Kath defended us from Hitler’s bombs - ‘you had to be strong and carry on’

Kath Tozer tells her inspiring wartime story

Kath Tozer tells her inspiring wartime story - Credit: Archant

Women’s Royal Army Corp Veteran Pauline Marr is appealing for other veterans in Torbay to come forward and ‘meet’ up – when Covid restrictions allow, of course.

She was prompted by the remarkable and inspiring story of Bay resident Kath Tozer.

Private Kath Tozer joined the Auxiliary Territorial Service as a gunner in January 1941 at the age of 17. She defended Anti-aircraft bases on the home front until the end of the war, defending the British public against German bombs.

Kath says: “I’s often forgotten civilians here were getting bombed as much as people on the front line and had little to defend them. And boats bringing food to the country were being bombed too. The public had a terrible time. It was dreadful.

“I joined wanting to be a gunner defending the Ack-Ack bases. I wanted to do my bit for the country.

“We were up at 6 o’clock every morning, when the bugler would toot. We’d stand in the coat room, line up and they’d check we’d been in all night and that we hadn’t been on 24-hour pass.

“We used to do a 24-hour pattern, one day we’d do cook house duties, another day we’d do guard duty, then another day we’d do height finder, another day predictor [gun site location identification instruments]. If you been naughty you were put on jankers [punishment] and you had to scrub the kitchen floor.

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“We were moved all over the country to different sites because there was so much to do. I had 16 transfers in five years.”

She added: “Once we were stationed in New Brighton and there was a seven-pound gun down on the beach. The Germans came over and bombed it, and everyone on the site at the time was killed. That was terrible.

“A lot of terrible things happened – like they do today. But you had to carry on and be and strong.”

Kath said the war was different depending on where you were, and there were so many funny times too.

She remembers: “I stayed in big Nissen Huts – with 26 girls in each one. It was so interesting meeting different people

“We used to go to dances with the Yanks, they were good company. They’d send lorries for us and we’d all get in, and we went to their sites. They gave us snoods to keep our hair up. They had oranges and bananas, and nylon stockings with seams up the back. We never saw anything like that in civvy street.”

Kath met her husband Bill during the war, while he was on leave from the Navy. Bill was working on Oerlikon guns, on ships that protected boats carrying food for the home front. Like millions of others he was young and only 18 when he joined. Kath says: “He was torpedoed. But he survived and got back ok.

“It was awful being away from him when he was at sea. He was in Hong Kong fighting the Japanese. They went up the Yangtze from Mongolia. They had a tough time with the pirates there. They would go out with machine guns strapped to them.”

Kath and Bill got married during wartime and honeymooned in Torquay when he was on shore leave.

“I met the love of my life in a time that was harrowing. I found moments of happiness in that time. As soon as I saw him, I fell for him. He was like Steve McQueen.

“We went on to spend 70 years together. It was fate – everything happens for a reason.”

Former veteran Pauline says: “I only found out Kath lived in the Bay during lockdown. When restrictions allow I visit her and take her out. She loves to talk to others who also served in the Army.”

She added: “l would like to reach out to any other WRAC or ATS ladies in the Bay who may like to get to know others for a chat.”

You can reach her by emiling paulinemarr55@gmail.com

*Next week: How Kath celebrated VE Day