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The wartime reminiscences of WRNS (Torpedoman) Kathleen Anderson



WRNS (T) ratings at work in the Depth Charge pistol workshop, HMS CAROLINE.

Forward firing 24 spigot anti-submarine mortar known as 'Hedgehog'. The operator’s box cover has been removed showing the electrical circuits and only half the mortars are loaded. Image © IWM A 30999


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Kathleen remembers her time in the RN working at HMS CAROLINE in Belfast servicing Hedgehog anti-submarine mortar launchers on convoy escort vessels.

Joining the WRNS

I think that all of us who served in the WRNS would agree that it was the greatest experience of our single lives. Living together served to rub off some of our self-centeredness; naval discipline taught us self-discipline; somewhat basic living conditions taught us to be content without luxury; some who had led more sheltered lives before joining the WRNS learned how to relate to men.

Our first two weeks at Mill Hill were tough: lots of drill on the quarterdeck, scrubbing floors and other even less desirable jobs, flattening oneself against the wall whenever an officer passed, sleeping in a room with about twenty other girls. We were glad when the time came to be drafted to Brighton for training as Torpedo Wrens.

Off to Belfast

I forget how long our training was, but we didn't feel very confident as we went off to Belfast, where we were put to work cleaning depth charge pistols. It was dirty work. Happily, for me, I got dermatitis and was very glad to become an assistant to the young Chief who serviced the hedgehogs on each ship as they came in for an overhaul. He taught me a lot, and I really enjoyed that job cleaning all the electrical connections and balancing the gyro.

One day, when my Chief was off sick, another Wren came on board with me to check the hedgehog. The controls were situated in a very small turret, with a roof only about two feet above the control box. My companion was very interested and bent over to look into the box. As she did so, her nose came into contact with a live wire. She jerked her head back and it hit the roof of the turret! I had a hard time suppressing my laughter!

While we worked hard all day, our evenings were spent either relaxing in the Wrennery at 446, Antrim Road, or keeping a date. Many of us had dates with more than one sailor (in different escort groups) and things got a bit panicky in the Wrennery when two groups came in at the same time! In the summer, we would sit in the Wrennery garden, and on the rare hot days (the weather wasn't the best in Belfast) we could sunbathe. One day my friend was lying on the grass with next to nothing on when a telegraph boy arrived and, quite unfazed, asked her where the front door was. When she told me, I said "How awful! What did you do?" She replied, "I covered my face so that he wouldn't recognize me again!" Quick thinking!

As the war came to an end, we were sadly dispersed to different places and different jobs. I was sent to Portsmouth, and we lived in an old fort, which was alive with cockroaches! (We'd changed a lot since first joining the WRNS, and took it all in our stride) There I worked as a writer for several months before being demobbed. What a comedown for a Wren (T)!

Kathleen Anderson




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