~ Combined Operations HQ - Memories of a Secretary ~
Pitchford, nee Rogers, was employed in Combined Operations Headquarters (COHQ)
in WW2. She worked with both Keyes and Mountbatten before moving to the
[Photos; Left Joyce,
right Keyes at his desk, courtesy
of Philip Hennessy.]
Her transfer to the War Cabinet led to her attendance at the historical Yalta
conference, which laid down the foundations of the political landscape of Europe
in the post war period. Extracts from her diary of the journey to Yalta are
reproduced below. They reflect the experiences of a young woman on the periphery
of a global, historical event, which Combined Operations contributed to in the
opening of the western front in Normandy that ultimately led to the defeat of
was not old enough to remember WWI but WW2 was to play a significant role in her
adult life. She grew up in Sidcup, Kent and attended Sydenham Secondary School, followed
by a secretarial course at Pitman's college. Career aspirations of the young
seldom work out as the contingencies and opportunities of the real world take
hold, but Joyce was an exception. It was her ambition to work as a Secretary in the Civil
Service, which is precisely what happened.
[Photos; (left) Sir Roger Keyes
with COHQ staff, courtesy of Philip Hennessy, (right) the Duchess of
Kent inspects WRNS at COHQ, Norfolk House, on the 29th January 1943 wearing her
uniform of Commandant of the WRNS. Behind her is Vice Admiral Lord Louis
Mountbatten. © IWM (A 14176).]
In the late 1930s,
on leaving Pitman's, she gained employment as a clerical officer in a general
administration department of the Civil Service. While there, she was head hunted
to work in a small office in Richmond Terrace, Whitehall. No details were
provided in advance but she accepted the offer and in the second half of 1940,
found herself working at COHQ, only a stone's throw from
Downing Street. The location close to Prime Minister Churchill was no accident.
Click here for more information about the move
of COHQ from the Admiralty to Richmond Terrace.
She soon discovered
that COHQ was an unusual organisation, whose service personnel were uniquely
drawn from all three services. It had been set up by Churchill primarily to plan
for offensive operations against enemy held territory, culminating in what would
become known as the D-Day landings on the beaches of Normandy.
Headquarters - COHQ
Joyce worked with 6 other civilian clerical/secretarial staff and numerous
officers from the Army, Navy and Air Force. Her day to day work involved
telephone, reception, diary and appointments, planning and organising visits,
typing, travel warrants, shorthand etc..
Her pay and conditions were standard for the
Civil Service in London requiring her to work regular office hours. There was a good spirit of co-operation and common purpose amongst all
the staff. Inter service rivalry was not part of the culture of the
Operations developed a huge network of training and landing craft bases
throughout the UK and abroad, Joyce's work seldom took her beyond the office and
its environs. She worked closely with both Sir Roger Keyes and Lord Louis
Mountbatten and when Keyes was replaced by Mountbatten in October 1941, he
presented her with an autographed book in appreciation of the work and support
she have given him during his time as Director of Combined Operations.
Richmond Terrace was a substantial stone building with underground basements,
where Joyce spent most of her working hours. Although the work of Combined
Operations was mostly secret, there were no guards or sentries posted at the
entrance to the basement.
[Photo; Sq Ldr Keeling at COHQ,
courtesy of Philip Hennessy.]
conditions were very different at the
Cabinet Offices, where staff routinely worked night duty requiring them to sleep
and work underground. However, the bulk of Joyce's work was routine until she
was selected for a short overseas tour of duty. Recorded history is punctuated
by momentous occasions involving great leaders yet, behind the scenes,
unheralded support staff undertake essential work.
By the early part of
1945, it was clear that the war in Europe would end in a few months with the
defeat of Germany in the form of unconditional surrender. There was much to
discuss about the future of post war Europe, most notably among the
Americans, British and Soviet Union leaders. A special conference was convened
at the Russian port of Yalta attended by Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin with
sizeable entourages of military and non military advisers with secretarial and
support staff. It was against this background that Joyce found herself on the
adventure of a lifetime, when long distance air and sea travel was the
preserve of the rich and the powerful.
She sailed on the’ Franconia’ from Liverpool
via the Bay of Biscay en route to Malta, where preparatory meetings were held in
advance of the main conference. Joyce's first ever flight was to Russia's Saki
airport in the Crimea. It had been snowing. After a four hour car journey, she
arrived at Sevastopol near Yalta and embarked on the ‘Franconia’. After a week
of working late on board the ship, she endured the tedious drive back to Saki and a flight back to Malta. The following day
she flew back to the UK in bad weather and landed at Thorney Island near
Portsmouth. She was then driven back to Whitehall where she spent the night.
