RAF Biggin Hill and the Military Medal

During the Second World War, the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) received just 6 military medals. Half of these were won during the November of 1940 at RAF Biggin Hill.

During the Battle of Britain the county of Kent was bombed repeatedly and on 30 Aug 1940, RAF Biggin Hill was targeted in a particularly heavy raid, causing the deaths of 39 people. The next morning, those that had survived, reported for duty as usual. They  would be bombed again before the day ended. Sergeant Joan Mortimer, Flight Officer Elspeth Henderson and Sergeant Helen Turner were all WAAF teleprinter operators who stayed at their posts during the heavy Luftwaffe (German Air Force) attacks on the
1 Sep 1940.

Despite the commencement of the second raid, Flying Officer Elspeth Henderson continued her work keeping in contact with Fighter Command Headquarters. She continued to do this even after she was knocked to the ground as the operations room, where she was working, took a direct hit. Sergeant Helen Turner was the switchboard operator, she also continued working in the same building even after it was hit and bombs continued to fall nearby. It was only when a fire broke out and they were ordered to leave, that the two women finally abandoned their posts.

Sergeant Joan Mortimer was in the armoury when the air raid started. Although surrounded by several tons of high explosives, she remained at her telephone switchboard relaying messages to the defence posts around the airfield. Mortimer then picked up a bundle of red flags and hurried out to mark the numerous unexploded bombs scattered around the area.  She completed this task even after one of them detonated close by. For the bravery all 3 women displayed in their determination to carry out their duties, each was awarded the Military Medal in November 1940.