Essays

Introduction to the Royal Navy

Julie Breeze, WREN

By Julie Hallett (Née Breeze), WREN

My father was in the regular army, and I had lived in barracks with my parents from the age of eight until I was thirteen and a half years old. Then, when World War Two broke out, I was evacuated from London with the rest of my school to a safer place in the country. So by the time I volunteered to join the Women's Royal Naval Service when almost eighteen I was no stranger to the military life nor was I afraid to be living away from home. However, many of the new recruits arriving at the Training Centre found this novel experience very forbidding.

We were to spend three weeks in basic training before being posted to a unit where we would undergo further training specifically related to whatever position had been assigned to us. For the first two weeks we were on probation, either side could back down if not satisfied. During that period we were not allowed to leave the premises and our only 'uniform' was a blue overall, that we wore all the time. The significance of this 'uniform' soon became clear.

While a large part of our time was spent in learning to march and in studying the essentials of Naval lore, we were also responsible for performing everyday household chores. Scrubbing floors and kitchen tasks in the galley don't sound too bad, except that everyone had had a series of antibiotic injections and we were all suffering with very sore and swollen arms and many were feeling quite ill. No wonder there was an epidemic of homesickness. We came from all walks of life and this initiation must have been additionally difficult for girls who had been used to living in a household with servants to do their bidding.

At the beginning of the third week, those who had survived were issued their uniforms and official documents. We were now Wrens, and would go through a selection process to determine our next assignment. Above all, we were permitted to 'go ashore' at last, wearing our newly acquired uniforms too! I remember one of the Wrens returned that evening to announce that she had become engaged. My reaction was that she was far too young.

I did not intend for this to happen to me until I was at least twenty-one. Little did I realize that I would actually be married in six months' time! During those troubled times there seems to have been two ways of viewing such a commitment. Some couples decided to wait for more stable times to tie the knot. Others wished to hurry into the future and take what happiness they could, in case it was their only chance.

Julie Hallett