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Caithness Field Club

Caithness Field Club Bulletin

Hetty Munro’s War Diaries (by Elizabeth Rintoul)
The following extracts from the War Diary of the late Henrietta Munro of Thurso come from the North Highland Archive in the Wick Museum and are published with their permission. Earlier extracts were published in Caithness Field Club Bulletin Vol 6 No 8 (April 2004) and Vol 7 No 1 (April 2005)

January 1942
This ought to have been written up long ago but one thing and another kept it back. I went on leave in August for a heavenly fortnight and came back for Stuart’s last weekend which we spent visiting people with Mr Brown who was sweet. We went out on Friday night - glorious night and walked all Saturday afternoon. On Sunday we went to the moor road and lay and sunbathed on the heather above the quarry and then went to Merkister for tea, which we had on the lawn, later on we went to Binscarth for drinks and much later for a last drive round the loch and along to see Bet and David. A lovely day but I hate saying “good-bye” to people.

Life went rather quietly after this and about the middle of September I decided to have a dinner party to celebrate my second anniversary in Orkney. Most of the people I wanted were there and thanks to the help of the Collingwoods, I think everything was all right. A couple of nights later we went to dinner at Tankerness and as usual had a lovely time.

I forgot to say that just before I went on leave on August 2nd, the “G” [General] staff had a dance in Broch Hall at which I had a whale of a time. Of course I had to go in uniform but it didn’t seem to make any difference - I managed to do all the things I wanted to do and then drove home with P. Foot and the Will’s – P. Foot drooling onto the windscreen all the way!

On October - the Lloyds’ small child was christened at Hatston and I couldn’t go but I went to the tea with Sue and Babs one day instead. I’d like to have seen the christening though.

Hatston had a dance for “Victorious” with the ship’s band and everything complete.
Hank took me, but I’m afraid I didn’t see much of him! Teddy Stokes, Bunny Kirkby and I had a whale of a time and I certainly think “Victorious” is a grand ship.

Just before or just after that my special pal, George Harcourt was posted to “Audacity”, I certainly missed him a lot as he always made me laugh and we had a lot of fun together. He and Willie Aston gave a farewell party at Hatston - a very merry evening.

In the office things were fairly quiet these times and one got time to think. The new G1 - Lt. Col. W.N. Roper Caldbeck is certainly a winner and so grand to work for - really up to George Tuck’s standard, but Roper has more sense of humour than George - or at least shows it more. I am enjoying working for him more than I’ve enjoyed it for a long time. Very good looking, full of charm, lovely wife, delightful small son, fond of duck shooting - I think he and Hank are very alike.

Most of the inhabitants have changed now.

The new I.G. [Intelligence Group] Major Geoffrey Brewster, is tall, fair, stout, laughs at most things, and is generally rated a very good fellow. I think he’s quite nice but I don’t know him very well.

My beloved John Taylor went to 59 Brigade, which is a great blow and I miss him very much. However it meant that Alan Miller - Col. Bofors! from 58 Brigade came here as G II, which is a very good thing. He has been in Orkney since the very beginning of things, is very clever, small, fair, rather ugly, but a really grand person and just about the most amusing person to take to a party one could think of.

The other G III (GD.) is Capt. Healing - known as Petkins, which just suits him. Small, fair, chubby, wavy hair, lovely eyes and very much the sweet little boy to look at. Grand person really and good at a party.

In November, the Yeomanry gave a Beagles dance and I went with Hank and danced with him and Alastair Boyle all night. I wasn’t in uniform and enjoyed every minute of the time. Of course everyone was there but things were managed rather well and we had lots of room and lots of everything.

Later on the Argylls gave their first officers dance and Patrick and I went. Now Patrick and I have numerous adventures and one night just before this we went to dinner at Binscarth and met Max Lyndal, a Gordon. We took my car and for once the gods smiled on us and we had no adventures. Not very long before that we’d got lost going to Tankerness but, as the only thing that happened on our way to Binscarth was that we overshot the drive and had to turn back, we did not count that a proper adventure and blethered that evening to Mrs Scarth. So we gaily went to the Argylls dance in “Miranda”(the car). I was dancing with Alastair Boyle about 11.30 when Patrick suddenly appeared at the door looking very worried. When I shot over to him he said that he’d been down to get something from the car and it had been stolen - the car I mean. He had left the keys in by mistake and it just wasn’t there. I told him not to worry too much but just to tell the police, carry on dancing and we could home in the bus. This we did and after a grand dance, we went home with the crowd, singing songs all the time. David Santer, John Peel, Lena, Nancy and lots more.

