Gosport Wren, 97, has fond memories of VE Day
From her home on the Isle of Wight, spritely Monica Wickenden, aged 97, looks out across the Solent towards her old base at Gosport and remembers the joy she felt at the end of the war.
Monica, (Mo to friends and family) will be singing We’ll Meet Again on Friday at her home in Ryde, to celebrate VE Day (Victory in Europe Day).
She joined the Wrens (Women’s Royal Naval Service) aged 21 in 1944 and was stationed in HMS Hornet in Gosport. She lived in converted private houses taken over by the Admiralty in Fort Road, Alverstoke.
One of 10 children, seven girls and three boys, she came originally from Wallasey in Merseyside, Cheshire. The family, who had a makeshift shelter in the garden, regularly came a whisker from death as German bombs fell.
One night she’ll never forget. ‘The carnage was indescribable. Whole roads had just vanished,’ she said.
As soon as she arrived at Gosport she was given a bicycle to get to work even though she had never learnt to ride one.
Mo said: ‘I had to learn to ride a bike that night.’
She remembers going to a converted children’s home to care for men wounded in action. ‘I saw many sad cases. We were asked to chat with the wounded men or write letters to their loved ones. Some were blind, others had awful injuries,’ she recalled.
On one occasion a V1 bomb came close to hitting her quarters but fortunately ended in the Solent.
Mo was heartbroken when she heard her brother Paul, a sergeant in the RAF, was killed in 1940.
When it was announced war was over on May 8 1945, she was with her sister Dolores, a member of the ATS (Auxiliary Territorial Service), who was visiting. ‘We were so excited. We were wearing each other’s hats and shouting “the war’s over. Hooray”,’ she said.
She stayed on in Gosport after the war and in 1948 joined troopship, The Empress of Australia, en route to Malta. It’s where she met her husband, John Wickenden, who was in the Royal Navy.
They married in 1951 before John sadly died after they moved to the Isle of Wight in 1988.