This is Joyce's story
(later Mrs Joyce Pitchford of Christchurch, New Zealand) taken from her daily
Tue/Wed 16/17 January 1945
Left office by car
at 9:45 pm for Addington Road Station. Four of us in 3rd Class
sleeper. We left about midnight. Disjointed night, but felt OK. Got up at 7
o’clock and queued for wash. Breakfast at 8:30am – not bad. Stopped in a siding
outside Liverpool for nearly 3 hours and proceeded when meal was over. Train
went straight on to the pier and we embarked at 10am.
It took some time to
sort ourselves out in cabins and dormitories. I was lucky and had a cabin with
Connie Cole. After unpacking we strolled round the ship until lunch at 12:30pm.
Had a marvellous meal with crisp white rolls and loads of butter and sugar.
We sailed at 1pm on
the dot. We were eating at the time and had no idea we had cast off until we
glanced out the porthole and saw things moving past. We finished our lunch and
put on scarves and coats and went on deck. The sun was shining and the breeze
wonderful. We passed an American Red Cross ship and also the half-submerged
wreck of a ship damaged by enemy action.
We have on board a
whole contingent of WRENS but can’t imagine what they are going to do - they
can’t all be signals people. We brought about 90 marines with us. They have
helped with our luggage and are presumably going the whole way.
None of the officers
are with us at the moment, they are flying and will pick us up later. This means
we have a week’s clear holiday with no work: but we think we deserve it! We have
been very closely guarded the whole way: Armed guards on the train, police and
detectives on the platforms and close inspection of our special “British
The dining room is
beautifully decorated, separate tables with table lamps to each one. The
appointments - cutlery and glassware - are really a sight to behold. Such a
contrast to present day service .. etc, one gets. The head waiter, second
steward and staff (with one presumes some of the other staff) have been loaned
from the ‘Queen Mary”.
We were sitting
peacefully in the lounge writing when we were informed over the microphone that
we would have to attend boat drill in quarter of an hour. What sights we looked!
The life jackets now have a small electric apparatus fitted to them. The idea is
that if one has to go overboard there is a small plug which if inserted in one
end of the battery, will produce a small red light sufficient to guide rescuers
to one’s whereabouts. A comfortable thought!! We have had to carry this around
with us the whole time, until the completion of the voyage.
We have now been
sailing for 4 ¼ hours and there is hardly any motion (touch wood). We appear to
be in some sort of convoy but don’t know where we are. There is a rumour that we
are going to Gourock for the night, but that seems rather senseless as it is a
good way North. It seems in my inexperienced ears that a terrific gale is
blowing up: The ship is nothing more than it was ¼ hour ago - so here’s hoping.
Ran into a Gale Force 120, ship speed 3 knots!
Not so rough but
took me 3 hours to get up. Roll for lunch but managed a little tea. Not much
peace on deck because of the marines, soldiers and RAF. Had dinner and went to
Felt grand after
breakfast of orange and toast. Sun shining and sea blue. Have just been to
church service on the Prom Deck. Actually it is warm enough on deck without a
coat and everyone is lying about on long chairs. Again on deck after lunch.
Went to the flicks
after dinner - Abbot and Costello in ‘In Society”. Dorothy, Connie and I went on
deck about 10pm and collected 2 RAF, 1 soldier and 1 Sailor who told us about
the stars etc. Marvellous moonlit night, very calm - saw phosphorous in the sea.
They took us to the bows of the ship, which are really out of bounds for us. We
stayed talking until midnight. First good night’s rest since we left home. Off
the coast of Spain.
Started with a good
breakfast. Another heavenly day with warm sun. Very interesting morning chatting
to all and sundry. Mid-morning one of our four escort vessels came in close and
shot a gun with a rope onto our decks. We passed back a tin containing
despatches to her and then she steamed back into position.
After lunch I did a
spot of work in the Administration office and spent the rest of the afternoon in
the quite strong sun with two service Corps. It was quite warm with only a
blouse and a skirt.
After dinner we
discovered a sergeant playing the piano. It appears he was a professional before
the war and could he play! We then joined in a game of Tombola, or housy housy,
in the Winter Garden Lounge. Between our party of five we won £4-10-0. (I won
19/-). Drinks for six at the bar - gin and limes - cost only 2/4p for the
lot! Mr Davey says we are to get 10/- per night subsistence – we seem to be
making on this trip. Bought some cigars at 6 pence each.
