One Wren’s War: Margaret Munday-Whitaker’s Life During the Second World War on the Isle of Wight!

C H A P T E R T H R E E

My Wedding

In 1942 I married my sweetheart, Leonard Munday whom I had known since I was 17. We met on Culver Down as we were both dog walking. He was in Coastal Defence, a gunner in the Royal Artillery. We had also met whilst cycling along the sea wall at Seaview. He was very shy and his friend introduced him to me. He was a very keen musician and played the saxophone and the clarinet and I had seen him playing with other musicians at one of the Vicarage garden parties.

We enjoyed talking to each other and then started to go out together, sometimes to the Commodore cinema in Ryde or to the organised dances. The Services tried hard to give us all some leisure activities which certainly took our minds off the bombings which were constantly taking place.

We had got engaged in 1941. My fiancé had bought me a diamond engagement ring. Sadly three weeks later whilst gardening at granny’s house in Seaview, I lost my beautiful ring. My lovely fiancé bought me a new ring, this time a twist design, with even more diamonds! The original was never found and later on the earth was concreted over so my ring remains buried forever. After that, I always put it in my pocket for safety, most especially when I was gardening.

I wanted to have a proper reception for the guests at my wedding and asked the local baker in Seaview, “Would you be able to do a nice reception for me? I know that rationing might make it difficult but what are the possibilities?” He said, “As you are getting married in June I could do you a nice salad as we can grow that. We can also have home grown potatoes and have half a pound of cheese, your ration allowance for one week.” All this had to stretch to 33 guests and surprisingly it did!

The wedding breakfast cost 3 shillings and 6 pence per head. My mother and father had to apply for travel permits to come to the Island for the wedding. They travelled by paddle steamer and had to go back to Southampton on the one designated to them by the authorities.

Due to very stringent rationing during the war we were unable to use sugar to make icing for the wedding cake and the baker had to be very innovative. He made marzipan with a type of semolina to get a nice white colouring which looked as close to icing as he could get. He then added some almond essence, covered the outside with rice paper carefully and in the joins of the rice paper added layers of artificial flowers. It was very difficult to get hold of any dried fruit for the cake mix but as usual everyone rallied round and one Wren was able to offer one half pound of prunes. The baker cut them up very carefully and made them into currant shapes and together with another Wren’s offering of a quarter pound of raisins a very nice and tasty wedding cake was made. He then put the pink artificial roses around the cake and it looked very beautiful.

I wore a pink wedding dress, which had been a dress I had worn as a bridesmaid, and had a borrowed veil. I was unable to get a white dress due to strict rationing.

Make do and mend was very much the order of the day during the war but it made us very innovative and we found new and different ways to do things. We were not really, at least most of the time, unhappy with our lot. We had a very important job to do and we did it to the best of our ability. Many did it by sacrificing their lives for others.

I was married in the Methodist Church in Seaview and after the lovely service I came out of the church with my husband, Leonard. He was 28 years old. There was a guard of honour by my fellow Wrens. In the photograph, as I was coming out of the church and through my arch of Wrens, there laid carefully in the corner was my gas mask. It still makes me laugh today to think about it but as Service personnel we had to wear special gas masks that were rather more complicated than the ordinary issue. We had to be able to walk around whilst wearing it and keep on going and do whatever needed to be done during an air raid. It was a vital part of our duties.

There is a lovely, funny photograph of myself and my fellow Wrens on a gas training course in Portsmouth. We were there to learn how to use our masks properly. In one of the photographs we are all posed, in naval uniform and with our faces completely covered with the gas masks. It was not a glamorous look, indeed we looked like something out of a science fiction story. The training itself was quite frightening. We had to go through the Tipnor Gas Tank, remove our gas masks and rush quickly to the exit. The smell was awful and we emerged with streaming eyes and lots of coughing and spluttering. The thought of being in a gas attack was very frightening and it brought home the reality of how dangerous and unpleasant that would be.

Leonard, my lovely husband and I honeymooned in the New Forest. We only had two days there before he received a telegram informing him that his father had died. Sadly, our honeymoon was over early.

Everyone travelling to and from the Isle of Wight had to have a special permit during the war so travel backwards and forwards to the mainland was very difficult. As the Island was considered a very strategic and important spot it had to be protected from German invasion. The permit had to state how much time you were spending there and the reasons for your visit. It was very strictly adhered to and of course we all understood why. The proximity to Portsmouth where so many Naval ships were moored made it imperative that the Island did not have infiltrators sympathetic to the German war effort. The ships themselves were an obvious target for the Luftwaffe.

The restrictions were also applied to near relatives of Island dwellers as I have already mentioned. The permit itself was very difficult to obtain and there had to be very good reasons for the trip. The local newspaper, the Isle of Wight County Press, at the time described it as a ‘Necessary but most inconvenient isolation’ The County Press is still the Island’s newspaper and is as informative today as it was during those war years. Some things don’t change, fortunately.

Although travel on and off the Island was diffi cult we did manage to do so on occasions. As my family lived on the mainland I was granted permission to travel to Fair Oak in Eastleigh where they lived. My father had been the Chief Engineer on private yachts before the war. Perhaps that is why I so wanted to join the Wrens and follow in my father’s footsteps.

 On one occasion I had visited my parents in Eastleigh. It was Double Summertime, two hours forward instead of one from Greenwich Mean Time (GMT). This was, of course, to save electricity and keep industry and farming working as efficiently as possible.

I would normally have left my parents at 3 o’clock in the afternoon but father had suggested I stay longer as it was now much lighter into the evening. I was happy to have a few more hours with my family as I did not get to see them that often. When I eventually got to Portsmouth Harbour the train I should have been on had been completely destroyed.

It had been bombed by the Germans. Travelling later had saved my life, yet another escape from either death or very nasty injuries. As I mentioned earlier people formed all kinds of friendships during the war and some were in very strange circumstances indeed.

It was a common occurrence, at that time, for the Germans to drop propaganda leaflets in order to undermine the war effort and to make people feel that we were losing the war and would eventually be ruled by them.

My sister, Patricia had such a leaflet, which had fallen in the back garden from one of these air drops. She was looking at it as she sat down on the bus to travel home one day. The leaflet had been found near Winchester. She had sat next to a distressed woman who had not heard from her son in a very long time.

As they both looked at the pictures on the leaflet the woman suddenly cried, “That’s my son there.” It later turned out that he was a prisoner of war in Germany and at the end of the war he came home safely.

This was a most amazing coincidence and an outcome that the Germans had not intended, to comfort someone who believed she had lost her beloved son.

It was not the only coincidence of it’s kind. A photograph of a gravestone in a Commonwealth War Cemetery had been taken by a visitor to the graveyard. The gravestone belonged to a young man, only 18, who had been killed in the Normandy landings in 1944. He came from Bembridge on the Isle of Wight and had served with the Hampshire Regiment. By chance the photograph was shown to a friend of the family and eventually the family were shown the picture. Later his two brothers visited the grave. They had never known previously what had happened to him.

You can purchase One Wren’s War by Irene Burkett @ http://www.amazon.co.uk/One-Wrens-War-Margaret-Munday-Whitakers/dp/0957454007 or any good book shop.

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