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Sheila's Story
Before the war started, the ARP was taking on people to train for Air Raid Precautions work. Having left school, Sheila trained as a messenger. There was a police inspector there who was very interested in communication and he decided to teach them to send semaphore. The idea was that if anything happened during the war, they could stand at the street corner and pass a message on. After a time, he decided he would have a class to teach morse code to men who were going into the airforce. Sheila wanted to learn morse too. She was the only girl but was allowed to join the course and learned morse at 12 words a minute. So when the war came, she decided she wanted to be a wireless operator. The Wrens welcomed her with open arms.

Sheila got a letter saying that she was to report to Dundee in Scotland. She had never travelled and Dundee was like going to the ends of the earth in those days.

Click the player below to hear Sheila's version of her introduction into the Wrens.

Sheila was, however, able to help her mother with the sugar ration. As she didn't take sugar in her tea she used to put a spoon of sugar into a jar every time she had a cup of tea and then took the jar home to her mother, who greatly appreciated it.

Sheila and her friend, Penny, were sent to a wireless station in the country. Then one day they got a notice saying that they were going abroad. They were told they must never talk about where they were going or what they did as 'careless talk cost lives' They then went to Liverpool by train to join their ship. As it was war time there were no lights and none of the stations had names. Sheila remembers calling out to somebody and finding out that they were in Wales! She got severely told off because 'Careless talk costs lives'.

On joining the ship they were put into a 'cabin for two' and suddenly it was a cabin for twenty Wrens! There were three-high bunks all the way round walls and up in the middle. After five weeks on board, they reached Durban, where they were taken ashore to a private house.

Click the player below to hear of Sheila's experiences there.

They felt uncomfortable in Durban, partly because of the bright lights there. They had been used to the blackout at home! From there they went to Mombasa for about six months, working day duties and night duties, which were two o'clock in the morning until eight.

One time a ship came in carrying a chief wireless operator who couldn't believe that Wrens could be in communications. Click the player below for Sheila's video account of the story.

"The chief wireless officer on board the ship had never met any Wrens before. Everyday they used to send an exercise out to the fleet to read morse letters and numbers. He didn't believe that a Wren could do this and he sent one of his sailors to sit next to Sheila when she was sending it. The sailor got 100% and the chief never complained again. He was a great supporter of Wrens after that."

When Sheila started in Dundee, she earned about ten shillings a week - about 50 pence - and out of that sent half home to her mother. The men probably got much more but she didn't mind. That's how it was. Sheila remembers, "We travelled at sea on troop ships and had to sign on as ship's company. When they talk about girls going to sea these days I think 'we did it long before you did' but no-one ever talks about it. All of us slept on the deck on straw mattresses in one long line all the way round the ship."

Sheila enjoyed her time in the Wrens. The only time she was ever homesick was when she saw a display of beautiful, blue flowers abroad and thought they were bluebells. That reminded her strongly of home.

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