Website of the Laceby History Group

Listen to this - A Laceby Girl's Unusual Job

How did Miss Margaret Hartley who was trained for the W.R.N.S find herself doing her war work alone in a bedroom in Ashtree Avenue, Grimsby?

During the 2nd World War, Margaret had to register, age 16 at the Town Hall. She stated a preference for the W.R.N.S. but was too young at the time, so she joined the Girls Training Corps, which was considered a good preparation for the Service life she had chosen.

She enrolled at Elim Hall in Pasture Street for basic training and was issued with a forage cap and badge. Her training consisted of squad drill, memory training and 1st Aid with lectures from Dr. Richardson, the then Director of Education for Grimsby, various civic dignitaries and officers of the armed forces.

One aspect of the memory training Margaret recalls, was committing a message to memory then running round Town Hall Square, the Old Market Place, down Victoria Street and back to Elim Hall to repeat the original message word for word.

In addition to the basic training she was asked what branch of the Services and which trade therein she wished to enter. She repeated her request for the W.R.N.S. and wireless telegraphy.

At the back of her mind was her brother in the R.A.F. who might prove useful if she got stuck.

She was despatched on a wireless telegraphy course to the old Nautical School in Orwell Street, Grimsby and joined a class of 22 girls which gradually over the weeks dwindled down to one - Margaret! - still enthusiastic. Sadly, the instructor informed her that they could not afford to run a course for one girl, however eager but would she like to join the mens' class, to WATCH!

Nothing was going to put her off, even a class of leering men, so prepared for some leg-pulling, she joined them and found herself involved in semaphore, wireless telegraphy, seamanship lectures and having to learn the 32 Articles for the Prevention of Collision at Sea, (some of which she can repeat 50 years later). Still an active member of the Girls Training Corps at this time she rose to Section Leader and marched through Grimsby with the Corps in the uniform of navy-blue skirt, white blouse and forage cap.

Margaret learned the Morse Code at the Nautical School classes and worked up to 23 words per minute. She won a prize for her work and was presented with it by Alderman J.H.Curry in the Council Chamber at the Town Hall. A second prizecame her way the following year and she asked for a morse key, if it would not be too much money. The authorities said that at £1.7.6d (£1.37!p) it was not too much and that she should have it, again presented at the Town Hall.

Bad news followed the jubilation of winning prizes - she failed her Medical for the W.R.N.S. Although disappointed she continued the classes and hoped something else would turn up. It did. Her instructor approached her with the offer of an interview for a voluntary job which would use her telegraphy training.

Margaret was given an address in Ashtree Avenue where sheduly arrived for the interview. The door was opened by a man who introduced himself, then took a very nervous Margaret up to a blacked-out bedroom. When illuminated, it proved to contain banks of radio equipment. She was told that the job was to patrol the wavebands, writing down every message picked up. It had to be written down on special forms and then posted in specially printed envelopes to MI6 in London for de-coding.

When asked, she decided that this was the job for her and from then on, a couple of nights each week she was picked upfrom her job in a Grimsby jewellers and whisked away to Ashtree Avenue where she was given tea, then up to the bedroom to practise her new job.

She had just got used to this lifestyle when the war finished in 1945 and the job came to an abrupt end! There's no telling how important the information was that Margaret passed on or if it helped to win the war but on the other hand had they not been able to find someone to do it, we might not be telling her story now.

Brenda Anderson.