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  • Writer's pictureShaun Lewis

Farewell The Women's Royal Naval Service

Today in 1919, the Women's Royal Naval Service was disbanded, only to be reinstated in 1939.

The WRNS was formed during WW1, in November 1917. The aim was that women would take over shore-based domestic and cleaning duties to, 'Free a man for sea service'. The Admiralty Order giving notice of the formation of the WRNS stated: 'The Women's Royal Naval Service has been formed because there are certain duties, hitherto performed by men of various naval ranks and ratings, which can be done equally well by women, whose substitution will release men for more strenuous branches of naval service.'

Later, the employability of women was expanded to include drivers, despatch riders, sail makers, wireless telegraphists, signal women and electricians. Their motto was, 'Never at Sea'. By the end of the war, the WRNS comprised 7,500 members, of whom 2,000 were transferred from the Royal Naval Air Service to the Women's Royal Air Force in 1918.

Fortunately, the WRNS was re-formed in 1939 to support the Royal Navy during WW2 and its membership rose to 74,000 in 1944. The role of the WRNS was greatly expanded during WW2 to include ordnance, boats' crews, bomb range marking and meteorology. WRNS even served at sea as cipher officers and coders. At the end of WW2, the numbers of personnel were reduced markedly, but the service was not disbanded this time. About 3,000 women were retained.

In 1990, women were finally allowed to serve at sea in warships. Soon afterwards, women were fully integrated into the Royal Navy and in 1993 the WRNS was disbanded one last time. Today, women of the Royal Navy have qualified as Mine Clearance Diving Officers, pilots, observers and submariners. Some have commanded warships.

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