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WW2 - People's War

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Contributed by 
Kath Dooley nee Galloway
People in story: 
Kath Dooley (nee Galloway)
Location of story: 
Croydon to Aden
Background to story: 
Royal Navy
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
09 January 2004

I was nearly 13 years old when war was declared that Sunday Mum's lovely roast lunch went to waste. At Coloma School in Croydon,our numbers were reduced due to evacuation. When an air raid warning sounded we were shepherded down to the music rooms underneath the great hall. These music rooms were constructed of glass and there we sat feeling safe! As the raids became more frequent it was decided we could no longer play word games but continue lessons. One day when we were in the classroom there was a massive explosion, everything rattled. We were sent home. I walked through Croydon shopping centre. Nearly every shop window was shattered. It was difficult to walk through the broken glass. A delayed action land mine had exploded in The Town Hll garden. I picked up a piece of the Town Hall clock face.
Croydon Airport was bombed, my brother was in the thick of it but apart from being covered in brick dust, physically he was O K, but after every sirens wail he turned a sickly shade of green and it was a race between him and our dog as to who got to the shelter first.
Our parents thought it a good idea to send us both away for a few days to recover. It was to Hackney in the East End of London. That night the docks and the city were heavily bombed. It was an awful night. My father came to collect us the next day We walked through streets piled high with debris. We saw a London bus leaning vertically up a wall. Saw humour pushing through with a notice outside a bank "Sale of damaged pound notes" I became an ARP messenger and had a tin hat! We sheltered at night in the cellars of a deserted Victorian mansion opposite our house.
My Mother and I underwent small arms training for protection and attack in the event of an invasion.
I joined the WRNS as soon as I was 17 years6 months old I was sent to Mill Hill, I stepped over the threshhold and to my wicked delight there was my old school head girl on her knees scrubbing the front step. We had to polish everything under our feet and scrub anything above or vice versa. Our basic traing done and our kit issued-usually two sizes too big and we were ready for our training in our job categories - mine to be a pay writer. So off to Highgate Hill and thence to Plymouth. My first posting was an error. I was sent to Drake Island. An ak -ak gun and a few dozen men, but the mistake was soon remedied. I worked in the Devenport Library building with a P.O.RN as my "oppo" keeping what amounted to a parish magazine of promotions, pay, crimes and punishments. During the invasion we had the sad task of discharging sometimes one or two cr whole ship's companies dead. We had to record the proceeds of "Sales before the mast" Emotional times, when a near toothless comb would fetch good money which would go to help fallen comrades next of kin.
When I was 18 I volunteered for service overseas, was sent ro Cheyne Walk Chelsea (Buz Bomb era)for kitting out for the tropics, again two sizes too big (Shrinkage, weight gain or pregnancy)? My luggage tag read AS5forF which I learnt was Port Said to Aden. Taken to a London station then by a long cold train journey to Glasgow. The tea and buns served by those lovely Scots ladies I still remember with gratitude.
We boarded the SS Almanzora by John Browns shipyard. Where we stayed for a whole week - when the tide was up the fog was down, we were let off for excercise in a field knee deep in snow and when the hooters sounded for our return on board the troops mooed and baaed their way up the gangway. The ship was dubbed the pocket cattle ship. Conditions were poor, water was rationed available only two short periods per day. We were ordered to sleep clothed in our bell bottoms. The troops were very hungry, we wrens were able to supply them with bacon rolls from breakfast, our meals being "Officer Class". The stewards thought we had huge appetites. We changed ships at Port Said to the SS Orion a much grander vessel and so to Aden - a sun scorched rock in a ble sea "Oh Dear" But there were compensations. Warm sea swimming (If no sharks about) sailing riding and sand yachting. Dances, where every dance was an excuse me - and with an average of ten females attending and hundreds of men in temperatures over 100 degrees - twenty changes of partner was normal. We went across the desert in a truck to the palace of Lahej on the way back the truck broke down and the two Naval ratings left us to get help. We were suddenly surrounded by natives brandishing knives. Frightened? No! We bought their knives.
I was in the open air cinema, being eaten by bugs, when the newsreel of D Day was shown, we were in tears of joy but VJ Day was 4 months away. Years later when I related that I had seen signs of the troubles starting in Aden, when I stood on a little bridge over a road and saw two factions stoning one another, my husband said he had seen the very same, he was a R M Commando returning from Burma and we stood side by side that night not knowing we would meet and marry. I paid the Navy bills for water etc. and the Navy was not known to be speedy payers to the local suppliers, I had wonderful, flowery letters from them promising me a life filled with many camels and a good husband for prompt payment. The camels are still coming but I'm happy to say the good husband did.
There were only ten wrens left in Aden and we were sent home on an aircraft carrier. We had swinging cots in the pilots ready room. The food, after Aden cuisine was superb. It was so hot in the Red Sea, camp beds were put up on the deck by the bridge and we were "Roped off" But a succession of ratings were seen prowling about all night!
Back home for leave and then to HMS Lochinvar by the Forth Bridge, billeted in a nisson hut with deep snow outside. FREEZING. So I was demobbed, back to civvy street having experienced things only war service can bring, comradeship, steering HMS London, riding with the Aden Protectorate Levy both camels and horses, leave in Asmara in one of Mussolini's holiday homes, bugs, prickley heat, plagues of locusts, sand storms, being a guest at Government House (there sitting on a sofa covered in the same material as my evening dress! Material being in very short supply). Fishing in the Indian Ocean in a Dhow but above all- COMRADESHIP.

