Wren Gibbs (centre) of the Women's Royal Canadian Naval Service (WRCNS) delivering a message to the minesweeper HMCS Esquimalt, Halifax, Nova Scotia, February 2, 1943.
Work of this kind would have been very familiar to Anne Wilson, although most of her service took place in southeast Asia.
Credit: John Merriman / Canada. Dept. of National Defence / Library and Archives Canada / PA-107216.
"I think probably the job I got with Lord Louis [Mountbatten] was because I was such a rebel."
[HMS Codrington was steaming directly into a mine field that had been laid the night before, and there was no time to encode a signal to warn the ship.]
Terrible thing of sending the signal out in plain language. The lives of 176 men, plus their dependents, were much more important than whatever happened to me. So as I said, I sent out a plain language signal: anchor and decipher. For which I was court martialled.
Well, when I was court martialled, I was sent back to Portsmouth, which was my basic station. And there I was greeted with great affection by members of the [HMS] Codrington, who’d come into Portsmouth, apparently it was a Portsmouth ship and I was taken out on trials. I had to take a WREN with me and all kinds of really nice things happened to me, which most surprised me, especially as I’d been court martialled.
I was sent to Portsmouth, and as I say, when I reached Portsmouth, I was greeted with great friendship by Codrington men who’d come in and decided to give me a party, to show me how grateful they were, and their families were. I had a lot of privileges. And I think probably the job I got with Lord Louis [Mountbatten] was because I was such a rebel.
Because I was immediately seconded to his staff and I had clearance for the two top categories, Ultra and zymotic. And no matter where he was, he would have me flown in to do the signals. And he was very kind and very nice and he never laid a finger on me. So there we are. I went to Ceylon and to India, Trinco—Trincomalee, Kandy; Kandy is the capital of the isle of Ceylon. And what I found was throughout my service in the navy, the petty officers and chief petty officers were extremely nice to me and greeted me and I was always treated as though I was royalty. My how I got spoiled.
However, Lord Louis found out about me and I became his personal cryptographer. So whenever he had any signals that he wanted sent, or deciphered, he would send for me by plane and I would go. And some very funny places we got to. However, I was very comfortable. I was treated as though I walked on water. I got tremendous service with a great deal of kindness and the navy were very good to me.
And the Codrington goodwill, from which I, as I say, got my court martial, was passed all through the fleet. Pretty well everybody that I came across was very nice to me and very kind and quite unlike what I’d been in the navy before. Because apparently, I’d used an officer's prerogative of taking my own view of what was right.
I unfortunately had Dengue fever a couple of times and was sent upcountry for Dengue. And I can’t think of the person who rode out of there with a canoe. Well anyway, she made her bungalow available for anybody who was on sick leave and I went up. It was near Kandy and I went up and spent, I suppose, a recuperating in this bungalow. And it was between, oh, Trinco and Colombo.
If you got an early Dengue fever, it was like a flu one day and next day, you were fine. So when I was in hospital, I’d be total bed with 104 temperature and the next day, I’d be waiting on the sailors. Very odd disease.
I met my husband and he took me over to Canada, to introduce me to his family who lived in Toronto. I came over to a nicely established, middle class family and he was a bit younger than me if I remember rightly. His family weren’t at all pleased that he’d married an English woman and I couldn’t help it, we’d met and it was a coup de foudre, you know, you meet, you suddenly fall in love and that’s it when you’re young. And I wasn’t prepared for that but, however, it was fine. And I had a very good husband. And we had five children.
My own experience was that people were very greeting, very warm, very friendly and as you know in the old days, it used to be two days on the train from Halifax to Toronto. It’s a long time. But everybody was so kind. And there were all kinds of things, in my case, I’d not seen for ages because of war rationing.