Veteran Stories:
Pauline Hebb

Navy

  • Photo of Pauline Hebb in her British WRENs uniform in 1944. She was drafted into service in 1943, at the age of 17.

  • Official tartan of the Women's Royal Naval Service and Britain

  • Donald and Pauline Hebb on their wedding day in 1944

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"A lot of people don’t know this, but in England, girls were drafted."

Transcript

I knew that from when I was just a little pup, I always wanted to be in the Navy. Always. In fact, I used to tell my mother when I was little, "Why wasn't I a boy?! I wanted to be a boy!" "Why do you want to be a boy?" "So that I can join the Navy!" Finally, when the war started, I wanted to go in the Navy. But when I was old enough, my father said, "You are not going to join any Forces. I was in the Army in the First War and it was pretty awful. My children aren't going to suffer like I did." That was supposed to be that, but then of course eventually I was drafted. A lot of people don't know this, but in England, girls were drafted. First of all, I lived in the south of England, but then when I joined the Navy I was drafted to Scotland, which I loved. My first posting was to a submarine depot ship, and I loved that too. We stayed in a beautiful hotel, and every morning we walked down to the jetty, got on a little liberty boat, went out to the ship and worked on that all day, and then came back in the evening. It was beautiful. Just loved it. Later on in the war, Americans and Canadians had offered their wedding dresses for us to wear if we were getting married during the war. So I put my name down for one, and my father had a beautiful beauty salon, and he was telling one of his customers (who was a titled lady, by the way) about Pauline going to wear this dress, and she said, "Wear an American dress to get married in?! Not likely! Oh no, she isn't! I'm going to lend her my dress that I was presented to the King and Queen at court." So I did. I wore her beautiful dress. It wasn't all beautiful, and it wasn't all sad, either. I know that wars are terrible, but it was very, very interesting. All of it. People are always asking me to write something about the events, and I've been saying for years I'm going to write a book, but all I have is the first page and I'd like to tell you what that is: "I have done some interesting things in my life. Been to some very fascinating places. And really had a good time. But nothing, nothing comes close to my experience in the Navy."
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