RJL Parkes Biography
Issue Date: 23/3/2008
This section is a composite of information from Rosemary herself, written and told at various times and memories of her close family.
War Experiences, from her recollections (16/4/1995 and other times):
Her letters to her parents in the period July 1942 when she joined the ATS until leaving Egypt in early 1946 have been transcribed. They contain a snapshot of a bright 23 year old setting off an living in Egypt - they are a description of her life, observations on the life of others (from her rather privileged background as viewed in the early 21stC), and her worries about the future. The following links are large files, with about 100 or more pages of text each.
From joining the ATS under training, at
Bletchley Park, the voyage out to Egypt and the first few months there.
Last months in the ATS and the first term teaching at the English School.
Latter period in Cairo, including birth of son Antony.
She thought that she was conceived in Stresa (on Lake Maggiori, Italy), where her parents were on leave towards the end of the 1st World War. Arthur Parkes, her father, was stationed in Italy at that stage of the war and her mother, a VAD nurse, had travelled there by train, no mean feat at that time, probably done as a uniformed nurse which aided travel in those times.
She was born in Wolverhampton, 14/6/19 and lived at Parkdale (on the Tettenhall Road from Wolverhampton) until 1929. The family then moved to the Manor House, Oaken, near Wolverhampton, where her father lived until his death. The family had a much loved Nanny, who remained with them until her death during the war, when RJLM was in Egypt.
The family lived a life typical of their contemporaries, many of whom had moved out from the urban areas of Wolverhampton, where they had manufacturing businesses. There were several staff in the house: Nanny, Tweeny (undermaid), cook and gardener/driver. Holidays were taken either on the Welsh coast or in Devon. Theirs was a small family, Arthur only had the 2 daughters, Rosemary and Bunch, and his brother Cyril, only one daughter. Her mother, Ethel was the only one of her siblings who married. Arthur and Ethel saw few of their many cousins and never spoke of them. Some Parkes and Fryer cousins were involved in the Works from time to time, but the Listers were never mentioned. It is probable that Arthur & Cyril "came up in the world", drifting away from their cousins. It is known that there were relatively close Lister relatives in Willenhall in the 1990's, but no contact has been forthcoming.
Her father was a gifted sportsman and expected his children to take part in the usual country sports such as tennis and riding. Rosemary neither of these were her favourite occupation - was not good at ball games and was allergic to horses! Father deemed them to be desirable however. They had a wide circle of friends in the area, mainly among the manufacturing families.
She was educated at Bredenbury & Lawnside (Malvern) schools. She was coached in Birmingham for Cambridge entrance, travelling in daily; this determination was evident at Cambridge interviews and probably helped her to win a place. After her mother's cerebral thrombosis in 1937, she became more involved in running the Manor House. This early experience probably taught her manage household staff later in life.
Her School Certificate Examination from Lawnside, Malvern, December 1936 showed her having taken: Modern European History, Geography, Latin, French, Elementary Mathematics. Also studied: English, Religious Knowledge, History, Geography, Latin, French, Arithmetic, Mathematics, Art, Handicraft, Needlework.
She was an undergraduate at Newnham College, Cambridge (Sidgwick Hall), 1938-41, reading Geography. In October 1939, she met her future husband, Donald Maitland, also and undergraduate, in the Whim Café on King Street.
In the late 1930's, she trained for and obtained a private pilot's licence (on Tiger Moths at Wolverhampton airport) under a Government Sponsored scheme, at 10/- per hour, to build up a reserve of pilots in case of war. During and after the War, it was not possibly to continue with this. First flight 13/4/1939, Solo 14/8/1939. A test 17/8/1939. Joined Midland Aero Club 18 May 1939 4gns (£172 2004). Flying fees varied from 5/- per hour (abt £10 2004). Only completed A test and 17 hrs before war stopped it all. Pilot's Certificate of Competency & Pilot's Licence 21083 issued 25/8/1939 for "all types of landplane".
Medical 8/3/1939 requiring glasses.
She remembered dances in winter 1939/40 with her sister, Bunch, 3 a week. None of the men they danced with (all in forces by then) survived the war. Non technical undergraduates had been called up for military service by then.
