WRENS - A Proud Heritage
History of Manitoba
A Brief History of the Woman's Royal Canadian
(Montreal, June 15th, 1952) The First
Post-War Contingent of WRENs from Winnipeg.
Pictured at the train station in Montreal,
travelling to training in HMCS CORNWALLIS
Back Row: Lillian Blain, Jean Mansell,
Gloria Patterson, Donna Parkinson, Joan
Hughes and Yvonne Jacques. Front Row:
Alice Hives, Roselle Lavallee, Jean Proceviat,
Dorothy Moar and Betty Hutter. Missing
from photo: Chris MacKay, Frankie
Findlay, N. Empson and Pat Geraghty.
At the beginning of WWII, Canada
did not initially have a woman's service. In contrast,
England had been recruiting women for the armed
forced since 1938.
Government would not accept the idea. "Canada did
not need women to run her war" they said and the
war was nearly two years old before the government
changed it's mind. Nurses were different; nursing
sisters had been a Canadian military tradition since
the Boer War.
In July 1941,
the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) Women's Division,
called WD's, was founded and a month later was followed
by the Canadian Women's Army Corps, known as CWAC's.
Women from all walks of life volunteered by the
hundreds. It was not until early 1942 that the Royal
Canadian Navy (RCN) decided it could use some help
from women and a signal was sent to the British
Admiralty with the urgent request, "Please send
us a mother Wren".
The title "Wren"
came from the British Women's Royal Navy Service
(WRNS) and the Women's Royal Canadian Naval Service
(WRCNS) adopted the same name. Three officers of
the WRNS arrived in Canada in May 1942, and they
picked the first 67 recruits, 22 of whom became
In October 1942,
HMCS Conestoga at Galt, Ontario (now Cambridge)
became the basic training centre for Wrens from
across Canada. The Commanding Officer was Lieutenant
Commander Isabel Macneill, the first woman to command
a ship in the British Commonwealth.
At that time
the war was not going well for the Allies. In June
1942, German submarines were sinking an Allied ship
every four hours and for every U-boat sunk five
more were being built. The Canadian Navy needed
manpower for sea duty, so women between the ages
of 18 and 45 were recruited for duty.
Their duties included servicing
anti-submarine equipment, aircraft maintenance,
ciphers, communications, signaling, wireless telegraphy
and driving. They did the same work as men, but
did not serve at sea on warships. By 1944 there
were over 74,000 Wrens deployed in Britain, the
Mediterranean, the Near, Middle and Far East, Australia,
Europe and North America.
war ended on May 8, 1945 (V-E Day) and Japan surrendered
on August 15, 1945. Demobilization of over 6,700
Wrens began immediately after V-J Day and by August
31, 1946 was completed. The Wrens no longer existed.
In 1951 approval
was given for the establishment of a Women's Reserve
in the Royal Canadian Naval Reserve (RCNR). Approximately
700 Wrens joined. In January 1955, Cabinet approved
a nucleus of regular force Wrens for the Royal Canadian
Navy and in February the Ministry of National Defence
announced the establishment of a women's component
in the regular force of the RCN. This represented
the first time in the history of the British Navies
that Wrens were totally integrated in the regular
called Wrens these women were members of the RCN
until February 1, 1968 when the Canadian Forces
Reorganization Act came into being and women of
all three forces came under one heading as "service
women". It wasn't until the late 1980's that the
name WREN disappeared from the working ranks of
(Winnipeg, June 1st, 1952) First
Decoration Day Parade - CHIPPAWA's WRENs.
Pictured marching from right to left:
Joan Breckenridge, Adeleine Lang, Yvonne
Jacques, Dorothy Moar, Donna Parkinson,
Roselle Lavallee, Alice Hives, Jean Mansell,
B. Hayes, Lillian Blain, Chris MacKay, Jean
Proceviat, Frankie Findlay, Joan Hughes,
Sheila Teaque, Margaret Sproule, Unkown
(Hidden), Betty Hutter and CPO Charles Gilraine
The Next Page:
The Flood of 1950.