- Contributed by
- Civic Centre, Bedford
- People in story:
- Joan Dale
- Location of story:
- Background to story:
- Royal Navy
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 11 June 2004
I was a Wren Writer for the 33 landing Craft Flotilla, LC Guns, Force G preparing for D-Day in Southampton. We had the Flotilla office and workshop, concrete huts, on Southampton Hard. The office was staffed by the Flotilla Coxswain who had been in the Navy, coming from a Barnardos home, two Wren writers Kathy and myself, and Stripey; three stripes for long service, no promotion and proped up by rum. Stripey made the tea. This was done by filling a large brown enamel teapot with water, tea, suger and powdered milk and bringing it to the boil. The result was a most evil brew. The Flotilla Officer had a room adjoining the main office.
The artificers worked next door doing any necessary maintenance and repairs for the craft. They also constructed small useful artefacts and decorative objects if they had spare time. I still have to this day a treasured wooden pentray with my name carved on it.
Everyday more and more troops, tanks, and guns poured into Southampton. The town was packed, it didn't seem possible to get any more in, but still they came. For entertainment, Kathy and I went to the cinema, or the Coxwain took us to the Seamen's Mission to play drafts or watch the film shows; old american serials such as "Custer's Last Stand".
At that time my kindergarten friend, Wendy, got married and her husband, an officer in the Royal Army Service Coprs, due for the invasion, was stationed at Southampton. She came down to be with him. She was staying in Fawley with an elderly couple and I could be with her. One Saturday, we decided to visit Beaulieu; it sounded as though it would be a pretty place. On the top of the bus going there we could see all the Force G craft on Southampton Water, each with its broad red band round its superstructure to donate that it Force G. I heard a woman behind me say "Oh look at all those Red Cross boats"
We got to Beaulieu and feeling hungry went to look for a tea shop. Of course there wasn't one, but we found the village shop and were able to buy a small loaf, bread wasn't rationed at the time, and a pot of meat paste. Wendy had a penknife, and with that we cut the bread and spread the paste, sitting by the roadside. I was in uniform. There was an officers training camp neaby, and every time an officer passed by I had to jump up and salute, hiding my rather crumbly "sandwich". We were lucky going home. Some Yanks saw us walking to the bus stop and gave us a lift in their Jeep all the way to Southampton.
Then came the day when the Flotilla Officer came into the office with charts in red covers under his arm. "Ah" said the Coxswain, "Those are the secret charts. The invasion must be near". A day or two later he said "The invasion will be on June 6th". This was before General Eisenhower had decided this, but our Coxswain had worked out from the admiralty Tide Tables, that this would be the date and he was proved right.
Suddenly everything disappeared. We woke up and troops, tanks, guns had gone. They were all now cramed into those little ships and nothing of war was visible on the streets anymore. Think of the men packed into those tiny craft wiating, wating and still no order, no movement. On one of those three evenings, Kathy and I went to the cinema and were surprised to see a Marine officer march a column of his men into the cinema ahead of us and sit them down in a row. This must have relieved their boredom and suspense at least for one of the evenings.
June 2nd was my 21st birthday. All mail from the port was censored, and this resulted in long delays so that my family had received no mail from me for some time. They retaliated by me none, not a card, present, or letter on my 21st birthday! Butthe Coxswain made up for it. He gave me a tot of Chief Petty Officers Rum, and I rode up Southampton High Street between the tram lines on my bicycle in an exstatic state.
Still no news of an invasion, but Kathy and I went to bed on the night of the 5th, confident that it would be tomorrow as the Coxswain had said. And so it proved. When we went down to the Hard in the morning of the 6th there was not a craft to be seen. The sea was empty. We went back to the Wren's quarters, for there was nothing for us to do in the office. There, crowded round the wireless, the quarters staff, cooks and stewards, were gathered to hear the news, some of them weeping as they knew their boyfriends had gone to France. Because of the careful secrecy, and in spite of the evidence of their eyes, they had not guessed that the night before, while they slept, D-Day was about to begin.
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