World War 2 Stories for Sheffield

Maxine Woodcock 

Second World War In The W.R.N.S. (Women's Royal Navy Service)

By Actiondesk Sheffield

People in story: Maxine Woodcock (nee Stuart)
Location of story: Felixstowe, Suffolk and Chelsea London.
Unit name: Women's Royal Navy Service
Background to story: Royal Navy

 W.R.N.S. at Felixstowe


This story was submitted to the People’s War site by Bill Ross of the ‘Action Desk – Sheffield’ Team on behalf of Maxine Woodcock,



I joined the W.R.N.S., based at Felixstowe, Suffolk in 1940 where I worked for the naval pay department, on small ships, Motor Torpedo Boats (M.T.B.’s) and Motor Launches (M.L.’s). I was drafted to Chelsea in London, which was a shore establishment. I was a C.P.O. (Chief Petty Officer). When the small ships were sunk, we had to stop their pay at once. We were inspected in Chelsea by H.R.H. Princess Marina of Greece. She spoke to me as the person in charge of the Pay Corps.

I was in the centre of the group and also the smallest (only 5’2”, which was the limit of the enrolment). Felixstowe was H.M.S. Beehive, a shore establishment. I took the C.P.O. writers’ exam in Felixstowe whilst ships were firing at the enemy in the North Sea. I saw the first Doodlebugs whilst in Chelsea; we all cheered! We thought it was one of the German planes going down. Every night, we all had to sleep in the basement of our unit (Shelley House) on Chelsea Embankment.

As chief, I was put onto the top floor and had to lug my mattress down into the cellars every night, and back to the rooms in the mornings (my place of honour was the coal hole). H.M.S. Copra was also based in Chelsea by the branch. When I became a C.P.O. I had to wear a tricorn hat, based loosely on Lord Nelson’s headgear, so I never got to wear the round sailor’s hat, which the girls in the navy were later issued with. I had always wanted to wear one.

I could never understand why female officers were titled “3rd Officer”, “2nd Officer” and “1st Officer”, just like in the Merchant Navy. The war was changing and combined operators came into force. We had to pay them a fixed amount, the balance to be worked out later. I was demobilised in 1945 and offered a commission to stay in the Royal Navy, although I wanted to be in civilian life for a change. I declined the offer and have regretted the decision ever since.