From her home in Ryde, 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. On Friday Monica, Mo to friends and family, will be singing We’ll Meet Again to celebrate VE Day (Victory in Europe Day) and at the very least to help relieve some of the monotony of the current virus lockdown.
Mo 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 ten 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.”
As soon as she arrived in Gosport she was given a bicycle to get to work even, though she had never learnt to ride one. She recalled: “I had to learn to ride a bike that night.” She also remembers going to a converted children’s home to care for men wounded in action. “I saw many sad cases. We were asked to sit and chat with the wounded men or write letters to their loved ones. Some were blind, others had awful injuries.”
On one occasion a V1 bomb came close to hitting her quarters but fortunately ended in the Solent and she lived to tell the tale, but Mo was heartbroken when she heard her brother Paul, a sergeant in the RAF, had been killed in 1940.
When it was announced that the 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 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. Back in the UK after demob, they married in 1951. They had 38 happy years together but John sadly died not long after they moved to the Isle of Wight in 1988. She has one son, Paul, who lives in Plymouth, and two grandchildren.