Air Mechanic Jean Constance Mary Hughes (nee Wenham) - WRNS

The only daughter of Margaret and Arthur Wenham, Jean was born in Wiltshire, England, in 1925. When Jean was 18
the war had been raging for three years and the majority of young British women had become involved in war work. Women were working in the services, nursing or as land girls. When  peace was declared, in 1945, nearly half a million women were drivers, packers, writers, orderlies, cipher officers, riggers and fitters and many were involved in highly technical work on radar communications.[i]

 One of the most varied and well travelled occupations taken up was to be a member
of the Women’s Royal Naval Service (WRNS) or Wrens.  Jean joined the Wrens in 1943
and as the recruitment poster of the time spelt out would ‘free a man for the Fleet.’[ii]

WW Two Wren recruitment poster

Air Mechanic Wenham was posted to the Royal Naval Air Station (RNAS) based
on the Orkney Islands.

In 1943 the RNAS station, HMS Tern had over 350 Wrens working in various roles[iii]
HMS Tern had been set up in 1939 to provide support to the Home Fleet based
nearby at Scapa Flow, the distance from enemy airfields also minimised the threat
of air attacks.  HMS Tern operated as a training airfield and in 1944 Air Mechanic
Wenham was attached to the Fleet Air Arm (FAA) 771 Squadron. This squadron
operated as a Fleet Requirement Unit providing various services including towed targets for naval air gunners. [iv]
The Air Mechanics, who worked on aircraft air frames along with engine mechanics, armourers and radio mechanics worked as a team to maintain the serviceability of 771 Squadron aircraft.

Stand Easy - 771 Squadron Air Mechanics at 
HMS Tern 

( Jean -2nd left) 

By 1945 the focus on sea warfare was shifting to the Pacific with both Aircraft Carriers and their pilots where being prepared for this area of conflict. Air Mechanic Wenham was transferred from the Orkneys to RNAS Yeovilton / HMS Heron. RNAS Yeovilton was in Somerset so Jean would have been close to her parents in Wiltshire. It was at RNAS Yeovilton that she met her future husband Sub Lieutenant William Phillipps Hughes. On 27 October 1945, Jean and William were married in Trowbridge, Wiltshire. The honeymoon was a short one as Lieutenant Hughes was shipped to the Far East reporting on 15 November 1945 at Cook II, a shore-based establishment in Tulagi, Espiritu Santo, New Hebrides (now Vanuatu).[v]

Jean would come to New Zealand as a War Bride in 1946.

‘Between 1942 and 1948 servicemen returning from theatre of war in Europe, the Middle East and the Pacific
brought over 3000 wives and 700 fiancées to New Zealand... The full glare of publicity that greeted war brides
on arrival focused attention on their compatibility with, and adaptability to, the receiving society. Adjustment
was however fraught with difficulties. Memory and loss are implicit in the experience of migration. War brides expressed this in terms of the rift with their pasts and a lack of shared memories. On arrival in New Zealand
war brides dispersed around the country in an extreme 'pepper-potting' pattern. When their only connection
with New Zealand was their locally-born husband they suffered social isolation and sometimes a devastating
sense of loneliness. The resulting marginalisation they experienced was evident in their oral history narratives. Ambivalence and recourse to serendipity as an explanation for past actions were elements of the discomposure discernible in narratives. In spite of their varied religious, social and class backgrounds, this diverse cohort
formed a war bride identity based on shared experience rather than national or ethnic origin. Far from
dissipating, their war-bride identity has been consolidated into an enduring image most tangibly expressed
in the extant war brides' clubs, although club attendance is not a prerequisite of war bride identity.’[vi]

Jean did have an advantage that she had served with the Royal Navy and also initially lived in officers quarters and her parents also, later,  immigrated to New Zealand.

Jean and William had two children, a son born in 1947 and a daughter in 195, Jean’s parents would also, later, immigrate to New Zealand.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                Notes
Sub Li                                                                                                                                                                                                                         
War Brides “They followed their Hearts to New Zealand: Val Wood – Random Century NZ Ltd
Mr Jones ‘wives’: WWII war brides of NZ Servicemen – PhD Thesis / Gabrielle Ann Fortune
WREN Recruitment Poster: Imperial War Museum
Stand Easy: Air Mechanics of 711 Squadron- Skies over Orkneys

[i] A Useful Occupation / World War Two: War Brides
[ii] WRNS Poster: Imperial War Museum
[iii] HMS Tern/Twatt Airfield: Canmore – Scotland’s collection of buildings
[iv] 771 Naval Air Squadron: Wikipedia
[v] Service Record: William Phillips Hughes.
[vi] Mr Jones wives: WWII War Brides of NZ Servicemen – Gabrielle Ann Fortune