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Start of World War One.  A woman’s place was in the home and the Admiralty were reluctant to employ women but it gradually became obvious that with the high mortality rate amongst the men that something had to be done, and as there were no men available, the Admiralty had to accept that women would need to be employed to take over some tasks such as cooking and secretarial work.

“Women for the Navy –
new shore service to be formed.”


Dame Katharine Furse was invited by the First Lord of the Admiralty to form a “Naval Organisation of Women.” Various names were discussed but the favourite was The Women’s Royal Naval Service and the name “Wrens” was approved.

29 November 1917  HM The King approved the formation the Women’s Royal Naval Service to provide personnel wherever the Admiralty required them to serve.  Mostly for domestic and clerical duties, but gradually WRNS Officers replaced paymasters, became secretaries to Admirals, and Wrens took over the duties of Writers, Telephonists, Stores and other shore based jobs, including places as far afield as Malta and Gibraltar.  Gradually they took over other “male” jobs such as aircraft handlers

RMS Leinster was torpedoed by a German Submarine.  Three Wrens were onboard but only one lost her life – Wren Josephine Carr.  The first Wren to lose her life in WWI and the only one to die as a result of enemy action.

The Women’s Royal Naval Service was disbanded


Dame Katharine Furse offered the services of the Association of Wrens to the Admiralty.

The Admiralty set out the rules for reforming the WRNS.  The first public announcement of the reformation was announced 22nd November 1938

“Free A Man For The Fleet!”

Mrs Vera Laughton Matthews was invited to become a Director of the WRNS.  She had served in WWI and after the war was one of the pioneers of the Sea Ranger Branch of the Girl Guides.  The early plan for the WRNS was to recruit 126 officers and 1,475 ratings.

By the end of WWII over 74,000 women had served in over 70 categories.

Sinking of SS Aguila

On 19th August 1941, the SS Aguila was sunk, resulting in the loss of 21 Wrens and 1 Nursing Sister.

There is a commemoration to the loss of lives from SS Aguila at the National Memorial Arboretum, in the WRNS Garden.

Sinking of SS Khedive Ismael

On 12th February 1944 the SS Khedive Ismael was sunk where 2 of 19 Wrens survived.



A small permanent WRNS service of 3,000 retained for mainly administrative and support roles at RN establishments and Royal Naval Air Stations, UK and overseas.

Royal Navy integration


A survey observed that changing social structures and career limitations indicated the need for integration with the Royal Navy.

WRNS Officers’ Training


WRNS Officers’ Training moved from the Royal Naval College, Greenwich to Britannia Royal Naval College, Dartmouth.

HMS Dauntless closes


The New Entry Training Establishment HMS DAUNTLESS closed after 35 years of training some 30,000 Wrens. Initial training now takes place alongside male ratings at HMS RALEIGH. Wrens were now subject to the Naval Discipline Act and given longer terms of service in a wide range of technical support roles in operational areas.

The increasing demand for Wrens


Falling R.N. recruitment raised the need for Wrens to go to sea. The first 20 volunteer Wren Officers and ratings joined HMS BRILLIANT.

Women fully integrated into the RN


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, including the Royal Marines Band.

21st Century


Women in the Royal Navy serve in many roles; as pilots, observers and air-crew personnel; as divers, and Commanding Officers of HM Ships and shore establishments. Notably Cdr Sarah West, who took up her appointment as CO of HMS PORTLAND in 2012,  taking her ship from a refit in Rosyth to her current deployment as an Atlantic Patrol vessel.

In another milestone for the Royal Navy, Commander Sue Moore was the first woman to command a squadron of minor war vessels; the First Patrol Boat Squadron (1PBS). READ MORE

Women became eligible to join the Royal Marines Commandos in 2019.

Inspirational bravery


MA Kate Nesbitt’s ‘inspirational’ bravery was rewarded at Buckingham Palace when she became the Navy’s first woman to be invested with the Military Cross in November 2009.


