portrait taken before their wedding in December 1941.
Melynda Jarratt
Doris in uniform during her time at RAF Kenley. This photo was taken at the WAAF billets, so it might be Coulsdon Court Golf Club.
Melynda Jarratt
Ralph and Doris
Melynda Jarratt
Doris on her wedding day.
Melynda Jarratt
Doris and her daughter, Anne, in Canada.
Melynda Jarratt

Author and historian, Melynda Jarratt has been researching the history of Canadian War Brides since 1987. She wrote a book on the subject and dedicated it in part to her friend Doris Lloyd, who served at Kenley during the Battle of Britain. Here is her story….

‘She Went Ahead and Did it Anyway’

Doris (Field) Lloyd was born in Halifax, Yorkshire, in 1922. She and her daughter came to Plaster Rock, New Brunswick in November,1944 while her husband was still fighting in Italy.

In the summer of 1940 German bombers rained devastation on southern England, targeting air bases that formed the nucleus of Britain’s air defence. Doris Field of Halifax, Yorkshire joined the WAAF in January 1940 when she was just seventeen years old. She was at RAF Kenley, south of London when it was attacked on 18 August 1940.

It was a gorgeous day. I remember because it was so hot with our uniforms on. We had just started lunch and suddenly they were on top of us. We ran to find cover. I remember looking into the sky and seeing so many bombers, the sky was black. They came in waves and the German fighters would come down low and machine-gun anyone who was running. We managed to get into safety. When they let us out the whole place was on fire. It was an awful sight. The next day the Germans started all over again. We got bombed every night for months after that as the Germans made their way to London and to other airfields in cities throughout England.

Doris was raised in Halifax, Yorkshire and graduated from Battinson Road School at age fourteen. Her Mother wanted her to learn to sew so she arranged for Doris to get a job making dresses and aprons in a little shop close by.

‘It didn’t appeal to me at all,’ says Doris. ‘After three months of making buttonholes I had enough of that!” She found another job as a grocery clerk at Redmands Grocery that was located in an arcade in the centre of town. She was much happier working with the public and stayed with Redmands until January 1940 when she volunteered to join the WAAF.

Doris and a friend at Redmands wanted to do something more exciting than selling fruit and vegetables so they decided to join the Air Force. Her friend was nineteen years old so she could do what she wanted but Doris was only seventeen and you were supposed to be eighteen to join up. Doris was determined so she went ahead and did it anyways – her mother figured they would send Doris back home so she didn’t do anything to stop her; besides the Phoney War was on and it wasn’t like Doris’s life was in danger.

As it turned out, Doris passed the examination with flying colours – but her friend failed – so when the time came for basic training Doris was all alone for the first time in her life. How things were to change in the next few months.

Doris joined a group of twenty-five women at the Uxbridge training centre outside of London. The first order of the day was to outfit the new recruits in uniform – bra, knickers (which were jokingly referred to as ‘blackouts’), shoes, stockings, dress, hat, shirt, greatcoat, and tie. Everything that could be worn had to be military issue. Next they were ordered to parcel the clothes they had arrived with and send it back home. Then the young women were sent back to barracks and Doris says she can always remember sitting on her bed in the barracks that day: ‘Everybody was busy changing and this girl was sitting on the cot next to mine and she had nothing on the top. I was embarrassed. I’d never seen a woman with no clothes on before!’

The next day the female recruits had to learn how to march. Doris says the Drill Sergeant was a bully who spared nobody’s feelings, but she figures he must have known what he was doing. The first thing he said was, ‘If anybody feels faint, step out because if you faint you lay where you fall.’ That’s when Doris started wishing she was home with her mother, but it was too late to start crying for mummy now. One week later she had blisters on top of blisters but she sure knew how to march!

At the end of a grand total of one week’s training the recruits were divided up and sent to different places where they were needed. Doris and six others ended up at RAF Kenley where she stayed for two years.

They were billeted in private homes in the area that had been taken over by the military. Some of the billets were huge, beautiful homes with tennis courts and swimming pools – with no water of course – but they didn’t stay long in any one place and were moved around a lot.

During her first three months at Kenley, Doris met a young British airman named David Foster who was putting in time at the pay office. David was her first real boyfriend but he was transferred to another facility and although they continued to correspond with each other, he was killed in action in the early stages of the Battle of Britain. Soon, Doris had her own harrowing experience with German air power when Kenley was bombed that August and she barely escaped with her life.

At one point early in 1941 Doris’s mother and her four-year-old sister Pauline came to Caterham to visit for a few days and they stated with a family there. Doris was used to the bombing and didn’t really think too much of it but her mother and Pauline spent most of the time under the table in the dining room and it was quite an ordeal for them.

Night after night and even during the daytime, you’d see a German plane up in the sky and one of our fellows chasing it,’ Doris explains, ‘but my mother up in Yorkshire, she hadn’t really experienced the bombing and they were really frightened. 

In 1941, the Canadians arrived next door at Caterham and Doris’s life quickly changed. ‘There were West Novies, the Carleton York, a French outfit, another one from Saskatchewan and others from Ontario,’ Doris recalls.

