- Contributed by
- People in story:
- Kathleen Mount, Douglas Fairbanks Junior, Tommy Trinder
- Location of story:
- Canterbury, Wokingham, Aborfield, Scarborough, Scapa Flow, Worthy Down, Salisbury
- Background to story:
- Royal Navy
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 14 April 2005
Me in the WRENS (1940). I wasn't always old!
So Many Memories
11am 3rd September 1939……When the Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain first said those words on the wireless, telling us that our country was at war with Germany, time just stood still for me. Somehow it didn’t seem real. There had been so many rumours, so much talk of war. Gas masks had been delivered (although thank God they were never used), air raid shelters were being built everywhere, and small ones to put up on the dug-outs at the bottom of the garden. But still none of us knew what was really happening.
I was eighteen at the time, the start of my adult life, and I was working on the land in the Kent fruit orchards. I lived in Canterbury and cycled to work every day. There weren’t many cars about in 1939 so we were quite safe on the road. After my days work was over sometimes I would enjoy a visit to the cinema, and then on Saturday I would go to the local Dance Hall with a few of my friends. Sometimes I had a boy to walk me home, with maybe a little goodnight kiss (Wow!)
So many memories…………….
I had always enjoyed singing and I was in a small concert party. We were in great demand in those early days of the war. Canterbury was a Garrison City, and the local Friars Cinema used to hold a “Friday night is Military Night”, where all the troops were allowed in at half price. Between the second and third house we would put on an entertainment for them, it went down very well. After the war ended the cinema became the Marlowe Theatre. I went to a Cliff Richard Tribute Band concert there recently with my daughters, and I was thinking……….I sang on this very stage 65 years ago! Happy memories………..
I had three sisters who were all married and I soon realised that I would have to register for war work. As time went by and the air raids started, Canterbury City Council asked families to consider being evacuated. There was talk of things getting worse. We duly volunteered and were sent to Wokingham in Berkshire, quite near to Reading. We had very comfortable billets and I got a job as a waitress at the local Hop Leaf Hotel. Once again I got involved with entertainment, singing to the troops at the Aborfield apprentices camp. Time went by and gradually we all went back home to Canterbury. The fear of invasion had lessened and I had never been out of work before, so I went down to the labour exchange to look for jobs. There was a Wren Officer who was recruiting and so I had a talk with her. The outcome was that I was told I would receive a letter telling me when and where to attend for a medical and that it would be about two weeks before I heard. I didn’t say a word to my mother at the time, so it was quite a shock to her when two days later a letter came telling me to report to Dover for a medical, which I duly passed and eventually I was posted to a shore wireless station in Scarborough, Yorkshire. So began the start of my new life……Wren K Morris No.12779.
We were billeted in the hotel Cecil Ryndleside. For anyone who knows Scarborough, the hotel overlooked Peasholm Park. Many a time we ran up the steps from the park allowing ourselves about a couple of minutes to report in on time. They were a nice bunch of girls there, and we all got on well together, and living together a communal life worked well, it broadened our outlook on everything. Obviously the seafront was very restricted, but we found various ways to enjoy our off-duty hours. Once again I got involved in singing — and I remember singing with the band at the Olympic Dance hall. I danced with a Royal Marine “Bruts Gonella” — whose brother Nat Gonella fronted a band called “The Georgians”. Happy days…………..
We also had the chance to ride a horse. We didn’t have any “Hunting Pinks” just bell bottomed trousers and cotton flannel tops. For one shilling an hour we used to ride up Olivers Mount. I believe they ride motorbikes up there now.
So many memories………..
Eventually I was promoted to Leading Wren, and posted to Scapa Flow — HMS Sparrowhawk — many miles away. It used to take the best part of two days to get home on leave. Once again it was a very friendly place — nice bunch of girls, and would you believe they had a concert party, “The Sparrows” that I duly joined. We put on some good shows and at Xmas we put on a pantomime “Cinderella”. I was billed as H.R.H. Prince of Orkney. Temporary acting Commodore (unpaid) Lt Commander Patrick Shea-Simmonds wrote the script and Reverend Palmer (Pedler) the music. The Padre was a survivor from HMS Penelope. He wrote a song for me to sing in one of our shows entitled “There’s A Ring Round The Moon Tonight”, and it was when I moved up north seventeen years ago, that I saw a ring round the moon one night - I think its all to do with the weather.