Ex P.O.Wren Kath Dooley (Nee Galloway)

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These messages were added to this story by site members between June 2003 and January 2006. It is no longer possible to leave messages here. Find out more about the site contributors.

Message 1 - Wartime Wren

Posted on: 11 January 2004 by Carey - WW2 Site Helper

Hallo! I'm Carey, one of the Writing Buddies here on the site.

Thank you for your detailed stories of your Wren life and experiences! Your writing brings nicely to life both the hard work and also the sense of humour that got you through it -- I had a wicked giggle myself at the thought of your head girl scrubbing the steps...I have to admit I was 'lucky' about someone naughty from my old school in a similar 'twist of fate,' once, too!

I would like to encourage you to submit other stories, as you have intrigued me with your final paragraph: 'I was demobbed, back to civvy street having experienced things only war service can bring, comradeship, steering HMS London, riding with the Aden Protectorate Levy both camels and horses, leave in Asmara in one of Mussolini's holiday homes, bugs, prickley heat, plagues of locusts, sand storms, being a guest at Government House (There sitting on a sofa covered in the smae material as my evening dress! Material being in very short supply.) Fishing in the Indian Ocean in a Dhow but above all- COMRADESHIP.'

Each one of these sentences would make for a wonderful story to add to your portfolio, and would be much appreciated!

Please do continue to write.



Message 2 - Wartime Wren

Posted on: 14 January 2004 by Kath Dooley nee Galloway

Hello Carey
Thanks for your comments re Wartime wren storey.
I cannot think that prickley heat can be of interest to anyone , especially those who suffered it would not like to be reminded of the condition.
However, here goes!
I awoke one morning with a peculiar feeling on my face - which when I looked in the mirror showed my face covered in small blisters, which grew until my face was covered in large blisters!
Off I toddled to sickbay,where Sister tut-tutted an d said something like "Nasty" and proceeded to take out of her cupboard two items(This with a sad look on her face) I discovered the reason when she firstly began cutting of each blister with very fine scissors, then when my face was raw, painted it with the contents of the bottle, ETHER!, the memory of this agony should make me shudder, but fortunately, at my age, my memories not so good!
As the days went by most attractive scabs formed! I could hardly move my lips to speak or eat. At this time part of my duty at the Port pay office was to sit at a table at the top of a flight of steps to receive and (mostly) pay out post office savings to sailors on shore leave from their ships in the harbour. Always long queues formed up the steps. All eager to reach me at my desk that is until they say my scabby face, when they stepped back, extended an arm as long as possible, handled the money very gingerly and hurried down the steps!
However, I was due for leave in Asmara - which is 10,000 feet above sea level and believe it or not but in the plane in a different atmosphere to the humidity of Aden, my face scabs began to dry and after a few days in Asmara and the administrations of a very nice RAF boy who massaged my face with cream, I had a brand new face with clear pink skin. Apparently, I had suffered from septic prickley heat and that is something to look back on and certainly not look forward to!!


Message 3 - Wartime Wren

Posted on: 14 January 2004 by Carey - WW2 Site Helper

Hallo! Thank you for writing again!

What a funny story...not at the time, of course, they never are...the worst bits I find, when I try to tell someone a story like that, is I have laughter instead of the sympathy I so rightly deserve, of course...but then I have to laugh, too! What else can you do, really.

But, oh, you had ME shuddering, too! I wonder if Sister knows my mum...rough treatment!

Please do continue to contribute; we shall forward to hearing more from you!


Message 1 -

Posted on: 11 January 2004 by Kath Dooley nee Galloway

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