During the 1940-41 winter in Cambridge, she woke to find after a snowstorm, black holes in snow: firebombs had caused them but she had slept through the raid! Even as an undergraduate, she did not like getting up too early: she stopped breakfasting then to be able to stay in bed later and never ate breakfast again. The social life at University was good: there were very few women in Cambridge (even in the 1960's, the ratio was about 7 to 1, men to women); some of the friends she and Donald made then lasted throughout their lives.
She joined the Civil Service after leaving Cambridge in the Ministry of Food at Colwyn Bay calculating optimum nutritional value food imports from US, work she found interesting.
On 8th November, 1941 she and Donald were married at Codsall Church by Montague Spinney. DSM was then in the RAF at Sealand, near Chester. Arthur Parkes was reputed to have stood up in the Church at her sister, Bunch's wedding and invited everyone back in three weeks. Their honeymoon was simple and truncated with wartime restrictions.
She joined the ATS (women's army) in June 1942, and was posted to the Government Code & Cypher School at Bletchley Park (maybe Hut 6, but probably Hut 3, where decodes were analysed) in June 1942 (MI8), interpreting German radio intercepts to plot German army group movements. "BP" was the centre of British decoding and interpretation of German radio traffic (where the "Enigma" transmissions were broken). As the effort built up, a large number of graduates were recruited, both for code breaking and for data analysis.
DSM was posted to Egypt in 1942: she did not hear from him for 3 months and then only by a telegram. It is difficult in an era of fast, universal communications to realise that this silence was not uncommon. All mail was by sea, and during much of the war, the Mediterranean was closed to allied civil traffic, meaning that the Egyptian mail had to route via South Africa.
In Jan 1943, she transferred from BP to Cairo as a Corporal, no mean feat as it was extremely difficult to "escape" from BP, mainly for security reasons. The first ATS had arrived in Cairo for this work in early January 1943.
They sailed to Egypt by way of Durban: their convoy to Durban had 8 troopships, 13 destroyers and a battleship and aircraft carrier (as far as Gibraltar, it felt very lonely when the capital ships left them in mid Atlantic). Her ship had 40 women and 4500 men and took 6 weeks. They spent a month in Durban, redirecting forces mail. Durban to Egypt on Empire Windrush with coloured troops. No escort: there was fear of Japanese submarines (a real fear: a southbound ship evacuating civilians from Cairo had recently been sunk). They arrived in April 1943.
Egypt was a big change from the privations of Britain, although some things were rationed (sugar & paraffin). The life was more of the colonial style. Rosemary was unusual in Egypt, as a non-commissioned officer, married to and officer and with a university education and good background. As a result, she had the entry to the Gazira club on an island in the Nile in Cairo, where many of their commissioned friends were members.
In the ATS in Cairo, she was doing similar work to that at BP, analysing the content of radio transmissions intercepted from Greece & Russia and decoded from the Enigma traffic. Engaged on DF with 276 Wing at Heliopolis - direction finding on Russian Front and Thrace - Stalingrad to Janina (German HQ in Thrace). Unlike at BP, they were "told everything" in weekly intelligence lectures. There were 32 or 33 girls in unit.
She attended a course at Sarafand, near Tel Aviv and visited a deserted Jerusalem several times, hitching lifts in vehicles to get there. 276 wing was sent to Italy, but she did not go as the war moved north away from the Mediterranean.
The Egyptian based cryptanalytical work was carried out in Heliopolis (at the former Flora and Fauna Museum), where intercepts of Enemy transmissions (mainly from Russia, the Balkans and Middle East) were made and decoded. The unit finally moved out of Heliopolis in May 1944, over half to Italy and the remainder to Sarafand in Palastine. Sarafand had been an early intercept station, but had been run down in 1941 in favour of Heliopolis.
Rosemary left (escaped from) the Army by the influence of the Professor at The British School at El Mazra in Cairo: she joined the school in 1944 & taught Maths & History (of the Crusades to a mixed class of English, Arabs and Jews) to the equivalent of "O" level & Geography "A" level.
DSM, RJLM & AAAM left Egypt in March 1946 to Glasgow by ship and moved to High Elms. High Elms was a Victorian house of about 4 bedrooms in Mill Lane, behind Codsall Church. It had been bought by Arthur Parkes for us to move into on arrival back in England. Donald & Rosemary never liked it much. My (AAAM) impression was that they arrived back to a war scarred Britain and were told that the house was on the other side of the village and Donald started at the works "next week"! It did however give breathing space to settle down back in England.
