November 20th, 2017

Underground and top secret: Wartime life for Mollie Webster


By Gillian Slade on November 10, 2017.

Mollie Webster, in Medicine Hat this week as a guest speaker at the Medicine Hat Kiwanis Club and at the Royal United Services Institute meeting.--NEWS PHOTO GILLIAN SLADE


gslade@medicinehatnews.com 
@MHNGillianSlade

About 100 feet below the surface is a deep underground tunnel, which was both top secret and Mollie Webster’s first posting in the Women’s Royal Naval Service in 1944.

She would work for about a year in this combined “Services Communications Unit,” staffed by about 200 personnel and located near Portsmouth at Fort Southwick, said Webster, now 90 years old.

Webster was in demand this week as a guest speaker in Medicine Hat at the Kiwanis club and the Royal United Services Institute.

She would spend 12 hours on duty and 12 hours off duty in this underground facility where the D-Day landings in Europe were planned and became known as the “Over Lords” operations. Although D-Day had already taken place when Webster arrived there, the unit continued to be busy handling communications for the army, navy and air force activities.

“My duty as a messenger was to take signals from teleprinters to the plotting room and to various personnel,” said Webster, who never knew what the messages contained and had been required to take an oath of silence about what she knew for the next 50 years.

“It was ever so busy,” said Webster.

The underground tunnel was like being in a submarine, complete with a canteen and a sick bay, she said. Webster was billeted some miles from the tunnel in what is now the HMS gunnery school.

This past summer Webster had an opportunity to revisit the underground tunnel when Earl and Judy Morris of Medicine Hat visited her in England.

The tunnels are now owned by a private individual, said Earl.

Born in England in 1927, after finishing school she attended art school to become a costume designer for stage and film.

From the age of about 12 she’d experienced air raids and bombing, had joined the Sea Cadets, and says it was “only natural” she would want to join the Royal Navy. Initially her parents were not in favour of the idea but finally relented.

Webster’s eyes sparkle with excitement as she talks about the train journey into London to have her interview with the Admiralty. It all went well and she would soon commence a three-week training period in London, October 1944.

When the war was over, her life would take some interesting turns, including immigrating to Canada, living in Medicine Hat, and become a Canadian citizen.

At the end of the war Webster had an opportunity to attend an instructors’ course, was promoted to Petty Officer, and posted back to Portsmouth HMS Haslar Hospital to set up an arts and crafts program for those dealing with disabilities after the Second World War.

She was discharged from the Royal Navy in 1949 and began formal training as an occupational therapist.

She married Bill Webster in 1954. He’d joined the Royal Air Force in 1943 and had been posted to Medicine Hat for a while.

In 1979, they decided to make a fresh start in Canada and more specifically in Medicine Hat with Mollie as occupational therapist at Medicine Hat Regional Hospital.

They became Canadian citizens in 1982. Bill died in 2008 and Mollie now lives in England.

Her life appears to have taken numerous turns with something that connects them all. She says it feels as though God had a hand in it.


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