The WRNS in Wartime: The Women's Royal Naval Service 1917-1945

The WRNS in Wartime: The Women's Royal Naval Service 1917-1945

by Hannah Roberts


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The Women's Royal Naval Service (WRNS) was created in 1917, re-formed in 1938 and maintained after 1945. This book determines for the first time the reasons for the expansion and contraction of the service and the impact key individuals had on it and in turban the influence it had on its members. Hannah Roberts offers new insights into a previously little studied British military institution, which celebrates its centenary in 2017. She shows how political and military decision-making within the fluctuating national security situation, coupled with a growing cultural acceptability of women taking on military roles, allowed for the growth of the service in World War II into realms never expected of women. Although it shared a similar pattern in its formation to the Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS) and had a similar ethos to its Air Force counterpart, the WAAF, the WRNS took on a wider-ranging role in the war, in part due to the latitude afforded to the service because of its uniquely independent origins. From 1941 onward the WRNS spread internationally and subverted the combat taboo by adopting semi-combatant roles. Using twenty-one new oral histories and a multitude of archived personal documents, this book demonstrates the pivotal importance of the Women's Royal Naval Service in both the world wars.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781788310017
Publisher: Bloomsbury Academic
Publication date: 01/30/2018
Series: International Library of War Studies
Pages: 288
Product dimensions: 5.78(w) x 8.68(h) x 1.11(d)

About the Author

Hannah Roberts holds a PhD in War Studies from King's College London. She is Head of Sociology at Godalming College.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgements viii

List of Illustrations ix

Abbreviations and Terminology xi

Introduction 1

Studying the Women's Royal Naval Service 5

1 The Creation of the World War I WRNS 16

The Social Structural and Cultural Characteristics of Women's Employment Prior to 1917 18

Female Labour Characteristics Before and During the War 22

Sir Eric Geddes: The Creator of the WRNS 24

The Expansion of Geddes' Wartime Role 28

Geddes' 'Bombshell' 35

2 The World War I WRNS: 1917-19 40

Katharine Furse 40

Creation of the Service 46

The Scheme of Service 52

Organisation of the Service 55

The End of the World War I WRNS 60

3 The Re-Creation of the WRNS 62

The Position of Women in the 1920s and 1930s 63

The Impact of Disarmament on the Exclusion of Women from the Royal Navy 71

Rearmament: The Changing Fortune of the WRNS 73

Differences in the Formation of Women's Auxiliaries Internationally 79

The Formation of the Second WRNS 80

4 April 1939-41: Management and Growth of the 'Civilian' Service 84

The Service is Re-Formed 85

Vera Laughton Mathews becomes Director 90

The Build-Up to War: Laughton Mathews' Defiance of the Civil Establishment 95

The Expansion of Roles: The WRNS becomes Part of the Armed Forces 98

1941: The Decision for the WRNS to be Managed by the Civil Establishment is Overturned 109

5 Becoming a Wren: Meritocracy Over Social Position 112

The Scheme of Service 113

The Importance of the Director in the Creation of the WRNS' Distinct Identity 116

Initial Training of WRNS Ratings 122

Officers' Training 137

Reasons for Joining the Service 143

6 Disrupting the Combat Taboo 153

Technical and Operational Duties 155

International Service 162

Wrens as Combatants? 173

7 Social Perceptions and Relationships in the Service 183

The Social Life of a Wren 184

Sexual Relationships and Pregnancy 188

Husbands 195

Boundaries 197

Lesbianism 201

Relations with Male Personnel on Duty 203

Relationships with Female Officers 212

Postscript: The Service Postwar and the Impact on the Wrens 216

The Legacy of the Service 221

Notes 226

Bibliography 256

Index 272

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