Joy Hughes joined the Women’s Royal Naval Service, popularly and officially known as the Wrens, in 1942 to get away from her mother.
“To be honest, I wanted to get away from home,” the Carlton House resident admits with a wry smile.
“I lied about my age.”
The 91-year-old spent four “wonderful years” working in administration for Combined Operations – army, navy and airforce. It took her to central London, near Battersea Power Station on the banks of the River Thames and later close to Piccadilly Circus.
In 1944, she was promoted to petty officer and served in HMS Warren (senior officers training centre and wound up in Largs, Ayrshire, Scotland. She returned to London and was stationed at the Royal Naval College in Greenwich when she finished her career as a master at arms in 1946.
While stationed on the Thames they were bombed regularly because of the power station, so the unit moved to Scotland.
“We weren’t on the front line but we were constantly being bombed,” she remembers.
It was there, walking past a grocer one day, she glimpsed fresh fruit.
“I hadn’t seen a banana or an orange in four years,” Hughes says.
She went in and bought a couple of the rare delights. Being dressed in uniform she didn’t have a place to put them and asked for a bag. The request was greeted with: “A bag? Don’t you know there’s a war on,” she recalls with a laugh.
The lack of fresh fruit and vegetables were only some of the hardships at home. Hughes remembers the fear of the war years prior to enlisting, and while home on leave. Her family lived near an airport, a target for frequent bombing. The routine at home was to sleep under tables, she and her brother under a billiards table and her parents under the dining room table.
“You went to bed dressed overnight, just in case,” she says.
Part of the wonderful four years was meeting her husband, Harry Hughes, she says. A battery sergeant major when she met him, he finished his tours as a regimental sergeant major.
The young couple met heading into a dance one night. Three men in uniform heading down the steps and three women in uniform heading up. They went for a drink, and being a non-drinker Hughes simply ordered the same as Harry.
The pint of beer was intimidating and she impressed him with her drinking prowess by slipping dollops into the plant beside the couch they were seated on.
“Shortly afterward he went to Burma,” she says. They had a long engagement getting to know one another almost entirely by correspondence before marrying eight years later.
“He was away most of the time,” she says. “He was a wonderful husband. I was lucky.”
Remembrance Day, which marks “the end of a terrible war,” is still an important one for the veteran.
“I think of all the people who suffered. There was a heck of a lot,” she says. “I was lucky. I got away without any scars.”