A new exhibition has opened at the National Museum of the Royal Navy in Portsmouth to mark the centenary year of the Women’s Royal Naval Service.
“Historically the work of Naval women was rarely recorded and often overlooked, yet thousands have actively contributed to worldwide Naval operations over centuries,” said Curator Victoria Ingles.
The formation of the WRNS in 1917 was seen as an important milestone as it allowed women to work in an official capacity in shore-based roles as cooks, stewards, dispatch riders, sail makers and in intelligence. The WRNS motto was “Never at Sea.”
Around 7,000 Wrens served during World War One, and initially the Service was heavily influenced by the Volunteer Aid Detachment, an organisation trained in first aid. Members of the WRNS also heavily influenced the introduction of women into the navies of Australia, Canada, India and the Netherlands.
“It is important to recognise that the Wrens were not sat in office jobs but were putting themselves in danger,” added Victoria. “The attraction for many women was the chance to do something different and travel the world. It changed people’s perspective and also gave them skills and confidence, which helped them in life outside of the Service.”
It wasn’t until 1949 that a long-term Royal Navy career for women became possible, and only in 1990 were women able to serve on ships at sea. Three years later, the WRNS was disbanded and women were fully integrated into the Royal Navy.
Now Royal Navy women serve under and on the waves, in the air and on land – and are also eligible to apply to become a Royal Marine Commando. Females in the Royal Navy and Royal Marines make up 9.3 percent of the force in the UK Regular Forces and Future Reserves. The percentage of officers who are female in the Royal Navy and Royal Marines (in the UK Regular Forces) stands at 10.6 percent.
The Princess Royal, Admiral Chief Commandant for Women in the Royal Navy, will officially launch the exhibition on March 8, International Women’s Day. For more details on WRNS100 events see www.wrns100.co.uk.
This article appears courtesy of Royal Navy News and has been edited for style and length. It may be found in its original edition here.