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15 October 2014
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MY WAR IN THE WRNS (Officer Training & Postings)

by AgeConcernShropshire

Contributed by 
People in story: 
Patricia Anne PARKYN (nee THORNYCROFT)
Location of story: 
Liverpool, Orkney, Yeovilton & Isle of Wight
Background to story: 
Royal Navy
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
02 June 2005

3/O PA Thornycroft 1941

This story has been submitted in 3 parts:

Part 1 Basic Training - A4123793
RNC Greenwich
HMS Skirmisher (Wren)
HMS Watchful (Leading Wren)

Part 2 Plotting & Ops Officer
HMS Eaglet Liverpool; HMS
Phrosopine Orkney; HMS Heron
I.O.W over D Day Landings
HMS Dartmouth Devon over V.E. Day

Part 3 Operations Officer - A4440476
after D-Day; VE & VJ Day

Part 2:

When I was told I was being put up for commission, I sent Suleman home, packed my bags and set off for the lovely Royal Property "Coppins" then the Officer Training Camp (OTC) for the WRNS. I worked extremely hard, determined now to get a commission. My only bad memory of that time was when trying to show off my prowess at drilling. My fellow cadets marched here and there on those lovely lawns looking absolutely perfect, until suddenly when approaching a fish pond, my mind went totally blank. The words "about turn" could not be found. As the pond was extremely deep I doubted if even my dearest colleague would have marched on until my "about turn".

My first commissioned posting was to "HMS Eaglet" Liverpool. It was a strange feeling going down about half a mile into the ground. The work was exciting and I loved climbing up and down the long ladders, together with the WAFF Officers, sticking pins in hopefully the right places, being watched (like a monkey in the zoo) by countless VIPs and brass hats behind the glass wall opposite.

Plotting the progress of the likes of "The Queens" and "HMS Magpie" together with the packs of U-Boats, was absolutely thrilling. The watches were very long, often more than twenty-four hours plus, as it often took well over an hour to pass movements over, it was not worth having them shorter. Very occassionally, one could creep into a sort of tunnel and sleep for an hour.

One morning, about 2.00 am, I was handed a telegram from my father telling me that my second brother, Mytton, had been killed. I had ten more hours on duty.

A lasting memory from Western Approaches, was playing cricket, I missed a fast ball when batting, which shattered my signet ring and small finger.

Soon after I received a signal telling me to stand by. From the bowels of the earth at Western Approaches, I was flown in a small plane, to what appeared to be the surface of the moon. The countless lochs, rocks, crofts, Nissan huts and Neolithic stones below, softened in outline by the snow made an unearthly sight. It turned out to be Orkney.

There were very few WRNS there and our quarters were comprised of Nissan huts half way up a hillside, heated by peat fires. I was forcibly struck by the fact that everyone had a sole aim "sink the Bismark".
The chase from our underground OPS burrow was at times wildly exciting. Wrens being rare, meant endless parties on the magnificent warships that came to Scapa Flow to re-stock and re-fuel.

Home being too distant for short leaves, off duty times were sometimes tedious, but there were highlights. I was fascinated by the upturned keels near Stromness of the German battle fleet scuttled in World War 1. After countless hours of fruitless begging with a small team of divers, I one day found myself walking on the rusty ceiling of the upturned "Derflinger" - a great but very weird and unforgettable experience.

Perhaps my highest highlight was the evening I wandered down to Kirkwall at the start of a seventy-two hours leave. I had somewhat optimistically dressed in bell-bottoms, endless sweaters and duffle coat, ready in fact, for anything. I began to talk to the fishermen, friendly as always, mending their nets after the last catch. One boat was preparing to set off to the Shetlands and I begged to be taken. Very reluctantly, as the sea was rough and women not considered "right" on fishing boats, I was allowed on board. Shortly after, and for the next few hours I doubted my sanity, or even my ability to survive, but the sight of dawn breaking across Sumburgh and then onto the tranquil waters of Lerwick Harbour changed my life for ever.

I love that little country more than anywhere else in the world and my ashes will be scattered there when the time comes.

Another everlasting highlight was St Magnus Cathedral in Kirkwall. In those days it was without locks and barriers and I wandered for hours lost in appreciation of perfect beauty and peace. The pink soft stone and massive pillars of simple structure gave me more tranquility than any other of the countless cathedrals I have seen around the world. Also I made friends with the life-boat crew and spent happy times bouncing around the coast, and with the light-house keeper and his wife who gave me endless hospitality at Stromness.

