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WW2 - People's War

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Contributed by 
BBC Radio Norfolk Action Desk
People in story: 
Barbara E R Riddett
Location of story: 
Background to story: 
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
03 July 2005

This contribution to People’s War was received by the Action Desk at BBC Radio Norfolk and submitted to the website with the permission and on behalf of Barbara E R Treasure.

A small part. (keeping wartime records of the Merchant Navy)

I joined the Registrar General of Shipping and Seamen ( R.G.S.S.) in December 1940 as a Temporary Clerk Grade III at a weekly salary of £1.50. I was placed in the Deaths Section and spent my time adding names and all particulars to the Deaths Register, When I joined there was a great backlog but after working hard 8.30 am — 5.30 pm with a one hour break for lunch I brought it up to date in about three weeks.

During this time I was put on the fire watching rota which meant spending 29 hours non-stop in the building. This was an old school on not too good a condition. The staff had been brought to Cardiff from Tower Hill in London under the auspices of the Board of Trade. Most of the staff had been found accommodation in Penarth, near Cardiff but many had not accepted the evacuation from London and so other clerks were recruited in Cardiff.

Just after I joined, whilst fire watching, we had a very severe air raid and incendiary bombs landed on the roof. The all clear did not sound for four hours or so and the railway station right next door to us was hit. In the street outside horses had become free from their stables and were running in panic.

A short time after this I was promoted to Grade II Temporary Clerk but I tried to receive permission to join the Wrens but the Registrar General ( Mr. Killingback) refused to let me go. I was now 21 years old and dealing with LA1 accounts.

Two years later I was promoted again to Grade I and put in charge of Junior Engineering Officers records. Before I moved departments I had been recording the Merchant Navy ships being sunk by the Germans ( 1942/43) At times we were losing nine a week, then one a day and all the men with them. This was kept Top Secret.

Junior Engineering Officers were hard to recruit. No chance to survive if you were in the engine room when the torpedo hit. When I was recording the deaths the saddest part was entering the names of children, sometimes whole families who were being taken to the USA and Canada.

In 1942 the whole office was moved to a new building on the outskirts of Cardiff that had been built for the Americans to use as a hospital if they needed one.

Later in 1945 I sat the Reconstruction Examination and passed to become a Clerical officer. I left the RGSS in may 1948 to be married. The Merchant Navy deserved more thanks for all they suffered than they received. We in this country would have starved without their bravery.

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