On this day in 1981 I left home to join the Women’s Royal Naval Service. I had outgrown the small town of Llangefni in North Wales and was impatient for independence and fun.
In truth, I had been impatient from about the age of 14. My older brothers were leaving home at two year intervals, heading off to university and my parents probably hoped that I would follow the same path. I was a tad rebellious, but not a naughty child. I put this down to being the youngest of four and the only girl. I spoke my mind and fought for every step of independence… to go to youth club, or the Friday night town hall disco, or for a sleepover at my mates house after the Menai Bridge fair! Every stage was a battle. My parents, being parents, just wanted to protect me and I was aware of their concern and love but I pulled away and rebelled just the same.
During the punk scene I bleached my hair and dyed it luminous orange. My father didn’t notice for 4 days! I swore at my orthodontist and stormed out of his surgery when he accused me of breaking my correctional appliance on purpose. In my defence, I had been doubled over with period pains and his accusation was wrong! Once or twice I deliberately stayed out past the “be home by…” time that had been imposed on me, a bit mean, I know. It’s the pushing boundaries that teenagers just do.
My parents (and many of my friends) must have wondered what on earth I was doing when I applied to join the Forces. I suspect many thought I wouldn’t last more than five minutes! My hair was hurriedly dyed back to mousey brown when I had a date for an interview. I passed the aptitude tests and medical and then went on a list until they had vacancies for a Radar Plotter.
I finally received the letter giving me seven weeks notice of my start date. I was ecstatic on the outside and terrified within. I spent my last few weeks in Llangefni playing pool at The Market (local pub) trying to be all big and grown up, then playing Pooh Sticks down at the Dingle (the local woods) with Rona (best mate forever) at the weekends.
I remember the anxiety that I masked of going away from the safety of home and the train journey from Bangor to Paddington and on to Reading on my own. My mother packed my case following the strict list that had been supplied. Her last chick flying the nest.
I could write a book on the experiences that followed. Basic training in HM Forces has to be experienced to be believed, but it was the making of me. It smoothed out my rough edges, challenged me physically and emotionally and moulded me into a fully rounded young adult. I still kept my personality and my sense of humour. That was essential to the ordeals we endured, but I matured with the teamwork and the camaraderie and came through it a much better person.
I have a few photos to share of that time…
This was considered adequate clothing in mid February for probationary wrens!
Gas mask testing over, just time for a quick pic!
A formal pic of Victory Division… not much smiling going on!
Passing out parade. We don’t look that happy but trust me we are!
Leaving HMS Dauntless. I don’t smile much in these pics but then I never was much of a morning person!
Three of us back together last November at the reunion. Amazing.