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15 October 2014
WW2 - People's War

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by cornwallcsv

Contributed by 
cornwallcsv
People in story: 
Rhoda Armsby (Mrs)
Location of story: 
Penzance and London
Background to story: 
Civilian
Article ID: 
A4112317
Contributed on: 
24 May 2005

This story was submitted to the People’s War website by Sandra Beckett on behalf of Mrs Rhoda Armsby, the author, and has been added to the site with his/her permission. The author fully understands the site’s terms and condition.
In 1941, I secured a position as Stewardess on the trains. My parents were publicans in Penzance and in the bar I met members of the Dining Car staff who were kind enough to recommend me. Most of the female staff had worked in “Lyons” teashops in London, so they were well trained.
The work was hard, but very enjoyable. We served all food with “Silver Service”; two sittings of lunch on the “Cornish Riviera” and later we served teas.
I remember we served Soup, Fish Pie or Stewed Meats, mashed potatoes, Peas and I assume other vegetables as available. I cannot remember the sweets but I have a vague memory of thick custard!
The tables were covered by white tablecloths, starched and immaculate. If anyone opened windows, as the trains were steam driven the smuts would rest on the cloths. Between sittings we were very busy with napkins to ensure tables were left spotless.
The teas consisted of “Teacakes” toasted (I think) and, if required, chocolate biscuits were served separately. I assume they were an extra charge! Drinks were of course served and we could serve alcohol.
It was another part of our job to go through the train to announce Lunch, either 1st or 2nd sittings were about to be served. The carriages had compartments with sliding doors, and long corridors. As the trains were almost always full, getting between people standing in the corridors was difficult. I remember the windows had long rails which we managed to cling to when the train rocked. The door windows had long leather straps to pull the glass up, with several holes to determine the opening.
Many interesting people travelled, I can remember a few i.e. Jessie Matthews, Sunny Hale, Robert Newton (lovely man) an able seaman in the Navy, but a really well known star. Lord Nuffield, another very nice person. The final one I remember was King Peter of Yugoslavia, very good looking I thought!
There was another train I worked on, we used to say it was a prison ship because it stopped at so many stations, which seemed so slow after the express.
Although there was a war on, and many travellers, the guards were very hot on keeping the trains on time.
I worked on the trains until the male stewards arranged to go on strike unless the women were taken off. They thought the female staff would take their positions after the war was over so, unhappily, we were taken off.
After this I volunteered for the W.R.N.S. as unemployed, we were required to do National Service. I lost my father in 1941; he was a retired Chief Petty Officer in the Royal Navy, recalled to service in 1939, so it had to be the Navy for me.
As in civilian life I was a bookkeeper, lived in a pub, and had served as a stewardess on the trains, I became a “Specialised Wine Steward”.
I served in Scotland and later at the Greenwich Royal Navy College. Life was so interesting but as it was another chapter I will try to restrict it to a couple of points. I opened a bar in the Royal Maritime Museum, just opposite the College in Greenwich. Unlike our Falmouth Museum it was full of naval history. It always annoys me that Falmouth does not cover the Royal Navy, although they had a famous HMS Falmouth and HMS Cornwall. My father served on both and the Falmouth was in the 1st World War and sunk by a German battleship, quite a famous little episode.
I was lucky enough to meet Bob Hope in Scotland when he came over to entertain the troops from the USA. I was offered his autograph, but unfortunately the only paper I had on me was my pay-
book and it had to be given back when I was demobbed. So I lost it.
Later when I was stationed in London we endured bombs, doodle bugs and rockets, which do
not seem possible now, but then we took it in our stride.
I can remember one thing that happened in an Ante-room, off the “Painted Hall”, in Greenwich College, we were waiting to serve a meal, and my feet ached, I saw a very inviting table so I hopped up, only to be removed very quickly, as I was informed it was the table “Nelson” was laid out on.
One other interesting point, I went to “The Stage Door Canteen” in London, a well known place for the services to relax in. They could dance, eat, and be entertained there. One time I remember I saw Bing Crosby and Bob Hope in person on the stage; wonderful people who never forgot their servicemen and women overseas.
I married a member of the Air Crew in the R.A.F. in 1943, but unfortunately he was killed in 1944, which made me a War Widow like my mother. What a waste. I left the W.R.N.S. in November 1945 and after a brief stay in London, returned to Cornwall as do most Cornish folk. At 85 years old, this is where I intend to stay.

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