Joyce Shrubbs, who tracked wartime enemy aircraft and was later part of the UK’s nuclear warning system – obituary

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Joyce Shrubbs
Joyce Shrubbs

Joyce Shrubbs, who has died aged 94, rose through the ranks of the Royal Observer Corps (ROC) to become the Corps’s Assistant Commandant in the rank of Observer Captain, the only female officer to achieve this rare distinction.

Following the death of her brother in action with the Royal Navy in 1940, Joyce Taylor, as she then was,“wanted to be in uniform and feel that I was doing my part for the country.” She hoped to join the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force but was too young so, in answer to an advert, she joined the ROC on her 17th birthday.

In April 1944 she joined the 7 Group centre at Bedford as a plotter and teller. Working in the operations room, she and her colleagues plotted the movements of aircraft and alerted the observer posts in the field when any significant air traffic was entering their area.

She watched the huge armada of aircraft and gliders heading out on D-Day. A few months later she witnessed a similar event and recalled: “I expect some people knew what it was, but certainly we didn’t. All we knew was that there was a huge amount of flying across our group area, with all the Dakotas and gliders taking airborne troops to Arnhem. We didn’t know that until later when we read it in the newspapers.”

In May 1945 the ROC was stood down but within two years it was reformed.

The fifth of six children, Joyce was born into a farming family near Swineshead, Bedford, on April 6 1927. After leaving school she worked as a shorthand typist in the Ministry of Supply, during which time she spent two nights a week as a firewatcher from the roof of the telephone exchange in Bedford. In her spare time, she was a hostess in the US forces club in Bedford, and recalled dancing to the Glenn Miller Band.

After her wartime service she re-joined the ROC in 1947 as an observer at Bedford and served on a part-time basis until the Corps was stood down in 1995.

Initially the Corps’s task was the reporting and plotting of aircraft for the RAF, but by the mid-1950s, with the onset of the Cold War, the Corps had the vital role of nuclear reporting as part of the UK’s Warning and Monitoring Organisation.

By 1952 Joyce had been promoted to observer officer, serving as a duty controller. With further promotion she became the Group Commandant at Bedford and in 1973 took on the additional appointment of Honorary Women’s Personnel Adviser to the Commandant, a serving RAF air commodore.

She was promoted to Area Commandant, commanding an area of the country from the Thames to the Tees, and she eventually reached the countrywide position of Assistant Commandant of the ROC. When the Corps was stood down she became national president of the Royal Observer Corps Association, a position she relinquished in 1998 when she was invited to become vice-president.

For her services to the ROC she was appointed MBE in 1975, and in 1981 was awarded a second clasp to her ROC medal.

At heart Joyce Shrubbs was a country girl, and for almost 70 years she provided a secretarial and accounting service to the Bedfordshire farming community. The East of England Agricultural Society awarded her a medal for 50 years’ service, presented to her by the Duchess of Gloucester at the East of England Show. Twenty years later she received a bar to the medal.

She gave many years of service to the Royal British Legion and devoted a great deal of time to her local branch at Marston. From 1996 she served on the Bedfordshire County Committee, becoming chairman and finally vice-president. In June 2013 she was presented with the Legion’s National Certificate of Appreciation at a ceremony in Bedford.

She met her farmer husband, George Shrubbs, at a Young Farmers club and they were married for 50 years before George died in 1999.

As Joyce Shrubbs was laid to rest, a lone Spitfire flew over the cemetery in salute. She is survived by a son and a daughter.

Joyce Shrubbs, born April 6 1927, died July 9 2021

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