Rev. Eric Freeman
At our June meeting,
I was reminded of a very important event – this year is the
one-hundredth anniversary of the founding of the Women’s Royal
Naval Service – the lovely Jennie’s, who over the years have
rendered such sterling service to their country – and certainly
deserve all the encomiums of praise being heaped on them at
various events throughout this anniversary year.
Wrens were formed in 1917 during the First
World War. . One of the slogans used
in recruiting posters was "Join the Wrens—free a man for the
fleet." This certainly informed naval thinking of the time, for
the first Jennies were to employed in shore based duties.
However, that did not last long. On 10 October 1918,
nineteen-year-old Josephine Carr from Cork,
became the first Wren to die on active service, when her ship,
the RMS Leinster was torpedoed.
By the end of the war WRNS had 5,500 members, 500 of them
officers. In addition, about 2000 members of the WRAF had
previously served with the WRNS supporting the Royal
Naval Air Service and were
transferred on the creation of the Royal
Air Force. The WRNS was
disbanded in 1919.
The WRNS was revived in 1939 at the
beginning of the Second
World War, with an expanded
list of allowable activities, including flying transport planes.
At its peak in 1944 it had 75,000 people. During the war there
were 100 deaths. This time their service was fully recognized
and there was no talk of disbandment!
In 1990, falling R.N. recruitment raised the need for Wrens to
go to sea. The first 20 volunteer Wren Officers and ratings
joined HMS BRILLIANT.
Finally, in 1993 the
Women’s Royal Naval Service was disbanded and 4535 women were
integrated fully into the Royal Navy and able to serve on HM
Ships at sea, at all ranks and rates. In their newly expanded
role of seagoing members of the Royal Navy the ladies have
continued their sterling service to our country – fully
justifying the decision of the Admiralty of 1917 to form the
We have a typical example from our own family story. Just
before we came to Cyprus 13 years ago, our son-in-law was
serving as Weapons Officer on board one of the mine hunters and
he told me that his First Officer, the Navigating Officer, the
Doctor and the Master at Arms on that vessel were all ladies, as
were several other members of the crew! Well done them!
As an amusing footnote, not long after that conversation, I
heard a radio broadcast in which that lady doctor was
interviewed about her life and role aboard. At one point she
laughed and said that whichever ship she served on, she always
had to have the assistance of the most experienced male sick
berth attendant – because none of the male members of the crew
would come to her for help!
Then, in possibly the most significant development yet, Three RN
Lieutenants, Maxine Styles, Alexandra Ollson and Penny Thackray,
earned their ‘dolphin’ clasps as qualified members of the
Submarine Service, the first females to do so since the service
was established 110 years ago.
As we always say...
the seas be no more, we will remember them!"