The next morning although all the police were supposed to be looking for it, nothing was heard of Miranda and I must admit by lunch time I was getting a bit worried. Just after one, Andy Sharp telephoned and asked me what I’d like done with the car! I was so astounded I could hardly speak, but anyway it turned out that the car was lying at his office and he thought that something must have happened to it and that I’d left it there. I was very lucky as it was completely undamaged and still full of petrol and everything else. Patrick and I breathed a sigh of relief and hoped our adventures were over.

The following week it was decided that there should be a H.Q. dance on December 22nd. The date my leave started so I decided to wait and go out of uniform - and Patrick and I had to prepare this and that for the dance. On the Wednesday afternoon, Roper went out and we decided to go to Kirkwall and shop for the dance. I may say that in the interval I’d had an argument with the garage door one night and the door had won – removing the door handle of the car as proof of victory. Usually since then, as I was waiting for a new handle, I didn’t lock the car as it couldn’t be opened if I did, but this day we drove into the Cathedral square, parked the car, got out, locked the door - and discovered that it was the local half day holiday and the shops were shut! Having taken that blow we thought we’d go to Tankerness House and see if our good friend, Wee Baikie was off duty. This we did but the W.B. was not there so we rightly considered she must be working and decided we’d go to the Wrennery and have tea with Maise or Puckie or Honor. Off we went, only to discover on our arrival that they were all on duty!

By this time we decided we were really dogged by fate so we thought the only thing to do was to go to Binscarth for tea and tell Hester of our adventures. We made all speed back to the car - and couldn’t open it. We tried for a long time and lots of cheeky soldiers really enjoyed seeing one of their officers baffled. At last we managed to prise the door open, got in, very dirty and messy but still laughing. When we got to Finstown we saw a brake at Binscarth and thought it must be the Collingwoods, and wasn’t it fun, and shot up the drive, ready to pour out our troubles - but it was Gp. Capt. Grace, N.A.L.O. [Naval Air Liaison Officer] and another RA.F. man. We swore N.A.L.O. to secrecy and had a lovely tea and chattered for ages, then they left and Pat and I told Hester our tale of woe, at which she laughed heartily, and so home about 5 or 6.

But our adventures weren’t finished. The following week we were asked to Tankerness to dinner and although we told Margaret our adventures, we decided we’d give the fates a last chance and go. We did - and the fates saw their chance and took it. It was a very dark, windy night and we, in our innocence, thought we’d take the short cut over the aerodrome. We were all right until we got just outside Kirkwall when Patrick, who couldn’t see with the rain, bumped into a wall. Luckily we were going slowly and we only dented the radiator. We backed out and carried on. When we came to the aerodrome, we took the wrong road and eventually landed up in the middle of an unfinished runway. It was still raining and blowing hard and Pat decided that the only thing to do was for me to back the car at his directions. Out he got and proceeded to direct me with a torch. We haven’t yet decided whether he or I made the mistake, but anyway the car was soon firmly wedged in the ditch. Rain and wind not withstanding there was nothing to do but walk to the nearest house. Pat thought there was a works office nearby and hoped there was a watchman. Luckily he was right and after walking about a mile we found it. We telephoned to Margaret and in 10 minutes Hank and Alan came. Andy rescued the car the following day. So far we’ve had no more adventures - but who knows?

Just after this, or before it I think it was - we were going to Tankerness when we heard that morning that Hank had got a D.S.O. [Distinguished Service Order] for finding “Bismarck”. Terrific excitement and the party was most hilarious - Champagne, etc but he wouldn’t tell the story. Goddard who piloted him got the D.F.C. [Distinguished Flying Cross].