Heard that Dorothy,
Mary and myself are to disembark at Malta, then fly to join the ship again. Are
we on air!
Had another walk
round the decks in the moonlight. I must confess that I was rather tipsy just on
2 gin and limes. Shows how strong they are on board.
We expect to pass
Gibraltar Rock round about 4am so we have decided to split ourselves into two
watches so as to not miss it. Connie, Dorothy and I are to waken the others at
2am when they will take over from us.
We started passing
Gib. at about 2:30am. Saw Tangiers first on the South with lights twinkling. We
were arrayed in pyjamas, house coats, top coats and boots. The Rock loomed up
after a while - the moon of course was hanging low in the sky and everything was
faintly outlined. There seemed to be a number of lights around on the two
coasts, north and south and also on the buoys marking our path through. There
was one particularly bright light ahead and when we drew level it turned out to
be a small rowing boat containing a man with a lantern. When we had passed him
he seemed to turn aside as though his job was done, so it must have been for our
I forgot to mention
that several times during the day aircraft have stooged around us. It’s nice to
think that people are looking out for us en route.
Back to Gib. Somehow
the air was particularly soft and sweet smelling. This really is not logical in
the view of the smelly African coast just south of us, but it is a fact. We
stayed watching until about 3:45am and then went below for that day.
Another heavenly day
with hot sun. We are all to have our hair done this morning and also baths. A
laundry has opened on board and there is also an ironing room.
After lunch Dorothy
and I parked on deck with Jock, Cyril and a few others. We missed tea. Nothing
visible but North Africa in sight on south. Evening at ‘flicks” and saw
“Standing Room Only”. Another lovely evening on deck, mostly with Jock. Bed
glorious. We did some ‘dobying’ in the morning – stewards fixed up a line in the
cabin. We also sent pyjamas to the laundry. Walked 18 times round the deck after
lunch with Jock and spent the rest of the afternoon exhausted in chairs with
sweets and chocolates. Evening on Deck. Passed Bizerta.
Managed to get on
deck before breakfast and was rewarded by the sight of Pantalaria bathed in
sunshine. It is only a small island, long and narrow and we could see quite a
number of small white houses dotted on the hills.
letters for the censor. Dorothy and I handed our extra money to Mr Davey and did
some desultory packing. Major Boddington gave the first class passengers a
security talk after lunch and he made it very impressive. Very hot on deck so
lazed in the cabin with Jock.
We sighted Malta at
about 4pm and actually docked at 5:15pm. Jock had to go on duty and Dorothy and
I, with Mary, decided to finish packing. Our first impression of Malta was a
mess of buildings - all white - right down to the water’s edge. Even from the
ship we could see the bomb damage.
At first we were
told we were to land on Friday morning, then at 6:40pm Davey rushed in and said
he had orders from the Captain for us to go at 7pm. We had a terrific flurry
around and could not say goodbye to anyone. We collected on C deck and embarked
in a kind of largish launch. It was by now quite dark, but all the ship’s lights
were blazing and there were two searchlights from the ship turned on to us.
Everyone was hanging over the side of the ship, making us feel like celebrities,
and we had to stand for quite a while until the luggage was brought aboard. We
had 4 WRNS, officers and 2 ratings with us and also several soldiers who carried
our things. I managed to pick out Jock from the crowd on deck and that was the
only goodbye we had. We started and everyone on board shouted and waved goodbye.
courtesy of Google Map Data 2017.]
All around us in the
water were gondoliers manned by one or two men with long oars, which they used
by standing up, with a twinkling light on each end. It was a lovely scene with
the lights of Malta all around. Of course there was no blackout. We landed on a
small quay and found several army cars waiting for us. Although the chaps
appeared to be in khaki, they spoke a queer kind of dialect. A despatch rider
roared up on his bike and yelled, ‘follow me’ and we started. When we thought
about it afterwards in cold blood we realised what we might have been letting
ourselves in for here. After all we were in a strange country being whisked away
in a car driven by a native: Gosh did he drive!! We were in the first car and we
just flew with the driver jamming on the brake at each corner. We wished we had
made our wills. As an anti-climax we landed at the YMCA.
After an indifferent
dinner we walked around in the moonlight and had a last look at the ship. The
bomb damage is terrible and the rubble is still around. We all felt rather
browned off so went to bed early, three of us in the same room. Nice not to have
to bother about blackout.
