Frankie joined the WAAF and was posted to the RAF Fighter Station Coverack, Cornwall, England to drive Officers.  She learnt after the war that much of the work undertaken at this base was of a highly secret nature.  She also drove Ambulances to the Morgue.  She returned to Northern Ireland and was initially based at HQ in Belfast driving high ranking officers and Patreys around the Province for Sunday services etc.  Roads were not as good as they are today and with wartime headlight blackouts it was not easy.  Sometimes when she drove them to Fermanagh she got to keep the car over the weekend and visited her family close to Lisnaskea.  At the end of the war she was posted to Castle Archdale and Killadeas, again driving Officers and met up with her dear friend Rita Hamilton.  As the painting depicts she often visited the Officers quarters at the Manor House to collect them.  RAF KIlladeas was the base for the Catalina’s, one of which spotted the Bismark.  Frankie spent 4 years in the WAAF and enjoyed every minute.

Frankie's Own Account of her WAAF Service  

“I, Mary Frances Johnston joined the WAAF in Belfast a few months before my 18th Birthday.

I did my basic training for two months before being sent off to learn a trade. The basic training prepared one for service life. Discipline, square bashing, always being properly dressed, bed making and billet tidiness. Fortunately I passed and was then A.C.W. Johnston. (Aircraft Woman) ready to learn a trade.

I really wanted to be a cook but WAAF drivers were badly needed. So with approximately 20 other young girls I found myself posted to another English RAF station near Reading. My tutor, a very fatherly Corporal, first introduced me to a 3 ton truck, then different vans and cars. I surprised myself how easily and quickly I managed to learn and enjoy driving. I passed out with flying colours and I was then promoted to L.A.C.W (Leading Aircraft Woman).

I was then posted to Coastal Command, my first station in Cornwall was Portreath, Cornwall. Yet again I was meeting and making friends with new folks. A very busy station we were always in demand to drive trucks with various equipment to planes or God knows where.

I had to meet up with Officers and take them to planes and other destinations, making sure of their rank and opening doors and saluting where necessary.

Occasionally I was called out, usually at night, to take the ambulance to pick up a pilot who had crashed nearing home base. Unfortunately these young men were war time fatalities. The job was 24/7 as it was war time but nobody grumbled, we went on with whatever was asked knowing that daily some of our planes went missing.

After six months I got posted to Coverack. A small Cornish village with three hotels. Luxury!!! I found myself billeted in the Headland Hotel with mostly WAAF office staff and one male driver, cooks and cleaners and one or two maintenance men. The Bay hotel was for officers and another hotel outside the village standing in a very wooded area, billeted my commanding Officer and approximately 20-30 WAAF, these personnel never socialised or mixed with us.

The Military transport section was approximately a mile and half up a very steep winding road from the village and into the middle of a working farm. The office that housed the Adjutant and the office girls was only a short distance off. A Corporal Osborne was in charge of the MT section with two airmen drivers and me as the only WAAF driver.

I was responsible for driving our Commanding Officer. I had to collect her each morning and whenever I was needed. Driving her to a set of gates, under the strict security of two RAF police, letting her off and picking her up again when needed and taking her back to her hotel. The male drivers were responsible for driving the office girls to the same site.

Little was I aware of what a tremendous task those folk had and why security was so tight. My Officer never spoke about her work however she did tell me of her young life in Russia. It was years later when I found the book she had written after the war called ‘Refuge in England’ by Vera Larina. I also learned that she wrote a play for the Gateway Theatre Club London called ‘The Big Cherry’.

At this time I was beginning to realise that our little village and the RAF very secluded station was indeed very involved in the war effort. D Day was fast approaching and Cornwall was being taken over by American troops. Not surprisingly my letters home to my mother had bits taken out. All our correspondence had to go through the office and was obviously being censored and of course nobody had told me that security was very important and my letters home would talk about all these Americans etc.

Just a few days before D Day I took a young Flight Lieutenant to Truro train station, a nice young man dressed in civvies with a small bag. He told me he was on his way to London to join family. When I got out of the car to see him off he shook my hand. ‘Goodbye for now Paddy’ and off he went. Many years later, when I was working in Birmingham, I was in a restaurant looking for a seat when a man stood up and said ‘It is Paddy isn’t it’? I said ‘you are Flight Lieutenant Davis who I left at Truro railway station many years ago on your way to London’. He replied that he was but he was on his way to France. Of course that was the time when all the Americans disappeared and we all knew that was the start of the end the war. It was many years later before I found out that Coverack and Cornwall had been a top secret place in WW11 history and was untouched for decades. See insert picture above headed Drivewise.

Not long after D Day I was posted back to Longkesh in Northern Ireland for a few months on routine duties around the station and Belfast. I was then posted to RAF Belfast N. Ireland and again I drove staff cars, driving Officers around the province to deal with their many duties and weekends were mainly devoted to taking Clergy Chaplains to preach or stay the weekends at various stations. My last posting was to Killadeas in my own County Fermanagh where we celebrated the end of the war with Japan.

I was discharged at Kirkham, Lancs where the notes given to me on my Particulars of service stated: 

'LACW Johnston Mary Frances was released on 4th December 1946, she has been in the WAAF for the past four years during which time she has been employed as a driver M.T. She is a capable and efficient driver who has only been involved in one minor accident during that time. She can be strongly recommended as a driver in civilian life.'

- Signed Flight Lieutenant G H William.

"I enjoyed every day of service life. It was not unto many many years later that I was able to appreciate the massive help the WAAF gave to the war service. Those girls who were helping our flyers home, the cooks, the mechanics, office workers and above all the Russian WAAF Officer who had come to England with her parents during the Russian Revolution. She had lived a life of luxury with maids, cooks and her own tutor. She spoke French and English and of course Russian. Escape left them eventually reduced to an impoverished way of life. It says so much for the character of the lady that she was so much involved in our war. I regret that I can find so little about what she did after the war apart from the above mentioned book and play. Known to me then only as Ma’am, she was an inspiration to me in my life.”


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