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15 October 2014
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Missing Presumed Dead in Plymouth

by BBC Southern Counties Radio

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Archive List > Childhood and Evacuation

Contributed by 
BBC Southern Counties Radio
People in story: 
Audrey Maud Jones, Doreen Withycomb, Betty Alford, Marjorie Stanton, Jean Drew
Location of story: 
Background to story: 
Royal Navy
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
11 November 2005

When war broke out I was 18 years old and had been working for 2 years in the ‘mantle’ department of a large London store.

By 1940 I was, through illness and death, without both adoptive parents,and my home in South Wales. I was persuaded to return to Wales to my natural parents. I was directed to a Royal Ordinance Factory, where I worked in the pay office.

In 1942 after several holding depots across the country, I was finally directed to HMS Heron at Yeovilton in Somerset. The pay office was an old coaching inn in Ilchester and the navy had taken over a beautiful house, “Highbarn”. Our watering hole was the Lamb and Lark in Ilminster, I think, where I met my future husband. It was lovely there. The walk down the long, county lane connected the Lamb and Lark at the end, Highbarn in the middle and the pay office.

The people seemed to like us, even though we drank most of their beer ration, so I was very sorry when I had to report to the wrennery in Plymouth in October 1944 and the Dockyard Drake IV the pay office.

I couldn’t believe what I saw going from the station to my Manadan living quarters. The shops on the main street had been bombed and flattened but quite a few of the houses behind had rented out their front rooms to different shops and each was a different department. The nation of shopkeepers had triumphed and the bombers had completely missed The Hoe and the naval dockyard.

I found that I was to be in the ‘fair ledger’ for the missing personnel section, with the prisoner of war section just behind us. Each ship which had been bombed, torpedoed and sunk had its own ledger where the men who were missing, presumed killed were recorded. It had been kept like that for exactly twelve months and then were to be ‘discharged dead’.

I arrived a couple of days before this was due with HMS Charybdis. An enemy submarine had lain in wait in Plymouth Sound — attacked and sunk the ship within sight of Plymouth. Some personnel had been rescued and were taken to the Channel Islands but most of the men were never found.

Day after day of discharging men dead took its toll. I managed to stick it through to the end, then asked for a transfer which was granted. I continued in the service until I was early discharged, having got married.

It was VE day that has really stayed in my mind all these years. I was invited on board, with my cabin mates, the largest tug in the world at that time. It was a new world in Plymouth dockyard that day. Large and small vessels of every description, Royal Navy and civilian, were there dressed overall; sirens shrieking. The dockyard was a fairy land with everyone laughing, hugging each other and the years of the war seemed to fall away. Everyone was suddenly looking forward to the future and I too was very happy to be there.

This story was added to the People’s War website by Kairen Kemp on behalf of Audrey M Jones who fully understands the site’s terms and conditions.

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