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Caithness Field Club

Caithness Field Club Bulletin

Hetty Munroís 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 and are published with their permission. Earlier extracts were published in Caithness Field Club Bulletins Ė Vol 6 No 8 (April 2004), Vol 7 No 1 (April 2005) and Vol 7 No 2 (April 2006).

22 February 1942 (Sunday)
Well, ďVictor TwoĒ is over. It was fun while it lasted. On Sunday 15 Feb. I reported to the umpires at 2.30 and did practically nothing for ages as things hadnít really got going - so in the evening Patrick and I went to see Flanagan and Allan at Craigmillar. It was very enjoyable and we got back at 10.30 when I worked until about one. I slept in the ďGĒ office in my fleabag and Patrickís camp bed in front of the fire and things began to happen. Col. Sandeman - thin, dried up looking, sense of humour: Col. Fenton - tall, youngish, good looking, - fussy but pleasant to work with: Capt. Keith - oldish, terrific sense of fun and loves practical jokes; these were the principal people there. Capt. Keith did fifth columnists and had a whale of a time composing messages, ďre: Walter Grants whisky; Mrs Gordonís calving cowĒ etc and sending time bombs and faked guards all over the countryside. The whole thing was very interesting and instructive and, of course, being with the umpires one got both sides of the picture. We finished on Thursday at lunchtime and I was dead tired as Iíd worked most days from l0a.m to midnight but I wouldnít have missed it for anything.
On Friday night Alan, John and Joopy came to dinner with Dee and Connie and me. Very pleasant.
I had to work on my half day on Saturday, but on Sunday Bill took Connie and Dee and I to Borwick where we saw a picture called ďUnholy PartiesĒ and then had marmalade tarts for tea. Good.

March and April 1942.
Ref AC1 3 87/42. Iíve talked to Col. Roper about this and he seems to think that Iíd be a good Staff Secretary so he and the General have written my recommendation and it has gone to Command. Luckily for me, no matter what my Comp. Comd. thinks, sheís got to put up all the applications.

I do hope that letter comes from the War Office soon as Iíve just heard Iíve to go to live in the Artery next week and IPII die WI get that for long.

My last night of living at Standing Stones. Thank goodness George has left - Iíd have hated leaving so much more if heíd still be living here.

Hatston threw a marvellous dance for me last night - we had dinner first in Joopyís cabin with Uncle Bell and Johnny and lots of people and then danced until after 2. Art Gregory played and the more they played, the more they drank. Eventually the band were all flat out and the Navy were playing for us but eventually they ďdiedĒ also and then we had a lovely party in the ďbarĒ parlour. I certainly celebrated my last night as a ďladyĒ in no uncertain fashion. Many hours later we got home and to see Joopy carrying Norman upstairs was one of the funniest sights which I shall always treasure. After many farewell cups of tea, Dee and I got Joopy to go home and, still later, we got to bed.

Tonight I am sleeping in a hut - actually its very comfortable and warm and the foods riot bad but the rules are irksome and I hate washing with crowds of women. The girls are very good though, and give me a shout in the mornings, keep my fire on and fill my hot water bottle; but even although I have a room to myself there is no privacy at all and I miss that more than anything. Stupid, isnít it? Because I donít mind so much being with a crowd when its people I know and like - in fact Iím rather fond of it. Itís this meeting strange females in a state of undress and not being able to do anything without someone knowing about it. Having to report my arrival after a late pass annoys me - if Iím told to be in at 12 - Iíll be there, but if Iím told to report in at 12, I immediately have a desire to stay out until 2. Badly disciplined mind, I suppose. However, its not nearly as bad as I expected - but I still hope that War Office interview comes through.

Whoops! itís come and Iíve to be at the War Office next Tuesday. Iím frightfully excited and I donít expect anything will come of the affair as thousands must have applied for the job but Iíll chatter to the Generals and wear my tartan skirt, so maybe something will happen.

