A veteran of the Royal Navy and code-breaking centre Bletchley Park during World War Two has been awarded the Service Medal.
Pug (Patience) Whitwell), 91, of South Molton, in North Devon, was presented with the medal by Commodore Jamie Miller, the Royal Naval Regional Commander (Wales and Western England) at a ceremony at her nursing home surrounded by friends, family and staff.
The award has come very late in her life, long after she left the Women’s Royal Naval Service (WRN or Wrens), because she was put off applying for it decades earlier by perceived bureaucracy.
Cdre Miller sad: “This was a very special occasion and makes everything worthwhile.’’ He joked: “I think I almost managed to persuade Pug to rejoin active service, but this time as an engineer. Pug was very engaging and a joy to be with, telling lots of very interesting stories. We are very much looking forward to hosting her on Bristol’s affiliated aircraft carrier, HMS Prince of Wales. ‘’
Dave and Phyl Wynn, friends of Pug said: “We very much appreciate what everyone did at the presentation with such jollity and humour too. I am glad to say that Pug enjoyed it so much as you know from her verbal ripostes and it brought that twinkle again to the Wren’s eye.”
Pug served in naval shore establishments HMS Spartiate at Glasgow, Pembroke V – the ship name for Eastcote, an out-station for Bletchley Park, Westfield College, a training establishment in Hampstead, London, and HMS Beaver on-shore in Hull and HMS Godwit.
When she joined the Wrens after school she soon became one of the Bletchley Park teams at Eastcote working on the German Enigma codes.
She actually wanted to be a driver on joining the Navy, but was not tall enough, even on tip toes. Eventually she was allowed to be a driver because of the lack of drivers. She said she was ‘absolutely delighted’ to be given the chance to drive although she ‘the vehicles were terrible, always breaking down but up came the hood and I would fix it’.
Warrant Officer 1 Barbara McGregor, said: “Our meeting with Pug was a resounding success. What a gracious and fun-loving lady she is. I found out she was athletic and very sporty and took part in all the ‘dog-watch’ games the Wrens played after the daily commitments the Wrens would play games. She particularly loved playing hockey in school and riding.’’
The pair talked about their experiences in the Wrens and Barbara discovered that on discharge she kept her uniform, but unfortunately it was destroyed in a house fire. Pug said she earned, ‘30 shillings’, and in the past they both remembered attending, what was then known as a ‘pay parade’, once a fortnight where WRNS had to put out your left hand and salute with the other to receive their pay.
Pug was also fascinated to know that Wrens joining in the 60’s and 70’s were given the same cap ribbon showing only ‘HMS’ as was given in the 1940’s.
Barbara said: “Pug was clearly delighted to see that little had changed in the uniform from the war to the one I wore to meet her. I reminded her about wearing what was known as collar-detached shirts where you would wash and starch the collar until it could stand up on its own. The memory made her laugh. She also suggested that stockings were issued from Naval Stores as they were when I joined in 1977, but the American service men were generous with the silk version.
“It was a real treat for me to meet with Pug, although she kept insisting the delight was all hers. Her story and life is fascinating.’’
Pug, was the youngest of four of Colonel Mark Whitwill (Territorial Army -Royal Engineers) and Mary (nee Turner).
Mark was related to the Mark Whitwill & Son – Ship Brokers working out of Bristol and later Avonmouth who lived near Bristol & Bath before moving to Somerset. He was chairman of the South & West Trade & Commerce committee in WW2.
He was decorated in WW1 and continued with the territorials to WW2. His son Tim was also a Royal Engineer in WW2 and Sally (Pug’s elder sister) married Tom another Royal Engineer in 1943.
Pug was very athletic and sporty. Pug was educated at Cheltenham Ladies College. She loved playing at everything at school such as hockey and was very keen on loved riding (like her father), pursuing show jumping and hunting possibly till the 1980’s when she lived at East Anstey near Dulverton.
She was involved in all traditional rural life, ran a small farm, worked with vets in the Cullompton practice for many years and trained Flatcoat retrievers and their owners, ran dog shows, took part in local shoots with her dogs, doing so well into her 80’s. She helped run the point-to-point horse event, the East Anstey village flower show and in her early years at Sampford near Wellington – loved acting and doing the local panto. Pug always carried a camera and was a very good photographer and an avid and knowledgeable birdwatcher.
She moved to East Anstey later in life and enjoyed fly-fishing and travelled everywhere to do so.