The Best Story So Far part 2 page being updated
Helena Mary Best nee Preston Womens Royal Auxiliary Air Force
The Woman Helena Mary Preston was born on 10th April 1910 at 70 Chaucer Road, Gillingham, Kent. One of two children, her parents were Herbert Edwin, a Sergeant in the Royal Marine Light Infantry and Helena (Lena) Preston, her brother, Herbert Edwin Ronald, known as Ronnie, becoming the father of Roger Preston. She moved to Eastbourne during the 1920s when her Father became a Coastguard Officer and living at the Coastguard Station on Latimer Road. She was educated locally and acquired two nicknames that stayed with her all her life, ‘PUCK’ as she had appeared in a school performance of A Midsummer Nights Dream playing this part and the second ‘BLOSS’ as her Father called her ‘his’ May Blossom, this particular name stayed with her and was used by friends and
relatives up until her death 70 years later, she was known locally as ‘AUNTIE BLOSS’. On the 30th October 1925 aged 15 she began working for Winefride Pike, Catherine Stewart and Olive Tanner as an apprentice making ‘fancy goods’ with art, needlework and embroidery. Her term of apprenticeship was for three years and she earned five shillings per week for the first year, ten for the second and fifteen on the third, this equates to 75p a week and £39.00 a year by today’s equivalent. It is likely Bloss knew her future husband Charles Best from school as in 1924 he gave her a small leather purse with the initial M on it and in 1928 she sent him a postcard. Little information is known about her during the late 1920s or 1930s, except to say that she did travel abroad on occasions and in 1936 visited Interlaken in Switzerland, was also a Bridesmaid at her Brother Ronnie’s wedding and was a member of the Women’s League of Health and Beauty.
With the threat of a World War looming during the late 1930s Helena took a number of courses with the Red Cross and St John Ambulance Brigade, becoming trained in Anti Gas Techniques, administering First Aid to the Injured and Home Nursing. At some time during this period she moved house with her parents living with them at 15 Goodwood Bank, Willingdon, Eastbourne, although the address was later changed to 50 Cooper’s Hill. On 28th October 1941 she joined the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force as 453689 ACW 2 Preston. She was described as 5’ 1¼” tall with a 29” chest, light auburn hair, brown eyes and a fresh complexion, she also had a small scar on her forehead. She was initially posted to Gloucester and then to Morecambe in November. On 28th April 1942 she was promoted to ACW 1 and in June was admitted to the Military Hospital at Shenley and then to HQ Fighter Command at RAF Bentley Priory, Stanmore as an Intelligence Tracer, tracing aircraft movements over the South East of England and was promoted to LACW on 1st November. In 1943, following a further period of hospitalisation this time in the Mount Vernon Hospital, she was posted to HQ(V) ADGB on 15th November. On 21st September 1944 having volunteered and been selected for overseas service, she was sent to IPDC and HQ 85 Group at RAF Uxbridge. After training she was flown from RAF Northolt to an Airfield at Amiens-Clichy in France. Here she worked in secret before returning briefly to England and being sent back to Belgium and Germany for Intelligence Tracing with 85 Group in the 21 and 34 BD Sector. A part of her job being to map out routes used by British Prisoners of War to escape though Europe. During her time in the WAAF she was posted to and visited Lyon, Lille, Brussels, Bruge, Blankenberge, Deurne, Zoote, Ostende, Ghent, Knokke, Antwerp and Hamburg. She remained overseas for the remainder of the war attending a Moral Leadrship Course on 2nd October 1945 and
discharged from the RAF after the war on 1st April 1946 having served for 4 years, 5 months and 3 days. He occupation throughout her service was described as a Clerk and her character very good. She was awarded a good conduct badge on 28th October 1944 and for her war time service was awarded 1939-1945 Star, France & Germany Star, Defence Medal and 1939 British War Medal, an unusual campaign combination for a female recipient. Whilst in Ghent in 1944 she was billeted with and became firm friends of a Belgian couple, Mariette and Gaston Hebbelinck, Gaston being a local lawyer. The friendship lasted and Bloss went to see them
both as late as 1977 when she was on holiday. During 1947 she became engaged to her long time friend, Charles Best and and at the time was living with her parents at 15 Goodwood Bank, later changed to 50 Cooper's Hill, Willingdon. On March 27th 1948 they married at St. Marys Church, Willingdon and lived with Charles at 57 Willowfield Road Eastbourne, later moving cloe to her parents at 30 Cooper's Hill. On 6th October 1949 Bloss and Charles had a son, Winston Charles Best who was born in the maternity home at 9 Upperton Road, Eastbourne. Sadly her husband Charles died prematurely following an operation in hospital in 1952. This left Bloss facing hard times and bringing up their only son. She managed however until 1976 when Winston died of a serious illness in hospital. Bloss was left devastated by the early loss of both her husband and son. She never re-married or visited the grave of her husband following his funeral. Bloss remained at the same address and received support from many neighbours and members of her family, including her nephew Roger Preston an Officer in the Royal Air Force. In 1977 Bloss accompanied Roger Preston to Berlin travelling there by military train though the corridor. She continued living at 30 Cooper’s Hill right up until her death on 14th January 1997 aged 86. Her medals were placed on her coffin and her ashes scattered on The Downs overlooking Willingdon with her son.
To see a selection of photographs from Bloss's life click here
- 1939-45 Star: Unnamed as issued
- France & Germany Star: Unnamed as issued.
- Defence Medal: Unnamed as issued.
- War Medal 1939-45: Unnamed as issued.
Page last updated 6 May 16