Rae Grey (third from left) with fellow servicewomen sitting on the wing of a Chance Vought F4U Corsair.Rae Grey
A group photograph of men and women of the Women's Royal Naval Service. Rae Grey is seventh from the right in the back row.Rae Grey
Rae Grey (front row, third from left) with fellow military personnel sitting on the wing of a Chance Vought F4U Corsair.Rae Grey
A portrait of Rae Grey in her service uniform.Rae Grey
Rae Grey's Air Mechanic (Engine) arm badge.Rae Grey
A certificate sent to Rae Grey thanking her for her military service.Rae Grey
"I think some of the men used to get great joy out of seeing one of the Wrens in the cockpit trying to start the engine."
Well, I had a very good example in my mother who was maybe a little ahead of her time. She was one of the first women to drive a car. And she was one of the first women to have a regular, I guess, job. It was a full time job and I never thought that, you know, women couldn’t do anything if they really wanted to do it.
I was working as a library assistant in the Bristol Public Libraries in the UK and I believe I just started. That was my job, the first job that I had when I left school. And my fiancé was joining the army and I thought maybe I don’t want to be left out. So I thought I would volunteer for the WRNS, the Royal [Women’s] Naval Service. I think the idea of a group of us the so-called “Wrens” were going to be sent to Balloch. That’s on the shores of Loch Lomond in Scotland to do our basic training, given uniforms and march up and down and believe that we were in the Navy.
There were four of us in a cabin when we were doing our training, our mechanics training, and there were four of us. I was the only engine mechanic. The other two were electrical and one was ammunition. We were actually trained on inline engines which it was the [Supermarine] Seafire, it was the equivalent of the Spitfire in the Navy. And then they suddenly decided that maybe the Pacific war would be… some aircraft would have to go out there. And they had American [Chance Vought F4U] Corsairs which were radial engines. So we had to switch midstream from the inline to the radial. And the idea was that we were always given the dirty jobs like changing the oil, you know, if it was a woman. But we did have, I think there was three of us and quite a few of the women actually, they were taking over. Not taking over, but they had someone to make sure that they were doing the right thing.
It was an interesting thing to do. I mean, I got to sit in a cockpit and actually when the planes came in at the start of the examination, there was a daily inspection. And each aircraft had to be daily inspected. So that if there were any leaks and you saw oil from somewhere or the, maybe it was a start up and it was a cartridge starter, so it was very difficult sometimes to get a cartridge to work properly. And I think some of the men used to get great joy out of seeing one of the Wrens in the cockpit trying to start the engine.