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15 October 2014
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Eye to Eye with Friend and Foe

by BBC Southern Counties Radio

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Contributed by 
BBC Southern Counties Radio
People in story: 
Josephine Ann Morgan (nee Towle)
Location of story: 
Portsmouth and Southsea, Birkdale
Background to story: 
Royal Navy
Article ID: 
A7983002
Contributed on: 
22 December 2005

I was living at home with my widowed father in Southport, Lancashire, when I was called up and left to join the WRNS in 1943. The holding depot was at Mill Hill in northwest London and I was selected to be attached to Motor Transport as a driver. I had passed my driving test aged 17 but I had to take three further tests in order to satisfy the requirement for the variety of vehicles I might be expected to control.

On being asked where I would prefer to be stationed — north or south — I replied “North, to be near my father who lives alone.” I was sent to Portsmouth Dockyard!

On arrival there I joined my fellow recruits in our Southsea billet where we were quartered in a cabin at the rear of the house. It had no sea view; when we used the wash basin situated on our window wall and looked out, we could only see an empty house with empty windows.

The day came when something unexpected occurred, however. Retuning from duty on one occasion and changing out of our work clothes I stood at the washbasin dressed in nothing but pants and bra; I looked up and the empty windows of the opposite building were filled with the faces of the Army! “Oh God, look!” I exclaimed. Curtains were hastily drawn!

We had a very happy time at the Dockyard, driving officers by car to Fort Southick, transporting victuals and supplies to the Navy and staying for the odd drink or two in the wardroom. From 6th June 1944 my passengers were quite different. After D Day ships came back from Normandy with wounded German prisoners, some requiring transportation in ambulances but single-decker buses suffices for the walking wounded.

I was directed to drive both forms of vehicle, whichever was appropriate at the time. I experienced some qualms when driving the single-deckers, with 30+ prisoners behind me and only one Army Sapper as guard, sp far as I could see, unarmed, during the journey to the POW camps. The pedestrian populace seemed to harbour similar apprehensions as they observed our progress through the streets. I gathered, too, that my passengers were apprehensive — at being driven by a woman!

At night, after parking our vehicles in the Dockyard, there was a long walk home to our billet and we often had to dodge about and fall flat on the ground when we heard the drone of the Doodlebugs and the engines cut out. Then, when we reached our destination and sought the galley to make a hot drink, we found the floor alive with cockroaches.

Subsequent to these events, a spell of leave back home in the North West was prolonged by my having to spend many weeks in the Naval Hospital in Liverpool suffering from asthma and sciatica. It being considered that my having driven open-sided ambulances was a factor in my case, I was demobbed from the service with a pension. Then, whilst living again at home I opened, with a friend, a canteen for the Maritime Regiment based in Birkdale. The war ended several months later.

This story was added to the site by Melita Dennett on behalf of Josephine Ann Morgan who understands the site's terms and conditions.

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