- Contributed by
- The Fernhurst Centre
- People in story:
- Rhoda Brown
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 15 April 2004
This is Rhoda Brown’s story: it has been added by Pauline Colcutt (on behalf of the Fernhurst Centre), with permission from the author who understands the terms and conditions of adding her story to the website.
I was in the WRNS from June 1943 to spring 1945. My boyfriend (later my husband) had been wounded at Dunkirk and had been invalided out of the Royal Engineers. I was 23 when I went in the WRNS because up until then I had been in a reserved occupation and therefore I had been working in the City during the air raids and bombing of London. I well remember watching an aerial dogfight overhead in Horseferry Road, Westminster, during my lunch hour. I lived in Tooting, SW17 and went everyday to Westminster to work by tram - which took ages - and I saw some terrible sights on my way to work every day after the bombing of the night before. Eventually after having to walk home some nights when the tram stopped at Clapham, and we had to walk miles in the dark after 6 pm when the bombing started -I got a job locally in the food industry which was why I was deferred from call-up. Eventually I decided to volunteer for the WRNS as they needed people with matriculation. I went every day for 7 months to Chelsea Polytechnic and we had exams every week - also had to learn soldering and other practical skills. I was then assigned to the Radar section as a radio mechanic and after several months training was made a Petty Officer and sent to various secret stations. We had to keep the transmitters, receivers and photographic equipment in good order so that the operators, who mostly spoke German could listen in to German E boats and planes and could also interpret signals which were sent from German and enemy transmitters.
My most vivid memory was on the 5th June, on the eve of D Day. We were stationed at Ventnor on the Isle of Wight and had been to a dance - we were walking back about 11 pm and took the path along the coast, although of course we couldn’t get on to the beach. I shall never forget the sight - the whole sea was completely covered by craft of all shapes and sizes all travelling to the French coast. It was a bright night so we could see very well and it was a most impressive and rather frightening sight. When we got back to the Wrenery - which was high up on the cliff road - our Officer told us that we had to sleep in our clothes that night as we didn’t know what repercussions there would be. To us it was terribly exciting, and I must say that we felt very flat when nothing at all happened that day or for a month afterwards. It was, however, very exciting to be on watch with our operators as they could tell the progress of our troops and when our people took over an enemy position the Germans transmitter was put out of action and afterwards taken over by our people, so we were able to monitor how the battles were going. I was bit disappointed when I was moved to the mainland after a few weeks. I spent the rest of my time in Lyme Regis and afterwards in Coverack in Cornwall. We were always in very small places and as our work was quite secret we were allowed to wear civvies when not on duty. Obviously it was a very stressful time - travelling home on leave was awful — it took hours and sometimes we had to stand all the way but for a young single girl it was really very exciting. The whole of England was covered with camps for soldiers, sailors and airmen from all over - Canada, USA, Poland, etc. so we could take our pick of dances - transport was always provided and the bands were wonderful - and, if it was an American dance, there were ice-creams and great food which we couldn’t get in wartime.
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