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My war in the Wrens by Pauline Sperring

by CSV Solent

You are browsing in:

Archive List > United Kingdom > Hampshire

Contributed by 
CSV Solent
People in story: 
Pauline Sperring nee Tanner
Location of story: 
Portsmouth
Background to story: 
Royal Navy
Article ID: 
A7827096
Contributed on: 
16 December 2005

Pauline's record of service

This story has been added to the People’s War website by Marie on behalf of Pauline Sperring. Pauline has given her permission and understands the sites terms and conditions.

When I joined the WRENs in 1942, the pay was 1/6 — one shilling and sixpence per day (which is 15p) plus 2/6 per week kit upkeep. We were issued with our ‘kit’ — uniform — on joining up, but once things wore out we had to replace them.

Things were form the purser’s clothing store — very nice ‘Kayor Boudor’ bras — a good fit and made in cotton for 1/11 (one shilling and eleven pence). Also beautiful black leather lace up shoes, not very expensive by today’s standards but on our pay then it was a struggle. And one had to be very smart always or we would get into trouble, war or no war.

Lord Nuffield helped the Wrens as he paid the bill for us receiving one packet of sanitary towels each month. These were known in those days as ‘bunnies’ or ‘hammocks’ — no such thing as tampons then. For the men in the Royal Navy, he paid the bill for them to get free issue of condoms - or as we called them in those days, ‘rubbers’ or ‘french letters’.

We had enough food but it wasn’t wonderful. The cooks did their best. One thing hated by one and all was “train smash” — called that because it looked so awful — and served for breakfast. It was actually herrings in tomato sauce. If the word went round that it was herrings for breakfast today nobody went — or they’d just have toast.

We worked hard for our money but were only too pleased to be helping win the war.

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The following is a letter Pauline wrote about her wartime experiences -

An MT Driver
At the start of the war I knew exactly what I wanted to do. I wanted to become a Wren, as my mother and her sister were two of the very first Wrens 1914-18 - even before they wore uniforms - at Portsmouth RNB, my only problem was I was not quite old enough.
Aged 17'/2 years in 1942, I was able to join as an MT driver, passed all the exams (I was able to drive from the age of 15'/2) Also as I was born in Portsmouth, I served in the Portsmouth Command for the rest of the war. I awaited my drafting at the Pendragon Hotel, along South sea front, when I was called in to see my CPO who told me the Super-intendent Wren was unable to have a Wren driver until the age of 18 years so I would have to do something else for six months.
I was told a 17'/2-year-old Wren driver had smashed an ambulance and that was the reason I was given.
I was then drafted to HMS Vernon, to do all sorts of odd jobs in the rope store, and did learn a little splicing whilst there - which came in very handy a few years later, when I was a housewife, and able to splice each end of my clothes-line.
About four months passed and I was then posted to HMS Hornet, in Gosport, the MTB base. I was put with a Chief Buzz as an Electrician's Mate, and would go aboard MTBs which had the previous night been along the French coast, and we would replace any wiring which had been smashed. It was a very interesting posting, but I stili wished to become
-a Wren Driver. So after about another four months I was posted to 13 Short Row, Portsmouth Dockyard.
! was put on what was called 'The Thatcham Run'; it was quite a long trip of many miles every day except Sundays, calling at many, many places, mainly very large houses on big estates, which had been taken over by the Admiralty, one of the large houses was called Bletchley House, but of course until only a few years ago we did not know what was going on there. I would deliver the dispatch boxes t6 all these places, then go back to Portsmouth RNB and then on back to the Dockyard, where one had to fill one's vehicle with petrol, and check tyres, oil and water, fill in one's log sheet, and around 7 p.m. put the van, in my case, back in Short Row, leaving the keys in, so it could be driven away at a minute's notice in case of fire.
My next posting was to Stockheath Camp, Havant where I drove the staff car, ambulance, and a small lorry. A new Wren posted there, was the Wren I waved to each day when we passed one another, when I was on the Thatcham Run, she would come down each day and pick up the empty dispatch boxes I had left the day before, take them to Portsmouth RNB and then return to her base - so I did not really know her even to speak to, just a wave, but at Stockheath camp we became very good friends, went to each other's weddings and later she was my daughter's Godmother in 1946. Later we lost touch, which I have always regretted, so if you are out there Marjorie Baldwin, (nee Price), please contact me.
The story of the Wren's navy blue huge woolly knickers, brought back another memory. My late husband was an engineer (for 31/2 years on Russian convoys); I made him two super warm navy jumpers which he was delighted with and said they kept him very warm.
Other things that happened whilst at Stockheath, Havant, Hants. Soon after arriving there the five MT drivers were taught to fire a revolver, as at that time, the thought was German troops may be dropped over the countryside and would try to take over any vehicle they came across, but thank goodness it never came to having to carry a gun.
Also the two survivors from HMS Hood were sent to our camp; we were told we must not talk to them, I did not know who they were.
Much later a very exciting time, in the work up to D Day in

the area, during April, May, and beginning of June, I took the Padre from Stockheath camp each Sunday morning (to take the service there) and it was at Fort Southwick where Mr Churchill, Eisenhower and Montgomery, were. I had to pass all the sentries and park in the courtyard, and whilst waiting for the Padre to return, I always hoped I would see one of the three great men cross the courtyard, but I was never lucky-but just to know they were right there a few yards away plot-ting something - at that time, we of course did not know quite what, and what a great plot it was, and I have just been reliving it last Sunday, 6th June.

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