Veteran Stories:
Barbara Stark Welsh “Babs” Alder (née Blackwood)


  • Picture of the Galley Staff, 1946. Barbara Alder (née Blackwood) is in the centre.

    Babs Alder
  • Galley Staff, 1946.

    Babs Alder
  • Portrait of Barbara Alder (née Blackwood), 1948.

    Babs Alder
  • Barbara Alder (née Blackwood) in uniform on the left, sitting with family and friends, 1947.

    Babs Alder
  • Defence Medal awarded to Barbara Alder (née Blackwood) and her dogtag.

    Babs Alder
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"And of course, you used to meet a lot of the guys down at the dance and then the next thing you heard was the ship had gone down. So it was very sad."


I was working in a hospital in Lanark [Scotland] and I went home one day and saw a girl in Douglas in WRNS [Women’s Royal Navy Service] uniform and quickly made up my mind that that’s exactly what I was going to do, join the forces. I had to go to London during the time the ‘Doodlebugs’ [German V-1 flying bombs] were coming over and I trained in Mill Hill in London for three weeks. And then I was posted right up to the very north of Scotland, to Scapa Flow up in the Orkney [Islands] and I was stationed on Isle of Hoy. The [British Home] Fleet used to gather up there and I believe they called it the Russian Convoy. The Fleet left from there.

I thought it was great and I turned to sick and I had to go on a hospital to the ship to get my tonsils out. And while I was on there, there was a German submarine come through the boom defence, so the next day, I was taken off the ship because the Fleet had to sail. And I went into the shore base sick bay.

At that time, I was a stewardess in the navy. You helped serve the food out on the tables, you know. And you sort of cleaned up the den rooms and things like that. And set up for all the meals. I was up there from 1944 to 1945 when it closed down, when the war finished.

They used to get stars come up there like Anne Shelton and people like that, entertainers, we had a lot of dances. We had a lot of fun up there. And of course, I did six months of night duty up there. We had patrols, you see, and they had to be paid during the night. And then we had a few air raids and we all had different posts to go to while the air raids were on.

I liked [it] up in the Orkneys during the war. I think it was the best station I was on. The girls were so friendly and you were all in the same sort of boat. You all had to be together and there was lots of entertainment up there and it was really a good life. And of course, in civvy street, food was rationed but we were well fed and well looked after.

There was canteens for us that we could go to and get our cigarettes and chocolate. That was a luxury because you couldn’t get it in civilian street. The ships visited and they used to show us through the ships and all that and we got a cup of tea and a sandwich while I was there. And we got talking to the boys and then when we left, as I said, they gave us cigarettes and chocolate. And of course, everybody wanted to do ship visiting to get the cigarettes and the chocolate. You must realize, the ships were coming in, the ships were going out. And of course, you used to meet a lot of the guys down at the dance and then the next thing you heard was the ship had gone down. So it was very sad.

VE-Day [May 8, 1945], I was on duty and there was a lot of celebration going on, you know. And the ships were all beeping their horns out in the Scapa Flow and it was really great that the war was now over. I changed over after the war. I signed on in the navy; I didn’t leave, and I decided to become a chef. That was my life in the forces. And I would do it all over again if I had to. I think it’s a great life for young people and they really do get looked after, they have a good life and I would recommend any child join in the forces, man or woman.

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