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Experiences of the Royal Navy-being a Wren

by troublednewalex

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Archive List > Love in Wartime

Contributed by 
troublednewalex
People in story: 
Mrs. Jeanne D. Studholme
Background to story: 
Royal Navy
Article ID: 
A8159998
Contributed on: 
31 December 2005

This story was submitted by Alex Crawford on behalf of Mrs. Jeanne Studholme, nee Holmes and she has granted the BBC permission to use her story in a way they deem appropriate.

I was 17 when the war started and I lived in Dartmouth, the naval town. We just got the news over the radio as we came out of church. It was all taken very, very seriously and then of course it all when back to normal, back to everyday life until we were informed that the evacuees were coming to us. But when they came they were all with their labels and boxes and little bags. Some had paper bags, some had cases and they were all sorted out in the town hall and allocated homes. A lot went home because they weren’t happy; life was very different for them.

I then volunteered because my father wouldn’t let me go into the service at that stage. I worked as a post-woman in the post office. I was in it about a year and then my mother persuaded my father to let me volunteer because we had to be volunteers then, we weren’t called up. I then went down to Plymouth, did my probationary training for a month and although I was a mobile Wren I was sent back to Dartmouth to complete the training. We had three months I think to see whether we liked the Wrens and the Wrens liked us! Then I served as a steward because at that time that was the only way you could get in. But being in the know you went in and after three months you knew you could change your category. A lot of people didn’t know that. But being in a naval town we knew a lot of people to do with the service so we found out about these things so after that I changed to what I wanted to do.

I wanted to be a dispatch rider but I was too short. I got in though through the medical man, because he knew me personally. He said to me ‘I’m going out of the room, the nurse isn’t here, she’s not listening, push your hair up!’ And so I pushed it right up. That way I was five foot one and an eighth. Just enough.

I changed to fleet mail though. That’s what I really wanted to do anyway. Having worked in a post office I thought I decided I should do what I know. I’d never worked as anything else up to then. So I changed to fleet mail and worked quite a lot in Dartmouth itself and then I applied for overseas which is what I wanted to do as well. First I worked in the Davenport barracks post office and then came to London to do a course, which was condensed to five weeks. You had to pass that to go overseas or get any promotion.
In our course group I came second, which was a miracle to everyone, including me!
It just shows what you can do when you’re determined!

Very few Wrens actually went to sea. You only went to sea when you were going to work overseas. After our time in London we moved on each day until we were out at sea, but we kept having to dodge the ‘U Boats’ and at one stage we were almost in south America dodging them. It took us a fortnight to get round from London, to Scotland to Portside. We lost our back trooper and that was unnerving because we knew we couldn’t go back and get them. We just had to leave them. We were at sea for Christmas and when we arrived at Portside we went down to a transit camp, a fleet air-arms station.

From there we were posted to our different jobs and six of us who were clerical workers were sent to Cairo. I was one of the six and spent three years in Cairo working as a mail person. Of course they were very strict because they knew where all the ships were. We liaised with the British Army post office, the French, the South African and the Amercian post offices.

I used to save all my leaves up to go and see Egypt, and my money. While I was there I went up to Jerusalem, Palestine, all over the place. I got to Damascus and then went the other way and went down to Luxor, on a Thomas Cook trip done by the YMCA. But you had to be determined to do it. Not many did because it meant you had to save and to save we went to all the free dances and things that came up on the board.

Another thing was that we were very well cared for. We couldn’t go out with anybody who didn’t have a rank and they were told to sign for us and write down where we were going and then they were told what time to bring us back! People don’t’ realise. They used to say the wrens were snobs but we couldn’t be anything else but snobs could we?! Can you imagine it happening now? But we just accepted it.

From Cairo I went to Malta and spent a year there. Then I came home and spent a year doing the same job in Portsmouth. By that time I’d got my promotion and was a petty officer and I was demobbed from up at Kirk Bride, the fleet air arms station in 1947.

There was good and there was bad and you accepted both. You just had to. We were at war and we volunteered to be there, so we had to.

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