Fort Southwick UGHQ

World War Two

 Created 11-03-2004   Last update 04-07-2014

Overview & History



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During March 2004 I received an email from Richard Parker which gave an account of his Mother's war service in the UGHQ at Fort Southwick. He subsequently supplied me with the family's personal collection of wartime photos, news cuttings and other memorabilia relating to the Fort. I am very grateful to Richard for sharing this with the website.


My mother - Audrey F Parker nee Mayo - who died several years ago now, was one of the WRNS officers in charge of the plot at Fort Southwick

She was posted there from Staff officer training college (Greenwich) in April 1944 and up to D Day spent her time correcting the plans. There were in fact several plans one for each of the first days of June 1944 and as each would have had different tidal situations the standard plan had to be corrected to allow for all the various vessels etc to be at the right place at the right time on which ever day they chose to invade. They also had to take into account the relative speed and displacement of the craft. 

This was a hugely secret operation of course. My mother had been in the WRNS since the outbreak of war in Portland as an officer. She says they selected the candidates for office by their family background and as her father was a Captain RN (having served in WWI) she went to officer training. By the time she got to Fort Southwick she was a First Officer [equivalent to Lieutenant-Commander]. This rank allowed her to do this very secret job and as a yachtswoman all her life she knew exactly what she was doing. She used to tell the story that the work was done by men and a few women. Whereas the men appear to have been billeted in the tunnels the women were billeted in or around Southwick House. They had to leave the tunnels at the end of their shift with strict instructions not to divulge any of the information they knew and walk under blackout conditions to their billets. She often wondered what would have happened if they had been accosted by a German parachutist who were thought to be dropped to find out what was going on! There was no question of issuing a side arm to a woman! 

Post invasion she became one of the officers responsible for the plot, which mapped all the vessels and supports as they were deployed to the beach heads and later to the captured ports. This went on right up to VE day as there was a constant need to get supply vessels in to the beach heads / ports and then back again for the next trip. They all needed some sort of escort since E boats out of the Channel Islands remained a threat for a very long time. 

In 1945 she was awarded an OBE (military division) for her services and promoted to Chief Officer. [equivalent to Commander a very senior rank for a female of the time].

On 4th April 1944 she married my father Commander H Gordon Parker RN, who she met while serving at ANLO in Portland. He served at sea in HMS Iron Duke in WWI, reenlisted in 1939 and served in the Air Naval Liaison Office in WWII. 

Her father was Captain Herbert C Mayo RN who served in WWI in HMS Princess Royal and was also awarded the OBE.  He died in 1939.

Richard Parker son of Audrey Parker - March 2004

front of  Audrey Parker's  pass 

The front of Audrey Parkers security pass. Here the UGHQ is referred to as the UHQ - Underground Headquarters. The branch: S.O.E represents Staff Officer Escorts.

Richard Parker

back of pass

The reverse side of the pass dated 25 October 1944.

Richard Parker



parade in honour of the King

On Thursday 17 November 1944 (as reported in the Daily Telegraph) King George VI visited the UGHQ. Afterwards there was a march-past outside the Fort in his honour. This photograph was taken from the Barrack Block of the Fort looking south towards Portsmouth. The road the march-pass is taking place on is James Callagan Drive. The building on the left is FOF3 (Flag Officer Fleet 3). The open ground at the back is now the DSA (driver test centre). This march-past was referred to in the email from Elsie Horton on the previous page.

Richard Parker

parade view 2004battle HQ

A comparison shot, taken in 2004, of the previous photo taken in 1944 is shown on the left. It was taken from the roof of the Battle HQ shown on the right. This building was constructed in the early 1940s to act as command post for the Fort in the event of German invasion. 

Photo Jan West

Chief officer Audrey Parker

Chief Officer (lieutenant-commander) Audrey Parker is second from the left.

