A Short History of the Women’s
Royal Canadian Naval Service (Wrens)
more information click on the links below:
Where did it all begin?
On November 26th 1917, a letter was sent
from the First Lord of the Admiralty to King George V requesting
approval of a proposal to form a Service called the ‘The
Women’s Royal Naval Service’. Women would be employed
on various duties, on shore, hitherto performed by naval ratings.
The King gave his approval and the Women’s Royal Naval
Service was established. Thus it was that before women had been
granted the vote they donned the uniform of the Women’s
Royal Naval Service; served in the Royal Navy and found themselves
doing jobs which would have been unthinkable for women to undertake
just a few years earlier.
It is the initials W.R.N.S. that the acronym “Wren”
came about. The W.R.N.S. was officially disbanded in 1919 but
was reformed in 1939. The number of Wrens initially required
by the Royal Navy in 1939 was fifteen hundred: fifteen thousand
applied. During the next six war years more than one hundred
thousand women served in the Women’s Royal Naval Service.
The Formation of the W.R.C.N.S.
An obvious feature of the Second World War
was the constant demand for manpower. As more men went off to
battle women replaced them in many civilian jobs and the enlistment
of women in the services followed. In 1941 the naval authorities
were of the opinion that the situation did not require an auxiliary
force of women, but with the vigorous expansion of the war effort
the original plan was revised and in January of 1942 the British
Admiralty was asked for the loan of two qualified officers in
the W.R.N.S. to help establish a similar organization. The following
July the Women’s Royal Canadian Naval Service was established.
When it came time to select the women who
would make up the first class of Wrens there were about two
thousand applications. Seventy were chosen for their outstanding
leadership qualities and executive abilities. On August 29th
1942, sixty seven of these women reported to Kingsmill House
in Ottawa to begin their basic training.
On September 19th the first selection board
was held at Kingsmill House. Twenty-eight of the 67 appeared
before the board of whom twenty-two were passed as officers
of His Majesty’s Royal Canadian Navy — the first
women to ever to carry the Kings commission in any British Navy.
For although the W.R.N.S. was a far older service, it was an
auxiliary to the Navy, not an integral part of it as in Canada.
The class graduated October 1, 1942 and most were immediately
dispersed from Kingsmill House, their task to help organize
a service that eventually would see 6,783 women in uniform.
The development of the program was hindered
by the lack of accommodations, but this was overcome and the
first basic training centre, HMCS Conestoga was established
in Gait, Ontario, in October of 1942. All but a few members
of the W.R.C.N.S. began their careers in the ranks and passed
through HMCS Conestoga.
In May of 1943 courses were started in Cornwallis
for: writers and supply assistants, cooks, wardroom assistants,
sick berth attendants, laundresses, M/T drivers and
photographers. At St. Hyacinthe courses for: coders, visual
signalers, teletype operators, switchboard and radar operators,
plotters, and telegraphists
By April 1945 total enlistment in the WRCNS
was 6,500. One sixth of Women’s Royal Canadian Naval Service
served outside of Canada; 503 were sent to England, 568 were
sent to Newfoundland, and about 50 to New York and Washington.
Pay was 90 cents a day during basic training,
with extra daily allowances given according to the Wren’s
ability in her particular branch. Ratings receive a free issue
of winter and summer uniforms and a grant of $15.00 to kit themselves
up with personal underclothing and toilet necessities. A quarterly
upkeep allowance of $3.00 was also allotted.
May 1945 the war was over and troops began
coming home. The war effort was winding down. There was a discussion
on the desirability of retaining a number of Wrens in the navy.
It would have been advantageous to keep a disciplined group,
both to carry on the excellent record that had been established
and to maintain the nucleus of a women’s service ready
for expansion in any future war. The Director of the W.R.C.N.S.
argued that it would be to costly to maintain a group of Wrens
in peacetime and by August 31st 1945 the Women’s Royal
Canadian Naval Service had ceased to be.
In 1951 there were Wrens in uniform once
again. With the establishment of a regular women’s component
in the air force permission was given for the establishment
of reserve components in the army and navy. Approximately 60
officers and 650 Wrens joined the R.C.N.(R). On January 26,
1955, Cabinet approved a nucleus of regular force Wrens for
the Royal Canadian Navy and on Feb 25 the Minister of National
Defense announced that approval had been given for the establishment
of a women’s component in the regular force of the Royal
Canadian Navy. The women were referred to as Wrens, but with
the unification of the armed services in the late sixties the
names of the women’s groups in the services was dropped.
Information from: The Girl’s of
the Kings Navy by Rosamond “Fiddy” Greer
Formation of the Ex-Wrens Association
In early 1946, Wrens taking discharge in
Winnipeg found that they had lost contact with their civilian
friends, but found they had many friends and welcome support
at HMCS Chippawa. A letter in May 1946 from Lt. (\N) Frances
Parsons to Cynthia Avery-Jones suggested that a Wren club be
The purpose of the group was mainly to support;
care and contact Ex-Wrens newly discharged and in Deer Lodge.
It was also suggested that it would be a kindness to look after
the sailors in the Municipal Hospitals. Since Wrens were no
longer employed in the Ship’s offices, Ex-Wrens volunteered
to work evenings and did so until the new Wrens were organized
The first six years were very busy visiting
former Wrens and Sailors in Deer Lodge and the Municipal Hospitals
and families. The Dry Canteen was organized in 1949 to care
for underage sailors and turned over to the RCN in 1955 with
the repeal of prohibition. For entertainment there was swimming,
badminton and bowling with Ex-CWAC’s and WD’s. Formal
Teas were the main source of fundraising.
The flood came in 1950 and the military
was called to assist in building dykes and pumping. HMCS Chippawa
had its own waterway from the Legislative Building to the back
door. The Dry Canteen proved its worth, it was open 24 hours
a day supplying food and drink for weary sailors in from the
dykes. Over 150 Ex-Wrens took shifts in order to keep the canteen
In 1952 members of HMCS Chippawa hosted
the Western Ex-Wrens stranded in Winnipeg due to the rail strike.
After refreshments in the Dry Canteen they were joined at the
Bus Depot by the Winnipeg Ex-Wrens and all proceeded to Toronto
to enjoy the first of many reunions to be held in various cities
For many years the Association assisted
with the Ship’s Company Christmas Party that entertained
adults and children alike. Invited guests were needy families
in the area.
Our membership is made up of Ex-Wrens from
WWll, Korean War, and the post war Reserve. Ages range from
early 70’s to early 90’s. We maintain contact with
our members with monthly luncheons. Guest speakers are invited
to help keep us up to date on current happenings in our City.
In recent years we have been strong supporters of the Naval
Museum at HMCS Chippawa.
Information from: Early History of the
Ex-Wrens association by Lorine Hodgson
- The Naval Museum of Manitoba - 1 Navy Way - Winnipeg Manitoba
- R3C 4J7