We woke about 7am
and the scene out of the window was amazing. A brilliant sun and blue sky. Palm
trees outside, the water just below and a mass of stone and cream coloured
buildings all seemingly flat. A typical eastern picture. We were getting
thrilled about this when the door opened and two little Maltese girls came in
bringing breakfast trays. We had a real grapefruit, sausage and fried bread,
marmalade etc and tea. After having this we felt much better. We still have no
instructions and haven’t the slightest idea what we are to do next. We imagine
our ship must have sailed by now and it makes us feel forlorn.
We went around
Valetta after breakfast. The streets are really narrow and often steep. Where
they slope too much the pavements graduate into wide steps. The people are of
Italian appearance and although they chatter away in Maltese they all seem to
speak English. We met our soldier escorts and they took us to a lace shop they
had discovered in a side turning. We used English money. Valetta is really a
typical port with scruffy side turnings and little mysterious shops. Quite a
number of the poorer people and children walk around with no shoes on. There is
a national costume which the older women appear to wear, composed of a black
garment with an enormous hood affair projecting at the sides. Rather ugly.
We had a good lunch
and received some mail. We had another walk and bought some tangerines. Just now
some Maltese kids started singing ‘Pollywolly Doodle’ in English. We are now on
the balcony sunbathing. By the way, our ship is still in port. I bet they are
mad that they have to stay on board!
I have not yet
described the house we are staying in. We went up a spiral staircase with rooms
opening off towards the front. All the floors and walls, (I think) are stone –
very clean but plain. The door of our bedroom is slightly oval and cut to fit
into the stairs.
We thought we would
treat ourselves to some chocolates this afternoon, but thought again when we
found they were 10/-per pound. Joan Bright and El Armstrong turned up at teatime
and we heard that we are to stay here until next Wednesday or Thursday. The ship
sailed at midday so we are forsaken.
The food has been
good today with a most delicious soup at lunchtime that had cheese in it. We all
had a bath and went to bed early. The sunset was marvellous and the moon nearly
arranged for us to have a tour round the island in the morning and at 9am a
staff car turned up with an army captain (Bruce) and a naval Lt. Cdr (Stewart)
and off we went. It really was a heavenly day and quite warm. We drove through
the Hal Far airfield past rows of planes - apparently no guard - and had some
coffee at Rabat which is a clean town and much nicer than Valetta. The houses
have courtyards inside the front doors with trees. We passed several orange and
lemon groves. Every street corner appears to have a shrine - the catholic
influence is very strong. We went through the gardens on Verdella Palace, one of
the three residences of the Governors. On the way back we visited the Malta
Cathedral which has a marvellous dome, a round church. Several of the natives
were in there but they stopped praying to look at us. During the bombardment a
bomb came right through the roof and landed without exploding. The priests
decided that this was an act of God or something so have railed off the damaged
part on the floor and left the rubble. St Paul’s Bay is a pretty spot and that
is the most fertile part of the island. Quite a lot of people still live in the
underground caves and seem to thrive on the dirt and smells. There is no
sanitary inspectors to pull them up. Malta is only 16 miles by 9 miles and is
known as the island of “yells, bells and smells”. The roads over the island are
terrible and Stewart thought we should write to Vauxhall to tell them how his
car was behaving in one of the “Empires far-flung outposts”.
A phone message had
come while we were out telling us to be on call after 4pm. In the meantime the
Governor’s daughter, Miss Schreber, rang us up making arrangements to meet us
the next day. Another staff car arrived with a chauffeur at 5:50pm and we were
driven to G.H.Q. Malta Command where we did a spot of work for Brig. Salen, and
Group Captain Earle, who had landed the day before.
After dinner at the
YMCA we three went to the flicks. We were practically the only girls there and
the floor was covered with peanuts and orange peel. Apart from that it was OK.
We paid 2/6 and were given a box affair. The news was British, but months out of
date. For instance they made a great splash of the Home Guard stand-down of last
breakfast. Mary and I went to the Castille about 9:30am to arrange our room and
machines, while Dorothy stayed behind to wait for a phone call from the boys and
also visit Miss Schieber. This Castille has been blitzed but patched up. It is
built of Malta Stone and gives me the impression of a kind of mosque with arches
everywhere. At the moment it is full of British and Maltese soldiers chasing
around with furniture and unpacking things. It is sometimes rather difficult to
differentiate between the soldiers as they all have British battledresses. I
asked one of them now just for a light for my cigarette and he turned out to be
Maltese. All the officers are really friendly and breeze in and out all the
One disadvantage of
the stone floors is that everyone makes such a clatter walking along. I have
just heard that most of the Malta Government Offices were in this building and
have been turned out for us. They were given 10 days to do this and to paint the
I missed Diana
Schieber as I was in the office but the others saw her.