Iím all packed up ready to fly to DoniB. (Donibristle) The CO. [Commanding Officer] hasnít tumbled to the fact that Iíll have two days in Edinburgh by going this way and that will be rather fun I hope. Itís a lovely day and the flight should be very smooth.

Edinburgh at last - in exactly 1.5 hours to be precise - and a lovely tea at Braid Mount.

After a lovely ďleaveĒ in Edinburgh and a dull train journey to London, here we are, Hilda and I both dressed as very good A.T.S. - hair all tied up, buttons shining, uniforms pressed, shoes glistening, just sitting in a rather large bare office with lots of trestle tables with pads of paper set out on them - there must be 20 of them. A most charming civilian lady takes us to wash, by this time there are about a dozen of us - two people stand out - a very young, very pretty dark girl called Kay Pallant and a fat, rather stodgy looking Scots girl called Gordon who has a delicious dry sense of humour. Weíre all very nervous so we chatter brightly to the kind young lady and pretend nothing really matters.
The big test is now over - I think my paper work was all right but Iím not sure. We got 55 minutes to write a letter - I dashed off a draft and completed copy in 20 and decided that if I messed it around Iíd only make it worse so left it, got up and walked out, to the intense surprise of everyone. Iíve got to be back at 5 for my interview so Iím lunching with Hilda and then going to telephone George Tuck.
Itís all over and I think I was all right. They certainly asked all kinds of questions - the General, the Colonel, the A.T. [Auxiliary Territorial] woman and the Major. It lasted for ten minutes and I think they all like me except the A.T. who took an instant dislike to me Iím sure.
P Afterwards I met Col. Tuck and we went to pick up Mrs Tuck and then go on to Bryan Cadoganís engagement party in the Berkeley. When I told him (Col. Tuck) that I was sure the A.T. hated me but that Iíd talked fishing with the General, he said I would certainly get the job. I think they liked me anyway and, now that itís all over, I think I really enjoyed my first interview.
The only really worrying thing is that I rather ďblewĒ a bit with my answers to the questions in my anxiety to get the job and Iím rather worried now that theyíll think I can do lots of things which Iím sure I canít do. However, sufficient unto the day.

Back to Orkney after a lovely flight north only to be met with the news that Iíve to go to Lichfield on Tuesday!! Dreadful thought. I know nothing about A.T. S. at all and still less about being an N.C.O. and Iím very furious about the whole thing.

Edinburgh again. After a frightfully hectic time trying to pack three years accumulation of stuff into suit cases which got smaller every minute, see everyone in case I donít come back, be medically examined, try to get out of going at all, clean up in the office and bump Hatston into giving me another ride down, I at last proceeded on Sunday in getting away about lunch time accompanied by Margaret Baikie who was on short leave. As we took off and the whole panorama of these lovely islands was spread out below us, I wanted so much to go back and refuse to go. I felt I was going for good and didnít want to go at all. There was the Flow, sparkling in the sunshine and the ships looking like toys; Kirkwall - a cluster of houses with the cathedral rising proudly in the centre, its red sandstone glistening in the sunshine: - patches of snow over Wideford and the stark trees at Binscarth, slightly frosted: now the two lochs and the narrow road between, with the Standing Stones, a sinister circle to the left: Stenness itself, where Iíd spent such a happy two and a half years in spite of the grim threat of war hanging over us: now Waithe and Stromness - with its houses huddled by the waters edge, in the shelter of Brinkieís Brae: the Holmes - lovely tea parties: now Hoy, grim and forbidding hill with Pegal Burn shining in the sun: the waves dashing against the Old Man as they had done for centuries: the white sands of Rackwick - my last glimpse of Orkney and before me the angry waters of the Pentland and the shores of Scotland.
Just before we made landfall, we saw the good old Arc ploughing her way across that narrow stretch of water that seems so interminable when one is a passenger.

Again I managed to get two days in Edinburgh and spent one heavenly evening at the Anglo Polish Ballet and the other just talking to my old friend John Taylor. It was a lovely break, getting all dressed up again.

Now I resume my ďfree issueĒ and donít wear anything else at all for three weeks -a dreadful thought.

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