A native of Devon, England, Kathleen Short couldn’t wait to join the British forces during WWII. As a member of the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF), Kathleen was originally assigned to work on a Barrage Balloon with a group of women, but, to her delight, she and the other girls under the age of 21 were taken off the assignment. “We were so happy,” she remembers, “That was the happiest day of the few months I’d been in the service.” Kathleen’s new position was with radio operations, where she relayed messages and scheduled plane take-offs and landings. Though she found transferring mayday messages stressful, overall she enjoyed working in the operations division.
While on leave, Kathleen met Maurice Short at a dance. An American soldier, Maurice proved his persistence by acquiring Kathleen’s address from her sister and expressing his devotion via post. In a borrowed dress and shoes, in her home, surrounded by her family, Kathleen became Kathleen Short on July 28th, 1945, just months after the war ended. After a brief seaside honeymoon, the newlyweds returned to their respective camps. A few months later, Kathleen left the service and found a job in Exeter, later moving to Northern England where Maurice was attending school. With plans to meet in America, Maurice headed home to New York, and a now pregnant Kathleen made her preparations for the trip, paid for by the Red Cross. She arrived in New York on Easter Sunday, April 26th, 1946, where she and Maurice began their new life together in an apartment in Brooklyn.
“Speaking here, I had to stop a couple times, cause you didn’t want to talk about it and remember the bad things,” Kathleen whispers. The bad things are hard to escape, even 70 years later: the pilotless planes sent by the Germans, nicknamed “Doodblebugs” by the WAAFs, the poverty that forced families to camp out in train cars on the London underground, the memories of bombings and hostages. But Kathleen assures us that it was all worth it: “I just wanted to do my part to win the war, that was as simple as that. And I’m proud I did it, I’d do it again.”
This year our first recording sessions at Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall & Museum took place in early June, 2013. We’re fond of the grand Gettysburg Room because of its dark wooden paneling and spaciousness. We try to record there whenever we can, as does the History Channel, the BBC, PBS, and several local media outlets.
British born, but long-time Pittsburgh resident, Kathleen Short was kind enough to meet us at Soldiers & Sailors on June 4th. “My goodness,” she exclaimed, “I wasn’t sure that anyone was interested in my stories about the war. Are you sure that you want to hear what I have to say?” she asked us. Indeed we are, we assured her. Indeed we are. And besides, we had something very special to show Kathleen–a vintage, WW II era Union Jack, courtesy of curator-extraordinaire Mike Krause.
Kathleen was thrilled, as we thought she might be. “This goes well with the medals I wore today,” patting two silver King George medallions pinned to her smock. “They gave me these after the war and I’m quite fond of them really, perhaps more than anything else.”
In My Own Words
During WW II, Kathleen Short joined the WAAF to help England’s war effort. She served as a radio control operator launching squadrons to attack the European mainland. She met her American husband during the war and later relocated to the US.
This interview was recorded as part of TSVP’s Veteran Voices of Pittsburgh Initiative, in partnership with the Veterans Breakfast Club, at Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall & Museum, Pittsburgh, PA, June 4, 2013. Interviewer: Todd DePastino. Audio recording and editing: Kevin Farkas/Anna Samuels.
While on leave, Kathleen met Maurice Short at a dance. An American soldier, Maurice proved his persistence by acquiring Kathleen’s address from her sister and expressing his devotion via post. In a borrowed dress and shoes, in her home, surrounded by her family, Kathleen became Kathleen Short on July 28th, 1945, just months after the war ended.
This audio short was engineered and produced by Kevin Farkas for the Veteran Voices of Pittsburgh Radio Synication Program.