She entered the records as only the second woman to be awarded the MC, one of Britain’s highest gallantry awards, as well as becoming the only female MC Wren. Presenting her award, the Prince of Wales praised her ‘extraordinary’ heroism.


Her citation read:

Under fire and under pressure her commitment and courage were inspirational and made the difference between life and death.

First female graduates from Defence Diving School


The first female to train as a Royal Navy Minewarfare and Clearance Diving Officer (MCDO) has graduated from the Defence Diving School.


Lieutenant Catherine Ker has become the first to benefit from a change in the Naval Service policy that female divers ran a greater risk of suffering from decompression sickness than their male counterparts.


The Royal Navy has had female divers in the past, but Lieutenant Ker is the first to graduate from the Diving School since the policy changed. READ MORE

First female to become Senior Observer


A Royal Navy Lieutenant Commander has made history by becoming the Fleet Air Arm’s first ever female Senior Observer at one of Europe’s largest helicopter bases.


829 Naval Air Squadron at Royal Naval Air Station Culdrose has recently welcomed Lieutenant Commander Kay Burbidge, who took up her post after completing a Flight Commander’s appointment on HMS Monmouth.


Lt Cdr Burbidge joined the Royal Navy in 1988 as a Wren Air Engineering Mechanic (Weapons Electrical) and was selected for commission in 1995. She said:

Joining up as a non-seagoing, blue-badge-wearing Wren, my recent appointment is a true reflection as to the advances in the opportunities available to females in the Armed Forces today.



First females to earn their ‘Dolphin’ Clasps


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. READ MORE

First Woman To Take Command At HMS Raleigh

Captain Ellie Ablett MBE becomes the first woman to take command of the Royal Navy basic training base.


Royal Navy Appoints First Female Admiral.

For the first time in the centuries-long history of the Royal Navy, a woman officer has been appointed to the rank of Admiral.

Commodore Jude Terry, has been selected for promotion to Rear Admiral, making her the most senior woman ever in the Royal Navy.

She will take over as the Royal Navy’s Director of People and Training and Naval Secretary, being responsible for Sailors and Royal Marines from the moment they are recruited to their final day in Service – spanning their entire career by overseeing training, welfare and career management.

First Female Engineering Captain in RFA.

Captain (E) Kate Morgan becomes the first female engineer Captain in the Royal Fleet Auxiliary’s 116 year history.

The longest career in the Navy (active duty/service) (female) is 43 years, 189 days, achieved by Barbara Mary McGregor (UK) from 26th July 1977 to 31st January 2021.  WO1 Barbara McGregor served in Her Majesty’s Royal Navy for the duration of her record-breaking career.

Barbara, (an AOW Trustee) became a Guinness World Record Holder in early 2021.



The Women’s Royal Naval Service Benevolent Trust celebrated its 70th Anniversary in 2012 and marked this milestone by publishing a commemorative book “70 Years of Trust”.

The book was launched at the Trust’s Annual General Meeting in the presence of its Patron, HRH The Princess Royal at the Mansion House in London.

“70 Years of Trust” looks back at the charity’s history and its work over the last 7 decades. It contains dozens of rare photographs of former Wrens at work and at play donated by its 50,000 current members.

HRH The Princess Royal has written the foreword to the book writing about the success and achievements of the Trust.

Every woman who served in the WRNS is a member of the Benevolent Trust and over the last 70 years the Trust has cared for its own by helping thousands of women with regular or individual grants; last year we distributed £350,000, a huge achievement.

The Trust has been highly successful and continues to be relevant because it has evolved its policies and practices to meet different times and the changing needs of its beneficiaries.

Money raised by the book will enable the Trust to continue helping those in need, promote awareness of the charity to the many former Wrens who don’t know that there is assistance available and be a fitting record of its work over the past 70 years.

The Trust received over 2,000 photographs, documents, poems and other contributions from members to support this project. They have all been passed onto the National Museum of the Royal Navy for the WRNS archive. 460 former Wrens kindly agreed to help with the printing costs by offering to be sponsors in return for having their name and service details entered in a special section of the book. The Trust is most grateful for their support.