Bruce invited us to
lunch in Slienna at the Union Club where we met Stewart and Neville Nash. They
took us for a car ride (two cars) after lunch and we visited a degaussing
station, on the most northern part of Malta, for tea. We had terrible roads for
the last part of the ride over most bleak country. The post is manned by the
navy and is miles from anywhere. There were three officers there and we played
darts before tea. A sailor came in and laid the table etc. As we had arranged to
meet Diane Schieber at 5:15 we tore back at about 40mph over the twisted roads,
but were late. We went on to the British Institute and Neville and I stayed to
listen to a piano recital by a Captain Grover. We joined the others at Bruce’s
flat in Sliena for a tidy up and had dinner at the Union Club. After that we
went back to the flat and had a spot of dancing.
Beastly day with a
howling wind and rain. Started at the office and tried to get things in order.
The people from TSM and London arrived during the day. We now have lunch and
dinner at the Union Club in a room specially put aside for all delegates: and
the food is very good. Left the office at 8pm for dinner. Dorothy went out with
Started work in
earnest at 9:30am and finished at 11pm.
Had a topping lunch
at the club. Went to buy tangerines at our usual shop and the man tried to make
me pay 2 ½ d instead of 2d. Scored quite a victory when he finally gave in after
an argument. You have to keep your eyes skinned in this place. We can get
chocolate free at the canteen and the Castille and periodically we have tea or
coffee brought to us with ham sandwiches and with white bread and real butter.
Are we pampered?
Bought some cakes in
a shop today and paid 6d each.
All the V.I.Ps have
arrived including the PM, and there was a terrific crowd outside the Union Club
where they lunched. We felt quite important when we marched past them all and
entered the building flashing our passes. We have to show these passes again
before we can enter our dining room. Every corridor in the Castille is guarded
with soldiers, and the whole town definitely has a different appearance from
when we arrived. There seem to be hundreds of Yanks about who are afraid the
Malts will get wise to them and put the prices up. There seem to be quite a lot
of civil police here. They wear khaki uniform with a heavy peaked cap and arm
stripes – quite a smart crowd. Of course there are no traffic lights so one has
to be posted at most of the street corners as they are so narrow and dangerous.
Office at 9am and
quite a spot of work before lunch. Bought some Ciro[?] Pearls for £2. We
finished at 8pm and Bruce and Neville took Dorothy and I out to dinner at the
Malta Officers Club. There was a dance afterwards and we had a grand time,
finishing about 12:30. Neville brought his car. Most of the girls were in
evening dress and the civilians in dinner dress. The floor, as in all the
buildings was of stone, but not as good as the wooden floor for dancing.
Busiest day of the
conference, but finished at 11pm. The adjutant took me right up to the ‘crow’s
nest’ of the Castille – quite a thing up ladders and up stairs, but the view was
wonderful. This is the highest point on Malta. We could get a good idea of the
outline of the island and could see the way the ship had come in to port. In the
distance were the military barracks which are now full of German prisoners. The
Malta Dome was visible in the distance. We also had a good view of the various
US and UK conference ships in port.
This place is now
full of yanks and of course they are spoiling the place as they usually do!
We have had our
instructions and labels given to us regarding the next hop. We are not to fly
until Saturday night and unfortunately I am in a different plane from the
This is the most
perfect day we have had - so warm that all the windows are open. We are now
getting used to seeing crowds just standing about outside our buildings, and
being watched as we leave and enter the building. The guards don’t ask for our
passes now as they know us. One said that it is nice to see English faces - he
has been in Malta so long, that he is fed up with them.
At lunch today at
the Union Club we had Stettinins, Harry Hopkins and Harriman
(high ranking USA officials. Ed) at
the next table to us. I have had an advance of £10 and did a spot more shopping
today. After lunch Adjutant Captain O’Brien and Mr Armstrong took Peggy and I
for a trip in a car to St Andrews military cemetery to see EPA’s brother’s grave
and came back via Musta and Rabat. We were out for about 1 ½ hours, Not much
doing in the office because most of the people are flying off tonight. We all
came in early and had a bath, then started packing.
doing at the Castille. I watched a parade of the Palace Guard with Cpt. O’Brien
and Mr Armstrong. Afterwards O'Brian took us over to the officers mess of the
main guard. It is a room which 9 out of 10 people in Malta have never been in.
The walls are covered with drawings and paintings of all descriptions dating
from before the last war. These are done on bare stone wall.
