Wren Rebecca McCabe served with HMS Caroline, Belfast from 1942-1944 before moving to the Signals Distribution Office, Belfast Castle in the run-up to D-Day.
Only two weeks into Rebecca’s time in HMS Caroline, came one of the highlights of her service. In June 1942, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth (later the Queen Mother) visited Belfast on board HMS Phoebe. While King George inspected the Royal Navy, the Queen inspected the women at HMS Caroline. Wren Rebecca McCabe had the honour of being in the front row for the royal inspection, which was captured by Royal Naval photographers.
Rebecca was born at 59 Palmer Street, Belfast, Co. Antrim on 31/08/1921 and later moved to 71 Twaddell Avenue, Belfast, Co. Antrim. She attended Woodvale School in North Belfast until the age of 14 when she left to work for Mourne Clothing Company in 1936. The business was on the Oldpark Road. Rebecca’s job was rubbing soap along the selvedges of the material so that sewing machines would run faster. She earned 10/11½ – ten shillings and eleven and a half pence.
In 1938, she joined her sisters Sadie and Margaret at Ewart’s Linen Factory where they worked as pern winders. Rebecca became a warping apprentice and within two years was running her own machine. Warping was an intensive job; running linen thread from hundreds of spools through a reed onto beams. She would also have needed a keen eye to check selvedges and to watch for “slubs” or bumps or knots in the thread which required cutting out.
In 1941, Ewart’s Linen Factory was one of many buildings damaged in the Belfast Blitz.
Afterwards, Rebecca McCabe signed up to the WRNS, working in Mackies Factory until her call up in 1942.
She found herself based at HMS Caroline from 1942-1944. She was a maintenance Wren, which encompassed many tasks.
These included testing battery banks on trawlers, using hydrometers, and checking electrical contacts. While stationed at the Belfast base, she would also have gone out on depth charge practices.
Many of these young women ended up with impaired hearing, requiring ear syringing after these exercises.
Rebecca was also a soloist with the RN choir in the city. She was the mother of Caroline Simmond. Born on 31/08/1921, Rebecca died 11/12/2006.
Women of the Royal Navy WRNS at HMS Caroline, Belfast in 1945. Photo from the Royal Navy Research Archives.