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All change through the decades

NINE decades of change were

captured in one glance when Wrens’ uniforms from across the years were modelled at the Association of Wrens anniversary service in London. Thanks to the efforts of Kathy Carter

and Kathy Rolls, of Yeovil branch, the uniforms pictured right were found and refurbished to rekindle memories for those attending the service held at St Martin-in-the-Fields. Pictured from left: Modern day desert kit, as modelled

by its owner, POAET(M) Becky Webb, who serves with the Commando Helicopter Force at HMS Heron; Bell bottoms from the 1980s – PO

Louise Wrightson, also of HMS Heron, donned Mrs Nicky Smith’s uniform for the display; A replica World War 1 uniform

  

worn by Mrs Helen Marshall, part of the Bluejackets re-enactment group since 2002 – she was spotted during Portsmouth Navy Days; LWtr Tracey Poultney,

  of HMS

Heron, clad in the Wren Petty Officer’s uniform of the 1960s and 70s, the uniform on this occasion being lent by Mrs Sandy Walton; The World War 2/1950s 2nd Officer

uniform of 2/O WRNS Adrien ‘Biddy’ Pocock, who flew as a Wren Radio Mechanic on test

 flights with RNVT

pilot Laurence Olivier (yes, that Laurence Olivier) was worn by LAET Lyndsey Gascoigne of HMS Heron; World War 2 PO’s uniform, worn by

its owner, Patricia Blackett-Barber, Ch/WRN Radio Supervisor (OPSHQ) RNR, who worked on the Diamond Jubilee of the WRNS exhibition at the National Maritime Museum at Greenwich. CPO ETS Ann

Jones, Training

Analyst at RAF Halton, introduced the group to the Princess Royal.

Pictures: PO(Phot) Amanda Reynolds The threads of history

ECHOES of the past resounded through the crypt of St Martin-in-the-Fields as the Association of Wrens marked its 90th anniversary with a service of commemoration

and rededication. And the most tangible example of the threads of history – apart from the gathering of former Wrens and current Servicewomen, there was a small display of old uniforms at a reception in the crypt which sparked memories and debates. “Trying to find uniforms for

the ‘Uniforms of the Decades’ presentation was quite a challenge for

Carter) from Yeovil branch, plus their

the two Kathys (Rolls and

models,” said Celia Saywell, Public Relations officer for the AOW.

‘runners’ and serving RN

uniform had been made by the wearer, Mrs Helen Marshall from the Bluejackets Re-Enactment Group.”

The result was an impressive and unusual Guard of Honour for the Princess Royal, the patron of the Association. “Kathy Rolls was ‘mistress of the

wardrobe’ – or perhaps in Naval terms found herself returning to her

Stores,” said Celia. “One difficulty she faced was

WRNS category of N&A

trying to match the volunteer models with uniforms that they could fit into – the difference

“Hats – particularly tricorns, with black tops – were either found to be guarded with the owner’s life, imprisoned in a museum or were coming apart at the seams. “Luckily the World War 1


“Members of the Association thrilled to

see these

collectable items being modelled, and were obviously expert in spotting badge detail, stockings with seams, and did discuss at length

‘what’s the right way to wear the Wren’s cap?’ “By the same token they took

between the sizes worn many years ago, and the sizes generally worn today, was noticeable. “Also of interest was the quality

of the World War 2 Second Officer’s moleskin uniform – just beautiful, and this more than made up for the ‘Jersey: Seaman’s’ that needed moth-holes to be darned.

every opportunity to question the RN uniformed ushers, who acted as stewards at the service, about their smart uniforms, their badges, and their medals. “Association members are

always keen to keep themselves informed about the lifestyles of women who are serving today, and it was a privilege for them to see at first hand the modern day desert kit as worn by POAET(M) Becky Webb, who has completed two tours of Afghanistan and is due to be deployed there again in the spring.” And by the by,

a uniform in the attic,

if you have the

Association believes in preserving its WRNS/RN heritage and would be interested to read about any precious keepsakes... Also attending the service, was

First Sea Lord Admiral Sir Mark Stanhope.

“It should come as no surprise

that women from the Association of Wrens have long made a valued and important contribution to the UK’s Armed Forces, and continue to do so today,” said the Admiral, adding that it was an honour to join the Association’s patron and some 450 members. “I am enormously grateful for the wide-ranging support the Association gives both current and ex-serving Wrens and their efforts to keep the spirit of the Service alive across the generations,” he said.

The Women’s Royal Naval

Service was formed in November 1917 to fill shore-based jobs and, as the slogan of the time implored, ‘free a man for sea service’. That allowed more men to

undertake active service in ships, and more than 6,000 women answered the call in a variety of roles, including some that had previously been deemed too

difficult for women. Some units were based overseas, such as in Gibraltar, and in the 19 months of its existence the WRNS made a major impact – not least through the fact that 23 women gave their lives for their country. The Association of Wrens was begun in order for wartime Wrens to be represented on the Service Women’s Fund Committee for the distribution of a large grant from the Navy & Army Canteen Board – a rebate of profits from World War 1.

But just as important was their need to keep the spirit of the

service alive and maintain

friendships. The first committee meeting

was held in December 1920. Between the wars many ex-Wrens worked with the new Sea Guide (Rangers) units, an initiative put forward by the wartime Director WRNS Dame Katharine Furse. So when storm clouds gathered again in the 1930s, it was relatively simple to re-form the WRNS, with planning beginning as early as 1938.

By 1944, the Service numbered 74,000 women in 200 different

jobs, from planning and organising naval operations to performing maintenance roles. Thousands of women served

overseas and large numbers served in other branches of the Navy, such as the Fleet Air Arm, Coastal Forces, Combined Operations and the Royal Marines (where they were known as mawrens). During World War 2, the Service lost 303 women. In July 1940 membership of the

Association of Wrens was offered to those currently serving, and when the WRNS was disbanded in 1993 membership was extended to those joining as RN personnel. The Association of Wrens has become an organisation with a network of branches and small informal groups throughout the UK.

It supports the Benevolent Trust,

WRNS issues three

magazines a year, has a website ( and organises regular national reunions and celebrations. There

are currently more

than 6,300 members of all ages, including several centenarians, and the Association can also count on a fair representation within the serving members Royal Navy.


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