They learnt about gardening at High Elms, and kept pigs and chickens. The pigs were killed for bacon and ham. I vaguely remember them being salted on the cellar. It should be remembered that the late 40's was still a period of rationing and shortages. I just about remember sweets coming off ration. The chickens were kept for eggs and boiling: chicken was a luxury meat then. Donald made the hen run economically - circular, using the least steel. He only later found the problem of catching an animal in a circular pen.
They lived at high Elms until 1956 when they moved to the Dower House, Oaken, on the other side of Codsall.
She was a governor of an early Comprehensive School in the local area when living at High Elms.
One of her great loves was her garden, which she and DSM spent nearly 50 years creating from an older form at the Dower House, and which had reached its full maturity in 2004. She had an extensive and catholic collection of roses (120 varieties?) and rhododendrons and azaleas. DSM was in charge of the major works, the fruit trees and vegetables. Her other passion was travelling: after the war, she started travelling with DSM when he was away on business trips to the company's overseas factories, initially in Africa, but later in the Far East as well. They managed to make one winter trip every year from the early 1960's onward: DSM would cash in his 1st class ticket and use it to buy 2 economy ones. After DSM's retirement, he was asked how he found retirement: he said they went to the same places, but stayed in the cheaper hotels, but spent an extra week away. After DSM' death, she continued to travel as much as possible. They visited most of Western Europe, much of Africa and South East Asia and the Middle East, the Caribbean, but only one trip to the USA to stay with DSM's cousin, Dick Poole, in Virginia.
Rosemary's last big overseas trip was to Jamaica and Cuba which she managed on her own in January 2003. She spent a split holiday, staying at Jamaica Inn with a short period in Havana, Cuba, which she found fascinating. She was good at mixing with people she did not know: at Jamaica Inn, both the staff and the other guests adopted her and looked after her - an 83 year old lady on a solo trip encouraged the attention.
"Code Breakers", edited by F.H. Hinsley and Alan Stripp has a chapter partly on the work in Egypt.
Never worried about convention: short fat lady emerging from microlight aircraft in a flying suit, which, when removed, revealed Rosemary clad in a mink coat.
Rosemary died 12/7/2004 at home after a trying period fighting cancer: she found the multiple hospital stays and restrictions to her mobility irksome.
Rosemary was cremated on 20/7/2004 at Telford Crematorium with a Service of Rememberance afterwards at Codsall Church, where her parents' funerals had been and where she and Donald were married. Fortunately (for the summer of 2004), the weather was beautiful and some 70 her friends were able to return to the Dower House for a last look at the house and garden. An address at the service was given by Peter Boxer, Antony's oldest friend, who had known Rosemary for much of his life.
Notes from Dower House Papers:
Christmas Dinner: Shepheard's Hotel, 1944
Returned to UK on HMT "Empire Ken"? March 1946.
Letter 19/6/1963 re:
Whites-Nunan Ltd, Sharp St, Manchester
Injectors-Ejectors, Steam, Oil & water valves, Fire Hoses & Appliances, ships fittings) from AJP as Chairman (for 32 years). Bought out by Yorkshire Imperial Metals. RJLM shares 6790, cheque £30555. Also to DSM re 200 shares £900.
Movement Order W/176595 Cadet Maitland RJL (found at DH miscellaneous)
The A3m will be travelling by air from Lyda to Cairo on 17 March 1944.
Private Pilot's Licence, issued 25/8/1939, valid to 25/4/1940(!).
Logbook showed a total of 17 hours by then, last flight 17 August 1939
(remembering WW2 started 3 September).
Remarks for Rosemary Maitland’s Memorial Service
By Peter Boxer.
We’re celebrating here a remarkable life… As with so many whose passing after so long a time spent living through a critical period of our history, that life spanned the great majority of a century which saw enormous change, and indeed enormous challenges to our way of life…
In terms of this community of Codsall… there is also recognition…of her family’s presence hereabouts over many years: from the time the Parkes moved from Wolverhampton to the Manor House in 1926 until now, Rosemary Maitland represented one of the last links with the days when Codsall itself was a small country village; both her parents are buried in the churchyard here; the window at the west end was contributed by her father in memory of her mother; the roof on this very building, which I gather has just been restored again, was last renewed thanks to the fund-raising efforts of Rosemary’s father. And in terms of one local person in particular: if you were a visitor to the Dower House itself over the last 34 years, you’d know that one of the great and faithful friends to Rosemary and the Maitland family has been Mary Lowbridge – for them all, a much-loved representative of continuity if ever there was one!
