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What the WRNS did in North Shields

Before the war I went to college to learn how to be a dress designer, but they didn’t teach people how to be a dress designer in those days. So I took an art course instead, it wasn’t what I wanted to do so I stuck at it for six months and then got an apprenticeship with a company in Newcastle who made garments, I did this till I retired.

I was nineteen a year before the war started and I had no knowledge of political aspects of the country because of no television. You could only listen to the radio at 9:00pm when Winston Churchill was on; everyone stopped what they were doing and listened because that’s all they had because of no televisions.

I joined the WRNS just after I finished the apprenticeship; I felt I was doing more good for the country with all the troubles in the war, by being the WRNS. My family wasn’t rich, but we were comfortable. My father worked at Parsons, which was quite a good job. So overall the thirties weren’t too bad. In the summer holidays I went to the beach every day, it was lots of fun.

The day the war started was my birthday. On that day I decided to join up to the WRNS, it was easy to get into, but there were only ten people who joined up at that time. It had the best uniforms for the women’s forces, including, silk stockings and a hat. When I first join the WRNS the uniforms weren’t ready so we just had a badge on our arm. I was working in North Shields and the sailors shouted out, “WHERE IS YOUR UNIFORM?”

There was nothing glamorous about war even though we had fancy uniforms that made us think it was glamorous.

None of our uniforms fitted, all of them were at least ten sizes too big, so we unpicked the stitching and cut them to make them fit. But we had to be careful because if the skirt was even one inch too small we were severely told off.

I worked for a supply branch for the navy I supplied the war ships with anything they needed, like parts of gun or anything that was needed on the ship. I worked at central stores, which was a very old building, which supplied things from food to anchors. We sometimes had very famous people coming for our services. Once we had Lord Louis Mount Batten, he came on the Kelly. If there was anything wrong with the ships then we had to supply them with the things that they need to make the ship working again. We often got fond of the Ships Company, as they came regularly. The worst trip was going to Russia, because one minute I saw them partying and the next they were blown up.

My husband joined the TA; his job was not glamorous either. Many people were stuck after D-day as the bridges had been bombed, people were dropped down in parachutes but this was the very worst place due to lack of bridges. My husband helped people there and as a reward got a distinction because of it. There are only a handful of his regiment left though.

Even now I cannot eat butter or sugar in large amounts because of rationing I am just not used to being able to have it. It’s like being brain washed into not liking it.

Each government had their own ideas about war, Germany wanted more space as it is a landlocked country, and everyone wanted something and would do anything to get it. The Americans dropped bombs on Nagasaki.

I once met a Japanese lady who was living in Holland; she was very badly disfigured due to the Nagasaki bombs.

And I can always remember a vivid picture of a little girl, naked in Cambodia alive but on fire, she was like this due to the stuff the Americans were using to get villagers out of their villages.

I had a young male friend,(second right on the photo) who was flying across Portugal and was shot down; some Portuguese people helped them and sent them back to England. Once they were back in England they went out again but this time when they were shot down they unfortunately died. It just proves how determined young people were; carrying on until they were shot down.

When I was working in the WRNS I lived near the workplace in West Monkseaton so I stayed with my parents. Every day I rode my bicycle to and from work. One day when I was riding my bicycle home at about 7 or 8 o’clock in the summer time. At the time in West Monkseaton there were no houses and sometimes planes went over, looking for the railway line up to Edinburgh.

I was riding near to the Ack-Ack station on the sea front. (Ack-Ack guns go up after the planes.)

I was riding along Preston village; which was just fields then. All I had was a little light on the front of my bike because of blackout regulations, and I had a very heavy tin hat on my head, as I was riding all I could hear was ping, ping, ping which was Ack-Ack shell falling from the guns. When that happened you had to be quick and jump into a ditch or a bush until the air raid was over.

Another time when I was going home I heard a plane coming from the direction of the lighthouse, because of my experience and from just cycling home I became familiar with the sounds of engines from the different planes. So immediately I recognised the sound of a German engine. It dropped a bomb and I said to myself, “Oh god I wonder where that landed?”

When I got in to tell my parents what had happened I was called straight back on duty because the bomb had hit the naval hospital. Two people were killed in the hospital bombing, they were Greek sailors. Also many people were injured including on of my friends cousins was a naval nurse. We used to visit her with what we could find from our rations. She used to sit in bed and pull a piece of glass from her head, this is because they don’t attempt to remove glass and just let the skin push it out naturally. My friend’s cousin got a medal for that day as she had a broken shoulder and various cuts and bruises over her body, despite these injuries she still managed to help many patients to safety, out of the hospital.

I was often in fear of my life but we obeyed all orders so what ever I was asked to do I did with out questioning.

I was a supply officer in the WRNS my WRNS officer was very strict but she was good. There was just a small bunch of us on our own. Our WRNS officer was stationed down where the ferry landing head quarters were, which is now a block of beautiful flats. Every three months our commanding officer would go to Cliffords Fort but we were really too busy to go down their and be drilled and told what to do but this was an admiralty order so we had to.

Every three months we went into a little room, we never carried a handbag or umbrella and we saw our commanding officer standing there in her smart outfit. Suddenly the lights went out and all the plaster started falling down, she just asked, “Does anyone have a candle?” She then continued to tell us what to do.

We were lucky being in the WRNS as we didn’t have to do the marching side like the navy. We got to go to good parties on ships, we had loads of fun. But sometimes we had to watch ships being blown up we sat crying for about half and hour and then had to carry on like normal.

Marjorie Cook

(Stoty contributed by Angela Ng, pupil of Heaton Manor Comprehensive School)

© Copyright Marjorie Cook

This article is reproduced under 'fair dealing' terms for non-commerical use.

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