It is now mid-day
and the sirens have just sounded in Valetta – a practice we hope! We are all
more or less packed up at lunchtime and Paddy O’Brian took Mary and myself with
Larry Brown for a car ride. I had a sherry with Paddy and we both went back to
the Y.W. and had dinner with Winnie, John, Sid, Mary, Larry and Arthur. We all
went to the flicks afterwards to see “Greenwich Village”.
Two cars arrived at
11.15 to take us to the airport and Arthur and John came with us. Dorothy and
Mary flew in a Yank plane which was really rather luxurious, but I was in a
Liberator with Larry. It seemed terribly narrow and one could not stand upright
towards the front of the plane. We had straps on our life jackets and they made
a pillow. We were of course blacked out but heard Dorothy’s plane leave. Ours
revved up for quite a while and then started to move along the runway. Suddenly
there was a quick lurch, such as one experiences in a life and we were airborne.
We settled down
gradually, the steward getting extra rugs (We had been given flying boots) and
dropped off to sleep.
The most marvellous
part was when the steward took down the blackout at 5am. We were flying at
9000ft above the clouds and the sun was just rising. It is most peculiar to look
down on clouds. They are fluffy and look like small mountain tops. I was
surprised that I could look down without getting giddy. There were 12 of us on
board (6 girls) and a crew of, I think, 5. We had sandwiches and a flask of tea
and a tangerine each. There was a man behind me with a map and he pointed out
Greece and Turkey when we passed over.
[Map courtesy of Google Map
We started crossing the Black Sea at
8:10am and arrived at Saki airport at 9:10. I was a bit worried about the
landing as the pilot came and gave us instructions about holding our noses etc
and the steward strapped in our safety belts. Actually we had been losing height
gradually for about twenty minutes: when we came through the clouds it was like
a white fog. Towards the end it was a little rocky as we lost height more
quickly, but no one else took any notice so I pretended not to. It was perfectly
smooth as we circled round the drome although the land was dipping up and down.
There was only a slight jolt as the wheels touched ground and then we were on
The snow was about
4" deep and terribly slushy. We got into an army truck and were driven to the
sanatorium which was used as an HQ. Quite a picturesque place with trees and a
fountain playing, and snow all around. Actually it was quite warm and thawing.
We saw some of our chaps in the distance and then had lunch. It seemed to
consist largely of rice and cabbage and they seemed concerned because we could
not finish everything. A small Russian band played some music at top speed and
included “Roll out the Barrel”.
scouted round to find the boys, and one of them got Jock out of bed – he had
been on night duty. We only had 20 minutes all together before we had to go. The
drive from Saki airport to Sevastopol was a nightmare. We were in a car which
had been specially built for this trip, heating etc, but it was not very
comfortable and the roads were absolutely shocking. We had one or two breathers
on the way, but they didn’t help much. All along the road people stopped to
watch the six cars go by, and all the sentries on guard at bridges and buildings
presented arms or saluted each car individually. We passed a number of Russian
girl soldiers carrying rifles. On the whole the people are very poorly dressed
with shawls over their heads, and very grim looking. The girls wear thick
stockings and boots, most shapeless dresses and no make-up.
At one point when we
had a halt I combed my hair and did my face. When I had finished the driver told
me that I had an audience and sure enough there were several of them gazing in
the car: one of them, I am sure, looked at me very scornfully. We drove through
the battlefields and there were steel helmets and broken tanks lying around. In
one valley there had obviously been some sabotage as there were railway engines
and carriages upside down on the hillside where they had rolled.
Sevastopol after a 4 hour drive. The damage here is the worst we have seen - I
haven’t seen a whole building and the streets are churned up with bombs. No
wonder the people look so grim. We poured into our launch and at last reached
the Franconia, but what a change. Hardly anyone on board and our cabins changed.
But after a wash, dinner and a few drinks we felt much better.
A fine day and not
too cold. Evidently just before we arrived in Russia there was a blizzard and
the snow was inches deep on the decks. It has quite disappeared from the land
now. We have had to put our watches forward 2 hours. We are on duty at 2pm. Our
offices are on the Prom Deck and have been converted from cabins, but are not
very large. We had quite a lot of work to do and finished at 3am. Sandwiches and
coffee were brought to us at midnight. I had my hair set.
On duty until 2pm. A
trip onshore had been arranged for after lunch, but for some reason the Yanks
got in first and took all of the transport. Instead we piled into a motor launch
and had a trip around the harbour for ½ hour. One of the girls had a birthday so
we all gathered together for dinner and shared in a marvellous iced cake that
the chef had made especially for her. It was loaded with fruit and had pounds of
icing and marzipan on it. We just managed to stagger on deck after it all.
