The following article was written for the RHS magazine by Joan Hobhouse and passed by the censor in April 1945. Joan attended Downe House School in Berkshire before working at RHS Wisley. She joined the WRNS at HMS Caballa near Warrington in 1943 and went to the RNSOP at Felpham for her photographic training. Joan left the WRNS in late 1944 to get married.
AERIAL PHOTOGRAPHY IN THE W.R.N.S.
Of the wide range of jobs in the W.R.N.S. I was fortunate to one of the most interesting- at least interesting to me, for although I had never done more than the most amateur photography with a Brownie No 0 camera, the subject had always fascinated me.
Before we were sent to take any active part in the work of the Photographic Sections of the R.N. Air Stations we were sent to the RN School of Photography, on the South Coast, to be trained in the use of all types of camera with which we might come in contact. Almost as soon as In arrived I discovered I had a link, for on the walls of the “Regulating Office” were photographs of members of previous classes who had just passed through the School. In two of these photographs I discovered old Downe House Seniors and it gave me a quaint feeling of companionship that people with whom I had shared a room perhaps, or played in the same section in Lacrosse had also been trained in this fascinating subject. Since then |I have met many old Seniors in the W.R.N.S., in fact I have not yet been to a “Ship or Port” where there were Wrens “on board” where there was not at least one from Downes.
I will not spend much time describing the routine of life in the W.R.N.S., for most people have heard already of the Navy’s insistence on behaving exactly as if they were afloat, even when surrounded by many miles of land, - to leave the “Ship” in “Liberty boats” instead of walking out of the gate, to call the floor the “deck” and the passages “gangways”, to have ones days regulated by the striking of eight bells or to be “adrift” when late in. And you will have heard also of how the Navy conducts itself with its own language, which the newcomer must master, so that he or she knows that the “Jaunty” is the Regulating Petty Officer and the “Poultice Wallapers” – sick berth attendants and doesn’t go trailing off to the wrong one.
So I will restrict myself to describing the work of the “Hypo-Wallahs”, as the Navy has chosen to call us.
The work varies a good deal with the station to which we are attached, as much of it is in connection with the training of flying crews of the Fleet Air Arm, such as Observers, Air Gunners and Torpedo Bomb Aimers.
A course of Aerial Photography is included in all Observer train9ng, for reconnaissance purposes, and here it is our job to develop and print the films, so showing the accuracy of the observers handing of the camera.
The Air Gunners and Fighter Pilots during the early stages of their training, substitute film magazines for ammunition, a cine camera being fitted to one of the gunsite4s on the wing of the aircraft, and connected by leads to the firing button. The magazines are loaded in the dark, and after exposure are brought back to the section and developed. The films are then projected on to a screen, and with the help of reflected models, the pilots results can be assessed.
The same principles are used with the training of Torpedo Bomb Aimers, the torpedo camera being again connected by leads to the firing button- and focussed at the same angle as the sights. The obvious and enormous advantage of photography for training purposes is not only that precious ammunition and Torpedoes are kept for more useful purposes but the pilot has a photographic record and can follow his progress in aiming his “Tin-fish”
Reconnaissance photographs are of the utmost importance in this branch of the Fleet Air Arm, more especially for operational work. The Exposed magazines are brought back to the section, where they are developed and printed. The various exposures are then pieced together to form a “mosaic” or photographic map. This is fascinating work, needing patience and care – but very satisfying as the map begins to take shape.
It is with the operating of this last type of aerial camera that we Wrens get most of our flying. The camera can be worked from several positions in the aircraft – sometimes fixed into the deck for obliques, or fixed in the nose or side of the aircraft for vertical shots, and is operated either by electric leads or by hand.
During our training it was required that we did a certain number of flying hours, to get used to reading maps and using the aerial cameras. It was an exciting day for me when the pilot let me direct him by his air map, to the Royal Horticultural Society’s gardens at Wisley, where I had been working on the Americans Lease-Lend seed trials the previous summer. It was thrilling picking out the Portsmouth Road, and one after another, other landmarks, which looked so different from this new angle. First the Hogs Back – and then Guilford Cathedral came into view, and then I discovered Wisley Lake. We circled round above the Labs at about 4,00 ft. and then swooped down to about 900 ft. over the Vegetable trials ground, and were almost able to distinguish the people working in the Frame Yard. I longed to throw a message of some sort over the side of the aircraft but it was unfortunately strictly forbidden – so I had to content myself with plotting our way back to the coast again.
Life in the Wrens was interesting, but also surprising. One didn’t always know quite what to expect, as for instance the morning a three ring Wren Officer sent for an “artistic” Wren. It just happ0ened that I was sent forward, as I played a flute, ran a small choir and stuck miniature reproductions up in my cabin, and besides being at hand at the time.
The following conversation ensued.
Wren Officer. “Are you the artistic Wren Hobhouse?”
Wren – saluting smartly “Yes M’am”.
Wren Officer. “Well I want you to get a large paint brush and a bucket full of whitewash and paint on this wall
NO PAPER HERE.
JUST DUST, ASHES, AND DEAD FLOWRES.
That’s all thank you”