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In Springfield, A Royal Air Force Driver Shares Her Memories of World War II

Jennifer Moore

Earlier this month, Americans celebrated Veteran’s Day. The focus is on American veterans, but a veteran of the British Royal Air Force also lives right here in Springfield. 

Gwen Fawcett is 95—but in 1941, she was 17 and signed up to join the British Women’s Auxiliary Air Force.

“I had a sister in the Air Force. So I joined the Air Force, and I was a driver. But I didn’t know how to drive when I joined! We didn’t have cars like we do now,” she said.

After getting her uniform and sliding behind the wheel, she drove across England with an armed guard, delivering secret films from reconnaissance planes that had flown over Nazi Germany.  Her destinations included offices in underground bunkers and the British War Office in London.

"One of the places was the War Office. They always gave us a guide to take us up to the office where we were to go. We didn’t know one office from another, but we had to hand-deliver this stuff to the certain person. She took me up there, but then she took off! And I had no idea where to go,” Fawcett said.

According to the BBC’s World War II historical archives, the WAAF women were not allowed to fly in combat—but there were women who flew planes in the Air Transport Auxiliary later in the war.

Fawcett drove officers and troops and injured patients throughout England and Scotland.  She vividly remembers when a bomb barely missed her and her squadron south of London.

“In the middle of the night we were wakened by this horrific noise. We looked out the window, and it looked like a big ball of fire coming straight for us. Well, it didn’t hit the house we were in, but it went right by the window. And it hit the local church and demolished the church,” Fawcett said.

Fawcett says she was shocked when the buzz bomb hit the church. At that time she was planning to be married there to a man in the United States Army Air Force.

Fawcett eventually married that U.S. airman, and after the war, she and her husband, John Fawcett, moved to the U.S. Later in life they moved to Springfield to seek medical treatment.  John Fawcett passed away several years ago. Today, Gwen Fawcett lives in Springfield independently. She will turn 96 in January.