Joan Fan­shawe

One of the last of the WAAF plot­ters on duty in the op­er­a­tions room dur­ing the Bat­tle of Bri­tain

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - - Deaths And Obituaries -

JOAN Fan­shawe, who has died aged 98, was on duty as a WAAF plot­ter in the op­er­a­tions room at RAF Uxbridge when Win­ston Churchill vis­ited at the height of the Bat­tle of Bri­tain.

The weather was fine on Septem­ber 15, 1940 when the Bri­tish prime min­is­ter de­cided to visit the Air Of­fi­cer Com­mand­ing No 11 Group, Air Vice-Mar­shal Keith Park, at his head­quar­ters. Shortly af­ter his ar­rival, the Luft­waffe launched the first of a se­ries of ma­jor at­tacks against tar­gets in Lon­don dur­ing the day.

Joan was one of 10 WAAFs sur­round­ing the plot­ting ta­ble in the un­der­ground op­er­a­tions room, when soon af­ter 11am the first re­ports of an en­emy raid were re­ceived. Us­ing a stick like a croupier’s rake, she plot­ted move­ments in the Calais-Dover sec­tor, which proved to be the main axis of the at­tack.

Park skil­fully de­ployed his squadrons and they in­flicted sig­nif­i­cant dam­age on the bomber force. Churchill, mon­i­tor­ing the move­ments on the plot­ting ta­ble with Park from the con­troller’s bal­cony, ex­pressed his de­light at the re­sults.

Shortly be­fore 2pm, a much big­ger raid was de­tected by the early warn­ing radar sys­tem. Park launched his squadrons and soon had 250 fighters in the air, but they were still out­num­bered two to one. Park and Churchill watched as the WAAF plot­ters moved the blocks to show de­tails of the at­tack­ing force ap­proach­ing Lon­don. See­ing that ev­ery squadron in 11 Group was in the air, Churchill turned to Park to ask what re­serves were avail­able. Park gave his now-fa­mous re­ply — that all his squadrons were air­borne.

Al­though the claims of suc­cesses against Luft­waffe forces were ex­ag­ger­ated, the day was a clear vic­tory for the RAF, and Septem­ber 15 has sub­se­quently been com­mem­o­rated as “Bat­tle of Bri­tain Day”. Joan re­mem­bered the day as spe­cial, but noted in her di­ary that she was “rather an­noyed” that Churchill’s visit had ex­tended her shift by an hour.

The daugh­ter of a cler­gy­man, Joan Mar­garet Moxon was born in Le­ices­ter on Septem­ber 5, 1920. She at­tended Hast­ings and St Leonards Ladies’ Col­lege, where she was deputy head girl, and then stud­ied at the Lon­don School of Eco­nomics. On the out­break of war, she joined the Civil De­fence.

Af­ter read­ing an ad for girls with “good ed­u­ca­tional qual­i­fi­ca­tions” to join the spe­cial du­ties branch of the WAAF, she en­listed — in­sist­ing that since her fa­ther had no sons to vol­un­teer, she would in­stead. She be­gan her train­ing in the sum­mer of 1940 and by the end of July, she and 13 oth­ers had been sent to the op­er­a­tions room at Uxbridge.

In Jan­uary 1942 she was posted to the RAF fighter air­field at Ken­ley, where she worked as a su­per­vi­sor in the con­trol room. She was com­mis­sioned in Novem­ber and moved to Tang­mere near Chich­ester, where she be­came an as­sis­tant con­troller. In ad­di­tion to her du­ties with the fighter squadrons, she used a con­fi­den­tial tele­phone line to a top-se­cret cot­tage to co­or­di­nate the car­ry­ing of agents to France by Lysander air­craft.

In Fe­bru­ary 1943 she was sad to leave Tang­mere for the fighter air­field at Deb­den, Es­sex, but she did not re­alise at the time how this move would shape the rest of her life. In Septem­ber, vis­it­ing friends of her fa­ther, she met their son, Lieu­tenant Tom Fan­shawe DSC, RNR, on leave from his frigate HMS Rother. They quickly es­tab­lished a close re­la­tion­ship be­fore Fan­shawe re­turned to duty on the At­lantic Con­voys.

Joan re­turned to Tang­mere at the end of 1943, by which time prepa­ra­tion for D-Day was well ad­vanced. The cou­ple’s plans to marry in June had to be post­poned as Fan­shawe took com­mand of the corvette Clover, which formed part of the van­guard of naval ships to sail for the Nor­mandy beaches. On the af­ter­noon of June 5, af­ter watch­ing the con­voys build­ing up in Portsmouth, she at­tended a con­fer­ence of com­man­ders, when she learnt that the in­va­sion was to take place the next day. She recorded in her di­ary: “At last it has come! I am so ter­ri­bly thrilled to be here help­ing to get fighter cover into the air to pro­tect Tommy es­cort­ing the in­va­sion troops.”

They were mar­ried on Au­gust 14 and Joan Fan­shawe spent the rest of the war serv­ing on fighter sta­tions, be­fore leav­ing the WAAF as a sec­tion of­fi­cer. Her hus­band was granted a per­ma­nent com­mis­sion and she be­gan a long life as a naval of­fi­cer’s wife, in Italy, Bahrain and South Africa.

Joan Fan­shawe was an ac­com­plished church or­gan­ist and played at her church at Stroud in Hamp­shire and two other ru­ral churches. In the last 10 years, she be­came some­thing of a celebrity as one of the last of the Bat­tle of Bri­tain WAAF plot­ters.

She gave a read­ing at the West­min­ster Abbey Bat­tle of Bri­tain Day ser­vice in 2015 and was an hon­oured guest at the RAF’s Cen­te­nary cel­e­bra­tions in 2018. That year she also at­tended the pre­miere of the doc­u­men­tary Spit­fire ,in which she ap­peared.

Joan Fan­shawe pos­sessed a great spirit and sense of ad­ven­ture. To cel­e­brate her 97 th birth­day, she flew in an aer­o­batic air­craft from Good­wood. Af­ter her hus­band’s death in 2000, she made reg­u­lar trips to New Zealand to visit her two daugh­ters, and it was there that she fell ill, while help­ing to bake a Christ­mas cake. Joan Fan­shawe died on De­cem­ber 21 and is sur­vived by her son and the two daugh­ters.

SPIRIT: Joan Fan­shawe had a great sense of ad­ven­ture

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