Family will gather today for the 100th birthday of a woman who played a remarkable role in world history during the Second World War’s D-Day Invasion. A special gathering will take place at Langholme Care Home in Falmouth.
Beaujolois Cavendish from Constantine, near Falmouth, was one of just nine people who saw the invasion plans for D-Day in the months ahead of the assault on Nazi-occupied Normandy.
Until last year, Mrs Cavendish lived at the family home of Bosvathick House and was heavily involved for many years as a founding member and president of Constantine Women’s Institute.
But it was her time during the Second World War which is most remarkable, where she played a central role in the D-Day invasion.
Mrs Cavendish volunteered as a Wren at the age of 23 and spent the war working deep beneath the ground in a huge network of tunnels at the centre of naval operations in Portsmouth.
Newly-married Petty Officer Cavendish was separated from her husband Gordon Cavendish a week after they were married in 1942. She did not see him again for four years as he fought in north Africa.
She served in the headquarters of the Commander in Chief of Portsmouth, housed in two-miles of tunnels dug 100 feet in the chalk beneath Fort Southwick. They tunnels were filled with around 500 ratings and officers, including signallers, coders and administrative staff.
Mrs Cavendish joined a team of plotters, whose job was to update ‘the plot’, a large table marked with colour-coded wooden models showing all the ships operating from Portsmouth and Southampton down to the coast of France.
The navy used its new radar systems to pick up ships, which were identified by the plotters. Unknown ships could then be tracked, possibly revealing Nazi E-boats dropping mines or prowling to attack Allied conveys.
In her memoir, published in 2012, she wrote: “I remember vividly one Christmas Eve – it must have been my first in the Wrens as I quartered in Portsmouth then – two of us went to a dance with two R.M. friends and afterwards went to Midnight Communion at Portsmouth Cathedral, which I think had been damaged by bombs. The altar was a blaze of candles in the almost dark building and looked simply wonderful. We walked back afterwards and climbed in through a window.”
Mrs Cavendish was promoted to Petty Officer and was soon put in charge of one of the plotting teams.
She wrote: “By the spring of 1944, I had been on the staff of Commander Tim Taylor for 18 months or more and he had seen a good deal of my work. One day he sent for me, told me he wanted some work done and showed me a chart that he wanted copied.
“It was the blueprint of the D-Day Invasion plans. I was thrilled to be trusted with a secret like this. It was only after the war that I learnt that I was one of only nine people in the fort who knew these invasion plans.”
One poignant moment happened just two days ahead of the invasion as soldiers prepared for the coming attack.
On Monday, June 5, 1944, Mrs Cavendish wrote in her diary: “Yesterday at tea time down in quarters, we had a huge convoy of very large tanks going by and all the Wrens rushed out and gave them roses as they went by.
“It brought a lump to my throat, I must confess, but it was a pretty gesture. Perhaps more practical was some of them giving the men pieces of cake, but I bet they appreciated the roses more – don’t you?”
Passing over promotion which would have meant moving away, Mrs Cavendish continued working with the team in Portsmouth. She and her husband were only reunited after the war, when they moved to Cornwall.
Mrs Cavendish has two children, Richard and Kate, six grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren with another on the way. Her husband passed away in 1993
Source CORNWALL LIVE credit Graeme Wilkinson 7.2.19.
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