The friendship of two women developed throughout WWII rediscovered after 7 decades through a chance encounter that revealed they had been living 12 miles apart from each other!
Bessie Shackley, aged 17, volunteered for the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force when WWII broke out. She met Mildred Greener, 18, at RAF Snaith in Yorkshire and a beautiful friendship ensued between the two young women.
From Yorkshire, they were transferred together to radar operations in Inverness where they shared a lot of unusual experiences while working at the radar station. The war that raged around them did not keep them from having joyous times in each other’s company.
However, the two friends lost contact when they moved into different parts of the country after WWII. The changes their names underwent after they got married contributed to the obstacles that hindered them from finding each other.
70 years quickly passed by.
Bessie – who is now widowed Mrs. Thomas, 89, and lives in Consett, County Durham – was reading through her local newspaper when she came upon a notice asking for information about a former RAF base located in Norfolk. She was not familiar with the said base but still contacted the WWII history enthusiast who ran the notice to see if she could get some information about her former WWII WAAF colleagues most especially her dear friend Mildred.
She was given a phone number of a certain Millie Titshall who, the person she contacted said, lived near her location.
“Do you know of a Mildred Greener?” she asked Millie when she did place the call.
“That’s me!” was the prompt reply of the person in the other line.
Mildred, like Bessie, had changed her surname after getting married and also went as Millie since family members shared her first name.
Bessie lost no time going to her long-lost, newly-found WWII friend. The day they had their first conversation via phone was Millie’s 90th birthday, 70 years after they last saw each other.
She immediately traveled to Mrs. Titshall’s Chester-le-Street home, now also widowed, via bus and taxi and the joyful reunion between the two friends followed.
“I think I could have walked past her on the street, but she’s still lovely and thin,” Mrs Thomas said; her first look at her old friend after 70 years was of her waiting for her on the street just outside her house.
Once they sat down, they could stop themselves from recalling the years they worked for the WAAF in WWII and the unusual experiences they had working as radar operators.
Both clearly remembered how they used to type messages on rice paper which they then gave to the pilots so that they will be able to recognize beacon signals and eat the instructions if they were captured.
“Millie told me, ‘I used to eat it!’ as we didn’t get sweets very much – they were rationed – and I said, ‘That’s what I used to do!'” Mrs. Thomas laughingly recounted.
They also remembered how they used to go through the airfield’s perimeter attaching metallic strips to planes which served to meddle with the enemy’s radars.
“Mildred would get taken around in a van as she was smaller than me and couldn’t reach up – and I had to cycle,” Mrs. Thomas said.
Marilyn, Mrs. Thomas’ daughter, was present for the duo’s second meeting and said that the pair laughed so much they looked to be shaking in their photos.
The two old friends were able to renew their 70-year lost friendship by regularly keeping in touch with each other and Mrs. Thomas is also eager to get in touch with their other colleagues during their WWII WAAF days.