Women in WWII, with special guests!

Our Women in WWII coffee morning today was a huge success, with a full house here to reminisce, view archival films, and mingle over coffee and biscuits. I’m happy to report that six men were in attendance.

We had some unexpected guests of honor: 4 veterans of the Auxiliary Territorial Services (ATS) and one veteran of the Women’s Royal Naval Service (or WRENS), and one former member of the Women’s Land Army!

From left: Lorna Lansdowne, Marjorie Spears, Brenda Chapman, Irene Warren, Joan Whittingham, and Sue Eldershaw

From left: Lorna Lansdowne, Marjorie Spears, Brenda Chapman, Irene Warren, Joan Whittingham, and Sue Eldershaw


Their ranks ranged from farmer to Private to Corporal, their duties from threshing to driving to managing invasion. With the ATS, Lorna Lansdowne was an officer’s mess orderly; Marjorie Spears drove jeeps and lorries, then moved to the kitchen when the trucks became too big for her slight frame! Irene Warren stuck to the driving, and Joan Whittingham worked as a clerical officer. In the WRENS, Brenda Chapman worked in communications for 2 and a half years; Sue Eldershaw labored in Oxfordshire as one of the famed Land Girls.

The ‘girls’ shared lots of stories with a captivated audience. Aomng her many roles as Land Girl, Sue milked cows manually before daybreak, planted potatoes, and threshed grain (and recalls–harrowingly–the scarcity of showers or baths!). Brenda Chapman took me aside and briefed me on the American GIs’ “forward” personalities. There was much talk of love and loss, the light and the dark, and the keen sense of duty they all shared. Leaning over the desk with a sparkling eye, Joan Whittingham recalled a monumental day at work when she telephoned stations all across England and Scotland. She was calling for tanks to gather for D-Day.

You can read more about Joan Whittingham on the BBC’s People’s War site, and see this article featuring several of the girls in the EDP last year.

And don’t forget: we’ve got some excellent books in our collection about women and their roles in the war effort….

We hope to gather the ladies together again in the Library to record their memories someday soon. What a great morning!

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Filed under Books, World War 2

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