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15 October 2014
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MY WAR IN THE WRNS (Training & First Postings)

by AgeConcernShropshire

Contributed by 
People in story: 
Patricia Anne PARKYN (nee THORNYCROFT)
Location of story: 
Great Yarmouth & Milford Haven
Background to story: 
Royal Navy
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
27 May 2005

RNC Greenwich 1939

My story has been submitted in 3 parts:

Part 1 Basic Training RNC Greenwich
HMS Skirmisher(Wren)
HMS Watchful(Leading Wren)

Part 2 Plotting & Ops Officer - A4146004
HMS Eaglet, Liverpoool;
HMS Phrosopine, Orkney;
HMS Heron I.O.W. over D-Day Landings
HMS Dartmouth, Devon over V.E.

Part 3 Operations Officer - A4440476
HMS Dartmouth
after D-Day; VE & VJ Day

Part 1

Early in 1939 my home was a peaceful big house overlooking the River Wye, near Hereford. My eldest brother, Nigel, was breeding silver foxes in Norfolk, became Captain in the "Norfolks". My second brother, Mytton, was farming in Herefordshire, became a Captain in the "Monmouths". My third brother, Grey, was training to become an engineer at Loughborough, became a Lieutenant in the Royal Engineers. My fourth brother, Guy, was finishing his training at Sandhurst, he became Colonel of the KSLI.

I, Patricia, was 17 and studying art in London. My parents were happily enjoying a peaceful and hard-earned retirement. Then came the declaration of War. Things changed overnight and by the end of September my four brothers were in the Army.

My father, Colonel Charles Thornycroft CBE, DSO & Bar was Colonel of the Manchester Regiment; he fought through the Boer War & World War 1. He met Lord Baden-Powell; they became great friends and my father helped him in founding the Association of Boy Scouts and became a Scout Commissioner. During WW2 my father was a member of the Special Police and Home Guard.

My Mother and I became nurses, VADs. Home was turned into a convalescent home for oversea's servicemen; the servants who were young enough being called-up and going their various ways. Every minute was crammed with action from sewing miles of material into black-out curtains, to learning other very various new trades.

I took a crash mechanical course with the WRAC so that I could drive the ancient Rolls-Royce hearse from Hereford Cathedral, now the St John's Ambulance. Together with every other available course from ARP to making aircraft components, days and nights did not seem long enough. Most of my ambulance driving was to and from local stations and hospitals collecting and delivering the wounded - but several times I helped in Birmingham and Coventry after heavy air-raids had caused many to be wounded. Driving during black-outs was, at times, nerve wracking!

John, who I was going to marry, joined the RAF and became a bomber pilot, his Lancaster was shot down coming home from a raid on Germany, there were no survivors. I applied to join the WRNS. The waiting seemed long and the various medicals and exams tedious, but I eventually found myself at the RNC Greenwich with my suitcase, gas mask and tin helmet; full of anticipation and impatience to fulfil my dreams of becoming a Plotting Officer. Alas, I became a driver. Once I had mastered some idea of North, South, East and West, with no signposts and few lights; and how to salute people I was sent all over the place, collecting and delivering various VIPs. I loved it all.

I passed some more exams, oral and written, and suddenly found myself on a train to join HMS Skirmisher at Great Yarmouth, sewing on ny dividers. My dream of plotting had really started at the deep end.

The work enthralled me. WRNS quarters, alias "The Victoria Hotel" were only round the corner from the Royal Naval Barracks, so most of us walked to and fro to our watches, raids permitting. I often used to wander along the front especially before or after night watch. The cool, usually damp air, the grey slabs of the promenade, the high barricades of barbed wire dividing it from the heavily mined beaches. Beyond the wire, the lapping and crashing of the waves, grey and white, cold and cruel in the darkness fascinated me. I would feel part of our vital convoys creeping up E-Boat Alley, which were frequently lit by the flashes of guns and torpedoes and bombs, persued by packs of U-Boats, overhead the relentless German bombers. Our magnificent little MG and MT boats waited down the coast at Lowestoft ready to pounce. The ASR boats always at the ready. The steady rhythm from wave after wave of our raiding bombers often filled the night sky; dawn brought the return of those who survived.

One night when I was on duty the Barracks received a direct hit. As usual the OPS and plotting rooms were well protected below ground so none of us were badly hurt; but after being buried in the dark and dust for some considerable time, the first gulp of fresh air (through a gap in the ceiling) and the first mug of tea are something I will never forget.

