Feature

Norah Phylis Morgan

Last Updated: 29 Mar 2017
Norah describes her time at Scarborough Y Station during WWII.

This story is told in Norah Phylis Morgan's own words as she reflects on her work at WRNS Scarborough Station during WWII, and forms part of our series 'Celebrating Women's History Month' 2017.

 

Before enlisting in the WRNS1  I was a proficient short hand typist in Birmingham and this obviously had some bearing on my being asked later in my career to volunteer for special duties.

My WRNS career started at Greenwich where I signed the Official Secrets Act.  From there I was moved to the Grand Hotel, Sunderland and HMS Pembroke where I worked on teleprinters.  This was followed by a move to the Royal Exchange, Newcastle on Tyne where we were billeted2  at the YMCA.  At this point in my service I was asked if I would like to volunteer for special duties to which I said yes.  I was then sent to Soberton Towers in Droxford for training where I perfected my morse to around 30 words per minute before being sent for duty to Scarborough Y Station3.

We were never told about the work we were doing and I never knew from whom or where the signals I received were coming from but guessed it was secret work.  When you arrived on duty you were allocated the machine you would be operating by the Naval Commander who was a very unpleasant man with an intense dislike of women in the navy.

The shift system and working conditions at Scarborough were terrible.  Our shifts were long and unsociable.  Day one 08.00 - 13.00 then 23.00 - 08.00.  Day two 13.00 - 23.00.  This was continual with no rest days except the occasional holiday.  On the occasions we were short staffed the Naval Commander expected those on duty to cover for those off and you would often operate two machines with one earphone from each machine in your ears.  When I received a message and had written it down on the form provided it was collected by an officer and placed in a small capsule that was then placed in a tube which much the same as the system employed in shops using air and vacuum, took the capsule off to another location on site but I never knew where or what happened to it next.    

The buildings were originally designed for 24 engineers but during my service it housed 72 WRNS, civilians and naval personnel.  During that period smoking was commonplace so the atmosphere was extremely smoky.  It was very noisy from the many pieces of equipment in the room and they all generated a tremendous amount of heat.  Everyone fought to be the one to make a cup of tea just to get outside and get some fresh air.  We were transported by a van between our billets and the Y Station but could not see a lot from our van.  One of my friends was killed when the ship she was on was sunk on her way to serve in the Middle East.

I was billeted with other WRNS at the hotel Cecil in Scarborough where we had a little social life comprising of the occasional tennis game, swimming or walking.  The WRAF4  were billeted at the Grand hotel Scarborough and then occasionally organised a dance at the Grand to which we were invited.

When I married and had my daughter I resigned from the WRNS and became a school teacher, ending my careers as headmistress of a grammar school.

shutterstock_414453907-teleprinter-768x512px.jpg

The teleprinter has lots of numbered buttons in a confusing non-standard formation and number order.
An old teleprinter. ©Shutterstock

 

--------------------------------------------

Footnotes:

1. Women's Royal Navy Service.

2. A billet is a lodging in a private home or non-military public building.

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. Women’s Royal Air Force.