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15 October 2014
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Ivy Garraway - WREN AND IVY'S STORY

by ActionBristol

Contributed by 
ActionBristol
People in story: 
IVY GARRAWAY
Location of story: 
BRISTOL
Background to story: 
Royal Navy
Article ID: 
A7217976
Contributed on: 
23 November 2005

Picture of Ivy serving as a WREN 1943. Picture taken in Bristol, England.

This picture was submitted by Ivy Garraway

BBC Peoples’ War
Ivy Garraway’s (nee Rogers) Story

Ivy was born in Bristol on the 23rd September 1925. She left school in 1939 when she was 14. She remembers when war was declared; her whole family were at home listening to the radio. Her father seemed very unhappy. He had fought in the 1st World War and he remembered it well.

Soon after leaving school Ivy got a job at the local Wills cigarette factory. The job was relatively well-paid and Wills looked after their workers very well. She worked from 7.30 till 5, with an hour off for lunch. She enjoyed the work - music was played in the factory and the girls working on the cigarette machines sang along with it.

Just before her 18th birthday, on 21st September, 1943, Ivy volunteered for the WRENS. By volunteering she avoided being sent into the Army or possibly the Land Army. Her father wanted her to go into the WRENS. He was a tugboat captain who regularly went out into the Bristol Channel to bring ships into Bristol Docks. While waiting for a ship or for the tide to turn he used to spend a lot of time fishing and often brought home enormous conger eels and skate which he then distributed for free to their friends and neighbours.

Ivy was given a medical examination and an intelligence test, both of which she passed, and was then sent to Mill Hill, in North London to be kitted out. She was proud of her new uniform (see her accompanying photo). She was then sent to HMS Safeguard which was in fact a big country house which had been commandered by the Navy. It was mainly used for the Naval gunners who worked on DEMS (defensively equipped merchant ships). Many of them needed to convalesce after being wounded or simply needed rest and recuperation after working on the Atlantic convoys.

In the middle of her training she had a short weekend leave. Her father died that weekend, aged only 46, from asthma and chronic bronchitis. Ivy was close to her father and still keeps the letters he wrote to her when she was away in the WRENS. Soon after that she was transferred to HMS Shrapnel in Southampton. There she was trained as a cook although she had applied to work on the mail boats. Her request was, for some reason, ignored although they promised she could be transferred later. (Needless to say she never was.) The training wasn’t difficult because she had already been taught to cook by her mother at home. And in the Rodgers family, despite rationing, there was never any shortage of food because her father and both her brothers all had double rations owing to the fact that they were doing essential war work on the tug boats.

After completing her training, Ivy was transferred to HMS Shrapnel which was in fact The Great Western Hotel, situated just by the main railway station in Southampton. Ivy worked in the kitchen (galley) which cooked food for Naval and Royal Marine officers. She shared a cabin (bedroom) on the 5th floor of the hotel with 3 other girls who were officers’ stewards. She remembers well there was a black line on the sides of their bath, 5 inches up the side, and this marked the maximum depth they could fill with hot water. There was no lock on the door so the duty officer could come in at any time to check on the depth.

On June 5th 1944 HMS Shrapnel was absolutely full of sailors and marines and out of the window Ivy could see thousands and thousands of troops disembarking from train after train. Everyone knew something important was about to happen but they could only guess what. When she woke up the next day she knew. The whole hotel was empty and on the station there were no troops to be seen. They had all gone to take part in the D Day landings and had left behind them what Ivy described as a ‘ghost town’ which she said felt really eerie. None of the officers she’d been cooking for came back and she never knew how many were killed on that first day or subsequently. But she remembers hundreds of soldiers, wounded in the fighting in northern France, many of them on stretchers, waiting on the platforms of Southampton station to be taken to hospital.

Soon after that Ivy put in for a compassionate posting to be nearer her recently widowed mother. But Ivy celebrated VE day and VJ day in Southampton. It took 18 months for her transfer to a Royal Navy hospital in Bristol to come through. Ivy was finally discharged from the WRENS in May 1946.

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Women's Royal Naval Service Category
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