…Rosemary – as an individual, as one half of that remarkable duo with Donald, as a Mum – as the Mum of a best school-friend – was her own person, and put her own individual stamp on the lives of many around her…no-one would ever have said that she was run-of-the-mill: from the first, she left an impression on me, as a very young prep-schoolboy, that was at once gentle, amused (and amusing), perceptive and kind – not to say at times extremely tolerant!
We all have our own set of impressions that have been imbued in us through being happily and fondly associated with Rosemary: rather alarmingly, I can lay claim to having known her for “over half a century”…many of my impressions are, I’m sure, no different in a general sense from those of most others among her family and friends – and this is certainly not – cannot be -- an exhaustive list:
…There was a passion for gardens and gardening, of course – not just her own, but of others’ too…one of her more interesting club memberships being of a small group called the Borderline Garden Society (…a name surely conjured up by someone with a sense of humour – members’ gardens being anything but “borderline”, one gathers!); and for me, being on the periphery of apparently intense conversations with Donald about The Raspberries … (or about something else completely incomprehensible to someone like me who’s not bilingual in horticultural latin);
…that remarkable mackintosh for pottering about the garden – I say “that mackintosh”: over time there may have been several that saw out their years in the Dower House garden; but it always seemed to be the same one to me – and sometimes accompanied by accoutrements like some lovely, and thoroughly incongruous, diamond ring – the whole ensemble worn completely un-self-consciously;
…Luxuriant cats – which, I have the impression, always knew, once their mistress had taken her early-evening bath, that they were NOT supposed to be IN that chair to the left of the drawing-room fireplace…and never seemed to be;
…Gin-and-French, as part of that pre-dinner ritual at the Dower House – always Booth’s gin, I think – with Rosemary sitting opposite Donald … reviewing the day’s events with each other. (On one or two occasions, trying to ‘do the honours’ after Donald had died, I gallantly mixed one or two of those gin-and-frenches for Rosemary; but I don’t think I ever quite got it right);
…That Marmalade – still the best in the world, I reckon… production of large quantities of this breakfast treat itself being part of a quietly determined routine on which the week, month and year operated around Rosemary and her base of operations, the Dower House.
…And her love of fine things, surrounded by them in the Dower House, as we will always remember – about the sense there of the surroundings being so ‘civilised’. …But she was always interested in fine things elsewhere: her long-held membership of NADFAS was one way of pursuing this passion.
These are the impressions, mostly, from childhood – perhaps the most strongly-formed sort of impression one has. From the earliest times, too, I had an impression of Rosemary somehow “being bright” – intelligent. I don’t mean that condescendingly at all – and I’m sure I didn’t think about it in quite those terms anyway: but there was something about her – and Donald, too…
…Neither Rosemary, nor, for that matter, Donald, ever talked much about what they’d done earlier in their lives…like my own father, they were from a generation that not so much ‘didn’t do that sort of thing’ (hark back to the past, that is), but from one which instead much preferred to look forward.
…Certainly, I think I knew fairly early on that Rosemary was one of that quite rare breed of pre-War girls – a Cambridge Graduate; and I thought I knew that she and Donald had met out in Egypt – which turned out to be historically inaccurate; but in whichever version, it was still another slightly unusual, rather exotic, part of her aura. Later, of course, I learned the correct history – of their meeting in Cambridge and then getting married before going out to Egypt.
…Of course what one didn’t know at all were the circumstances under which she went out there – and it was really only quite recently, after the 50-year rule allowed the relaxation of much of the wartime secrecy surrounding Enigma and the crucial code-breaking effect on the successful outcome of WW2, that we found out that Rosemary had been at Bletchley Park – its now-legendary activities then one of the best-kept wartime secrets, and perhaps the most remarkable of our wartime ‘secret weapons’. Somehow learning that of Rosemary didn’t surprise me – neither that she had played a part in that remarkable story, nor – like so many others involved in it – that she’d never even hinted at having done so.
…Now, reading through some biographical notes on Rosemary, somehow it doesn’t surprise me either to learn that she pulled off a remarkable coup – for those tense times – in managing to extricate herself from Bletchley Park, and be posted out to Egypt to help form a code-breaking sub-group covering intercepts of German signal traffic from the Greek and Russian theatres – and to join Donald, of course, who was already serving out there in the Royal Air Force.
