Heritage

Absolute Legends: The Woman Who Helped Defend British Skies During WW2

This is the story of an ordinary woman being called up to do extraordinary things...

As part of Forces Network's Absolute Legends series, we've been looking at just a few of the military's innumerable, incredible people and stories.

Here, we reveal how one woman was asked out of the blue to become a vital part of Britain's war effort ...

When the Second World War broke out, all were called up to help do their part for the war effort.

Around three and a half million men served in the British Army alone during that time, with many more serving in the Royal Navy or the RAF.

With so many men being sent overseas, British women played a vital part in keeping the country going.

Along with the everyday activities of running households and managing the incredible task of rationing and growing food in allotments by 'digging for victory', many were called to directly serve in the British Armed Forces.

War work involved women in roles such as mechanics, engineers, munitions workers and air raid wardens.

Overall, there were more than 640,000 women in the armed forces, Jessie Florence Jackson was one of them.

The Women's Auxiliary Air Force was founded in 1939 and was still young when they called upon Jessie.

Her boss was asked to put forward workers who he thought would be suitable for a new and highly important role in the WAAF. 

Adverts looking to recruit people into this position stated they:

"Must be under twenty-one years of age, with quick reactions, good at figures - and female".

Jessie's boss thought this new role might be dangerous and didn't want to lose any of his employees, so put forward Jessie thinking that she would be the least likely to be picked. 

As it turned out she was one of the first women asked to serve in a Filter Room.

The Filter Room was the nerve centre of the radar system and housed female filter plotters.

Filter plotting, in which information received from the many radar stations around the British coast was filtered and passed on to the Operations Room, was at the time treated with extreme secrecy and it has often meant that this vital role has gone underappreciated and become forgotten by time.

Women like Jessie received information from multiple radar systems alerting them to the presence of the enemy.

Plotters played a vital role in The Battle of Britain and perhaps most importantly keeping the brave pilots and navigators alive to fight another mission.

She also helped defend Britain from The Blitz, by alerting the services of incoming German planes. One of her biggest motivations for want to serve the war effort was the fact that her whole family suffered greatly when a bomb landed on their home, killing and injuring her nearest and dearest.

One pilot Jessie was looking after was her future husband Eric James Jackson who also served in the RAF during the Second World War.

His role flying damaged planes back to the UK meant he regularly flew some of history's most iconic planes back home whilst under intense fire.

Jessie was recently profiled in the BFBS documentary 'Just A Bowl Of Cherries' where her granddaughter, who also served in the British Armed Forces spoke to her about her time during World War II. 

Despite Jessie's memory fading in old age, she can still recall the early days of her life and recalls the events of the Second World War with charm, eloquence and wit.

One of the things that makes Jessie such a legend is her enduring support for all those serving in the Armed Forces.

Every night, without exception, throughout the Afghanistan and Iraq conflicts Jessie, who was then in her late 80's, would quietly raise a glass of whiskey for 'the boys and girls serving to make our lives safer'. 

Jessie passed away earlier this year just before her 99th birthday.