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Training to be a WRNS Wireless Telegraphist and My Posting in N. Ireland

by peghard

Contributed by 
People in story: 
Peggy Byatt
Location of story: 
N. Ireland
Background to story: 
Royal Navy
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
18 December 2004

Peggy Byatt

At the beginning of 1943 I volunteered for the WRNS as a wireless telegraphist, and on the 25th May, aged 20, reported to Euston for signal school at HMS Caballa, Lowton St. Mary's, Lancs. It was mixed sex, and as well as training wireless telegraphists there were courses for visual signallers (semaphore) and coders (de-coders of morse).


The course was for 6 months, but we were on probation for two weeks - within this time we could leave or be sent home. I remember the navy blue overalls we were issued with in case our stay was a short one; however, nobody left. Some girls in my class, Wolsey, had travelled a long way. One was from Rio, and another from Buenos Aires. We thought they were very brave to come such a long distance in wartime.

The course-work covered Morse code, coding and de-coding, basic Sonar and ASDICS, and how to repair radio receivers.

Prayers and the raising of the White Ensign (divisions) were held each morning with the playing of the National Anthem by a Royal Marines band. To ensure we were all dressed the same, we had to watch for the position of the‘O' signal flag on the flag mast. If it was at the top raincoats were to be worn, halfway and raincoats were to be carried, and if no flag, no raincoats. The White Ensign was lowered at sunset.

In the evening we were allowed to go to a canteen in Lowton St. Mary's. Everyone in the village was extremely kind, and often we were invited to the villagers' homes.
There was no drill, but we could play hockey or lacrosse - there were some lethal mixed matches! When the weather was fine we went on gentle route marches.

We were allowed ‘shore leave' at weekends which meant either Liverpool or Manchester, depending on which side of the East Lancs Road we stood to hitch a lift.


Exams were held in December. I think we all passed, and were drafted to various places. I spent two weeks in a holding depot at Blundell Sands Hotel. Two days before Xmas I was posted to HMS Racer, Larne, N. Ireland. Two of us were issued with travel warrants and boarded the Heysham night ferry to Belfast. It was a rough and scary journey. Two frigates escorted us to protect us from German U-Boats. From Belfast I travelled by train to Larne.

As I arrived on Christmas Eve, I was excused duty, and invited to a party on board HMS Philante, a private yacht belonging to the Sir Thomas Sopworth, the industrialist. It had been seconded as an anti-sub training ship for the crews of escort ships crossing the Atlantic.

At HMS Racer we sent and received coded messages to ships on exercises - destroyers, frigates, motor launches, motor torpedo boats - and HMS Philante. The frigates mainly escorted merchant ships across the Atlantic. We sat with earphones on for 6-hour watches, e.g., 8am-2pm and 2am-8am, with one day off in four. We had to wear stiff white collars all the time, but were allowed to roll-up our sleeves.

At first, I was in private billets on the sea front. At 2am it was rather a scary walk to and from the docks! Eventually I was placed in a wrennery in town.

We were able to have quite a few weekends off. I managed to spend one in Dublin, in civilian clothes of course. There were lots of items in the shops that we had not seen for ages. I can recollect seeing many Swastikas in button holes. Another time I was able to hitch a flight from Aldergrove with my pilot cousin, who was stationed there, to Anglesey and then catch a train to London to spend a day with my family. Leave was once a year. The ferry was always full, and on my fortnight leave I got a space on an escorting frigate.

The week before D-Day we were very busy with no free time and double watches. Suddenly the harbour emptied. U-Boats were still attacking shipping in the Atlantic after D-Day, so we were still quite busy.


VE day came. There were lots of celebrations in town and on board ships. U-Boats were taking a long time to surrender, so our listening activities were not over. I was transferred to a radio station at Belfast Castle, HMS Caroline. After a short time I was drafted to Portrush where the small station was on the headland with the Coast Guard. There was much more free time now. My next posting was to HMS Ferret, Londonderry, where we were quartered in Nissen huts in the grounds of a large house, Boom Hall, overlooking the River Foyle. The huts were luxurious as they had been built for Americans, but the ablutions were outside - very chilly in December! The border being so close enabled us to go to Donegal quite easily.

I was eventually demobbed from Londonderry in early spring 1946, and returned to my family in London.

61742 WREN PEGGY BYATT (now Harding)

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Message 1 - Training to be a wrns wireless telegraphist

Posted on: 19 December 2004 by Audrey Lewis - WW2 Site Helper

Dear Peggy Byatt.
It was so good to read your story about the WRNS. It took me back to my time with the WRNS from late 1946 in Plymouth. I wanted to do what you did but by the time I was old enough to go into the WRNS there were no vacancies. I had to go into the Stores Department.
Things had not changed much from your time to mine. I lived in a nissen hut off Devonport and we still had to wear white collars.
Look forward to seeing your photo.
Kind regards,
Audrey Lewis (nee Colman)


Message 2 - Training to be a wrns wireless telegraphist

Posted on: 20 December 2004 by peghard

Dear Audrey,
I posted the entry on behalf of my aunt, who does not have access to the internet, but I shall print your message and pass it on.
She has a fabulous collection of photographs of the time. She still is in contact with two fellow wrens, one of whom lives in Seattle, the other being her best friend.
Funnily, my wife comes from Londonderry, so her family is intrigued by the stories and photographs.

Best regards, Nigel Byatt

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