On another night a land mine blew off the end of the WRNS quarters. Presumably a BOSH shot aimed at the Barracks! Coming somewhat wearily off duty that morning I saw my bunk hanging out of a hole in the wall. I knew it was mine because I could see the black head of my mascot dog "Smut", a present I had received on my seventh Christmas and loved ever since.

Great Yarmouth was a perfect target for German incendiary raids presumably to signpost the way to London for their heavy bombers.

Most civilians, children and animals had been evacuated so the streets and surrounding coastal country was very empty. One night coming off duty after a heavy bombing I saw the lovely St. Nicholas Church going up in flames. I ran up the hill to help but there was little that could stop the flames.

The last night watch I took at Skirmisher ended with a bang. It had been a hectic night, busy with E-Boats and incendiary raids, I was extremely tired when I left the Barracks. On the way back to Quartes I stopped to chat to an Air-Raid Warden who in turn had stopped to stroke a black cat sitting on the wall. A plane semmed to arrive from nowhere, I clearly saw the black cross on its' wings and the bomb falling as it screamed out of its' steep dive seawards. I never saw the cat or the warden again, by the next morning I was in a Midlands hospital. After some time in the sick bay I was sent home for 3 months enforced leave. It was wonderful to be home and for the first 2 weeks I slept solidly. After that it became increasingly fun to help my mother with the convalescents, mostly Australian airmen. One, "Bushman" went 'home' to be a gold miner and promised me his first nugget - I still have it. By the end of the second month I longed to get back to the WRNS and the last month at home seemed to be endless battles with medicos to enable me to do so.

At last a signal came, report to "HMS Watchful" Milford Haven, I packed my bags and went there very happily."HMS Watchful" was the exact opposite of "HMS Skirmisher" peaceful to the state of boring and I loathed the first month. As I was still suffering from severe headaches, I was billited out in the most enchanting and peaceful bungalow in Pill Lane.

For most of the dreary night watches in OPS, I spent taking a course in Pelmenism; balancing tea spoons on needles and the such like. On my first forty-eight hours leave I rushed home and put my horse, Suleman, on the train to Pembroke. From then on my period at Milford Haven was blissful and included my only trip on a submarine.

My eldest brother, Migel, once presumed dead had appeared in the P.O.W camp Stalag V11B in Germany. A perfect excuse for me to make money for Red Cross parcels. I won quite a lot of money flapping my horse; and I broke in several horses for local farmers. I worked as a part-time barmaid in a lovely old pub, in Haverfordwest; where I made many friends among the the Polish airmen stationed at Dale. It was enormous fun to gallop back at night on a dark and car-less road, ready to be on duty at 8 o'clock the following morning.

As I knew where land mines were planted, I knew where it was safe so I had part of Little Broadhaven entirely to myself and Suleman, to swim and gallop for as long as we wished, no one can ever be so lucky again. The nearest blacksmith was at Pembroke Dock - so we had several rough crossings on the Passenger Ferry for new shoes - in between arrivals and departures of the Sunderland Sea Planes stationed there.

Hundreds of "Sea Bees" arrived from the USA with their endless supplies of nylons, cookies, tea, fun and noise, so dissimilar to the quiet Poles of Dale. I was asked to design the windows of their chapel.

The war seemed remote until one night on watch I received a signal telling me to go to the home of one of the Commanders who with his wife had greatly befriended me since my arrival at Milford Haven. This could only mean bad news. The hill from the Barracks seemed unusually long. All the way I prayed that it was not to tell me that my beloved brother, Grey, had been killed; but it was. He had been blown up in Mesopotamia.

Not long after I was told I was being being put up for commission. My total lack of enthusiasm brought me onto the mat in front of the First Officer. The dressing-down I received sent me out in a mixture of tears and rage. I sent Suleman home, packed my bags and set off for the lovely Royal Property "Coppins" then the Officer Training Camp (OTC) for the WRNS.

I would be delighted if anybody reading this story who remembers me could get in contact through the People's War website. Thank you.

STORY: This story has been submitted to the People's War site by Muriel Palmer (volunter) Age Concern Shropshire Telford & Wrekin on behalf of PA THORNYCROFT (author) and has been added to the site with her permission. The author fully understands the site's terms and conditions.

see more of Patricia Parkyn's stories and photographs:

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Women's Royal Naval Service Category
Suffolk Category
South West Wales Category
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