Richard Parker

King George VI

The plotting room. On the left is Commodore Bellars, Chief of Staff to the Commander-in Chief (Admiral Sir James Little).  Next to him is King George VI. Fourth from the left is Squadron Leader Geoff Hodgson. The plot on the table has been reset to 04:30 6 June 1944. The King was informed that on invasion day more than 5,000 signals were sent out and over 450 WRNS, some of them only 18 years old, were on duty night and day.

King George VI in the Plotting Room

This photograph has been taken looking towards the south end of the Plotting Room, previously never seen so clearly before The King is in the centre, just to the right of the three personnel standing rigidly to attention. This was the King's first official visit to Portsmouth since D-Day. He also visited HMS Vernon (anti-mine and torpedo HQ) and HM Dockyard (Portsmouth Naval Base) where lunch was taken onboard HMS Victory. 

Movements Office

The Movements Offices located in the grand tunnel of the Plotting Room. Second from the left (seated) is Commander Martinean then around the table Lieutenant-Commander Groves and Lieutenant Wade.

SOOs office

The SOO office (Staff Office Operations) was located just off the plotting room - location 23 on the UGHQ plan. This photo gives a good view as to how the tunnels were divided up in compartments. The officer on the right is Lieutenant Peter Raleigh. 


From the book: Escort - The Battle of the Atlantic Fleet - by Commander Denys Arthur Rayner who joined the staff at Fort Southwick on the 1 January 1945.

"The actual duties were something quite new to me. Radar had completely changed what little I had been taught about staff work before the war. At that time if ships were ordered to patrol certain waters the manner of doing this was left entirely to the initiative and skill of the Senior Officer. Now with radar covering almost the whole Channel, the staff could plot the minute-by-minute position of the ships, and could see how their orders were being carried out. What is more they could actually guide (or interfere with) the tactical conduct of operations at sea. Taking a leaf from the book of the RAF, they control their ships in the same manner as the RAF handled fighters - vectoring the groups on to the enemy".

"I always had three or four groups from the Western Approaches, totalling fifteen to twenty frigates or corvettes, as well as the Portsmouth command's own anti-submarine force of twenty-five trawlers, and about a dozen asdic fitted Motor Torpedo-Boats. With these I had to provide close escorts for the outward and homeward bound convoys passing through the command, and also had to maintain very close relations with Coastal Command, to see that their patrols dovetailed in with those of the surface vessels".

"The anti-submarine trawlers were operated by a WRNS officer, 1st Officer Audrey Parker. I think she was the only Wren officer to be given an operational job. She sat at the next table to mine in the office, and we worked together in perfect harmony. She really knew about ships, and had it not been for this partnership I could never have left the fort. One never knew when the enemy would appear".

Contributor: Simon Baddeley



Audrey Parker's UGHQ Wartime Account

During May 2014 whilst I was assisting BBC TV with the filming of 'D-Day 70 - The Heroes Remember' I had reason to re-establish contact with Richard Parker. He told me that his mother had written an account of her wartime service in the UGHQ and sent me a scan of the barely legible typewritten document. This has been transcribed and is displayed here in full for which I sincerely thank Richard. Any italicised comments in [] brackets are mine.

After passing the Staff Course at Greenwich (being one of the first two W.R.N.S. [Women’s Royal Naval Service] Officers to do so) I was appointed, in April 1944, to the Staff of the Commander in Chief [C in C], Portsmouth, as Assistant Staff Officer Operations [S.O.O.]. I was one of the additional officers appointed for the forthcoming Operation “Overlord”; and my first job was to get to know, and as far as possible learn the Operation Orders with special reference to the part Portsmouth was to play – the main orders for operation “Neptune” as well as the five large volumes of orders for the five Task Forces. As I was one of the “bigoted” [see footnote] people, I was responsible for one of the few copies of the orders for Operation “Neptune”, and I well remember that the second amendment to these orders took me eight hours continuous work, which gives some indication of their voluminosity.

