Elizabeth Hughes in WRNS uniform.
- Contributed by
- BBC Wales Bus
- People in story:
- Written by Elizabeth Hughes
- Background to story:
- Civilian Force
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 31 October 2005
In 1941 I was training to be an Art Teacher at Leicester Art College,
I couldn’t see myself teaching Art during a war so I decided to join the Wrens
Unknown to my mother I applied to join the Wrens, while I was still studying.
I was sent papers, a pay book, which I had to have my picture taken for. I had to surrender my identity card and was given a travel warrant to go from Shrewsbury to London.
On the night before leaving Shrewsbury for London, I went to the bathroom having put all my papers including my travel warrant under my pillow. On return found they were missing. Not knowing Shrewsbury I went looking for a police station, on my way down Pride Hill I saw a Policeman pick up something from the gutter, coming up close I found him looking at my papers with my photograph! What luck, but I travelled to London with no cash.
When we WRNS trainees arrived at Mill Hill in London we were issued with three scratchy woollen vests, four pairs of thick woollen stockings, suspender belt, calico bra, and even a toothbrush and shoe brushes, whish I still use. The quality of the uniform, warm and thick, was very good. I suppose they knew we would be in huts and on watch in cold draughty places. The only impractical issue was the starched white collar that had to be changed daily. The studs dug into our necks back and front. I managed to use my fathers smaller ones. The plain white shirts were very good cotton. After we demobilised I dyed mine bright colours and used them for years.
Eventual I was sent to Plymouth to become a Royal Marine Wren. So off came the HMS band on my hat; instead a red flash was sewn on and the Globe and Laurel badge.
We were based in Stonehouse Barracks where I found that other Wrens did not have the daily drilling and marching we suffered. An old Colour Sergeant would shout out remarks such as ‘Open your legs; you won’t drop anything’ or, ‘you’re having it easy. My old woman has seven children and knows what hard work is!’ This was very amusing for the men who use to cram the barrack windows watching. When it was my turn to be marker Wren the sergeant would so engineer it that I marched out to stand in a puddle (the whole parade ground was pitted with bomb craters). He would then say, ‘Don’t wet yourself.’
Once we were detailed to help a squad of sailors assisting at a local gymkhana to raise money for ‘Wings for Victory’ week. Whilst they kept drinking the local scrumpy, thinking it was harmless. By packing up time they were mostly legless and we Wrens lifted them up into our truck.
I’d been in the middle of an art teacher’s diploma before joining up, so I entered for a county poster competition for Wings for Victory and won, much to my surprise.
We slept in the few remaining un-bombed houses two miles away. There we had to ‘swab the decks and walls’; it must have ruined the house and it always seemed damp. I hated sleeping on the third bunk up as the electric bulb was just a foot away from my head. Those getting up to prepare for night watch switched it on regardless.
Crossing Plymouth, which was just rubble, never worried me. Because there were patrolling military police, there was rarely any trouble, only the odd bottle whizzing by. On the rare home leaves we saved up for two days to make it worthwhile. I think I had only two home visits to Wales!
Some weeks we were taken by lorry to Thurlestone Commando training camp, to work in draughty old huts. Little did I know that my future husband was on a training course for the day in Europe! He’d been so pleased to miss a Far East draft, having just returned from the invasion of Sicily.
Before D day we saw many small boats of all kinds crowding Plymouth Sound. As D-day approached some of us where kept busy supplying them. As if by magic the morning after D-day we were amazed to see all the boats had vanished, they musty have left over night.
As demob grew nearer, we were very busy preparing the marine documents for the men. Many were the sad letters from families.
On VJ Day we all marched down to The Hoe. The marching was a shambles, but who cared? There was a local band at the end of the column and the RN Band in front; neither kept to the same tempo. I and others were dressed oddly: I had pyjamas under my bell-bottoms. This day it was drizzling heavily on The Hoe, as it often was. I always had trouble with my hair as it was so strong and bushy and we had to keep it off the collar.
One day the adjutant of Stone House barracks asked me to sew his buttons on his trousers whilst wearing them, it was quite embarrassing!
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