‘They were billeted in these beautiful homes in Caterham and I became friends with one soldier who was from Halifax, Nova Scotia. He wasn’t my boyfriend or anything like that, but he really wanted to see Halifax, Yorkshire, so I invited him to stay at my parents’ house where he was made most welcome.’

The Canadians Doris met were different from British soldiers. ‘They weren’t afraid to ask you out,’ says Doris. ‘When they were doing route marches they would whistle and call out to you and we would giggle.’

Doris met Sgt. Ralph Lloyd of the Carleton York Regiment at a dance in Caterham in July 1941. He asked her to dance and then after it was over walked her home. Ralph was born in England and had emigrated to Canada with his family in 1919 when he was just a baby. He was from a small village called Plaster Rock, New Brunswick where he lived with his widowed mother, two sisters and a brother who was also stationed overseas. Ralph was musical and he played the saxophone. He and Doris hit it off and were together for nearly five months when he proposed.

Doris wrote to her mother to tell her she was going to get engaged. At the time, you couldn’t get married until you were twenty-one without your parents’ permission so Doris’s mother came back to Caterham to meet Ralph and she spent another week ‘hiding under the table’, Doris says with a laugh.

After all the permissions were obtained and the forms filled out, Doris and Ralph were married on 11 December 1941 in Caterham, four days after the bombing of Pearl Harbour.

They spent their honeymoon in London with a friend. ‘I suppose we didn’t have enough bombing so we had to go to London,’ Doris says.

Doris stayed in the WAAF and they were both moved to different places, she to Andover for a couple of months and then on to Cornwall, and Ralph all over the countryside training. They only saw each other infrequently when they both managed to get a leave at the same time.

In January 1943 Doris found out she was pregnant so she was released from her WAAF duties. Ralph was in Seaford teaching in a school for British officers so he rented a place and she joined him there. In March 1943, when she was six months pregnant, the regiment was moved to Scotland in preparation for the invasion of Sicily so Doris had to return to her family in Halifax. Ralph couldn’t get away from Scotland to see her before the baby was born but he phoned her every night. On 17 June 1943 Doris’s mother sent Ralph a telegram announcing the birth of a healthy baby girl, Anne. Shortly thereafter he was shipped to Sicily and it was two years before he saw his wife and little girl.

Doris travelled by ship with her sixteen-month-old daughter Anne on the ‘Ile de France’ in November 1944, arriving in Canada seven long months before Ralph was repatriated.

The ocean journey was frightening as U-boats were prowling the ocean waters and they had to zigzag to avoid detection. Compared to future transports of Canadian War Brides there was little or no help with the children from any organisation such as the Red Cross so the War Brides were on their own, seasick or not.

Doris couldn’t have arrived in Plaster Rock, New Brunswick at a worse time of the year. The winter was just beginning to settle in and the dirt roads were covered in snow and slush. In the spring the roads turned to a sea of mud. The cold was bone-chilling and there wouldn’t have been much to do other than visit with relatives and neighbours.

Plaster Rock was a small lumber town of 1,200 people in an isolated part of northwestern New Brunswick without theatres or a library. Besides the shock of adapting to rural life where outdoor toilets and wood stoves were the norm, Doris had to get used to the fact that Ralph’s mother and two sisters had moved into a very small, two-bedroom house during the war with no room for another adult and child. After three months of living in these crowded conditions, Doris moved up the road to her brother-in-law and his wife’s house where she and Anne stayed until Ralph returned to Canada by hospital ship in July 1945.

When Doris saw her husband again after more than two years of separation, he wasn’t the same man she knew in England.

His nerves were shattered and the Military Cross he earned in Italy for ‘gallant and distinguished service in action’ didn’t make life any easier as she tried to adjust to life in a small town where everyone knew her business.

Ralph had nightmares and recurring bouts of malaria over the years. There was no help for Second World War veterans like there is today so they just had to cope on their own. Instead he sought the fraternity of his army buddies in the Legion and spent more time there than he did at home with his wife and daughter. For most of their married life Ralph only had seasonal employment as a Fisheries Officer from May to November so Doris made her own work. She bought a small restaurant and when that closed she worked for several years at the local grocery store and later at the Liquor Commission.

By the mid-70’s their daughter Anne was married and raising her own two children in Saint John. Doris heard about a group of War Brides in Saskatchewan who had organised themselves into an association, the first one in Canada. She contacted Gloria Brock, one of the group’s leaders, and went about establishing the New Brunswick War Brides Association, becoming its founding president. The War Brides organisation played a big part in Doris’s life over the past twenty-five years. She has attended reunions all over the country and even one of Overseas War Brides in England in 1986.

Ralph died in 1997 at age eighty-five. Doris stays closer to home these days but the memories of her life in England are as vivid today as they were more than sixty years ago. It took some adjusting to her new life in Canada and she certainly had her share of disappointments, but would she do it again?

‘Definitely,’ she says. ‘It’s the best country in the world to live in and I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.’

This chapter from Melynda Jarratt’s wonderful book, ‘War Brides – The stories of the women who left everything behind to follow the men they loved,’ has been reproduced with the permission of the author. You can learn more about Canadian War Brides here.
©️Melynda Jarratt 2009

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