Hetty Munro's War Diaries (by Elizabeth Rintoul)
18th September 2014
Published in the Caithness Field Club Bulletin Vol 8 No. 1 - April 2013
We have now reached the end of Hetty's diaries but the archive also contains a number of ‘loose' sheets of paper. Some of these are ‘poems' composed at any number of the evenings of ‘song and story' she recounts. There are also two ‘speeches', the dreaded ‘Overseas' piece for the ATS at Lichfield in March 1942 and another on her thoughts at the end of the war as she prepared to leave the ATS.
I thought perhaps you'd like to know some of the main differences between the lives of members of the A.T.S. who work overseas - as I do, and those of you who work on, what we have learned to call, not the Mainland, but Scotland or England.
There are several differences which, although everyday occurrences to me, may be interesting to you and perhaps after you have heard about the life there it may even induce you to volunteer for overseas service if you have not already done so.
LEAVE. What is the first thing you think of when you hear the magic word "Leave"? Apart from your actual home, I should think it would be a safe bet to say that the first thought in most people's minds is a train. Well, ours isn't. The first thing we think of is a troop ship. Every day this large ship comes into the pier, laden with men and women of all the services and every day she sails crowded with those lucky people going on leave.
PASSES. When you go on leave I understand, you are given a railway warrant and a leave pass. We are given a small booklet - written in green ink. The first page has one's name, number and unit written in, the second and third pages are embarkation cards, one of which is handed to the Movement Control Office at the point of embarkation and the other at the port of dis-embarkation. The next page is a railway warrant and the following page is a leave pass. The last page of all is handed in to one's Company office on returning from leave.
14 DAYS. Another point which may interest you is that instead of getting 7 or 9 days leave every 3 months we get 14 days leave every 4 months but of course we don't ever get 48 hours off.
LETTERS. When you go to a new station one of the first things you want to do is to write home. When you've written your letters after going overseas you'll discover that your letters must be left open for censorship purposes and one of the officer's duties is to censor all letters and parcels leaving the unit. Officers of course censor their own letters. Once a week, however troops are issued with a green envelope. This, as you can see is a large envelope with green lines across it. It must be signed on the outside to say that the letter inside deals only with personal matters and may not be registered. Your green envelope may or may not be censored at the Base. If you want to write letters which you don't mind being censored at the Base but would prefer that they were not censored by your own C.O., you may write up to three letters and put them unsealed into your green envelope. In this case the green envelope is sealed, addressed to "The Base Censor" and does not need a stamp.
If you are working overseas there are certain advantages. For instance, each week along with our Green envelopes we are issued with free cigarettes and chocolate - the men get 60 cigarettes and two bars of chocolate while we get two bars of chocolate and 40 cigarettes. More important nowadays, are the free couple of boxes of matches issued to each person. This free issue applies to officers and troops alike in the Army overseas but of course the Officers don't get the green envelope. I've said before they censor their own letters and post them sealed in the ordinary way but with their signature and rank in the bottom left hand corner of the envelope.
In addition to working overseas, at the moment I work inside a Prelisted area. I expect you’ve all heard of the Prelisted areas - they are areas vital to the defence of the country which are considered by the Government to be so important that it is necessary to be very careful of the type of person admitted. If you are a civilian, before you can enter a protected area you must have the proper pass and to get these one applies to either the London or the Edinburgh Military Permit Office.
Your application must be signed by a J.P. in Scotland - I'm not sure what corresponds to that in England or perhaps you have J.P.’s here also. Have you? You have.
Two passport photographs must also be enclosed and your identity card.. The Permit Office then returns to you a Green Identity card in place of your buff coloured one and this green card has one of your photographs attached.
This green card does NOT admit one to a protected area. So many people, I find, don't read instructions carefully and there are literally hundreds of people turned back every month, people who haven't read or haven't understood the instructions properly and who have tried to enter a Protected Area with only their green card. Some three weeks later the Permit Office send the correct form for entry into a Protected Area - a fairly small sheet of paper folded in half with a picture of the applicant and various particulars about her or him noted - date of birth, nationality etc. There is a broad green band horizontally across the centre of the pass.
The reason for the three weeks delay is that all the applications go up to Scotland Yard and are thoroughly investigated there and of course that takes time.
When you enter a protected area, even altho' you possess the correct passes, your baggage is searched at the Control Post, which in our case is on the pier, and only after that is finished and your passes are scrutinised and passed by the Military Control Office, only then are you allowed on to the boat. When you disembark at the port of entry to the protected area, your passes are again checked and stamped.
During your stay in the Protected Area your movements are noted by the Military or Navy security officers who must be notified if you change address while in the area. These are the people also who may extend your pass if you decide to stay in the area longer than you had originally intended. The longest period for which passes are issued is six months so that every six months passes have to be renewed and this gives the security people a further check on the people in the area.
Of course, one must have a very good reason for wanting a pass otherwise it is not granted.
We, naturally, don't have anything like that as our pay books are passports anywhere but on our going on or returning from leave we must have our embarkation cards except to certain specially protected places where passes are required for everyone who enters. The only security difference between our Division and Yours is that probably we have more members of the Security Police around and possibly more sentries and guards at vulnerable points.
Perhaps you may have noticed that there is one common theme running through this short lesson - all the papers, passes, etc are printed in Green. There is rather an amusing story told about this. When the officers of the B.E.F. (British Expeditionary Force) went abroad they were issued with special overseas green identity cards and, as I expect you remember, Dunkirk was rather an untidy homecoming and people were scattered over the countryside, with no check on them at all. As there was no longer a B.E.F. the War Office decided to call in all those identity cards and consequently the following circular came out "All Green Officers Identity Cards are to be returned at once". It did - I saw it.
Caithness Field Club Bulletin April 2013 Index