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Wartime Wren decorated for her service on her 100th birthday

Commander Andy Swain presents Jacqueline with her medals on her 100th birthday
16 June 2021
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A former Royal Navy Wren was recognised for her wartime service with a surprise presentation on her 100th birthday.

Despite serving the Navy and nation throughout World War 2, Jacqueline Dyde from Loughton, near Debden, never claimed the medals she deserved for her efforts.

But 75 years after she demobbed and returned to the civilian world, that omission was righted as Royal Navy officer Commander Andy Swain surprised Jacqueline on her 100th birthday at her home in Essex.

It was only a few weeks before the landmark birthday that Jacqueline’s granddaughter Caroline Meaby learned she’d never received the medals back in the 1940s… and never applied for them subsequently due to a mix of modesty typical of the wartime generation and the possible cost of the decorations.

Grandmama always talked to me about the war,” said Caroline. “She loved the travelling and it inspired a lifelong interest in visiting different countries and meeting new people.

She is modest about her war service and never saw herself as a hero, especially as she lost family members in the conflict. But she did earn them, so has every right to claim them.

Caroline arranged for the medals – the Defence and War Medals – to be sent and got in touch with the Naval Regional Command in London to see if a serving sailor might assist with the presentation.

“I’m absolutely thrilled! And to be given them by such an important personage is even more wonderful,” she told Cdr Swain.

I’m absolutely thrilled! And to be given them by such an important personage is even more wonderful

Former Wren Jacqueline Dyde

Jacqueline Murley as she was then from Lanreath near Looe had planned to train as a secretary, but instead volunteered for the Women’s Royal Naval Service aged 18 when war broke out.

Weeks later she was serving aboard HMS Defiance in Plymouth Naval Base as an officers’ steward – serving drinks and meals and keeping the wardroom looking spic and span.

There was little training beyond the helpful advice of a veteran Royal Marine:  “If it moves, salute it, if it doesn’t move, polish it.”

She was bombed out of her billet – an old hotel near the dockyard gates – at the height of the Plymouth Blitz which cost her not just a roof over her head but also all her clothes.

Among the temporary quarters the wrens were offered were Plymouth council’s stables.

Jacqueline was subsequently commissioned and re-trained in coding signals at HMS Cabbala near Warrington before being dispatched to Egypt.

“I loved Egypt,” Jacqueline recalls. “I managed to visit the Sphinx and Pyramids and made lots of new friends.

“We spent a pleasant time swimming in the Canal, going to dances (where we would be counted off and back on the truck like parcels) and visiting hospitals which was rather shattering.”

Just as the wrens grew used to life in Africa, they were shipped east to Ceylon (present-day Sri Lanka) to work at code and cipher school HMS Anderson.

The work was, Jacqueline concedes, “a bit boring”. On one occasion Lord Mountbatten – C-in-C in the Far East – visited the base to give the Wrens a pep talk.

“He asked me how I found the work and I replied that it was a bit dull,” she remembers. “He laughed and said we all had to do dull things sometimes. I got a stern talking to afterwards for not having the right attitude.”

After war with Japan ended, Jacqueline returned to England and left the Wrens in 1946. She married Royal Marine Captain Richard Meaby, settled in Portsmouth and later, after the marriage broke down, moved to London where in 1958 she married Freddie Dyde. She spent nearly 50 happy years with Freddie, living in Ealing, and working as a secretary in the City of London.

Today she lives in Woodland Grove nursing home in Loughton on the edge of Epping Forest.

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