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A Rebel Who Loved The Water

by Isle of Wight Libraries

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Archive List > United Kingdom > London

Contributed by 
Isle of Wight Libraries
People in story: 
Freda Flowers
Location of story: 
Ormond Lodge, Richmond; HMS Victory, Portsmouth
Background to story: 
Royal Navy
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
27 October 2005

This story was submitted to the People’s War Site by Suzanne Longstone and has been added to the website on behalf of Miss Freda Flowers with her permission and she fully understands the site’s terms and conditions.

Freda had just left school in 1939. When war broke out she received her ‘call-up’ papers and her mother made her join the Land Army in the Surrey area. Freda had always lived by the water and she missed her favourite activities of swimming, canoeing and sailing. She worked for eighteen months and then could stand it no more. In September 1942 Freda rebelled and literally walked out of the Land Army into her local WRNS Recruitment Centre, where she was given a chitty for a place in the WRNS. She started her training on 16th September 1942 at HMS Pembroke, the Mill Hill Training Depot, and was soon transferred to Ormond Lodge at Richmond for further training as a minewatcher.

A minewatcher’s duty was to keep a look-out for mines in the River Thames that could affect shipping or endanger life. When the air raid siren started Freda had to go immediately to her station — a pill box right on the bank of the Thames, facing the river. Then she had to watch for parachute mines dropped by enemy planes, which would have caused mayhem if they exploded, and report any sightings by telephone to Headquarters. The duties were six nights on, one night off. You had to keep watching for the whole time from the first soundings of the siren to the all-clear signal — no sleeping on duty! Even if you had been up all night with an air raid and another raid started during the next day, you were expected to go immediately on duty as before. You weren’t given time off to recover from the first, night-time duty! Needless to say, this was hardly a riveting time for an active person like Freda! But when the country was at war you felt that whatever you did to help the war effort was worthwhile.

In 1943 the planning for D-Day started in earnest. Freda’s love of the water and the skills she had acquired as a child on the River Thames meant that she was chosen to be trained as Boat Crew. Initial training was in Richmond and extra training was given by Sir Alan Herbert in his own boat - the ‘Water Gypsy’. The training meant promotion to Leading Wren and the Boat Crew were the only Wrens to wear a white lanyard which Freda always remembers wearing with pride. On August 11th 1943 she was transferred to HMS Victory, Portsmouth to work on sea craft. The boat had a crew of three and duties were mainly transferring Navy officers and crew around Portsmouth Harbour, particularly from Portsmouth to Gosport. She was soon transferred to more important duties at Newhaven Harbour in the busy and exciting time leading up to the D-Day invasion which can be read about in another story entitled “The Silent Service”.

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