Veteran Stories:
Doris Spencer

Navy

  • The Memory Project, Historica Canada
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"As soon as I turned 18 -which was the age which, for which you didn’t need parents’ consent- I signed up for the Wrens because we had been, I guess, tradition, my grandfather was navy, my uncles were all navy, so it was – it seemed the natural thing to do, to go into the Women's Royal Naval Service."

Transcript

My father was regular navy, so we spent a kind of, not a wandering existence, but, you know, we went to different places in the south coast of England, and I was at the school when the war broke out and I – my father refused to let me be evacuated, so I had to quit school at 15, which broke my heart actually, but I was working until my father was on the [HMS] Repulse* when she was sunk. He was saved, but he was invalided home, and when he came home, as soon as I turned 18, which was the age which, for which you didn’t need parents’ consent, I signed up for the Wrens** because we had been, I guess, tradition, my grandfather was navy, my uncles were all navy, so it was – it seemed the natural thing to do, to go into the Women's Royal Naval Service. It was much easier than it was at home because my father was terribly strict, so it was very – to me, it was a much easier life.

I had been a switchboard operator/receptionist, so that was the field that I was put into, and it was just, I guess that what they were doing was seeing how well I could operate a switchboard, so, in one place where I was stationed, it had been a small island which had many holiday camps on it, and the navy took over the holiday camps and basically, different men came in to train for D-Day and one evening I was on duty and the – in those days the switchboard had little eyeballs, and the eyeball came down and I plugged in, and I said our codename, I don’t know if I could give it to you now, but anyway… And there was dead silence at the end of the line, my husband thought he had got through to America because it was the name of a city in America and then we started talking, and he asked me to go out on a date and, there was no way I was gonna go out on a date with any Canadian by myself, so it was a double date and that was it, we – when he went over on – it was D+17*** when he went over, we got engaged and we were married when he came back.

 

*The HMS Repulse was a Royal Navy battle cruiser. Japanese torpedoes in the Pacific Ocean near Singapore sank the Repulse on 10 December 1941.

**The “Wrens” (WRNS, Women’s Royal Naval Service) was a branch of the Royal Navy. The Wrens were responsible for multiple tasks, including clerical work, radar operations and communications, freeing up male sailors for naval duties.

***In military terminology, D+17 meant 17 days after the first day of an operation. In this case, Doris’ future husband arrived in-theatre 17 days after the 6 June 1944 D-Day invasion of Normandy, France.

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