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To help mark International Women’s Day the Coastal Forces Veterans web site is paying tribute to London Branch member Vera Mitchell by recollecting her wartime role as V.A.D. nurse working with Coastal Forces.

Vera Mitchell
London Branch member Vera Mitchell (© London Branch CFV)

I came to see the Quack one day
I had a busted Ankle
He put me to bed in the Sick Bay
And so I said “I thank you”
In came a nurse, so gentle and kind
She gave me a dose of Epsom Salts
So since, I've changed my mind

In 1943, two previously ‘sheltered’ nineteen year old girls joined the Royal Navy as V.A.D. (Voluntary Aid Detachment) nurses and were drafted to the Royal Naval Hospital Haslar at Gosport for a very short training period. We both were then sent to Lowestoft to join two other V.A.D’s and a Q.A.R.N.S. (Queen Alexander Royal Nursing Service) Nursing Sister to start a sick bay in a three storey house by Hamilton Dock, for HMS’s Minos, Mantis and Martello.

The Senior Medical Officer was a skin specialist, so we saw many skin conditions including Scabies, the treatment being scrubbing down with Benzyl Benzoate cream, then soaking in a bath of Permanganate of Potash solution which turned both bodies and bath a dark brown colour. There was only one bath in the building, so none of the other patients ever took a bath.

The sick bay at Lowestoft with Coastal Forces casualties
The sick bay at Lowestoft with Coastal Forces casualties and their nurses. Vera Mitchell can be seen front row at second left (© Vera Mitchell)

One of the other Medical Officers was an Ear, Nose and Throat Specialist but he was convinced that “all Sailors were constipated” — hence the following from a patient grateful to be discharged (see left).

When VE (Victory in Europe) came, the Sick Bay was decommissioned and we were all dispatched to various other Drafts. After having had two years of many different experiences, happy, sad, exciting and fulfilling, we were certainly ‘unsheltered’ by this time. Patricia Brown ne Boffee and our own Vera Mitchell ne Hubband.

Wrens handling a torpedo
Wrens handling a torpedo at a shore base (© IWM A 19469)

Torpedo Wrens

By the early years of the Second World War women were performing a variety of trades related to the day to day work of the Royal Navy, but in 1944 The Admiralty took steps to increase the number of shore based Wrens both in Fleet Air Arm and in Coastal Forces to release more men required for General Service and overseas duties. To that end it instituted the following official change to Fleet Orders.

March 1944 Amendment to Fleet Orders

1320 – Torpedo ratings at Coastal Forces Bases (at Home) — Replacement by W.R.N.S. Personnel
(N. 30091/43. – 16 Mar. 1944.)
The following scale of replacement of male Torpedo ratings in Coastal Forces Bases at home by W.R.N.S. personnel has been approved in substitution of existing arrangements (A.F.O. 1178/43, paragraph 4) :–
(i) All L.T.O. and Leading Wiremen (L) allowed in compliment to be replaced by Leading W.R.N.S. (T/L) or (T/W).
(ii) Seventy-five per cent. of S.T. and 50 per cent. of Wiremen (L) allowed in compliment to be replaced by Wrens (T). One month’s overlap is allowed in the replacement of Wiremen (L).
2. Replacement should proceed as trained W.R.N.S. personnel become available and provided they can be accommodated. Arrangements should be made direct between the Bases and Superintendent, W.R.N.S., Portsmouth (vide A.F.O. 2964/43).
(A.F.Os. 1178/43 and 2946/43.)


poppy wreath

On this day: 30th March

Petty Officer Motor Mechanic Leonard Victor Page (H.M.M.L. 135)

At the going down of the sun and in the morning we will remember them


Operation Chariot — 'The Greatest Raid'

HMS Campbeltown from the deck of a Coastal Forces craft as the raiding party fight their way up the Loire estuary to attack the port of Saint-Nazaire, 28th March 1942 © National Maritime Museum Collections

Saint-Nazaire, France: 28th March 1942

March sees the anniversary of the sea bourne assault on Saint-Nazaire in France.

MGB 314, and MTB 74, accompanied by sixteen motor launches, took part in Operation Chariot, the successful attempt by HMS Campbeltown, with a party of commandos, to destroy the dry-dock facilities at Saint-Nazaire, and deny their possible use to the German surface raider Tirpitz.

Casualties amongst Coastal Forces were high, and the action earned a posthumous award of the Victoria Cross to Able Seaman William Alfred Savage, the forward gunner onboard MGB 314.

Read more about the St Nazaire Raid