- Contributed by
- Huddersfield Local Studies Library
- People in story:
- Marjorie Hirst, nee Crowe
- Location of story:
- Mirfield, London, Weymouth, Southampton, Exbury
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 27 February 2004
This story has been submitted to the People's War website by Sarah Harding of Kirklees Libraries on behalf of Mrs Hirst and has been added to the site with her permission. The author fully understands the site's terms and conditions.
Second World War Memories of Marjorie Hirst, nee Crowe.
In 1939 I was working in a solicitor's office in Mirfield, where there were two male and two female staff. The men had to join up, but the solicitor suggested that if my female colleague and I were willing to take on more work he thought he would be able to apply for deferment orders for us. These applications were successful until January 1944 when one was refused and I had to attend an interview at the Labour Exchange. My father had told me to ask for a job at the NAAFI offices in York as I was an only child, and it would have been nearer to home, but there were no posts available there. However, shorthand typists were wanted for the WRNS.
I had to have a medical and other tests and then was sent to Headingley for training. I had met two other girls during the tests and was to stay with one of them during our training and throughout most of the war. My training lasted for three weeks and included marching, floor washing and toilet cleaning!
After training my friend and I were sent to a holding depot in Portsmouth, and then on to London, where we lived in a new block of flats in Notting Hill. These were thought to be luxury - they had parquet floors and fitted furniture. We took the Tube every day to work, in an office by the Catholic cathedral in Victoria. Here we were working in combined ops, where all the forces were working together. We had to sign the Official Secrets Act as we were typing the orders for Gold Beach (I was a Force G Wren at this time) which covered the area of Caen and Arromanches in Normandy.
From London we were drafted to Weymouth where landing exercises were taking place. We were working very long hours - sometimes from 9am to 1am the following morning, with interruptions for air raids when we would have to go up and down to and from the shelters. We were working with manual duplicating machines, making a thousand copies of each page. We realised that the work we were doing was secret and that it was very important. We were never given two pages which followed each other.
Over the D-Day period my friend and I were sent to Southampton. Here equipment was being assembled under camouflage in the wooded areas outside the town, ready to go on the ships. During this time I saw many important figures, including Churchill, Montgomery and Eisenhower. Six days before D-Day King George VI came to inspect the fleet, including the Force G HQ ship, HMS Bulolo. Sixteen Wrens were wanted to be on board the ship when the King visited; lots were drawn to choose the lucky sixteen and I was one of them. We were taken down the Solent in small boats and climbed up the ladder on the side of the ship. Our uniform had to be very spick and span - it was a great honour to be there.
We realised that D-Day was imminent, although it had to be delayed for one day because of bad weather. We heard aircraft during the night of the 5th and 6th and realised that the invasion had started. There was a sense of anti-climax; we had worked so hard up till then but we were at a loose end once D-Day started - we went to the cinema about four times in two days!
We had to do the reports after D-Day and were drafted to Exbury in the New Forest on the Rothschilds estate. The WRNS quarters were in the Montagu Arms Hotel in Beaulieu but these were full, so some farm cottages were requisitioned for us. We should have gone to France in the follow-up to D-Day but our CO had to go to hospital for an operation so we stayed in England. After this we were sent back to London, and Force G was then disbanded. From then I served in London, Great Yarmouth and Lowestoft until I was demobbed in July 1946.
We did have time off as well as our periods of hard work - while we were working in Portsmouth and Southampton we used to hitch lifts to Bournemouth. We weren't worried about hitching - war time was dangerous, but the danger was different from what it is now. We also had transport laid on to take us to dances, so we had entertainment as well as hard work!
I have attended the Festival of Remembrance ceremonies in the Albert Hall and found it very moving when the poppies came down. Until last year, when she died, I was still in touch with my friend I had met during training - we had trained together and attended WRNS reunions together. I am also still in touch with two other friends who now live in Somerset and Wick; having attended the 40th and 50th anniversaries of D-Day together, we hope all to attend the 60th anniversary together, at Exbury and Beaulieu.
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