Somehow, it didn’t surprise me either to learn that Rosemary had become a qualified pilot on Tiger Moths before the war; nor that she’d taught maths, history and geography to a mixed class of English, Arab and Jewish students at the British School at El Mazra in Egypt; nor that she’d been a governor at an early Comprehensive school when she and Donald were living at Codsall.
I think all this has simply confirmed to me how lucky I’ve been to have known, always with great fondness, a remarkable person whose passing will leave large holes in the lives of all who knew her. I make no apology for putting her life in the context of a generation which helped get us to where we all are today. Like so many others, she kept her particular light well-hidden under a bushel until not so long ago – and, as I said earlier, that’s something about her which somehow didn’t surprise us to learn – and that we shouldn’t forget.
And we won’t forget Rosemary: her friendship; for me, sometimes it would be quite a while between visits, and opportunities to see her – I’d be living overseas, or whatever – but always, from the first few seconds of seeing her again, it would be as though I’d just stepped out for a couple of minutes, as threads were taken up again, and life seemed to go on as before – with Rosemary as interested, tolerant, and occasionally amused as ever by my sometimes chaotic life. On one such occasion, she even accepted a lift over to Antony’s in my Austin Healey – which, about a mile after we’d pulled out from the Dower House, discourteously ‘failed to proceed’ – actually for the first time since I’d owned it (it was a problem with the fuel pump for those with a technical bent, which I fixed with a hammer) – and she accepted even all that in good grace, along with the draughty drive over to The Gables, and the ever-present prospect of further unscheduled halts!
…Of course, without Rosemary life won’t now “go on as before”; but we all of us have some great memories – of which I’ve only represented a small, personal, fraction here. I’ve left big gaps covering significant aspects of the life she led both as an individual and with Donald and members of their immediate and wider family circle, and friends: annual rituals like the wine-bottling sessions at the Powers from that family’s annual plunder of French vineyards; Rosemary’s adoration of Lindley and Antony; of Alice, and her grandchildren Isabel and Oliver; her great closeness to her sister Bunch, and to her two nieces Carol-Ann and Angie; her courage after Donald died; holidays at Les Roches Blanches at Cassis (on mine there with the Maitland family, it was my introduction to Crêpes Suzettes); then on the business front, there were the lock manufacturers’ conventions at various places in Europe to which she and Donald went over many years; the business travel to South Africa and the Far East (when apparently Rosemary used to go as half – the ‘better half’, no doubt – of Donald’s First Class ticket!) – journeys which I suspect reinforced her love of travel – later continued on those always-unusual trips with Donald once he’d retired; but since his death, too, the ‘travel bug’ persisted, sometimes on her own, but more usually with Lindley, throughout many subsequent odysseys.
All these memories…and these have been just some of my own. For each of us, it’s these affectionate memories that we celebrate today, in our own contexts, at a time of great sadness, to be sure; but at the same time, for this gathering it is also a collective opportunity, happily to recall, and relive, much that will remain precious for us all, whose lives were lucky enough to coincide with Rosemary’s.
Dower House Documents
1. Receipt for £64 to NI, 28/12/1964
Enlisted Wolverhampton 2/6/1942 "Home Duties"
Clerk mustered 7/1/1943
8 days leave, 2 free rail warrants, 21/5/-30/5/43
7 days leave, 3/4-10/4/44
7 days leave, 27/8-3/9/44
Discharged 21/9/1944 as WS/CPL "services no longer required"
17/9/1944 forces ID card as wife of DSM.
3. From Lawnside school magazine Christmas 1937, University of Cambridge School Cert A Credits in History, Geography, Latin, French and Mathematics. Also RJLP shown as member of old girls ass. Left in 1937.
Also in same issue, Ursula P Senior Silver Medal in Verse Speaking exam of the Poetry Society London. She also was awarded the Tidiness cup
Both were present to the Old Girls Luncheon at the Criterion, Piccadilly, 26 Oct 1950.
4. From the Bredenburian, Fees in 1928? 47-5-0 for board & tuition, 2 gns each for Dancing & Laundry, 3gns for use of Linen 7/6 for games & 3/6 for Church (seat). Total £55-3-0. (2004 = £2175 cf Moor Park at 4500)
5. Sat Newnham & Girton Joint Scholarship exam Feb 1938 in Geography.
6. According to Times notice of birth, born at Church Hill, Tettenhall.
Confirmed by B/C.
