Engine room artificers

A draft plan showing the proposed new town at Whiteley

THIS WEEK IN 1983: Sweeping plans unveiled for Hampshire’s newest town

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On this day in 1943 Maureen Bolster, a Wren Stoker based in Portsmouth, wrote this letter to her boyfriend, Eric Wells:

‘There are seven of us on the course – only 25 have ever done it.

‘We are ERA Wrens – Engine Room Artificers. Doesn’t it sound gorgeous? The course lasts a month. It’s the very same as the men’s, the leading stokers. We run around looking terribly boats’ crews with glamorous white lanyards draped around our necks and over our fronts.

‘We have classroom instruction for two weeks. Our instructor is a delightful, dignified bald-headed little chief petty officer with rows of medals.

‘It’s a very concentrated course indeed. Today we wrestled with the intricacies of four-stroke and two-stroke engines, pistons, valves, cylinders, camshafts, cranks, water pumping and all sorts of other things which, dearest, I didn’t really understand a word about.’

But, by the following week, Maureen was writing:

‘I’m quite an engineer and, would you believe, I find pumps most interesting. I dote on the little fuel pump with anti-dribble valve on the diesel compression engine. It’s awfully ingenious isn’t it?

‘We’ve spent the morning having a film show – demonstrating diesels. Pictures of bathing belles and pin-up girls appeared every so often to keep the sailors awake...’ – from John Sadden’s The Portsmouth Book of Days.