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15 October 2014
WW2 - People's War

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Teenage Years in the Wrensicon for Recommended story

by sarahbateson

Contributed by 
People in story: 
Gwen Haggis nee Morgan
Location of story: 
Islington, London, Chichester, Crail, Scotland
Background to story: 
Royal Navy
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
24 May 2005

This story was submitted to the People's War website by Sarah Bateson, on behalf of Gwen Haggis, at Stoke Newington Library.

I was fifteen when the war started. I was living in Islington with my mother and father and one brother, who was called up in 1939, and three sisters. My father ran the dairy in Islington which my sister helped him with, so she wasn't called up. My other sister worked in the Security Office (who made black out blinds) so she wasn't called up either. And my third sister worked at Ministry of Information. So again she wasn't called up. I however, was called up at nineteen to the Wrens.

I had to go to Mill Hill for an interview and from there was sent on to Portsmouth where they sorted us out and I ended up working on the landing craft preparing them for invasion.

We had to get the boats ready for the invasion down at Chichester, and then get them to a spot near Portsmouth where the fleet was assembled.

The most unpleasant part was cleaning out the boats on their return when we had to remove all the blood and bullets and on one occasion, a finger.

Really we thought nothing of it. We were young and keen to get on with our jobs. And that was the general spirit of the day!

I enjoyed the companionship - you met all different types of people from all over. Some of whom I've kept in touch with for 60 years.

From there I went to Crail in Fifeshire, Scotland where I was a driver and drove the officers around, even taking them to St Andrews Golf Course! I had learnt to drive at home back in Islington. In Scotland I would be running around, picking up things from Crail station, or going into Dundee. Although I drove all sorts of vehicles, I passed my Wren driving test in a three tonne lorry!

We used to socialise quite a bit. We ate very well - one of my best memories is of the fish and chips that we had in Crail. They were liking nothing else I ever tasted. I remember coming back to London and having fish and chips which tasted horrible in comparison - they tasted like ammonia.

Another eating experience came just after we were de-mobbed. We went to a restaurant in Edinburgh with all our de-mob pay to treat ourselves to a good meal. The water we had on the camp was undrinkable and tainted in flavour. But the water in the restaurant we visited tasted so fantastic, it was like drinking champagne. We were all so delighted to be drinking it and bubbling with the exitement. Although, we had plenty of money because we'd just been demobbed, when we went to pay we found the man on the next table had already picked up the bill. I've liked the Scots ever since.

Another thing I especially liked was the early morning runs - unlike the other girls, I was used to early mornings, from my time working on the dairy round at home. So I would enjoy the driving out over Scotland, picking up staff from the station first thing in the day.

When VE day came I was in Chichester. Some people reacted with sadness, some with happiness. Some people where thinking that their families weren't coming back. Also what was going to happen to us once the war finished. We wouldn't be in the forces.

I went back to my job in an insurance office. But not for long. I got so bored. And worked instead at Boots the Chemist where I was much happier!

The whole experience of being in the Wrens brought me out of my shell. And I still keep in contact with my Wren friends - we phone each other regularly.

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Women's Royal Naval Service Category
Hampshire Category
Central and Fife Category
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