AnEnglishWomansJournal

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WW2 - a Wrens Life

Lizzie's mother joins the Women’s Royal Naval Service

 It was very difficult for me to volunteer for the WRNS, as I was the eldest girl of 4 girls, the next to me being 7 years younger and only 13 years old.  We were very hard up, so I was only allowed to go on one condition; that I handed over half my wage to be sent home.  It was only 16 shillings, so I was left with 8 shillings.  My Wren friends used to help me out if we went for a meal etc.  I was engaged to be married when I joined up, a boy sweetheart who had joined the RAF.  But he was killed over Hamburg at Xmas, before we were to be married in April on my 21st birthday.  As he was a rear gunner he didn’t stand much chance, and I remember when being told the news the overture ‘Tan Hauser’ was playing in the background on the radio and I never now hear it without seeing his face.

My 21st birthday was held at the Queens Hotel, Southsea.  We had a super time, as I was allowed to invite 20 WRNS, and 20 mixed Army, Navy and Air force men. Glenn Miller and his Orchestra played at Southsea that year, and it was a great thrill to actually dance to the band.  Well, we could not dance, it was too crowded, but the atmosphere was electric, and I’ll never forget it.

 

Lots of funny things happened while I was in the WRNS, like driving along Hove seafront on an icy morning, skidding into a milk float and knocking it over – gallons of milk poured along the gutters.  Luckily the driver wasn’t hurt.

The Dieppe raid was a great tragedy; I knew many of the Canadians who were killed, as I served for a while at a combined ops depot where they were being trained.

Many memories surface – especially the one about the hip bath. I was a Motor Transport Driver and  M.T. drivers serving at night had no bathroom, so one of the girls mothers found, and sent us a hip bath.  It was quite luxurious, filled with water, in front of the fir and one sat in it like an armchair, legs over the sides.  One night however, the duty officer was doing her rounds early, and accompanied by 2 male ratings.  We rushing to aid the poor girl in the hip bath, holding towels in front of her, but I think the sailors thought it was their birthday, and we, of course, had quite a dressing down to next day, and weren’t allowed to use the hip bath again.

Cocoa at night (made in a saucepan) was a must, and so thick, the spoon would stand up straight in it.  I remember, being drafted to H.M.S. Lizard late at night, and being met by a Wren, dressed in a duffle coat, hat and pyjama bottoms.  She had forgotten to put on her bell bottoms having just rolled out of the bunk – something else we were not supposed to do on night duty; change into pyjamas.  Our friendship lasted over 60 years.

Driving back from Hayling Island once took me 3.5 hours, as we only had lights 2” in diameter and driving in fog wasn’t very funny.  A sailor walked in front holding a torch!

We had such fun, in spite of everything.  Perhaps we were aware that it might be a short life, and we were determined to make the most of each day, but there was such an air of comradeship everywhere, everyone pulling together, helping those who had been bereaved; so many in such a short time.

When I met my future husband, Jack, he had been put on shore based duty, having contracted asthma when returning on a ship from Singapore.  He could have chosen to be invalided out but he loved the Navy so spent  2 years driving lorries instead. 

 

When the war was over I worked at Harrods in London, near Jack’s home, having gained a good reference from the Navy.  We had to take an exam before being employed, but I don’t think this applies now.  We were not allowed to talk to each other behind the counters and how I missed my WRN companions.  It was like stepping out into a different world, having to worry bout clothing coupons and ration books.  None of that worried us in the forces.  In that respect, we were spoiled, and we always had plenty to eat, but I’m not saying we didn’t work hard, indeed we did.