We were endlessly teased about being on the Long Sec’s Course (its all in the name). Held at the old naval shore establishment, HMS PEMBROKE, near Chatham, it aimed to equip us to be Secretaries in other establishments (for the WRNS officers) and at sea (for the men).
But please don’t go thinking that this was all about typing and shorthand – it was much more concerned with the breadth of running the non-fighting aspects of a Royal Navy organisation: some basic personnel and legal matters, security, document control and administration, catering and finance. It was the first step in becoming a “Pusser” -naval slang for a purser – a branch that has now morphed in to Logistics.
As a course, we had to march around the parade ground with disastrous results as one of the men simply couldn’t keep in step. I’d forgotten about the camping trip when another still kept to his bow tie and monocle while we girls still accessorised for the country. It sounds a bit Bertie Wooster after all these years!
Writing this, I have so little memory of the course but more about the dramas. We did have to manage a full scale fire evacuation exercise of Wrens Quarters in the middle of the night – lots of very disgruntled girls freezing in nighties and slippers. The social side had its highlights too: a night the chaps lifted a piano in to the night bar, utterly fatal drinking games, one of the girls chasing the Irish doctor down a corridor wielding a stiletto-heeled shoe, the mornings after … And we had a wonderful time at the Chatham Navy Days – seeing who could visit the most ships’ wardrooms.
I’d already been told that I was off to Naples for my first proper job which was very unusual so had to fit in time getting all my white tropical uniform and kit – back to HMS DAUNTLESS as time was so tight. I’m sure that there were a perfectly dreadful pair of flat lace-up canvas shoes that never came out of the box.
Penny Melville-Brown OBE
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