While some relevant documents are available online or held at The National Archives, the majority of records are held by the Ministry of Defence.
How to look for records of... Women’s Royal Naval Service personnel
How can I view the records covered in this guide?
How many are online?
This is a brief guide to researching records of the Women’s Royal Naval Service, also known as the Wrens.
What do I need to know before I start?
The Women’s Royal Naval Service was formed in 1917 as a branch of the Royal Navy. It disbanded in 1919 and then reformed in 1939. The service was disbanded fully in 1993 when women were allowed to join the Royal Navy. Initially Wrens undertook domestic duties like cleaning and cooking. This was later expanded to a greater variety of roles such as wireless telegraphists and electricians. Most Wrens were based in the United Kingdom.
Try to find out:
- the name and rank of the person
- a date range to help focus the search
Registers of Women’s Royal Naval Service officers (1917-1919)
Consult the registers of appointments of WRNS officers (ADM 321) (download and browse for no charge from our catalogue) and the service record cards and files (£) (ADM 340) for registers of appointments, promotions and resignations of WRNS officers.
Details of service during the First World War (if an officer served in the Second World War) are also included.
Service records (1917-1919)
Search the Women’s Royal Naval Service records online (£) for a person who served as either an officer (ADM 318) or a rating (ADM 336).
Naval medal records (1914-1920)
Consult the Roll of Naval War medals in ADM 171/133 to find a person who received a decoration during the First World War. You can download digital microfilm versions of these records for no charge direct from our catalogue (searching by name will not be possible) or search by name from Ancestry.co.uk (£).
Records in other archives and organisations
Service records (1939-present)
Visit the GOV.UK website for information about how to request a summary of a service record from the Ministry of Defence. These are available to next of kin and members of the general public on request to the MOD, provided the subject is no longer living. An administrative fee applies.
Visit The National Archives’ shop for a range of publications on tracing your military ancestors. Alternatively, search The National Archives’ Library to see what is available to consult at Kew.
Read ‘Tracing Your Naval Ancestors’ by Bruno Pappalardo (The National Archives, 2003).
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