Much has been written about the invasion of the continent but comparatively little mention has been made of the work of C in C Portsmouth and his staff. The Commander in Chief [Admiral Sir Bertram Home Ramsay KCB, KBE, MVO] was responsible for sailing the whole of the British and half the American Task Force and the subsequent convoys, and (as the assault took place in Portsmouth Command) the protection of all shipping in the “Spout” – cross-channel route - , as well as the maintenance of anti-U/boat patrols both in the channel and in the assault area. Into the Portsmouth Plotting Room came all the unfiltered information from both sides of the channel as well as from ships; and from this Plot many other authorities (including the H.Q. of A.N.C.X.F. [Allied Naval Commander Expeditionary Force] at Southwick House) and later Havre and Cherbourg were “fed”. Many battles were directed from the Plot, signals being coded and transmitted by W.R.N.S. Signal Officers and W/T operators [Wireless Telegraphy (i.e. Radio)] in a matter of seconds.

From D-Day – one onwards, the S.O.O another Officer and myself were, in turn, keeping continuous watch on the balcony [referred to, by me, as the ‘mezzanine gallery’ on other pages] in the Plotting Room. With us on the balcony overlooking the plot was the Duty Captain, Chief of Staff, Commander in Chief as well as any distinguished visitors. We had to keep up to the minute information available for C. in C., or his representative, arrange special operations, convoy escorts and very many other things. We were assisted by one junior officer and one Wren.

When the situation clarified and convoy sailings became more regular, while still taking my turn as Duty S.O.O. at night I became Staff Officer Escorts (S.O.E.). [as shown on Audrey’s security pass] My job was to arrange escorts for all convoys in the command. It is difficult to give figures covering a year when the situation was constantly changing, but on average, there were 12 cross channel convoys a night with up to 6 escorts each excluding the small ships of landing craft escorted by Costal forces. Later on troop convoys began to make use of the channel forts [Solent Palmerston forts?] and they had to be met and brought through the area to their destination. There were about 8 of these convoys per week. In addition there were “special escort” jobs to arrange: such as the escorting of battleships, bombarding forces and minelayers etc., and quite a number of V.I.Ps. to be transported. I was continually arranging sailings and escorts from damaged ports of Cherbourg and Harve, where the U.S. authorities were working under great difficulties. Although they were U.S. ports, the responsibility for the shipping as soon as it left harbour was that of C in C Portsmouth. I had also to keep in close contact with my opposite numbers in the neighbouring commands – the S.O. [Staff Officer] escorts at Plymouth was for sometime a Captain R.N.

With the renewal of the U-Boat activity in the autumn of 1944 my job was a very full time an complicated one, eventually I was given an assistant – a 3rd Officer W.R.N.S. Altogether between 30 and 60 Escort vessels (destroyers, frigates, sloops and corvettes) and about 40 trawlers comprised the Portsmouth Escort Force, and I was entirely responsible for organising and dovetailing their various duties.

In conjunction with the S.O. [Staff Officer] Anti-Submarine [A/S] I helped to arrange the A/S patrols, using and spare escorts to back up his hunting groups to the best advantage according to the shipping movements and general situation. Towards the end of the war, I took over his work and the operation of his Escort Groups.

About the same time, I also became Deputy S.O.O. [Staff Officer Operations], looked out for the S.O.O. during his leaves, and took my turn as Duty Commander.

On three occasions during my time as S.O Escorts I was sent by the C in C to visit the U.S. authorities on the far-shore: to the H.Q. ship off the U.S. Beaches, to Havre and Cherbourg, to discuss and arrange various matters connected with the escort and turnround of convoys. I made the crossings in a convoy escort, in a different type of ship and with a different type of convoy each time so as to get a better picture of “the other end” and an understanding of the difficulties.

At the end of the U-Boat war (which was some weeks after V.E. [Victory in Europe] Day all the escort forces – with the exception of 5 - were paid off, and when this was completed, and the C in C’s staff returned from the Combined H.Q. at Fort Southwick to their old home in the Dockyard [HM Naval Base, Portsmouth] in September 1945, I left and was demobilised.

Copyright: Richard Parker.


The list of personnel cleared to know details of Operation Overlord was known as the BIGOT list, and the people on it were known as "Bigots"

Richard Parker


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Overview & History



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