July 19, 2020|
Anon – Planning for D-Day with Admiral Ramsay
I started my service in the WRNS aged 17 in 1944. I wore a plotter’s badge with DD under it. DD stood for “Drawing Duties”. I was called to HMS Vernon (Gun Wharf) in March 1944 and introduced to a Naval Lieutenant with whom I was to work.
The work was on masses of charts of the English Channel. 6 Wrens sat at drawing boards in a heavily guarded room working for 6 Lieutenants. Each man was responsible for certain channels to be mine swept from the Isle of Wight to Normandy (roughly the ferry routes of today). Ours was for SWORD beach. With my fine mapping pen on the charts, I had to mark in very accurately the buoys which would be laid down to mark the mineswept route to Sword Beach, e.g. buoy flashing red every 7 seconds, buoy flashing white every 2 seconds, flashing green every 5 seconds, etc. Accuracy was of prime importance – men’s lives were at stake before they undertook the frightening landing fighting for their lives.
We worked morning, noon and night through air raids until the exacting work was finished. The charts were now ready for the mine sweeper captains and then the naval and tank landing craft navigators. Now I knew where the D-Day landings would be. If you were in the ‘know’ you were called “BIGOTED”!!
I would be returned wearily to my “wrenery”, which to this day is called “The Pendragon Hotel” on Southsea seafront. Before returning, I would always peep at the masses of grey shaped ships pulling at anchor in the Solent, and hope we didn’t have an air raid during the night.
After one day’s rest, I was required to report to Admiral Ramsay in his office in an old tall terraced house in Portsmouth, next to the Theatre Royal. For the next few weeks of late April or May I was to be a confidential book corrector, “CB”. I was given very heavy tomes full of infinite details of rotas, procedures, equipment (even toilet paper) which was to be issued to each Captain or leader of any ship, to be carried out when the boss called “go” around 5th or 6th June. So I was in a unique position of knowing where and roughly when the landings would take place. The CB’s had been made months ago and needed small additions and updatings which we did by pasting strips of information in the appropriate place.
When I saw the Winston and Eisenhower cavalcades around 4th June, and troop and tank movements, I guessed D-Day landings were imminent. I watched the weather as never before and was appalled at the wind and waves. I kept thinking if I was in the men’s shoes, I would be speechless with fear, cold and seasick – history told me I wasn’t far wrong. I watched from the first floor window of the Pendragon as the grey fleet upped anchor from the Solent, then the tank and troop landing crafts followed and then the Red Cross ships followed, and I cried for them.
I still cry, as we relive the D-Day landings in the VE Remembrance and I say “Thank you” for our freedom, from the bottom of my heart. May I use the freedom and time left wisely.
Parish Magazine 1995