SOCIAL enterprise Big Heritage is launching a national appeal to track down the brave “Wrens” (members of the Women’s Royal Naval Service) or WAAFs (members of the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force) who worked in Liverpool’s Western Approaches bunker – where the crucial Battle of the Atlantic was won during WWII.
The bunker, hidden in the heart of Liverpool city centre, was home to WRNS (Women’s Royal Naval Service), known affectionately as “Wrens”, and WAAFs (members of the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force), during the war.
And ahead of the re-opening of the bunker as a tourist attraction at the end of October, Big Heritage wants to roll out the red carpet for any WRNS or WAAFs who are still alive.
Chester-based heritage innovators Big Heritage are behind the Western Approaches project, and for the past few months have been restoring the forgotten city centre visitor experience to its former glory.
Founder Dean Paton and his team of archaeologists and project managers have been painstakingly renovating control and operations rooms and discovering previously hidden areas of the 30,000 square feet bunker, which has a seven-foot roof, three feet deep walls and numerous rooms.
But the team is keen to talk to the women who served in the bunker during the war years, not only to cross check the accuracy of the renovation, but to capture their wartime stories.
“We’re desperate to speak to the amazing women who served in Western Approaches during those critical war years”, said Dean Paton, Big Heritage founder.
“They were so incredibly important in the war effort – unsung heroes whose roles have been massively underestimated – and we want to recognise their critical roles in WWII.
“It goes without saying that their invites to Western Approaches will be open and free; but we would love the chance to speak to them; to understand what they know, what they saw, what they remember; and to capture their stories before, sadly, they are lost forever.
“If you, or someone you know, served in Western Approaches, then please do get in touch.”
For the opening which will happen during October half term this year, Dean and his team have been working around the clock on the finishing touches to the first phase of the bunker’s renovation. More is to follow over the course of 2018.
As part of the team’s research efforts, they have already made contact with one former Wren, Stella Passey, 92, from Huyton, who worked as an office runner, delivering signals to different posts throughout the building. Stella and her family are hoping to attend the opening in October.
Dean commented on the appeal: “We’re delight to have made contact with Stella. She’s an incredibly special lady.
“Throughout the war years, significant military figures, including Admiral Sir Max Horton, who oversaw the Battle of the Atlantic campaign, Captain Johnny Walker, who sank more U-Boats that any other Allied commander and war-time Prime Minister Winston Churchill visited the bunker. It is often remembered for these incredible men.
“But it’s the women, like Stella, who worked in this building and whose tremendous efforts contributed so effectively to the Allied campaign, that we’re also really interested. These women, like the building, are unfortunately often forgotten in the history books and yet, without them, the war may not have been won.
“We would be honoured to invite them back to rediscover the bunker and hopefully, share some stories with us. It seems extremely fitting that 2017 marks the 100-year anniversary of the formation of the WRNS, as hopefully our opening will be a real celebration of all that was achieved by women during the war.
If you know of someone who worked at the building, or if you yourself worked for the WRNS or WAAFs, get in touch by calling 0151 227 2008 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Western Approaches HQ is on the way to being recognised as one of the most important buildings, globally, associated with WWII. For years, it has stood relatively unknown under the streets of Exchange Flags.
Western Approaches HQ, which was also known as the Citadel or the Fortress due to its reinforced concrete protection will be opening to the public as a historical attraction on Friday 27 October 2017.
The historical attraction will showcase an entire underground 1940s street, complete with stocked sweet shop, community classroom facility, and a range of interactive exhibits and attractions.