Navy women.

Here’s the fourth batch of young women transforming in to naval officers at Dartmouth in early 1978.  We had just three months although many of the men took years.2 rows of women officer cadets plus their Divisional officers on the steps in front of the naval college

I remember the feet of the Special Duties Division (St George’s?) pounding in the cold dark hours of their early morning platoon runs – and their chorused shout of “Good morning, Talbot Division” under our windows to banish the last hopes of desperate sleep.  There must have been some confusion as to whether we were training as maids or officers: every minute seemed to be spent polishing (brass and shoes), ironing anything that could be worn and practising how to drink coffee without the regulation chocolate biscuit melting down the side of the cup.

There was lots of rushing about – but only in a very lady-like way – not much sleep and a wild fantasy that being able to “drive” the platoon around the parade ground was going to be career enhancing.

I found the very best refuge: warm, barely lit and with soft mats for a snooze.   It was the firing range so I became an enthusiastic rifle and pistol shot to the extent that, in desperation, they included me in the College team.  But, in those days, despite the Women’s Royal Naval Service having been trained at the College for over a year, the powers-that-be still hadn’t quite grasped that we wear different clothes.  The vaunted Dartmouth “Colours” came in the form of a natty green tie replete with the Britannia logo – just what I needed!

Penny Melville-Brown OBE

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