My wife Jan, and I often take the time to just chat to one another especially when there is nothing of interest on the T.V. a few months ago we were talking about now long passed over relatives and some of their old stories, now almost lost in time.
Jan recalled with some sadness a story that she heard directly from her Aunty Kathleen. She was, in Jan’s estimation, a formidable spinster who had a wealth of stories about her life and experiences as a young woman, both in the Manchester area and abroad.
It transpired that during the 1940s she (Kathleen) was in the WRVS running a canteen for soldiers and sailors based in Manchester (they came through the Manchester Ship Canal from Liverpool). She was very religious and very much a product of the old stiff upper lip school.
Her story is this-
‘Late one winter evening they received an urgent phone call, from the powers that be, asking if they could open the canteen as a Russian ship had reached Liverpool having endured a very difficult passage on the North Atlantic run and had apparently run out of food some three days earlier’. The ship was making its way through the Manchester Ship Canal and would be arriving within the hour.
All the stops were hurriedly pulled out to help these brave and starving sailors. Despite terrible shortages being experienced in Britain Aunt Kathleen’s team soon had hot meals ready for them and all they had to do was wait for the sailors to arrive.
Aunt Kathleen said, “Imagine our surprise when the crew arrived. These burly sea dogs with the exception of the Captain and First Officer turned out to be Russian women! When they saw the food broke down in tears of joys and with much gesticulating their grateful thanks fell onto the food with great gusto. Ironically the ship still had a plentiful supply of vodka and as the meal progressed most of the crew and, according to Aunt Kathleen, quite a number of the helpers were “three sheets to the wind” the whole experience was perhaps a fine first example of glasnost, or perestroika that many years later Mr Gorbachev proffered to the comrades in the Polish docks.
While recounting this story in later years she was still astounded that these women, who were built like men, were able to endure such heavy work in atrocious weather conditions along with the very real dangers of the North Atlantic U-boat submarines who were devastatingly effective.