Influential war heroine who joined the fight after husband’s death awarded top French honour
PUBLISHED: 07:30 11 November 2019 | UPDATED: 16:41 11 November 2019
A woman who joined the Second World War following the death of her husband has been awarded one of France’s greatest honours.
Marjorie West, 98, from Dedham, who lost husband Charles "Ted" Graysmark during the war, decided she wanted to play her role in the war effort - stepping down from her role at the Post Office to join the Royal Navy.
Little did she know, the work she undertook would later earn her the title of Chevalier in the French Legion d'honneur.
Mrs West said: "He was working in the Mediterranean outside of Malta. He always told us he would leave the plane if he was in danger, which he did, but an Italian plane came down and shot him while he was in a boat.
"I wanted to do more after that. I felt it was my duty to carry on where he left off."
Stationed originally in Poole in Dorset, Mrs West was then moved to Southwick House near Portsmouth - where some of the Allied forces highest ranked officers were planning the D-Day landings.
The messages she sent would be distributed across the forces to help co-ordinate the ambitious attack.
But despite the massive weight on her and her colleagues' shoulders, Mrs West claimed it was just like a usual day in the office.
Mrs West said: "I was downstairs in the teleprinters and upstairs was the hierarchy, Dwight Eisenhower... Bertram Ramsay and such.
"We were not allowed out unless we were taken by an army lorry to the coast where we could spend a day off - otherwise we had to stay in the house.
"It was quite enjoyable as I had friends in the forces. The Navy wouldn't take you unless you knew your job, so I was able to apply.
"We knew all about D-Day but obviously you were not allowed to talk about it - and the south coast was not open to the public."
After the forces' successful landing, Mrs West was taken to Versailles, just outside of Paris, to continue planning the liberation of Europe.
Mrs West added: "I was very proud to be a wren, I thought it was different from the Army and air force.
"But to be given an award... I couldn't believe it. I couldn't believe that in my wren life I'd done anything different from anyone else.
"I suppose you could say I'm a lady who doesn't like to be in the limelight, but it's a very nice feeling."
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