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