Recollections of Margaret Grant MBE
In October 1953 a group of us completed 5 weeks basic training at the WRAC Depot Queens Camp Guildford, Surrey and after passing out, some of us were posted to 12 Battalion WRAC, Richmond Park, Kingston on Thames, Surrey.
We now had to attend Inglis Barracks Mill Hill for our Postal B3 Course. Our instructor was Sgt Cliff Leach. We travelled on old hired coaches daily to and fro stopping sometimes at the Ace Café on the North Circular road for a snack which was good especially if you had missed your breakfast.
On our first day, as we were going to the classroom, a few of us met the RSM and being raw recruits we all gave him smart salutes and walked on wondering why he did not salute back. All of a sudden there was this almighty shout for us to halt and he returned to us and boy did we get told off. I am sure by now you will have guessed who the RSM was – yes, JC (RSM John Corrigan – 54-60).
After passing our B3 course we then travelled daily to and fro to the Home Postal Depot RE at Knightsbridge, just up the road from Harrods. There was no heating most of the time or any modern equipment. On the late or night shifts we wore our greatcoats, slacks and leather jerkins if the weather was cold, especially in the Winter.
The Commanding Officer was Lt Col Reading RE he seemed to live at the Depot and used to appear in the corridor wearing only a bath towel after having a bath, especially when it was Naafi break for us.
We worked 3 shifts, Earlies, Lates and Nights and, naturally, at the Christmas pressure period we worked extra hours which we did not mind as the mail was important to the troops and it was our job to make sure they got it. I will not bore you with the postal duties as I am sure we all remember them and will never forget them.
Eventually , in 1956 we moved to North Acton Gorse Road which was a bit more modernised, we still had to travel to and fro from Richmond Park. We travelled for our meals to Gunsite Camp where the RE`s were stationed. It was situated between Wormwood Scrubs Prison and Hammersmith Hospital. The WRAC Senior ranks and Officers served the junior ranks with their Christmas Dinner every year and we put on a show for them also. We used to do shows with the RE`s at Gunsite Camp and I remember Mick Copland organising us, amongst others. By that time I had reached the rank of Sergeant and was pleased to become the first WRAC Senior rank in Postal.
It was at Gunsite Camp that Lt Col Reading asked me to do a spell in the Pay Office. I agreed and took over from Geoff Chandler and when the Camp was moved to Mill Hill, I went to the Pay Office there for a while where I met many good National Servicemen, some of them worked with me in the office too, They were good workers.
I used to have my lunch in the RE Sgts Mess and even although I was the only woman they made me very welcome. In October 1962 the WRAC had a big parade on the square at Mill Hill and the Princess Royal-Princess Mary laid a Foundation Stone as 12 Battalion became 12 Company and we moved from Richmond Park to our new Unit at Mill Hill.
I was promoted to WOII and since I had done nearly every job in the Postal depot and worked on sections 1 – 6, I went to the Mails Branch again and also dealt with the Long Range Couriers for a while.
I caused quite a stir as I was wearing the crown with the laurel wreath around it and the RE`s informed me that I was wearing the wrong badge of rank. Alas, they were in the wrong by only wearing the crown so they had to go and get the correct ones from the Q Stores and have them sown on straight away. In the New Year Honours 1967 I was awarded the MBE for my work with the Forces Postal Service and I was very proud to go to Buckingham Palace with my parents as guests. We travelled in the Co`s staff car (Col L Bennett) and it was such a lovely day and I was very proud to be given an honour for doing a job that I loved.
For many years we represented the WRAC at the Royal Albert Hall for the Festival of Remembrance. Rehearsal on Friday and two shows on the Saturday, then the Cenotaph Parade on the Sunday. It was a tough weekend but very moving.
I was presented with my Long Service and Good Conduct Medal in 1971 by Major General James Bowes-Lyon.CB.OBE.MC. I was later asked to take my Commission but it meant leaving Postal, so I declined. Many tried to get a WRAC Officer appointment in Postal but at that time they could not, but I feel that I opened the path for this as eventually it did happen after I got demobbed.
My young brother John served 22 years with Postal and my elder brother James served 33 years with the RASC/RAOC and my middle brother served 3 years with the RA so I was one of a military family. 80 years service in total for the family.
I enjoyed my service with Postal and learned a tremendous lot. I met some fantastic people and I am so glad to have kept in touch with so many and, of course, the reunions are a great meeting for all of us great gals and guys. Long may we continue to remember the good old days.