Feature

Audrie Gie

Last Updated: 30 Mar 2017
Audrie talks about her time working at Y Stations during WWII.

This story is told in Audrie Gie's own words as she reflects on her work through this period, and forms part of our series 'Celebrating Women's History Month' 2017.

 

I was called up in 1942 and had to take three trains to Wrexham from Devon. At Temple Meads there were thousands of young ladies blocking the doors to the train saying their farewells and refusing to move so some young man picked me up and put me through the long corridor window. It was a very undignified start to my new life.

At Crewe our names were ticked off before travelling on to Wrexham. In Wrexham we were sized up for uniforms and allocated a bunk for the night. Next day we were given overalls and expected to layout our kit but some of the girls had already lost some of theirs. We were paraded, tested and exercised during the next few weeks and then interviewed.  When asked what I wanted to do I had no idea so said driver. We were lined up in a room that had a green line painted around it.  Those above the line were accepted, those below were out.  We were then given more tests - language, intelligence, maths and general knowledge. The next day we were given headphones and took a morse sound test.  Several days later we were detailed to be on the parade ground with our kit to catch a train. We only knew where we were from local girls, Blackpool, and allocated somewhere to stay among local people. The next day we were taken to the ferry, excitement mounted but with no extra warm clothing and overcrowding we decided we wouldn't be going far.  Weather-wise it was a wicked day and nearly everyone was sick. Eventually we arrived in Douglas (Isle of Man).

We were formed up and marched to camp, arriving wet, laden, weary and sick. We were billeted1 in hotels on the front, the rooms almost bare apart from the bunk beds. The front was closed with rolls and rolls of wire but we found a place to swim, and often swan before 6am when our day started with parade.

In Douglas we spent our days interpreting morse into letters.  We had lectures on electricity and magnetism, crystal sets and ohms law.  We learnt on headphones, the speed increasing.  We had a weekly test and anyone that failed was out.  I didn't find it very difficult as we trained for a faster speed than the test.  We trained for 5 months before being sent on semi-ops to Douglas Castle.  There we had a small black receiving set and were sent mock messages.  I don’t remember being told the significance of our future work.  After passing our final test we were awarded our sparks.

One morning we were back on the ferry and train and arrived in Harrogate, Queen Ethelburga's college, which seemed quite cosy but not for long.  Our destination was a Nissen hut2.  We were given our shoulder flashes and signed the official secrets act.  Our shifts were 7 - 1, 1 - 7, 7 - midnight and midnight - 7. Work one shift miss two but we were on duty for longer.  The journey to the Station3 took 45 minutes.  Travelling over the moors wasn't always a clear run, sometimes a man with a lamp had to walk in front of each lorry.  Once we tipped sideways into a ditch but no-one got hurt.

The Station was staggering, huge aerials of all sizes and shapes as far as we could see.  We were taken into a building and a set room to relieve the previous watch.  We took the spare headphone, plugged it in and took over, no time for even a small chat.  The set room had five or six rows of double tables and two large grey sets separated by shelves.  Two headphones, two log pads with carbon, two message pads for each set and a sheet of code signs for each.  Plug in and no rest.  We were given a set each by the Corporal in charge of the set room and in half a second we were taking down morse in blocks of five.  We intercepted German traffic and took their messages.  Messages started with a bar Charlie C and a preamble that covered the code.  I always seemed to have a very fast group which never stopped.  Some groups sent a Q signal4 before closing down for the night but we kept them covered.  We kept the same group until we went on leave.  When we returned we went to the Corporal's desk and he checked who hadn't been relieved and so you got a different group.

One night the Corporal said to me 'I have a job for you'.  He took me into Control, a square room with six sets and a huge monitor board.  They used this room for search, find, checking frequency and call signs.  I was covering a very fast group which worked non-stop until 1am.  It sent a preamble and shot off on a carrier wave.  Help where’s he gone…. The Corporal said keep looking.  That means I am double banking on a set in the set room.  Right then I am going to have to find him, having to keep the loop to be quick.  I went up the dial for a second and sped back, I kept doing this until I was a long way up the dial when I heard a key being tapped.  At first I took no notice but the tapper was sending a call sign.  I took it down, not one of mine.  I got six or seven call signs on the log.  Not my call signs and not my frequency but it does sound like my control.  About an hour after the preamble I had first taken he sent the same preamble.  It was my group.  I pressed the frequency button and turned on the recorder and yelled for the Corporal.  He seemed quite pleased.  That evening back on watch the Corporal explained that the Germans knew we were receiving their messages and maybe wanted to send something we wouldn’t get.  So they changed all their frequencies and call signs.  But they all did the same; we would have staggered it.  Because you recognised your control that had everyone back on the new frequencies before the end of shift.  You are now my A+ operator.  

After what seemed like a long time one of our operators took a message in running hand, the war was over.  The Germans were happy too and started dating their co- workers.  'Meet me under the clock, Munich, this time next year'.  We took it all down but sadly we were all out of work.  Instead of sending us home we were sent to relieve girls who had served for longer.  I was sent to Leeds Darley House and the pay corps.  I felt very let down but no shifts and free time was your own.  When my demob papers came through they contained nothing of my work for Y signals, only the few months I was in the pay corps.

Second-World-War-WT-form-2-768x512px.jpg

An old form with pencil writing, including some encrypted groups of 5 letter strings, eg SBIRH RSUYV
WWII Wireless Telegraphy (W/T) Red Form. ©GCHQ 2017

 

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Footnotes:

1. A billet is civilian accommodation for soldiers.

2. A prefabricated hut made from corrugated steel.

3. Y Stations were signals intelligence sites set up during WWI which were used again during WWII. They were operated by a number of agencies including the RAF, Navy and Foreign Office.

4. A Q signal is a three letter combination used to represent common phrases.