Women's Royal Naval Service (WRNS) / Wrens

A service which had its roots in the First World War, the Women’s Royal Naval Service (WRNS) was re-established in 1939 and went on to play a vital part in the Second World War. The WRNS recruitment campaign targeted women aged 18-50 and in order to remove the necessity of housing them, the campaign was aimed at women living in areas close to Britain's naval bases. Once recruited the servicewomen -  or “Wrens” as they were known - began to replace servicemen based on shore; freeing men for active service. In doing so, as well as taking on fairly mundane roles as clerks and storekeepers, they gained new skills as telephonists, telegraphists, signallers and radar operators, and participated in the planning of naval operations. In common with the other women’s services, Wrens were not afforded a combative role, but they played a vital part in maintaining naval services, and as the shortage of manpower increased some members of the WRNS worked on board naval vessels, albeit only within the confines of a port. 

At the beginning of the war the Admiralty determined that women recruits should not be sent overseas. A policy decision which was soon rescinded, and in January 1941 the first WRNS draft, which included a number of Wireless Telegraphy Operators, was sent to serve in Singapore. Their departure opened up the prospect of overseas postings for other women, and Wrens were eventually to work in America, Hong Kong, and South Africa as well as Europe.  The seas were a perilous place in the Second World War and when the ship carrying a WRNS draft to Gibraltar was torpedoed, none of the 22 Wrens travelling on the ship survived. By the time the war ended over 300 members of the WRNS had lost their lives.

In 1944 when Britain had been at war for almost five years, the number of women serving in the WRNS had reached a figure in excess of 70,000. During those years some Wrens had moved into other naval sectors, like the Fleet Air Arm and the Royal Marines. In addition, a number of Wrens had been recruited to work in a specialist unit which dealt with secret naval communications and the deciphering of German codes. 

When peace finally came, in recognition of the contribution this all-female service had made, the WRNS was not disbanded. Instead, in 1949, the WRNS became a permanent service, but a voluntary one. It was finally disbanded, as a separate service, in 1993, when the women who signed up for naval duties became a fully-integrated part of the Royal Navy.

This page was added by Malin Lundin on 19/11/2011.

If you're already a registered user of this site, please login using the form on the left-hand side of this page.