Wrens re-united.

Inspection on paradeWhen I was asking for help with my Baking Blind tour (https://youtu.be/Fhqz-h0ESag), Jo popped up.  We had last had contact nearly 40 years ago when I waved goodbye to my first naval job in Naples, Italy, and to her too as she was taking over from me.  After all those years, we re-kindled our friendship when she hosted me in Virginia Beach, USA.

We first met at the Royal Navy College at Dartmouth in the UK back in 1978.  We were training to become Women’s Royal Naval Service officers.  There were about 12 of us on the course and we knew that not everyone would get through.

It was a typical “boot camp” atmosphere: lots of being up very early and working until midnight, spit and polishing shoes, cleaning anything that didn’t move and continually ironing all our uniforms.

It was freezing at times and we spent many frantic minutes putting on and peeling off thermal underwear, chattering with cold while getting lost on Dartmoor and wailing in the dark of tents pitched on the soggy moor.  Lots of the others went running, swimming and more while I discovered the delights of the shooting range: a soft mat to lie on and an electric heater.  No wonder I became an ardent shooter with both pistol and rifle.  Even more amazing, I ended up shooting for the college and was the only Wren to win “colours”.  But in those days, when Wrens had only been at the college for four terms, they still hadn’t adapted to having women amongst the men.  So I was the proud recipient of a “colours” tie – heaven only knows when they thought I’d wear it.

Jo and I didn’t meet again until three years later when she came to take over my job with the NATO naval intelligence section in Naples.  She settled in so quickly that she met and married US Navy Commander Nick while she was there – hence her move to Virginia Beach.  We had whole lives to catch up when we met again all those decades later.

She invited all her friends to meet me over brunch and, despite declaring herself to be an enthusiastic non-cook, produced an excellent pumpkin bread (http://www.bakingblind.com/pumpkin%20bread.htm) that would be perfect for anyone at Halloween.


And the earth moved …

Back in the 1980, sipping pre-dinner drinks in the WRNS officers flat in Naples when the whole building really rocked.  We put it down to being rather heavy handed with the gin until sounds of chaos penetrated from the city: it had been a major earthquake damaging many buildings across the area.  Many of the Neapolitans moved out of their houses – preferring to live in their cars and fearful of further collapses from the after-shocks.  I think we assumed the appropriate stiff upper lip and carried on with dinner.

Just one of the amazing experiences of three fabulous years in Naples at the NATO headquarters.  We lived at the main Allied Forces South base but crossed the causeway to the Naval base on the island of Nisida.  I was even lucky enough to be flown home to RAF St Athan for a month to learn to drive.  Take my word, Naples was definitely not the place for a newly qualified driver: 11 accidents in the first year but only 3 went to insurance claims and did secure two years no-claims bonus at the end.  One quickly learned that traffic lights were purely advisory and one-way signs didn’t apply in the rush hour.

I continued the shooting I’d started at Dartmouth but moved to skeet.  The range was part of the American sports grounds in the middle of a dormant volcano.  I did a little competitive shooting and, because there were few other women, was respectably ranked alongside the men.

There was so much more going on: first car and then my fantastic Capri, Vice Commodore of the sailing club, outrageous parties, exploring Italy and other parts of the Mediterranean.  But the work was good too: I soon got bored of being just the administrator of the Intelligence Division and was able to get more directly involved in the material, exercises and inspections.  A high point was a surveillance flight over the soviet ships anchored off Hammemet.

And we had a great bunch of Wrens with us too (even if they did call the Shore Patrol when a party got too noisy).

Memories of the very best that a career in the Navy can offer: hard work, hard play and good people

You can support the Holman adventure too: https://www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/penny-melville-brown-1


Penny Melville-Brown OBE

Disability Dynamics ltd http://www.disabilitydynamics.co.uk

Helping disabled people to work since 2000

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