Women’s Royal Naval Service (WRNS)

Tess joined the WRNS in 1942 aged 18.  All Tess's friends were joining up and 18 was the earliest you could go in.  The WRNS were popularly and officially known as 'Wrens' and there was a range of jobs women could do from cooks to air mechanic in the Service.  It was still a Volunteer Service so the Wrens weren't under Martial Law as the ATS and the WAAF were.

Tess was based at Mill Hill for 2 weeks training "while you decided if you wanted to stay and/or if they wanted you".   She was then posted up to the Midlands to Mill Meece, a little hamlet outside Stafford where she did a course as a Coder.  There was a Fleet Air Arm Station there, HMS Fledgling, and a big RAF Base.  In the Coder Communications Department, the cypher was done by a Wren Officer and the de-coding by a Wren Rating.  Tess was there for about 9 months and in 1943 was transferred to a Communications Centre outside Portsmouth till just after D-Day. 

All the Wrens were Watchkeepers for 8 hours in 24 and they were always based in nice houses so they could be sure of a good night's sleep if on night watch.  Tess did say that Wrens seemed to get better accommodation than the WAAF for which she was grateful. 

Tess Pritchard



Late one night in June 1944, Tess decided to go out and get a breath of air with a fellow Wren and heard the faint purr of aeroplanes coming from inland, which was unusual.  The noise got louder, then as far as the eye could see across the sky were wing lights of planes dragging the Gliders for the Invasion.  Tess said "It was an incredible sight; I can't describe it."

With a Wren friend from Portsmouth, Tess got a couple of days leave and went up to London the day before VE Day.  They got accommodation at the YWCA at lunchtime in a twin bedded room and then went out.  She remembers that London was very noisy and crowded on VE Day.   She went down the Mall to Trafalgar Square.  "Everyone was so cheerful and happy and mixing, the crowd just moved forward of its own accord.  There was no pushing or shoving". Tess and her friend got back to their digs between 3 and 4 am, had to knock up the Night Watchman and then found their twin room full of cots with women in and who they had to step over to get to their beds!  They got Breakfast but only if they went to the Church Service; this was Anglican and Tess was Roman Catholic but if she wanted to eat, she had to attend so she did.  She then returned to Portsmouth.

Tess was posted to Londonderry in early July 1945.  The Base was reducing but the war was still on in the Far East. The Americans had left and the Canadians were leaving.  All the Corvettes and Frigates had gone and the British were taking over, bringing in the German submarines, which had surrendered.  It was here that Tess first met Princess Elizabeth, who visited the Base while the King and Queen were in Belfast.  She remembers that the Princess was very pretty and slim and admitted to feeling sea-sick but this didn't stop her being very pleasant and chatting.

Tess was posted to Yeovilton at the end of 1945 and was there when her Demobilisation notice came.   The Service didn't want Tess to leave as they hoped to continue after the War with some experienced Wrens but Tess's parents wanted her home as her brother was still in the Far East and her sister still at the Boarding School she had been evacuated to in Cornwall.  

Tess went home in 1946, trying several jobs before applying to BOAC in 1949.   She had 6 weeks training at Heston and one supernumerary flight and then she was flying all routes.  Tess met the Queen again, flying her to Barbados and back, and the Queen Mother who was flying to Fiji.  Tess left the Airline in 1975 and now lives in Beach Road, Burton Bradstock.

Compiled by Susan Moores - May 2015

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