Hilda Wright WREN

Service
  • WREN
DOB August 27, 1926
Surviving Today Yes

Hilda in 1944

Hilda (née Sutton) was born in Barrow-in-Furness on 27th August 1926. She was the 12th of 13 children (7 boys and 5 girls) and says that the large family had a good upbringing with strict but loving parents.

Hilda enjoyed school life and was sorry to leave at 14 years old (the school leaving age). Her first job was in a shop ‘round the corner’ and then in a ‘fruit and veg’ wholesalers before moving to work at Marks and Spencer, a job to which she returned at the end of the war.

Hilda’s elder sister had joined the WRENs and Hilda persuaded her mother to let her join by arguing that her sister had been allowed and therefore it was only fair that permission was given for her to join up.

HOME FRONT

Hilda was 13 when war started and experienced many air raids when living in Barrow. Large air raid shelters had been built that accommodated 3 or 4 families. She has memories of singing with these other families during the raids ‘as if in a choir’. On one occasion when she was 14 years old there was a daytime raid and she was running an errand for work and she clearly remembers the feeling of panic when the siren went, since she didn’t know where the nearest air raid shelter was.

THE NORMANDY CAMPAIGN

On 6th June Hilda was 17 and still living at home with her parents and she remembers listening to the account of the invasion on the radio. Her 7 brothers were heavily involved in all aspects of the war and her family listened to the news with some anxiety. (Two brothers worked at The Royal Arsenal, Woolwich in south-east London where armaments manufacture, ammunition proofing and explosive research for the British armed forces were carried out; one worked in the shipyard in Barrow; two were in the Navy; two were in the Army)

WREN SERVICE (The Women’s Royal Naval Service)

On her 18th birthday, in August 1944 Hilda went to register for the WREN service and in October 1944 received her call up papers and travelled to the WREN Headquarters at Mill Hill, North London. She likened the experience to a mixture of school lessons and the Girls Training Corps, which was formed in 1941 to prepare young women aged between 14 and 20 for service to their community with a motto of “To serve and train for Service” and was intended to support the war effort. The Corps had involved training in military drill and consequently Hilda found that drill practice was no problem. The lessons in classrooms involved learning the Navy jargon, badges and ranks ‘and all about Lord Nelson’. It was at Mill Hill that Hilda was ‘kitted out’ with a jacket, skirt, navy raincoat and greatcoat, hat, two pairs of shoes, gloves, three white shirts and a black tie.

Hilda was sent on a Supplies course (because of her experience as a shop assistant) at Leeds for one month and was then dispatched to Royal Navy’s headquarters in Belfast Harbour which was used as a home base by many of the warships escorting Atlantic and Arctic convoys. Hilda worked in the Electrical Section in Supplies and the naval men working alongside her gave her the nickname Dizzy, named after a film character and which Hilda still uses today.

On VE Day (Victory in Europe Day) 8th May 1945 Hilda and her friend Mercia Evans were allowed the day off. They returned to their ‘digs’ (accommodation) and decided to go into Belfast city. They caught a bus and booked a room at the YWCA (Young Women’s Christian Association) for the night. As they tried to get out of the building into the streets they found that they couldn’t move because of the crowds. In Hilda’s words: ‘Some soldiers came along and put Mercia, myself and another girl on their shoulders, and we were laughing.’ The next day, back in work at the naval depot, Hilda found that she was famous – her photo was on the front page of the Belfast newspaper ‘Northern Whig’

Hilda remained in service in the WRENs until 1946, when she returned to her job in Marks and Spencer.

Hilda in 2019