Elsie Edwards WREN
|DOB||October 1, 1925|
Elsie (née Pearsall) was born in Penarth, a seaside town just across the water from Cardiff, in 1925. She and her twin sister, Jean, lived there until they were 7 when they moved to Yorkshire (Sheffield & Wakefield). Elsie passed her 11+ and attended Northampton Grammar School (with her parents paying for her twin sister to attend, so that they were educated together).
Elsie was 13 when the war started and remained at school until she got her School Certificate qualification at 16. She recalls the air raids, sitting under the stairs, and the incessant drone of planes travelling overhead, making their way towards Coventry, which suffered very badly from the bombing raids.
From school, she went into an office job in Income Tax (and was ‘bored out of my mind’) so 13 months later when she was aged 17 (in September 1943) she volunteered to join the WRENs. She was given a choice of office duties or training to be a cook, and because of her desire to have ‘a change of pace’ she choose to train as a cook. When her mother found out she declared her displeasure as: ‘A common cook, after I’ve educated you!’
Her twin sister Jean had by this time joined the Land Army (https://www.iwm.org.uk/history/what-was-the-womens-land-army)
Following her training at the WREN Headquarters at Mill Hill, North London, which involved learning to march and salute and ‘in a vague way’ to cook, Elsie was posted to HMS Eaglet which was the flagship of Commander-in-Chief Western Approaches. Here she had a tough introduction to her role as a cook, getting up at 4.30 in the morning to heat the fat for sauté potatoes that were served at breakfast. When fully trained, Elsie was able to make huge quantities of substantial meals (such as vegetable soup and suet pudding) in great metal pans.
It was at this time that the human cost of war was brought home to all those WRENs stationed at HMS Eaglet. Elsie and other WREN cooks would exercise and march on the beach each day. Here they would see the ships in the dockyards and on one morning were turned away and told that there would be no drills that day. Elsie recounts: ‘We found out later that the previous night a ship had been mined and overnight bits of bodies had swept on to the beach.’
When Elsie was fully trained she was stationed in the Isle of Man and it was here that she had an enforced change of role from cook to ‘writer’ because she had contracted dermatitis. She was retrained at Headingley in Leeds and then stationed to Evanton, a small village in the Highlands of Scotland at HMS Fieldfare.
THE NORMANDY CAMPAIGN
It was while Elsie was stationed at HMS Fieldfare that the D-Day invasion took place. She was so isolated (there was no radio or newspaper) that she didn’t hear about this turning point in the war until much later.
Elsie has photographs of her stay in Evanton that record the frost and snow in winter, and in the end it was the cold, even in summertime, that wore Elsie down. She became so fed up that she volunteered for overseas service and was sent to Ceylon in July 1945.
Prior to her overseas dispatch, Elsie remembers – in parts – VE Day (Victory in Europe 8th May 1945) very well. She had declared: ‘The day that war ends I’m going to drink a pint’. She was not a drinker (and never became one) as she recalls: ‘They carried me out of the pub and I was so poorly!’
Elsie’s wartime service was from September 1943 – September 1946. She re-enlisted and served for a further two years from 1950 – 1952 as a Radar Plotter, retiring from service to marry John Edwards.