7. Movement Order: W/176595 Cadet Maitland RJL
The Am will be travelling by air from Lyda to Cairo on the 17th March 44.
Her Story, Written 28 or 29th October 2002
(On paper headed Abou Nawas, Diar El Andalous, El Kantaour, Tunisia - hotel)
1941 finished at Newnham 2.2
Worked in eye infirmary testing eyes while waiting fo job - I think might have been Autumn 1941. Been earlier in long vac.
Late summer job in Ministry of Food. Very interesting job. I calculated whether it was better to import potatoes or whatever etc on old calculators. Very restricted available ????? I worked for Ruth Cohen. Likes her. She became principal of Newnham years later. She found me good digs (Rhos) in (Colwyn Bay HQ).
Donald was at (Sealand A3M) near Liverpool. Had 72 Tiger Moths on his inventory! We had to meet in Chester at the Pied Bull for Sunday pm or Saturday. Car? Train? It was very happy to be near.
Bunch married in a hurry October 18th Pete posted overseas. On the train from Chester and Colwyn Bay was met at Chester and said he had been posted to Middle East.
At Bunch's wedding Daddy asked everyone about 30?? To come back in 3 weeks or so. They were marvellous, Mummy and Daddy.
We had 5 days honeymoon. 1st night Grosvenor Hotel in Chester. Then the ?? hotel in Beaumauris. Weather not too bad. Think we had Xmas together at The Manor House. He finally left from where we were staying in Wilmeslow in Feb 12th (?) Did not sail until 14th. He went to Freetown and Cape Town for refuelling etc. Arrived March middle.
(Note be A3M - most of his clothing was burnt in a fire in the hold in Suez?)
I then hawked my soul and body to follow him. I was finally interviewed by a Colonel in road alongside Buckingham Palace. He told me all about the secrecy. I have always imagined that it was the Cambridge University Appointments Board.
I was sent to Northampton Barracks for military training. Huge barracks bunk beds one above the other. Food??? It was pathetic the other girls all cried. Away from home for the first time. Not me. Like school. Not much worse.
Then I did a course on radio for 2 or 3 weeks. Then to Bletchley.
I lived in a 3 story house on the railway line. We worked in huts with stoves in the middle of the room. There were only a few people in each hut. I was not allowed in the really secret bit in ??? as I was going. Worked shifts 9-6, 5-12, 12-9. Dispatch riders had to bring the logs (bits of paper) with all the odd things at the beginning and end which I used to work out where it all came from. Mostly I did Russian front and N.E. Greece. Once I woke up in the middle of the night and the stove was red hot. Meals in main buildings. One night I opened behind a general with red tabs etc. I can't really remember the people except Lady Ginny Lawson. She was going too, but her husband was posted home, so she didn't. Used to see her name later in the Tatler etc? Off finally January 5th - I think.
We spent about a week waiting to go. In near Paddington. Mummy and Daddy came up to London to Brown's for tea. I had gone ---
We were taken in the middle of the night to the train and off to Liverpool to get on the Volendan - I think it was. Then up to Glasgow to wait for the convoy there a day or two. Convoy 13 destroyers, Battleship, Armed Merchant Cruiser, Aircraft Carrier. Atlantic was rough. I was only ill for one day. Shared cabin with one girl and bathroom with another 2 next door cabin. Salt water. Fresh twice a day 6-6.30!! PM. The food wasn't bad. First supper, we had ORANGES and rolls. What a ???? in the dining room. 33 women and 4500 men!! Black out. No noise. Could always go out on deck in darkness total. We were nest door to cruiser, battleship and aircraft carrier. Left when we came back across Atlantic to go to Gibraltar.
Further edition written 4.II.03 Jamaica (pouring with rain).
Mid January 1943
We all 33? parked in London somewhere near the Royal Lancaster Hotel. Mummy and Daddy were meeting , e for tea at Brown's Hotel. We were woken in the middle of the night. Went to Euston and then by train to Liverpool. The officer ATS told another officer that she was to put my kit bag on her shoulder. I obviously couldn't. Sailed for Glasgow. 4500 men and 33 women. Shared a cabin with another girl. Bathroom between 2 cabins only salt water, Fresh water twice a day for 1/2 hour. Had grapefruit for breakfast at
Picked up convoy in Glasgow and set off across the Atlantic Escort 13 destroyers battleship armed merchant cruiser. Aircraft carrier. Blacked out. No noise allowed. Played Bingo at night. Just ??? to sit on deck in dark. Went nearly to US and back. Very rough.
