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U3A Writing: Kentish Maid

...After leaving school at sixteen I joined the WVS (Women's Voluntary Service), carrying out switchboard duties for the Civil Defence in one of the dungeons below the castle, sounding the siren when enemy aircraft were approaching. Many a time we watched the 'planes "dog -fighting", parachutes descending or 'planes coming down...

June Brown shares some of her wartime memories.

I came into this world in Royal Tunbridge Wells, Kent in the 1920's in my grandmother's house. Eighteen months later my parents and I moved to the nearby market town of Tonbridge, where a Norman castle stands in lovely grounds by the River Medway. Many spectacular festivities were held here and, I presume, still are.

Tonbridge became a garrison town during the 1939 - 45 war, the children attending school part - time, as we had to share our school with the evacuated children. We had to catch up on our school work at home.

I was in camp with the Girl Guides for days before war was declared, during which time I developed a very bad cold and was administered quinine (horrible). I think I caught this cold because my liberty bodice went missing.

After leaving school at sixteen I joined the WVS (Women's Voluntary Service), carrying out switchboard duties for the Civil Defence in one of the dungeons below the castle, sounding the siren when enemy aircraft were approaching. Many a time we watched the 'planes "dog -fighting", parachutes descending or 'planes coming down.

In the area there were quite a number of farms. Of course, most of the farmhands were called to the Services so help was needed from local population, mostly females and children. In our area help was needed in the hop gardens. When the RAF and enemy fighters were overhead we would dive into trenches until the fighting was over. We took our own food, cold tea in a bottle and home made lemonade. As children we had fun playing in and out of the bins and hop vines. The best thing I liked about hop picking was the smell of the hops being roasted in the oast house. There was an oast house opposite our house. Folk cannot understand why I love the smell of the brewery when I am in Cardiff; I think it is lovely. (None so odd as folk).

I eventually left school and after a couple of years decided to join the WRNS as most of my friends had gone away to do "their bit". I had to report to Wesley College, Headingley, Leeds (which was a Methodist Ministers' Training College) Of course, they were not there, called up I suppose. No cricket at Headingley, we were too busy scrubbing and polishing long corridors, etc. to watch cricket; plenty of sore knees and backs. According to work experience, we were sorted out as to what category of job we were suited. I was seconded to Westfield College, Hampstead, London for a month's Writers' Course and a month later the Doodle Bugs started to descend on London. I was in sick bay with inoculation fever (very painful) when the siren sounded, having to descend to the cellar until the "all Clear" sounded.

On the day we left London for Portsmouth a Doodle Bug landed on the library at the College, so I reckon we were very lucky to have just missed it.

On arrival at Portsmouth the scrubbing and polishing was still with us, whilst waiting for our of place of work. Eventually, I went to the Royal Naval Barracks, then to HMS Collingwood, Fareham and finally to HMS Dolphin at Gosport, which was a submarine depot. It was very interesting place to work, watching the submarines travelling to and from war zones. Whilst there, one of my work experiences was working in the Captain's Office. I attended a Courts Martial to take notes; the funny thing was that if there was bad language I had to leave the room., so I was more out of the room than in it. As you can imagine, the typed report was quite sparse.

When a submarine was returning from a long run at sea, we stood on the sea wall and cheered the submarine into dock. She would be flying a "Black Roger" flag showing a number of tokens of the enemy ships it had either sunk or damaged, which were very moving moments.

We held Ships Company dances now and again and we had to cross the estuary by the Liberty Boat, which was fine going but on the return journey it became very foggy and we ended up under Southsea Pier. This was quite scary, as there was a lot of shipping movement around us and it was very dark and cold.

I left the Service in 1946 when I married a submariner, who left the Navy in 1953.

In June 1994 (D-Day) I went to a re-union at HMS Dolphin. It was good to meet colleagues after 50 years to reminisce about the old times, which were both happy and sad.



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