I don’t think anything else happened before the H.Q. dance on December 22nd which really was one of the highlights of the year. I had a dinner party beforehand with Hank, Alan Miller, Pealing, Puckie, Wee Baikie, Margaret Whyte. Pat should have been there but he had to go to the General’s party but joined us at the dance and, between not being in uniform, going on leave the next day, and sailing in surrounded by Navy I was just so excited I don’t remember much about it except a terrific sense of fun.

Next day I went on leave for Christmas and New Year and had a lovely quiet time. Went to an officers dance with the McGregors and a bunch of people. Very amusing but rather different from Orkney dances. I twisted my foot but danced all evening with Jammy. I was laid up for a few days but after it was X Rayed and strapped I could walk again. Chub had a party on Hogmanay, mostly new people except for Edward Keith, Pearl and I. Very good fun though.

Came back on 5 January - very seasick and had to go to bed for a few days. Quiet time after I returned. Tea at Binscarth with Connie and Sarah Collingwood.

On Sunday Chubs Ranald asked me to lunch on “Victorious” with Bunny Kirklay and his fiancée Sally Wave, a Wren officer who was up for a few days. We went at 11.30 and it was a perfect day. We had drinks in the ward room - the famous brandy flips and I had tomato juice with the Ambassador who gave me a “Victorious” Christmas card. Then we had lunch in Chubs’ cabin - halibut, goose and a marvellous omelette and cheese, coffee and chocolates. We took the chef up and congratulated him etc. Then there were photographs and the rest of the time we spent in the trainer. It was fun. Then we had tea and chocolate biscuits and went ashore at 4.30. Bunny and Sally came to Stenness with me and then we all went to Hatston for drinks, dinner and pictures - a very perfect day.

The following weekend Mrs Stuart had taken “Brodgar” and I went over to have tea and was most impressed with the children. The twins are delightful and I mean to see a lot of them. Everyone seems to be going away, Collingwoods, Major Hardy, Padre Leder, N.A.L.O., Hank - very sad - I hate saying farewell to people but I suppose its just war.

Had a letter from Young George who was in “Audacity” which was torpedoed - we already had a wire so knew he was “safe but wet” as he said but it was nice to hear from him. He’s at Lee for a little while.

We celebrated Burns night on Monday 26th and danced some eightsome reels etc. after eating haggis and cockie leekie. It was good fun, especially initiating Connie and Bill into the mysteries - when the haggis appeared Connie looked round rather apprehensively and said “Is this it?” Another pleasant evening.

Now Hank has gone and I feel I’ve lost touch with Hatston as Bell is the only one I really know now.

13 February 1942. (Friday)
Hatston had a dance and I went with Bell, Hon. John and Wee Baikie. We all had dinner - thick brown soup, grilled cutlets, peas and carrots and savoury kippers in Johns cabin first and then went dancing. I wore my purple velvet. It was terrific fun but rather saddened by the thought that we had lost lots of aircraft today and the German fleet has slipped out of Brest and up to Heligoland.

Because of that move we were afraid that our Saturday night party was to be cancelled but it was all right and the wind went down completely so at 5.30, having got all “tarted” up in navy blue georgette and Connies silver fox cape - I was picked up by Hatston transport and we went to Houton where the motor board from “Duke of York” awaited us. We arrived on the ship about half an hour later and were duly escorted to the Commander’s cabin where we unwrapped ourselves from our rugs etc - actually it had been a very smooth crossing and was quite warm but one never knows! When we went to the Ward Room we were pleasantly surprised to find that most people were in mess dress. We had lots of drinks and lovely cheesy savouries and then went to dine. I was beside one Tupper, President of the Cads Table and a couple of doctors. We had clear soup, roast chicken and ham, strawberry soufflé and asparagus - nuts and dates and Muscatels. Gorgeous. Then we toasted “The King” and “Our Sweethearts and Wives - may they never meet” and afterwards danced for an hour or two. We did eightsome reels with great elat and verve at the end. Then we went back in the motor boat, singing all the way. It was fascinating to see the ships signalling to each other out of the blackness. Our beams flashed over the water until we found the boom and then, having safely negotiated that we eventually found the entrance to Houton pier and landed safely, after one of the most thrilling and exciting evenings I have ever had.

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