Was your ancestor a Wren? Did she serve as an officer in the Women’s Royal Naval Service in WW1. The WRNS or Wrens as they were both familiarly and officially known, were set up to take over shore work that was keeping men from active service. They took over not just cooking and driving duties but also working as telegraph operators, code experts and clerks.
Each record is a transcript of the original held at The National Archives in London in the series known as ADM 318. The amount of information varies but you should find out the following about your ancestor:
Rank or roll
Link to image on The National Archives website, where you can download the record for a small fee
National Archives reference
In 1917 the Royal Navy became the first of the British armed forces to recruit women. The Women’s Royal Naval Service was to be a shore service that would free up men for active service. Women were recruited as cooks, stewards, despatch riders, sail makers and in Intelligence. From the start the standard for recruitment was very high – it was recognised that for the new service to be taken seriously the women would have to prove themselves beyond any kind of reproach.
Initially the Navy expected to recruit women locally around existing bases but women applied to join from all over the British Isles. There were soon divisions in every major port and eventually these spread to Ireland – in Kingstown, Dublin, Buncrana, Belfast, Larne and Queenstown, and to the Mediterranean - with bases in Malta, Gibraltar and Genoa.
The first Director of the Service was Dame Katherine Furse, who had founded the Voluntary Aid Detachment force. Dame Katherine had left the VAD after becoming disillusioned about the lack of power the women in charge had there. Coming from an artistic background – her father was the poet and critic, John Addington Symonds and her aunt the painter Marianne North – she had married the painter Charles Wellington Furse in 1900. He had died just four years later, leaving her with two young children. In 1909 she joined the Red Cross Voluntary Aid Detachment attached to the Territorial Army. When the war started she was chosen to head up the VAD and led the first detachment of volunteers to go to France. She was also an expert skier who did much to popularise the sport among tourists to Switzerland and later became the director of the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts. You can read more about Dame Katherine Furse in the British Newspapers and elsewhere on Findmypast.
The Wrens were so successful that the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps and the Women’s Royal Air Force were set up soon after. You can find their records on Findmypast as well. A letter from the Sea Lords to the Director at the end of the First World War, thanking them for their war service made their appreciation clear. “On the occasion of the general demobilisation of the Women’s Royal Naval Service, I am to request that you will communicate to all concerned Their Lordships’ high appreciation of the efficient manner in which the Service has been organised and conducted, of the zeal and exemplary conduct which its members have shown in the performance of their duties and of the assistance which they have afforded the Naval Service generally."
By the end of the war there were 5,500 members of the Women’s Royal Naval Service with 500 officers. As well as this, around 2000 members of the WRAF had served in the Wrens supporting the Royal Naval Air Service, before being transferred when the WRAF was created. The Wrens were disbanded in 1919 but reformed in 1939 with an expanded list of activities, including flying transport planes. At their peak in 1944 there were 75,000 people. The Wrens were eventually integrated into the regular navy in 1993.