Margaret Kliskey 1933 – 2023
Published below are Margaret’s memoirs
My Life in the Wrens 1953 – 1957
As an only child living on a farm in the country I lacked companionship and, although I enjoyed my job at Lloyds Bank Head Office in the City, I decided to realise my ambition to join the WRNS. My mother was in the Air Force in the First World War, so she couldn’t oppose me!
In October 1953, at the age of 20, I was duly recruited into the WRNS, joining HMS Dauntless at Burghfield, near Reading.
After a two week probationary period, dressed in a blue overall, all recruits were given the choice of “signing on” or leaving. I still wanted to stay, as did most of the girls, and we were issued with our uniforms. We had to work hard for the next two weeks and had to keep very smart in training but, after a month at Dauntless, I was sent to HMS Ceres at Wetherby to work in the Captain’s typing pool at the men’s establishment which trained writers, stores assistants, cooks and stewards. I worked here for a year and enjoyed it very much.
One funny incident that illustrates the relaxed atmosphere with such a small number of staff:
I was always the one to be sent to the Wardroom Galley to cadge any leftovers from the Officer’s party of the previous evening. One day, the Chief Steward (being a kindly man) let me have a plate of trifle. I was walking along the half-deck (office corridor) large as life, when the Captain’s Secretary (a young Lieutenant) came out of his office. He turned his head the other way and pretended not to see me and I then collapsed into my office! How we enjoyed that trifle! I had a jolly 21st party there and we all dressed in pyjamas, smuggling in bottles of sherry, which added to the fun as drinks were not allowed onboard.
In November 1954 I had an exchange draft to HMS Victory in Portsmouth. I had a very enjoyable two years there at Duchess of Kent Barracks, working in the NATO Plans Office in the Naval Dockyard.
I was in a cabin of about a dozen girls and we all got along together remarkably well. Often six of us would go to the local theatre or pictures and enjoy the dances in the NAAFI Club just over the road. We met all three services there and I met a soldier but unfortunately he was sent to Malaya. The next New Year’s Eve several of us were invited to the Sergeant’s Mess at St George’s Barracks, in Gosport. After a jolly party we had missed the ferry boat to get us back by midnight and arrived back at the Barracks a few minutes late, so we had a good ticking off! The next evening we went to a cocktail party in the Wardroom onboard HMS Sheffield, a cruiser, and again arrived back rather late. We were really reprimanded this time!
Being in the Dockyard, I had the opportunity of seeing sailors of many nationalities. I liked the Australians the best, as they really looked after us Wrens.
My work was confidential and I enjoyed it. During the Suez Crisis in 1956 I was sent to the Chiefs of Staff Secretariat in the Ministry of Defence at Whitehall, where the staff were comprised of Civil Servants working under Army, Air Force and Naval Officers. We had our hectic moments and worked in shifts. I lived at Turse House, where the Wrens came under HMS President, whenever they worked. It wasn’t a very nautical atmosphere but I enjoyed it and had plenty of companionship wherever I was.
I only had two days at sea in four years’ of service but it was all very happy and I don’t ever regret joining the Wrens. I failed my Petty Officer’s exam as shorthand writers could only go as far as Leading Wrens and had to go on a Writers course. As I had decided not to sign on for longer than 4 years, I didn’t worry about getting any further.
I didn’t marry a sailor, but met Jeffrey in Chelmsford at the International Friendship League in 1958. He had been in the RAF for 6 years, so I only changed the service, but I can definitely say the Royal Navy is the Senior Service and the best!