There was a small
Russian craft alongside us and we tried speaking to the sailors on board her.
The girl who had the birthday had had two lessons in Russian but she managed
very well: and one of the Russians knew a little English - so we soon got going.
It was, of course, quite dark but one of the Ruskies put a searchlight on us and
we hung over the rail. They wanted us to go aboard their ship and dance with
them, but it looked rather scruffy so we thought not.
We hurried with our
breakfast so as to catch the launch ashore. There were four of us and we filled
it. We had to queue to land as it was busy just then. It was a lovely day and
fairly warm. There were quite a number of people walking about, all poorly
dressed and looking pale and drawn, which, in view of the fact they have only
been liberated for 4 months is not surprising. They look at us but don’t pass
any comments concerning themselves – the result, I suppose, of German
occupation. Most of the men are injured in some way, the fit ones are at the
[Photo; UK Prime Minister Winston
Churchill, the President of the United States, Mr Franklin Roosevelt and Marshal
Joseph Stalin of the Soviet Union photographed in the grounds of the Livadia
Palace, Yalta during the eight day Yalta Conference.
Standing behind the three leaders are, left to right:
the British Foreign Secretary, Anthony Eden, MP, the American Secretary of
State, Edward Stettinius, the British Permanent Under-Secretary of State
for Foreign Affairs, Alexander Cadogan, the Soviet Commissar for Foreign
Affairs, Vyacheslav Molotov and the American Ambassador in Moscow, Averell
Harriman. © IWM (TR 2828).]
We went into a small
doorway into a kind of shop and Nina tried out her Russian. We ended up with a
card of Stalin insignias each and in return we gave them a bar of soap and some
chocolate. We have not been given any roubles as there is not anything to buy,
and no shops at all. The devastation is terrible, because, of course they had
shelling and bombing to contend with, apart from deliberate destruction by the
We attempted to talk
to several people and in the end we had several Russian soldiers with us. One of
them could speak English so we got on quite well. We got back to the ship about
11:15 as I had an appointment to have a face massage. The others followed suit,
We had a drink at the bar and then lunch with F/O Jock Darby.
On duty in the
afternoon and evening. Had a turn around the deck before bed.
I don’t know that I
mentioned that the Russians have requested that we do not light up the ship, so
we have to grope our way around. I think we know the deck by heart!
Finished duty at
12:50 and had a drink. Lunch with Mr Davey and Lt. Richmond. Our names have been
drawn for a trip ashore and at 2pm. we set off in a launch. We went well
supplied with chocolate and cigarettes to give to the Russians. We had a Russian
officer with us and a girl interpreter who was in a naval uniform. First we
piled into cars and went to the Cathedral. It must have been a beautiful
building, but it was bombed and the Germans took away everything they could lay
their hands on.
We passed a number
of Rumanian prisoners working on the buildings and they looked a miserable
crowd. Next we visited the Panorama which is the highest point of Sevastopol. It
is very much knocked about and only the staircase is intact. From there we went
to the gun battery with one of the seventy Sevastopol guns still mounted. We met
a Russian who is decorated as a ‘Hero of the Soviet Union’ and who was the only
survivor of his regiment. He took us into his dugout and showed us his Cossack
We passed on to the
Navy House where we inspected portraits of famous Russian Generals and where we
were shown Russian film of the recapture of Sevastopol. We were absolutely
frozen when we came out as it was devoid of heating. This building was
absolutely gutted but it was rebuilt in 4 months. It was full of Russian Naval
personnel. When we were held up in a traffic block on the way back some people
smiled at us so we gave them some chocolate. In return they piled some
tangerines on to us. Exchange is no robbery. We passed a whole line of Nazi
tanks. After dinner I stayed and played ping pong with Jock (P/O) and Sq/Ldr.
Robertson and then had a breather on deck.
Dorothy managed to
get a lift in a jeep to Elupka, so she went off at 9am and I played ping pong
for a while with Robbie, then several of us went ashore and roamed around. We
found ourselves in the local market and we were soon surrounded by a crowd of
people all trying to talk to us and watching everything we did. The people were
very poorly dressed and had presumably come from outlying districts for the
market day. I don’t suppose they had ever seen English girls before. We bartered
for some lemons and cigarettes. Back to the ship for lunch. Our launch was not
in sight so we had a lift on an American boat. I then had confirmation that I
was to return by air and although I contacted Group Captain Earle I could not
get out of it. I had been looking forward to the return sea trip.
