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Errol Martyn

A WRAF's tale - true or false?

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Errol Martyn

The following is an excerpt from a brief, unpublished memoir compiled in 1974 by a WRAF officer who served from August 1918 to October 1919. The ‘camp’ referred to is thought to be Aldeburgh (she was posted there from New Romney on date unknown). The School for Anti-Submarine Inshore Patrol Observers formed at Aldeburgh in Aug 1918, became School of Marine Observers from Oct 1918 and then 1 Marine Observers School from 1 Jan 19, disbanded Sep 1919.

Does anyone know if there is any substance, so to speak, to this tale?

 

. . . the Air Force was in its infancy in the 1st World War. Planes were made [sic – repair of wings?] on the camp and the coverings were made of silk [sic] which were covered with some poisonous substance [dope?]. One day the C.O. came and asked for volunteers among the women. He emphasised that it would mean those working on it would only have 4 years to live. If the women didn’t  volunteer, men would be ordered to do it. He needn’t have bothered. Dozens of them came forward and I was sorry to see pretty 18 year olds among them. The work was 20 minutes in and 20 minutes out of the [doping?] workshop. By the time they had been working a week a small black spot had appeared on the palm of their hands. In another couple of weeks their whole hands were covered and so it went on until the whole body was covered. It seems strange, I have never seen that in print. I think everyone of those women deserved the V.C. They knew exactly what they were doing and the result.

 

Errol

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Moonraker

1918 report

 

Moonraker

Edited by Moonraker
improved link

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ss002d6252

Benzene poisoning from the dope, it can rapidly destroy the body's functions and is also carcinogenic.

 

Craig

Edited by ss002d6252

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NigelS

My mother used  a type of dope  while working on self sealing aircraft fuel tanks during WWII.  Must have been a different concoction, or the handling procedures had changed by then though as, to the best of my knowledge, she never suffered any ill effects, either  then or  in  later life,  that would have been attributable to it.  I do remember her saying that she and her colleagues got  a special daily issue of milk because of the nature of their  work, but whether this was down to the dope or some of the other solvents and adhesives they were using I can't now remember.

 

NigelS

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ss002d6252
10 minutes ago, NigelS said:

My mother used  a type of dope  while working on self sealing aircraft fuel tanks during WWII.  Must have been a different concoction, or the handling procedures had changed by then though as, to the best of my knowledge, she never suffered any ill effects, either  then or  in  later life,  that would have been attributable to it.  I do remember her saying that she and her colleagues got  a special daily issue of milk because of the nature of their  work, but whether this was down to the dope or some of the other solvents and adhesives they were using I can't now remember.

 

NigelS

It appears, from reading a Hansard comment on it, that the main risk was from breathing it in and, once adequate ventilation was installed, most of the health problems were stopped.

Craig

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TTracer44

The 1960s era of motor cycle grass track racing, the fuel used was referred to as dope but was I believe Ethanol, but at no time was it referred to as being poisonous, but it was very cold if split on your hand, hence the compression ratio of as high as 14 to 1 being used, could this naming of it as dope have come from the older riders who had been about during the two wars.

Den

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MikeyH

An essential element of building balsa wood model aircraft back in the 1950's, dope had a very

strong smell, similar to pear drops.  It was applied to the flimsy tissue paper used to cover wings and fuselage to shrink and 

harden.

 

Mike.

Edited by MikeyH

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MikeMeech
20 hours ago, Errol Martyn said:

The following is an excerpt from a brief, unpublished memoir compiled in 1974 by a WRAF officer who served from August 1918 to October 1919. The ‘camp’ referred to is thought to be Aldeburgh (she was posted there from New Romney on date unknown). The School for Anti-Submarine Inshore Patrol Observers formed at Aldeburgh in Aug 1918, became School of Marine Observers from Oct 1918 and then 1 Marine Observers School from 1 Jan 19, disbanded Sep 1919.

 

Does anyone know if there is any substance, so to speak, to this tale?

 

 

 

. . . the Air Force was in its infancy in the 1st World War. Planes were made [sic – repair of wings?] on the camp and the coverings were made of silk [sic] which were covered with some poisonous substance [dope?]. One day the C.O. came and asked for volunteers among the women. He emphasised that it would mean those working on it would only have 4 years to live. If the women didn’t  volunteer, men would be ordered to do it. He needn’t have bothered. Dozens of them came forward and I was sorry to see pretty 18 year olds among them. The work was 20 minutes in and 20 minutes out of the [doping?] workshop. By the time they had been working a week a small black spot had appeared on the palm of their hands. In another couple of weeks their whole hands were covered and so it went on until the whole body was covered. It seems strange, I have never seen that in print. I think everyone of those women deserved the V.C. They knew exactly what they were doing and the result.

 

 

 

Errol

 

Hi

 

By 1917 the 'Dope' that was contracted for use by HM Government included 'Cellon Dope' and 'Titanine Dope', both of which were described as 'Non-Poisonous' (However, they were both unlikely to meet today's health and safety regulations).  It is probable that these items would be harmful over a period of time (as much was when I was in the RAF) but I doubt in normal use it would be likely to be very 'fast acting' or that the 'medical people' could have a clear estimate of how long they would live (they still have problems with that estimate today in the medical world).

 

Mike

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Errol Martyn

Many thanks gents.

Seems, then, to have been a rather exaggerated tale by the writer - perhaps not witnessed first hand and heavily reliant on ancient memory of an account received secondhand.

Cheers,

Errol

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Harper
On 23/01/2019 at 23:57, Errol Martyn said:

unpublished memoir compiled in 1974 by a WRAF officer who served from August 1918 to October 1919

Errol

My uncle Lt. CVC Wright was an instructor at Aldeburgh at the same time as the lady who wrote the memoir. He and 2 other offcers  were killed in an air accident in May 1919.  By any chance does she mention him or the accident.

If you are able to share the memoir, I'll PM my email address to you.

Many thanks

Harper

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Errol Martyn

Hello Harper,

Yes she does mention the event. Please do PM me your email address.

Errol

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