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15 October 2014
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Life in the WRNS at Hellfire Corner

by BBC Southern Counties Radio

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Archive List > Royal Navy

Contributed by 
BBC Southern Counties Radio
People in story: 
Mrs S Broadbent (nee Herivel), Admiral Pridham-Whipple, Admiral Ramsey
Location of story: 
Belfast, Greenwich, Great Yarmouth, Dover
Background to story: 
Royal Navy
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
15 December 2005

Greenwich, I enrolled as a mobile Wren in July 1940 at the age of 24 at Belfast, attached to HMS Caroline. I had just graduated as a teacher from Queen’s University, Belfast, but was unable to find a teaching position there or to travel to the mainland as the Germans were just over the border in the Irish Free State, and the rules for travel were very strict.

After a year as a degaussing Wren in Whitehead on Belfast Lough, I was fortunate enough to be sent to Greenwich College to train as a WRNS Officer, as the men were needed out at sea. Having all one’s meals in the Painted Hall is something one never forgets.

I spent a year as a 3/0 WRNS in the minesweeping Base, Great Yarmouth, quite dangerous as the German Air Force always dropped any remaining bombs on their way back to the continent. I was then posted as a Confidential Book Officer to FOIC Dover Command, HMS Watchful, 19 miles from the enemy and subject to shelling from the guns at Cap Gris Nez near Calais, mostly when the moon was up to attack and of your shipping going through the Straits.

Dover harbour was certainly an exciting and dangerous posting, so the main naval base was situated 200 feet underground in one of the three tunnels originally excavated to house the cannons to counter Napoleon’s possible invasion of 1805.

Our Admiral Pridham-Whipple had been given a shore job after being blown up in the battleship HMS Barham outside Alexandria harbour in the Med. By this time Admiral Ramsey of Operation Dynamo and the evacuation of Dunkirk had been moved on.

Being on the front line we had many distinguished visitors such as Mrs Churchill with Mrs Roosevelt, Mr Churchill with General Smuts and Princess Mary, very petite, on her way to inspect the Dover Castle ATS.

The most exciting time of all in Dover was D Day - a beautiful calm and sunny day. Normally in the Channel during the day there were very few ships but suddenly hundreds of ships came into view through the Straits on their way to the Normandy beaches. Over the 3 months up to D Day we had had many landing craft coming into the harbour and the young officers-in-charge came to my office to sign for their bags of secret codes and ciphers.

After all the preparation and hard work the climax for Dover had come and the Germans started shelling madly, while we watched from the balconies built into the cliffs along the tunnels. One tanker suffered a direct hit but luckily did not explode and burnt out while beached on the far side of the Shakespeare Cliffs. Shells were exploding all over the harbour and in the town but I heard of no casualties. We were all exhilarated and thankful that at last the invasion had begun.

This story was added to the site by Melita Dennett with the permission of Mrs Broadbent, who understands the site's terms and conditions.

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