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15 October 2014
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Cigarettes And Alcohol

by Make_A_Difference

Contributed by 
Make_A_Difference
People in story: 
FROM A LADY IN HEYWOOD
Article ID: 
A2067248
Contributed on: 
21 November 2003

This is one of the stories collected on the 25th October 2003 at the CSV's Make a Difference Day held at BBC Manchester. The story was typed and entered on to the site by a CSV volunteer with kind permission.

Although I don't want to be named I can tell you that I was living in London during the blitz, working in the fire service. Well everyone had to do their bit women as well as men. It was during one really bad night that I got injured. Before I knew it I was invalided out of the service. I spent 6 months recovering from my injuries but enough was enough. I became a wren and I was immediately posted to Lowestoft. I served aboard a minesweeping ship with the men in the engine room. It was hard work mind you and we never let up. I remember one morning me and my mate were summoned on deck. I tell you we had to climb up and slide down ladders to get between decks and we wore the same uniform as the men. Well we had to after all there were standards to maintain and the sight of a lady sliding down a ladder in a skirt would have been disruptive for our male colleagues.

I and my mate were the only two women on board that ship and as we went on deck we saw the crew lined up for their rum. I sipped quite a few cups and as you might be able to guess I was quite merry when we went back to the workshop. Well the chief was furious at us; he could smell the rum on our uniforms. He even accused us of being drunk on duty. I can tell you he was a three striper. This meant that he was an experienced seaman before the war and had been recalled back into service. He was not happy about this and was annoyed that he had not had any rum. I told him I would get him some if he let us have a day off duty, he refused so I told him he wouldn’t be getting any rum then. He wanted to know how we could get rum, but that was my secret and I certainly wasn’t about to tell him.

I knew where to get rum and here’s how I did it. I left ship and went down to the dockside. Since I was a lady other sailors would come up to me and ask me to take two bottles of rum ashore for them. I got one bottle for myself and one to hide away and deliver to the sailor’s lodgings. The dock police would confiscate the rum if they found it on a sailor. But me I was able to come to an arrangement where I would buy cigarettes for them off the sailors on our boat and in return they would let me on my way. They gave me five shillings for the cigarettes which I paid the men on board ship for their rum. The police got their ciggies, the sailors got their rum and I got my day off. Everyone was happy including my dad who being a former sailor got a supply of rum and I got to do my bit for my country.

I had good times in Lowestoft and I miss the feeling of the community working all together in hard times. It was special. It was made all the more apparent when I got posted to Northern Ireland. That community was so divided so insular, there the community segregated themselves. As I wren I had more freedom to move around than the men since we were not part of the army, navy or air force. So I saw a lot during the war both good and bad. But we got though it which was the greatest memory of all.

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Women's Royal Naval Service Category
Suffolk Category
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