Eileen Younghusband Tells the WWII Story of the RAF Filter Rooms
Eileen Younghusband’s 2009 autobiography (Not an Ordinary Life, ISBN 987-0-9561156-9-0) dealt with her long and fruitful life. However, she chose to make this very specific statement in her Dedication:
“I have written this book for all the young woman who served in the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force in the Filter Rooms of RAF Fighter Command in the dark days of world war two and whose work and dedication have never been fully recognised.”
With the encouragement of some of her readers, including the iconic WWII personality Dame Vera Lynn, that largely untold story, dealt with briefly in her chapter on ‘My Time in the WAAF’ (pp. 36-54) has now been expanded and published as an important contribution to the history of World War II as One Woman’s War (Candy Jar Books Ltd, ISBN 978-0-9566826-2-8)
Although writing book reviews is one of my favourite hobbies, I do not intend to review this special book, mainly because others have already offered their expert comments on the importance of the story and Eileen’s skill in telling it. As a friend of Eileen’s of many years standing, I am happy to relay Eileen’s own words and to quote the recommendations of eminent wellwishers.
Eileen’s Dedication for her latest book reiterates and confirms her earlier determination to tell this vital wartime episode in which she played her part:
“This book is dedicated to the airwomen and officers of the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force who worked in the Filter Rooms of RAF Fighter Command during World War Two. The Filter Room was the nerve centre of the Radar chain. These young women working underground, at speed, both night and day, calculated from Radar reports the position, height and numbers of all aircraft approaching our coast. From this information, hostile aircraft were intercepted, air raid warnings given and air sea rescue undertaken. They remained silent under the Official Secrets Act for thirty years. The story of their work has never been told. It is time to recognise their invaluable contribution to the successful defence of Great Britain in its darkest hour.”
Two experts assess Eileen’s work:
“In her autobiography, Not an Ordinary Life, Eileen Younghusband gave us a glimpse into the wartime experiences of a WAAF Special Duties Officer engaged in vital work in the Filter Rooms of Fighter Command, and later, in Belgium helping to track the deadly V-2 rockets back to their firing sites. In One Woman’s War, this vital period in the life of this country, is described in considerable detail, and constitutes an important personal account of an aspect of women’s contribution to the Allied victory in 1945 that is often overlooked or not known about at all. The work that went on in the Filter Room was crucial to the ultimate success of Fighter Command operations during the Battle of Britain, demanding the highest level of concentration and competence from the women engaged in it. This personal account also provides a fascinating insight into the creation and operation of the Chain Home defence system and the wartime development of Radar, written by one who was among the first to have to get to grips with this unprecedented leap forward in wartime technology.
The view from the Filter Room’ shows us the progress of the war in Europe in a new light, and the book also tells a very human story of how momentous events shaped the life of a young woman in wartime Britain.”
Stephen Walton (Senior Curator Documents and Sound Section, Imperial War Museum Duxford)
“Brilliantly written and eminently readable, the title One Woman’s War belies the amazing and rare wartime career path of Eileen Le Croissette in the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force. This is no ordinary story, to become a Filterer Officer required great aptitude, skill and judgement to interpret the often-confusing information from the Radar stations. Altogether there were probably less than 200 WAAF Filterer Officers and Eileen was one of only eight to serve in Belgium targeting the V2 missile launch sites. As well as serving at 11 Group Filter room, Fighter Command on the night of the Normandy invasion, she later received the Big Ben warning when the first V2 was detected approaching London.
Married only a few weeks, Eileen was then posted to 33 Wing, 2nd Tactical Air Force in Belgium, as a carefully chosen team sent to locate mobile V2 launch sites, by Radar and sound data, so airborne strikes could destroy the launchers before they returned to base. As war ends, she is assigned as a guide to the German concentration camp near Brussels. Not only facing the stark reminders of torture and human degradation, she suffered insults and antagonism from the imprisoned Belgian collaborators who replaced the camp inmates. The whole story is set against an intriguing backdrop of family and long-time friendships and correspondence with German and French pen pals, which in retrospect, contained many different perspectives on the Nazi regime.” Squadron Leader Mike S. Dean MBE (Historical Radar Archive)
Equally valuable, and even more warm and personal (as the following brief extracts testify) is the Foreword by Emma Soames, a grand-daughter of Winston Churchill.
“Her recounting of the war is extraordinary in its detail and reads as freshly as if it all happened a couple of years ago. It also explains the technicalities of how Radar worked then in accessible language. We should be thankful not only for Younghusband’s skill and the role she played then, but for her prodigious memory and energy that has produced this interesting volume.
As a grandchild of Sir Winston Churchill, I have a particular interest in her war experiences. She plotted one of Churchill’s flights when he was travelling back to Britain in an unidentified aircraft from a visit to Roosevelt in Washington. Towards the end of the war, after several promotions she ended up as an Officer at the most significant station, Stanmore which was responsible for the defence of London from incoming aerial attack. Here she saw my grandfather again.
One Woman’s War adds to the war archive that becomes increasingly important as the participants in the 1939-45 war gradually age and pass away, many of them taking their memories with them. As well as producing this readable account of her years in uniform, Eileen Younghusband has brought an extraordinary period and a previously unrecorded part of our air defences to life.”
It gives me great personal pleasure to present these extracts from the Exclusive Advance Edition of Eileen Younghusband’s latest absorbing and useful contribution to the history of the Second World War.1