Women's Naval Service

These are the service records of over 5,000 women who served in the Women's Royal Naval Service (WRNS) between 1917 and 1919. The original records are grouped in series ADM 318 for officers and ADM 336 for ratings or other ranks.

The WRNS was formed to carry out shore-based duties and allow sailors to go to sea. Recruitment posters encouraged women to "Free a man for sea service". The Admiralty aimed to recruit 3,000 women but eventually over 5,000 women joined. Katharine Furse, formerly Commandant of the British Red Cross Voluntary Aid Detachments, was appointed Director in November 1917.

How do I search the records?

You can search the records in Discovery, our catalogue, by filling in the form below.

You don't need to complete every field to find a record.

What information do the records contain?

Ratings' service records

Each rating's record consists of a form listing details such as:

  • full name
  • date of enrolment
  • age at enrolment
  • character
  • 'mobile' (willing to work away from their home area) or 'immobile'
  • period of service
  • where she served
  • name and address of next-of-kin
  • whether discharged from service

Immobile ratings are found most often in London or at naval bases such as Portsmouth.

Officers' service records

The officers' files hold official forms, dossiers and letters concerning appointments and promotions.

In some cases a file might also include an identification certificate giving details about:

  • date and place of birth
  • marital status
  • trade or profession
  • religion
  • physical description
  • name of next-of-kin

What do the records look like?

Service record of Dorothy Poulter (Catalogue reference ADM 336/26)

Example of a rating's service record

The service record of Dorothy Poulter shows that she enrolled as a motor driver on 18 July 1918. Click on the thumbnail, right, to view an extract.

Her character and ability were assessed as 'V.G.' (or very good).

The record also shows that she was paid a demobilisation gratuity in September 1919. The abbreviation 'SNLR' appears in the 'discharge' column. This abbreviation occurs frequently in these records and it means 'services no longer required'.

Service record of Lily Marx (ADM 318/189)

Examples of an officer's service record

Click on the thumbnail, right, to view extracts taken from the service record of Lily Marx.

The first image, her application form, shows that she was born in Australia, was of British nationality and had been educated in Switzerland. She had also attended Cheltenham College and Bedford College.

The second image is from a 1919 report which reviews her performance. In this report, the divisional director considered her to be 'an extremely good officer all round' and deemed her suitable for promotion.

Why can't I find what I'm looking for?

Officers who resigned in 1918 for personal reasons are not included in these records. Look at the series ADM 321 instead, which contains two registers of appointments, promotions and resignations of WRNS officers from 1917 to 1919.

Related guidance

Women's Royal Naval Service