03. naval service

When I was 17 it was thought that my talents were in art but I was somewhat rebellious by then and I decided I wanted to leave home and I saw an ad in the newspaper for the Women's Royal Naval Service (WRENS). So I wrote off to them and said I'd like to join. “What would you like to do?” Maybe I could be a nurse and they said if you want to do that you might as well go to a hospital. I didn't think I was necessarily good enough to go to art school, my sense of self-worth was not well developed, so I didn't go to art school which I think was a good thing looking back now. There was a list of things that you could do so I thought I could be a dental nurse and that’s what I did. I never had any idea from my parents there was nothing I couldn't do.


I didn't feel intellectually there was any restriction on my going out, I presumed I would go out into the world, I presumed I would do something, there was nothing that wasn't open towards me other than maybe my intellectual capacities and I expected to do what I liked. I joined the WRENS for 4 years which was a good thing to have done because it was rather like going to a big girls boarding school in a way. It was very adventurous and I'm on the one hand quiet but on the other hand I'm an adventurous person too. I'm quite individual quite adventurous but socially quite quiet. This was because of anxiety development as a child.


I quite enjoyed the four years I went from the North of England down to the South of England to the training school in Reading where they taught all about the navy and its hierarchy and procedures and as I was to be a dental surgeon they then sent me to Portsmouth where there was a dental school. I was taught to be a dental nurse and that was quite good fun there was companionship and I did my course there and then they sent me down to another big naval base and then I went from there to Hampshire they had schools all around the country where they trained all the people. That was a time when young men of my own age were still doing national service so the young dentists either went straight to school or went to university. It was a profession where l'd be by myself with the dentist and I quite liked that and one man I worked with ran the choir so I was in his choir. Then I was sent to the Admiralty in London and then they sent me up to the very north of Scotland which was a research place they were developing supersonic aircraft. That was in Lossiemouth miles away from anywhere.


How did you spend your leisure time?


Again it was in a community of people, it was very like a university, it was like a campus. I ran the newspaper and I belonged to a church group and in the choir and I was interested in art and we'd go out and do things with the little church group at that time, we did things together. I can't remember what we did but I do remember we did things. I do remember that I had a room of my own which I quite liked.


Would you say your sense of self was a bit stronger?


Yes it was stronger I was fortunate it was not a very militaristic experience, the navy are not like the army or the air force, it was slightly eccentric and the sense of hierarchy was less strong, at least for me because I worked with just a dental surgeon. I could come and go much as I pleased so I could negotiate around the hierarchy. I still quite liked my own company pretty well. The same as in London I did things as a group but I was quite prepared to go wondering off to a museum or book store. I liked the sense of community I liked the sense of security that the community provided. I did think of it as a job. I didn't think of it as something I wanted to do as a profession. It was very much a gathering of independence and by the time I got to Scotland I knew that I wanted to go to art school and that art was my profession. I had my friends and did social things but not to an excessive extent.


Then I came to the end of my four years but as a woman you could leave at any time if you so wished, so I filled my commitment and it was very secure. I was very well looked after and I was well fed and I had companions and I was quite happy and I was trained to do a little job and I did it quite well.

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