Royal Navy and Maritime Book Reviews PROVIDED BY - Rob Jerrard
Bene Factum Publishing 2010
I Only Joined For the Hat
Redoubtable Wrens at War...their trials, tribulations and triumphs
Author: Christian Lamb
Foreword by Countess Mountbatten of Burma CBE) -
Publishers: Bene Factum Publishers
Publication Date: 2007
Publisher's Title Information
A wonderfully evocative illustrated memoir that gives the reader a rare account in close-up of what life was truly like for World War II Wrens, as they were catapulted into the drudgery and deprivation, mayhem and maelstrom, and the tribulations and triumphs of war. Illustrations: Pages brought to life with many contemporary photographs & illustrations. Now in it's 2nd Edition since its launch in summer 2007.
In 1939, before compulsory call-up, the young Christian Lamb felt she had to 'do her bit' for the war effort. Her comfortable life was about to be turned upside down.
But what to do? With her Naval background, the Women's Royal Naval Service (WRNS) was the obvious choice, besides it had by far the most attractive uniform topped by the splendid tricorne hat. But her hopes were dashed when, joining as a lowly Wren rating, she found that this crowning glory was strictly for officers only. This was to be the first of many nasty surprises.
'I Only Joined For The Hat' gives a rare account of what life was truly like for the wartime Wrens. Christian wittily describes how class and snobbery had no place in a world of girls from all social backgrounds, suddenly plunged into life together. From scrubbing floors and squad drill to coding and catering, Christian peppers her pages with amusing observations.
Here is her own story, starting on the bottom rung, progressing to the Operations Room that followed the desperate twists and turns of the Battle of the Atlantic, and eventually finding she was tracking her fiancé's destroyer as he battled with the deadly German U-boat wolf packs.
Here, too, are many as yet untold stories from fellow Wrens and Naval officers. Discover how Wrens played their vital part
Training submariners on the renowned 'Perishers' course
Living in the secret, secluded world of Enigma at Bletchley Park
Degaussing ships and maintaining the delicate mechanism of torpedoes
As coxswains of cutters or Cine Gun assessors
By Countess Mountbatten of Burma CBE
I am of the same generation as the author Christian Lamb, with a very similar career in the WRNS, and her story took me back over 60 years to the three happy years I spent, aged 19 to 21, in that service from 1943-1946.
This book gives a real flavour of the amazing variety of work undertaken by Wrens - from routine and mundane to highly responsible and dangerous. But whether working at a desk, in a canteen, in an engineering yard, with little boats or employed on secret information, the girls always worked with a high sense of duty and of 'doing their bit' to help win that terrible war.
Looking back from such a long 65 year vantage point, it strikes me anew what an extraordinary experience that time was, leading from complete security of early youth into a totally different new world of excitement, danger, boredom, fear, exultation, apprehension and battered emotions of all kinds. But above all, what shines through in one's memory of those extraordinary days is a shared sense of purpose and determination in the face of great difficulties.
I think those of us of that generation who survived the war were really lucky to have shared that sense of purpose and a uniquely bonding experience between strangers which served us all very well for the rest of our lives.
Having previously read some autobiographies written by WRNS Officers, I thought, as Anne Glyn Jones did (Chapter 20, 'Mutiny at Gibraltar') that it might be another, 'Ra Ra, Jolly Hockey sticks account of life in wartime WRNS, as if everything was superior, eminently harmonious and satisfactory - it wasn't' - and luckily for the author and the reader, Anne Glyn Jones and others contributed to this very varied book of accounts by ex- WRNS. Some became Stewards, Cooks, Coders, Plotters, Stokers, Boating Wrens and countless other jobs, which these young women tackled. As Chapter 15 declares 'Wrens can do anything'.
I lost track of the various employments WRNS undertook, because as well as those already referred to there were Japanese Telegraphists, Radar, assisting with Perisher's Courses, Armourers, at Whale Island, Bletchley Park and other secret establishments such as Eastcote in Middlesex and all over the world as time went on. I have only touched on the list of work undertaken.
I am sure that if it were today and not the forties, Wrens would have a T Shirt 'WRENS Do it all over The World', or something less modest!
After reading this book, if a woman I meet says that she was in the WRNS during WWII I would have a lot more questions to ask.
The subtitles is 'Redoubtable WRENS at War... their trials, tribulations and triumphs' as it certainly is and the narrative holds the attention from start to finish and is a credit to the young girls who served their country in wartime. One thing is certain, it wasn't all Ra Ra, jolly anything at times for many of them and this book conveys their story in fine detail. In spite of the bad times there was a lot of fun and parts of the book will make you laugh, which is right and proper because one saying you always heard a lot of in the Royal Navy was 'If you can't take a joke you shouldn't have joined'.
There were some of the usual, being sent to get red oil for the port lamp and to fetch a long weight/wait. Of course only green oil is available and 'short waits'. Perhaps being sent for a pint of maiden's water may have been tumbled?
There of course there are the friendships that still endure today.
A super read.
“The indomitable Christian Lamb has done it again …the author herself comes across as eminently sensible person with an acute perception of human nature, tempered with a wry wit”. [Country Life]
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