There were always some ships in “The Flow” and we were often invited to visit the ships at weekends. The Royal Navy provided the liberty boats to transport to and from the ships. I was a Petty Officer Wren by then and I can remember taking a group of wrens onboard one of the ships and we found our way down below to the galley — where we were given lovely loafs of white bread. Most of the bread for sale during the war was an awful grey colour (horrible!).
There were American Aircraft Carriers in the Flow — and sometimes the crews came ashore to our camp for a couple of weeks. One of the officers was a well known film star. Namely Douglas Fairbanks Jnr. One of my friends was an OS (Officers Steward), and we were all very envious of her as she acted as his valet. However, I did get to meet him in the mess, what a thrill that was.
We were inspected at various times by King George and King Haakon of Norway and Princess Marina. I remember she wore black silk fully fashioned stockings with her uniform, and the only way you could tell they were black was by the seam at the back. There we were in our thick black lyle stockings (Pussers Issue) ah well!
During the time I was stationed there, I learnt to play football. I was five foot six and half inches, and so I played in goal. I also learnt to fire a .22 rifle. My friend and I joined an evening class at the local school in Kirkwall to learn to use a type writer and to speak French. Then when we found that the lessons were on the same night as the camp dances so we gave them up (the lessons I mean).
One day I was going to the wrens quarters for my lunch and I met a sailor who told me that on the lunchtime news on the wireless they had announced that Canterbury had been heavily bombed the previous night. The next morning I found a signal on my locker telling me that my family were bombed out, but were all safe. That was a bad time in my life, because although no-one was hurt (my family were in the shelter) the house was destroyed and we lost everything…….all my childhood memories, my books that I had won at school that I had treasured. When I joined the W.R.N.S. I had managed to get a piece of fine white cloth which I took everywhere with me and I used to ask whoever I met to sign their name and address on it and then I embroidered it. I had addresses from many parts of the world and it all went up in smoke. I was sad for quite a while after that, however life went on. Sad memories…………
My final posting was to HMS Kestrel at Worthy Down near Winchester. Again it was fleet air arm and if I remember correctly this was about the time of Arnhem, one of the biggest mistakes of the war. We received a request from Salisbury hospital for Wrens to go there in our off-watch hours to visit the patients who were mainly American soldiers who had been badly burned. We used to read the papers to them, write letters home and various other things to help out the over worked nurses, and yes I did sing to them! Surprised? I often wondered after the war was over, just how many of them survived. Well for every single memory I have put in my story, I have left two out.
The W.R.N.S. quarters were quite away from the main camp, and one of my last memories was of walking up to the camp to attend an E.N.S.A. concert when suddenly a car came along and stopped, the door opened and a cockney voice asked “would you like a lift girls” and we realised it was the late Tommy Trinder. He was a very funny man. It was the first car I had seen whose lights came on as the door opened, fame indeed.
Well finally I was demobbed in February 1946 with three weeks demob leave and the princely sum of £53-11s-4d gratuity pay and a voucher to buy two pairs of KAYSER BONDOR nylon stockings, riches indeed! I enjoyed my life in the W.R.N.S. and I wouldn’t have missed one minute of it. My C.P.O. rate came through on my de-mob leave. I had several offers of jobs but I thought ‘well I’ll enjoy my leave first’. Then a friend asked me to go with her to a dance at Herne Bay. There was a talent contest with a prize of £8 (riches) and a chance of a recording contract. Well to cut a long story short I won the contest, collected the money, but I turned down the recording contract because I didn’t want to go away from home again and also because at that dance I met the man I was to marry in 1948 and we had four children, eleven grandchildren, during our fifty years together.
So many happy memories………….
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