(note by A3M convoys to South Africa took a very westerly route to avoid U boats).
Carrier and Battleship left us for Gibraltar I think. It took 6 weeks more or less to get to Durban. We stopped at Freetown for a day or two for walks etc. No blackout singing.
Worked redirecting troops mail. Henwoods looked after me JP&S. Tummy upset on dock! Wonderful fruit and chocolate 3 weeks 4 weeks? SWIM.
Sailed for Suez on all black troopship. I slept on deck because the cockroaches were so awful. UNECORTED. A woman sung to the ship as we left harbour. Arrived Suez mid early April. Tent. ANTS everywhere. No black out.
After 1st night an RAF truck came. A man stepped in shorts and a moustache. Didn't know who it was for one minute. It was wonderful. He found me. We were allowed out for the night. Can't think where we slept. Then by truck we went to Heliopolis.
We went to a smallish modern house detached. A little ??? of modern houses. Quite nice, 2 floors 4 to a bedroom. I was first floor. Looked across the desert to MI8 huge mosque like building. Minaret quite close. Mullah always walking round chanting.
The whole thing was amazing. Leonard Wesson was there - army captain. I was a corporal. All was revealed. There all services together. WAAF's operated machines. There was a gallery round it. I worked on ground floor. Once a week we had a talk about the spies etc report ----
I continued to do .E. Greece and Russian Front. I shall always remember all the radio operators chatting to each other. We did the same thing. When I sent information back to the hut at B.P. where I had been, you had to put in a bit of chat at the beginning and end to make decyphering more difficult. One of the funniest things - a man ran round the gallery upstairs waving a log (code thing) showing that the distribution of contraceptives had been completed in the Dodecanese. The whole place exploded with laughter. We worked 8-1 and 5-8 every day. We knew all about the horror of Cyprus. Russia from Greece and then Italy. It was fascinating.
276 Wing H.Q.
Stan Grant Wing Commander and 2 other RAF Wing Commanders shared a flat near and I used to meet nearly every day at the Heliopolis Sporting Club. Went swimming. Officers only. They were so sweet to me. I was v. lucky. If Donald could get up to Cairo, sometimes we squeezed in at Stan's flat or at the Heliopolis House Hotel. I used to go down to Heliopolis after 8.30 and sit drinking coffee and waiting hours for the call. It was after this that I was nearly raped by Egyptian Policeman who raced after at the train terminus. I saw a light on in an isolated house and banged on the door. A woman opened the door and said of you make all that noise you'll wake the baby! He ???? ???? to safety. We used to go to open air cinemas after work fish? The same thing nearly happened with and American black sergeant. Life wasn't dull.
After Italy came into the war ?when 276 wing was moved to Italy, but women couldn't go January??
Donald and I managed to get Christmas leave 1943. Heaven. Went by train to Haifa. Terrible journey. No facilities. Didn't like the hotel went to the officers club in Haifa and hitched a lift with an army Lt 24.XII.43. It was a fabulous journey all along the coast. No buildings except Tyre and Sidon. No traffic. It was fabulous. Donald and Lt took turns to drive. They would never let me go to the loo. They did!
Notes by A3M.
She had a "popper bike" (moped) in BP and rode it between Oaken and BP. Took a lift one night in a lorry, with the bike in the back and an amorous lorry driver in the front!
The voyage from Durban to Suez unescorted would have seemed fraught with danger at the time. While the submarine risk would not have been as high in the Indian Ocean as in the Atlantic, there had been disguised armed merchant raiders in the area until recently. History shows that in fact they had been caught by the time RJLM sailed.
Stan Grant was god father to A3M and finished his RAF career as AVM C in C Gulf, cut short by heart trouble. He was in Malta in about 1942.
A list (written on a piece of card from a box!)
1948 Cornwall Pier Sands
1952 Westward Ho
1954 South Africa
1956 Boat Holland
1957 R Europe
D America (when he smuggled back early Salk polio vaccine for children)
1960 Belgium & Holland (Spring)
1961 South Africa
10/6/2001: resaved HTML from Word
1/5/2002: edited and extra information.
13/7/2004: RJLM death.
26/4/2005: Letters transcribed