Spent the afternoon
packing and then met Robbie and Jock in the bar for a drink and dinner. I did a
spot of work for an hour then joined the RAF in a sing song in the Winter
Garden. Strolled round the deck with Jock.
Called at 6:15am and
left in launch at 7:30am. Then started that dreadful drive from Sevastopol
through Simferpol to Saki aerodrome. We stopped on the wayside for some
sandwiches and self-heating cocoa. We drove straight to the airfield where our
planes were lined up. The planes belonging to Churchill and Roosevelt were at
the end of the line. We saw one or two of the boys but Jock was once again in
bed. We embarked almost at once on our Yank – I very much wanted to travel in
one of these. It was luxurious compared to the liberator and could seat 21
people. It made a perfect take off, and in 2 seconds we seemed to be several
thousand feet up. The steward looked after us very well with coffee and biscuits
and later with orange and sweets. The passage was fairly smooth but all the same
I felt a bit groggy and was sick. We landed about 4:30 (Malta time) on the drome
(Luga). More lines of people and cars waiting for us and we had a reception
committee headed by Brigadier Salen. We were whisked off to the Savoy Hotel at
S’Liena and I went straight to bed for 2 ½ hours as I felt rotten. I managed to
get up for dinner which we had in the officers’ mess of the military barracks.
We had a job getting away from there but eventually got to bed.
We were woken by a
Maltese servant at 4am who told us that our departure had been altered and we
had to leave the hotel at 5am. Did we curse!! While having breakfast (which we
had to force down), Bruce Powell came in and eventually we had about five
officers waiting on us. Our plane left, after all, at 6:15am, there being some
delay owing to a wireless fault. We took off just as dawn was breaking. An ATS
officer was very decent to me and gave me a commando sickness pill just before
We flew over Sardinia, with its snow-capped mountains and then met a
30mph gale which reduced our speed from 210 to 190 mph. The skipper sent round a
note stating our position, height, speed and temperature and any news he had
picked up from the radio. We were getting on well when we started gaining more
height. I had rather unwisely just started some soup and that just finished me.
At the same moment that one of the crew came to fix on our oxygen masks I had to
make a dash for it. We went up to 18,000 ft so those masks were very necessary.
We stayed up there for 1 ½ hours and I was nearly passing out with the helmet
clamped on my head. We ran into bad weather and ice was forming on the plane. We
hardly saw a thing over France, just a white fog around us, so instead of going
to Northolt where we were due, we landed at Thaney Island near Portsmouth. The
pilot would not risk going on. We were not of course expected here so we had to
phone for transport. This was at 2:30 and the cars did not come until 8:30. In
the meantime we had tea and afterwards drinks and dinner with the crew in the
We reached the
office at 12:45am and as an anti-climax had to stay the night. This ended the
Crimea Conference as far as I was concerned.
Looking back over 65 years I'm amazed to find that
I was involved in major historical events whilst working closely with real
historical figures. At the time we were so busy just getting on with our jobs
that we were largely unaware of the historical significance of the work of the
organisation we served. In fact, even now, I don't think of my experiences as
anything out of the ordinary. I even wonder why anyone would be interested in
such humdrum adventures. In life we just have to get on with whatever we're
doing, and that's just what I did.
There are around 300 books listed on
our 'Combined Operations Books' page. They, or any
other books you know about, can be purchased on-line from the Advanced
Book Exchange (ABE). Their search banner link, on our 'Books' page,
checks the shelves of thousands of book shops world-wide. Just type
in, or copy and paste the title of your choice, or use the 'keyword'
box for book suggestions. There's no obligation to buy, no
registration and no passwords.
Joyce for information about her work in COHQ and for
permission to reproduce her diary of events surrounding her attendance at the
Yalta Conference. We also thank her nephew, Robin Knights, for his assistance in
the provision of text, photos and comment.
Joyce's stoicism was recently tested, during the
preparation of this webpage, when her house in New Zealand suffered structural
damage in an earthquake. Apparently the experience was not as bad as the blitz!
died in Christchurch on November 28th, 2014, aged 99. Comparatively few people
will have, amongst their possessions, documents bearing the names of such
illustrious personalities from the war years as Keyes and Mountbatten. These
documents are reproduced on this web page with the consent of Joyce's nephew in tribute to her contribution to the war effort and in
her memory. Keyes penned a message to Joyce on his book 'Adventures Ashore &
Afloat' when he left the Command. It reads; 'J Rogers in remembrance for your
help in strenuous days from Roger Keyes 1940-41'