The idea for the Women’s
Royal Naval Service is widely attributed to Lady Rocksavage.
She is said to have invited Sir Eric Geddes to drinks in 1917
and, upon hearing of the heavy losses the Royal Navy had suffered
in the first three years of the war, said “The army uses
women for shore jobs, why
not the Navy”
The conversation led to the creation of the Women’s Royal
Naval Service (WRNS) in November 1917 with the aim of replacing
male sailors serving onshore with women.
The Admiralty set about recruiting 3,000 women but decided
that they could only do ‘suitable’ work, for example
domestic tasks, waiting at tables, cleaning and cooking.
its 19 month existence the number of Wrens grew to over
6,000 with the range of jobs broadening, many of which had previously
been considered too difficult for women.
The Service was disbanded at the end of World War I but was
reformed at the outbreak of war in 1939.
At its peak,
in 1944, membership numbered over 72,000. In 1947 the Permanent
Service was created
to around 3,000 with fewer trades than the 200 available to women
The Service was disbanded in 1993 when women were integrated
into the Royal Navy itself, with women being able to serve onboard
ships in 1994. Women now serve on around a third of all Naval
ships and make up 10% of their crews.