One day in May the signal came through that "HMS Hood" had been sunk, seemingly with all hands. We were absolutely stunned. The feelings of horror and anger were something no words could describe. Now, with vital clues available as to her whereabouts the chase for the "Bismark" was electrically tense, no-one and nothing was spared.

On May 27th the "Bismark" was sunk by the incredible skills and tenacity of the Navy and Fleet Air Arm, with the "Dorchester" , "Rodney" and George V" in at the kill. When the signal came through, I somehow expected a roar of victory, but it did not come. The rage and hatred that followed the sinking of "HMS Hood" seemed to dim with the signal. Many heads were bowed, I know my tears were not the only ones.

Before, all I could think of, since the sinking of "HMS Hood" was the two to three thousand men dying with her and the countless tears of those who loved them. Now the same horror again, only this time German tears.

From Orkney I was posted to "HMS Heron" Yeovilton to learn about packing para-chutes, a job that was mental agony - knowing that someone's life would be in your hands when the parachute was used. I had a few flying lessons with the "Jinks" Trainer which was thrilling. From there I was posted South, I became a general OPS dogs body and enjoyed tremendously the ceaseless activity, and having a finger in every pie from Dover to Falmouth. Enemy raids were very heavy and almost nightly. Being underground most of the time,one missed the noise, but the desolation that greeted emergence was terrible. Boats and ships of believable (and unbelievable) size slid in to the harbour every hour during the darkness of night. The barrage of AVK ACK seldom stopped and sometimes it was hard to tell if it was night or day with the flashes, search lights and incendiary attacks, producing a perpetual wall and ceiling of dust and smoke.

Everyone worked to their utmost. In a strange and almost wordless way, the sense of coming drama was intense. One evening in Southampton I received a signal warning me to be ready to move in half-an-hour. I had just shut my small case when I was taken along underground passages until we came to to a small boat waiting in the dock. In total darkness we set off weaving in and out of towering black shapes. Exciting beyond description - ceaseless air and land activity in almost total darkness - except for the many explosions inland and overhead. I had no idea where we were going and the few on board didn't speak - but after about 45 minutes we docked and I learnt it was Seaview on the Isle of Wight. I was quickly ushered underground into a rabbit warren of tunnels.

Here the atmosphere was traumatic, but the work was thrilling. Time merged with periods of duty; leaving little for sleep or eating. No personal communications were allowed. Doodle Bugs were a constant irritant, and feelings often ran very high.

My job was to help speed up the crossing of our troops to the French Coast and the return of our wounded by every available sea craft in ceaseless danger. Two of my brothers I knew were to cross - only one returned. The memories of those days and nights have left me a mixture of agony and admiration for those I loved and lost and the indescribable courage of those I worked with and for.

In May 1945 when the V.E. signal came, I was stationed at "HMS Dartmouth" as a WRNS Officer for Wren boat crews, a quiet, but interesting job. The signal's arrival created indescribable emotions, cheers, tears and a stunned, almost unbelievable feeling of joy. All possible leave was given in every quarter - celebration filled the entire atmosphere.

I did not feel having lost my brothers and so many friends, in the right mood to celebrate, so volunteered to stay on duty and to fulfil every position I was able to do. The coming 24 hours were the most unforgettable in my life. My valiant boat crew Wrens unloaded every ship at anchor, arriving and taking celebrants to shore, where every bus, train, street and pub were fully packed for many hours.

As night fell street lights shone for the first time in years, curtains were pulled back to show happy happy celebrations - music came from all quarters - and the church bells peeled through the night.

It was a lovely calm evening - the only trouble being occassional loss of definition of land, sea, gang planks and destinations! My Wrens were wonderful and by dawn nothing worse had happened than a few wet uniforms and missing life-belts.

A 24 hours I will never forget, the beams of light shone across the harbour as ships arrived, the atmosphere of pride and joy were beyond any words.

I would be delighted if anybody reading this who remembers me could get in touch through the People's War website. Thank you.

Story: This story has been submitted to the People's War Site by Muriel Palmer (volunteer) of Age Concern Shropshire Telford & Wrekin on behalf of PA THORNYCROFT (author) and has been added to the site with her permission. The author fully understands the site's terms and conditions.

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