WAR EXPERIENCES 1939-1945
Lorna Grace Baker (nee Fairfax) b. 1923 Bristol
Lorna - WRNS 1943
I worked in the Halifax Public Library from 1940 to 1942 and for a couple of evenings a week I would help in the YMCA canteen. It was here that I met a young soldier serving with the Royal Engineers. Little did I realise how this meeting was to change the course of my life. This soldier made frequent visits to both the library and the canteen, and I like to think that it was not just his desire for food and books that drew him to these places! After several such ‘coincidental’ meetings, we started going to the cinema together. However, as so often happened in those uncertain days, he was posted south, and then to North Africa and Italy. I did not know if I would ever see him again.
In 1942 I joined the WRNS and trained as a wireless telegraphist in Dundee and Warrington. Following training, I was posted to Sheerness, and then back up north to Liverpool. The wireless station in Liverpool was situated on top of the famous Royal Liver Building, from which magnificent viewpoint we saw many famous warships on the River Mersey. Whilst on duty one night with a newly qualified Wren, there was a communications breakdown and I had to cross the roof of the Royal Liver Building in the blackout to check the aerial transmitter. This was certainly a daunting experience for me, since I am not keen on heights at the best of times. However, needs must; the Petty Officer had gone off duty, and it was down to me. All ended well, though, and I was highly relieved to be able to trace the fault to a radio valve.
By this time I had volunteered for overseas service, and soon (1944) received a posting to Malta, where I served for eighteen months. Whilst there, I had the ‘honour’ (unbeknown to me at the time) of transmitting the signal to the Mediterranean Fleet containing the order to set sail for the landings in the South of France.
Despite now being in my early eighties, I have many vivid memories of wartime: having been just a ‘teenager’ of 16 when war was declared, I was a woman of not yet 22 on VE Day 8th May 1945. I can clearly recall both this and VJ Day, later in August of 1945. I certainly remember that we WRENS were allocated a special issue of lime juice; I believe that the men were given a somewhat stronger beverage with which to “splice the main brace”! I also remember two leaves spent in Sicily in the beautiful town of Taormina, and forever etched on my mind is my journey home to England via Algiers in a Stirling Bomber.
I was demobilised in November 1945, and rejoined my family for a short spell in Bedale, North Yorkshire. My father was a Methodist minister, and the manse in Bedale had been a base for many members of the family during the war years.
After the war, at the Manse in Bedale: at the back, my parents and two of my 4 sisters; at the front, me with two of my nephews.
Soon after demobilisation, thanks to my training and experience, I secured a post as a wireless telegraphist, attached to the Foreign Office in London and connected with Bletchley Park, the famous site for breaking enemy codes during the war.
Meanwhile, what had happened to the young soldier whom I had met five years ago in the YMCA canteen in Halifax? Brian had returned from Italy, and had managed to trace me through my parents. He lived across the water from Liverpool, so our courtship resumed with many months of long train journeys between London and the Wirral. We were married on 7th October 1946, with my father (Rev. Frank Fairfax) conducting the service in Bedale.
7th October, 1946: newspaper cutting from my wedding day
We spent many happy years after the war, and celebrated our Golden Wedding in 1996, with another 3 years together before he died in 1999.
I have both sad and happy memories of the war years. We were all affected by so much loss and destruction, yet at the same time we often experienced human nature at its bravest and most generous, making many good and abiding friendships. I was particularly proud to be able to attend the Battle of the Atlantic Service of Remembrance at the Anglican Cathedral in Liverpool on Sunday 4th May 2003.
Lorna Grace Baker (nee Fairfax)