- Contributed by
- People in story:
- Elsie Steele (nee Maber) and David Maber (Brother)
- Location of story:
- HMS St Vincent - Gosport HMS Tana Mombasa Kenya
- Background to story:
- Royal Navy
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 06 December 2005
When i read in the journal of the controlled and uncomplicated entry into St Vincent by the post-war members, i reflect on the chaotic times when i joined in 1939!
The summer of that year i was on a seasonlal job in the Isle of Wight. The threat of war was ever present but on Saturday 2nd September it became imminent. The expected visitors did not arrive, and those present made a hasty departure, anxious to get off th eisland and back to their homes, that left the staff surplus to requirements.
Except for a few people who were retrained to close down the premises, the rest of us were provided with transport to the ferry and sent packing!
I arrived home in Gosport late afternoon feeling as though i had been dropped out of the sky.
The following day, September 3rd 1939, the nation gathered round their wireless sets to hear the Prime Minister make the declaration "Britain is now at war with Germany".
Any plans i had were scuppered and i went for a walk thinking "where do i go from here"
Surprisingly, although it was Sunday, the labour exchange was open for business, so i sought their advice. It was suggested i try the WRNS to which i replied, "what's that?"
I was pointed in the direction of the recruitment office in Portsmouth where i left my name and address before returning home.
The next few days were spent scanning the horizon and the sky for the expected invasion, at the same time the powers that be in whitehall were clearly hoping that when Hitler found himself facing the "Might of the british empire" he would back down.
Since neither event occured, we awaited further developments.
In the meantime, St Vincent became a hive of activity. A harbour training ship for young officers was required for up-grading to a battle ship for immediate action, and the cadets were to be re-housed in St Vincent at short notice.
Urgent help was required and about a dozen local girls - including myself - were sent for to fill the void.
We arrived together with loads of crockery, linen and furniture, and pitched in glad to get started after the long period of uncertainty.
By the time we had completed the task we were acquainted with Barrack life and welcomed offers of other jobs which had become available.
But life was not plain sailing; the Royal Navy had long been a male preserve and we sensed a certain amount of resentment; in those far off days.
The presence of women in their midst was obviously an embarrassment to the officers; a threat to the married NCOs who were afraid we would take over their shore jobs and something of a joke to the rest of the company.
However, when conscription came in the mood changed, a WRNS uniform had been designed and the doctor's house taken over as wren quarters.
By 1940 air-raids were well underway and we spent many uncomfortable nights in the air raid shelter, emerging at 5a.m. to snatch a couple of hours sleep before starting work.
After about two years of this assault, the air raids subsided into sneak raids while a greater enemy was the U-Boat attacking the convoys as the war moved overseas.
At this point WRNS volunteers were called for to serve with the troops in foreign lands. It was a case of "Into the breach once more, dear friends" and i put my name forward. I was accepted and sent to Golders Green, London to join other Wrens for kitting up with tropical gear.
We were already for the "off" to - we knew not where - when one of the girls complained of a sore throat, which the doctor diagnosed as scarlett fever. As we had all been in contact we were sent to our respective homes. We learnt later that the ship we should have sailed on was sunk in the Mediterranean.
When our period of quarantine was over, 100 of us wrens were put aboard a trop ship in the Clyde. We sailed via the Atlantic to South Africa, dodging U-Boats en route, where we were distributed among other troop-ships going to various countries. I landed in H.M.S Tana, Kitindini, Mombassa, East Africa where i served for 2 and a half years
© Copyright of content contributed to this Archive rests with the author. Find out how you can use this.