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Interview on experiences in World War II

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DATE: October, 1981


For article October 28,1981, in the Lyons Daily News

England, to France, to Belgium WACS RAN HOMING STATION

By Carolyn Sayler

At headquarters of the Bomber Command of the Ninth Air Corps in England, a group of WACs in 1944 began operating an emergency homing station for planes in distress.

In their quarters at Mark's Hall, a converted country estate on the English Channel, the women worked at a 4x7-foot table covered with a map under plastic. Holes in the table represented "direction finding" stations, lonely outposts along the channel manned by members of the Signal Corps.

It was the women's objective to keep pilots talking, while those at the stations turned their equipment until they found the strongest signal. Back in the map room, the women used strings anchored in the holes to pinpoint a plane's location.

"It was the original radar," recalls Ida Sellers Warner of Lyons, who 37 years ago was one of the operators. The system was the invention of a Signal Corps officer and depended on assistance of the British Navy, which became a dedicated ally in rescuing U.S. airmen in the Channel. The United States at that time had no naval force in the area.

In spite of its lack of sophistication, the operation became valuable, and volunteers moved with it to France and later to Belgium. As the war escalated, the work intensified for the WACs, who had volunteered to perform the duty.

For Mrs. Warner, 37, former Lyons newspaper writer and a former teacher, that duty was hardly what she had envisioned when she enlisted, promising her mother not to volunteer for overseas service.

The fledgling Women's Army Auxiliary Corps sought anyone who would help on the homefront or abroad. Mrs. Warner left April 1,1943, for basic training in Des Moines. "I thought I was in pretty good shape. I had been playing a lot of golf," she recalls, "but I found muscles I never knew I had.

She was designated a teleprinter operator, and for the rest of that year served in Des Moines and at Turner Field in Georgia. It was after a Christmas leave that she was asked to accept an overseas assignment.

After training in New Jersey, Mrs. Warner joined 300 WACs and 10,000 troops boarding the Queen Mary in New York harbor. The onetime luxury liner had been greatly altered, Mrs. Warner recalls. "Our mess hall was the upper half of the swimming pool. They had thrown a floor across it, and GIs were barricaded underneath."

Because the Germans were still strafing Southampton, the ship went to the Firth of Clyde in Scotland, a seven-day crossing. "It was a bitter March day ... just raw," Mrs. Warner remembers. "There was a rumor that we were seven miles out and we went in in open landing boats. On shore there was a Scottish bagpipe band playing, and when we got on a train, Scottish women came through with hot chocolate and homemade doughnuts.

Mrs. Warner trained for two weeks in northern England and then was assigned to the bomber command in Essex County to the south. Preparations for the homing station were under way, and she responded to a call for volunteers.

The operation, code-named Parade, served the command's B-26 Marauder bombers, smaller planes than the B-17, and limited to a four-hour range. Stationed at bases nearby, where they took off at 3 in the morning, they carried out the U.S. strategy of daytime bombing of European targets. WACs at the bombing station were on 24-hour duty to receive their distress signals. "Many came by to see the station because we had helped them home," Mrs. Warner remembers.

As the war escalated during 1944, the operation moved across the channel, with members landing at Omaha Beach. They established a station in Chartres and then in Heims, France, as the Allies moved through Europe. Units were converging for the Battle of the Bulge.

"A few days before Christmas of '44 all hell broke loose on the ground and in the air," Mrs. Warner recalls. The Ninth Air Corps was heavily involved. Mrs. Warner remembers that once in the mapping room there were calls from 20 planes in distress. "It was bedlam," she recalls. "We weren't supposed to use the headquarters field, but we even landed one there."

The operation later moved to Belgium, and Mrs. Warner was at Namur when the war in Europe ended.

Mrs. Warner returned from Europe aboard the Queen Mary and was discharged October 21,1945. She returned to Lyons, resumed her newspaper work and later married.

She is one of a small group of World War II veterans who hold two honorable discharges. When the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps became the Women's Army Corps in 1943, members were discharged at that point could drop out of the service if they wished, Mrs. Warner explained. Almost all of the women enlisted in the new branch.

Photo captions: Pfc. Ida Sellers, returning home after the war, stopped at a London department store photo booth for a quick portrait.

Ida (Mrs. J.W.) Warner, shown today at her home in Lyons, was one of the women who interrupted careers to enlist in World War II.

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