One-of-a-Kind woman always been ahead of her time

Avid knitter, writer, Tai Chi student, and Wellington Free Ambulance supporter Audrey Harper of Upper Hutt lived in the UK in the 1940s, and was one of small group of women in the Women's Royal Naval Service (the Wrens) brought in to design ‘war game’ exercises for the Navy’s servicemen. 

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“We were never exactly told that our work was a new concept in teaching naval strategy using scenarios and exercise.  In a way we were guinea pigs,” she says.

Audrey’s job was to work on a  Perspex screen, plotting the presence of make-believe enemy ships, torpedo and bomb attacks, submarines and surface craft, all overlaid with fake weather conditions and time of day. 

“Like a soap opera, events in an exercise came close upon each other to maintain interest and learning,” Audrey explains.  

Technical information was passed over telephones (there were no computers back then) to the men on the course: ranges and bearings, visual sightings, reports from look-outs on the bridge or elsewhere.  Audrey and the team expertly provided the information  for trainees to absorb and strategise, and ultimately find a way out.

Women  in England during WW2 once they reached 19 years of age either volunteered or were called up  for war work. Audrey knows exactly how long she spent in the Women’s Royal Naval Service,  a ‘Wren’ , as the women were called.

“Two years, eight months, and 18 days.  I know that because I used it to help make up the compulsory three years of service I needed to become a grade three teacher in New Zealand”

She also remembers her 21st birthday.

“It was the best 21st I could have had.  My birthday is August 13, and the war was declared over on August 15.”

Once discharged nearly a year later Audrey studied at Bristol University.

Every year on her birthday Audrey gives Wellington Free Ambulance a dollar for every year of her life, and asks her friends to make donations rather than buy presents. 

She is also the woman behind the perfectly costumed paramedic teddies which are sometimes auctioned at fundraisers, and sometimes make their way into the homes of new Wellington Free babies.  

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