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Remembering Those Who Served

A while ago, we told you about Teresa Wallach. She was an adventurer who accomplished many things during her lifetime. But adventure was not all she cared about. At a time when most women didn’t live adventurous lives, she was an engineer, racer, mechanic, motorcycle dealership owner, motorcycle riding instructor, and author. But perhaps most importantly, Teresa was a World War II dispatch rider. Teresa was part of the Women’s Royal Navy Service (WRNS), and she was one of many thousands of women who would serve Britain during wartime. These women would later become affectionately known as Wrens.

WRNS organization

The WRNS was organized during World War I by the Royal Navy. During that time, the Royal Navy was the first of the armed forces to actively recruit women for military service. The female volunteers, now known as the Wrens, took jobs like cooks, clerks, wireless telegraphists, radar plotters, weapons analysts, range assessors, electricians, and air mechanics.  However, once World War I ended, the Wrens returned to civilian life.

Wrens return

But as World War II escalated and German attacks on Britain began, the Wrens were again called to service. Leading the returning Wrens was Dame Vera Laughton-Matthews. She was the daughter of a prominent naval historian and mother of three. She had previously served as a Wren from 1917 to 1919.

In the beginning, the Royal Navy tried to recruit proven riders. Navy recruiters tapped competitors from local race circuits like the Brooklands. The recruitment of racers paid big dividends since they already had a proven ability to ride. In addition, they also knew how to perform essential maintenance on their machines. Wrens were responsible for checking their bike’s oil and tire pressures, changing flats, and repairing or replacing chains. Later, as the requirement for Wren dispatch riders grew, less-experienced volunteer Wrens would receive motorcycle training and learn to ride in the field.

Missing recognition

Unfortunately, although so many women served their country, there was little recognition of their gallantry and role in the wars. Take, for example, the heroism of WRNS Third Officer Pamela McGeorge. On April 22, 1941, Luftwaffe air raids were in process. At the top of Mount Wise, the signal tower glowed red, warning British citizens that German Heinkels and Junkers were coming to drop tons upon tons of explosive ordinance on their city. People gathered in bomb shelters while searchlights and anti-aircraft guns swiveled, trying to find the attacking bombers.

Wrens Heroism

At the same time, McGeorge carried an urgent message to the command post at the Davenport, Plymouth shipyards. Davenport was an essential port for the Allies as it lay near France’s Normandy coast.

And as McGeorge rode on through the darkness, the Luftwaffe attack unleashed its fury. An exploding bomb blew her off her motorcycle. Her bike laid on the ground in pieces as the Luftwaffe munitions continued to explode around her. Undaunted, McGeorge ran the final half mile to the post to deliver the message she was carrying. And immediately after delivering the message, she again volunteered to go out into the raging inferno.

For her bravery, WRNS Third Officer Pamela McGeorge was awarded the British Empire Medal for meritorious service to her country. And while McGeorge’s actions are heroic, they were not unique.

Many Wrens

By 1940, all of the British Navy’s dispatch riders were women. And by the time World War II ended, nearly 75,000 women had become Wrens, with approximately 100 losing their lives.

Other examples of notable Wrens include female British motorcycle racers like Florence Blenkiron, Theresa Wallach, and Beatrice Shilling. They led the way for many women who would become dispatch riders. The trio had already proven their riding abilities by taking their bikes to more than 100 mph at the bumpy Brooklands circuit. Wallach and Blenkiron did a highly-publicized motorcycle ride from London to Cape Town, South Africa.

While Wallach was already a skilled engineer and dispatch rider, she was also a tank mechanic. Shilling was also a highly regarded engineer. In addition to her motorcycle dispatch duties, she invented a device that helped keep the Merlin V-12 engines of the early Spitfire fighter aircraft from losing fuel pressure during negative-g maneuvers. It was no small deed. Her invention gave British fighter pilots even footing against the fuel-injected German fighter planes.

By 1942, the Navy stopped recruiting new Wren riders. As Germany’s air power weakened, its airborne threats waned. Still, Wrens dispatch riders continued their dangerous role through perilous weather, night-riding, and narrow roads.

And at this point, it’s easy to imagine that the orders for D-Day were placed into Wren leather messenger bags. The Wrens once again started their motorcycles to deliver those critical and historical messages.

Source Adventure Rider