DAME KATHARINE FURSE DBE – in 1914 Katharine Furse headed the first Voluntary Aid Detachment to be sent to France. Upon her return to London in 1917, she was offered the post of Director WRNS and with many of her senior colleagues transferred to the WRNS. At the end of WWI, there was a need to administer a large grant of money to ex-service women by the Navy & Army Canteen Board, this led to the Service Women's Fund Committee being set up in 1920, dependant on there being organisations to be represented. Thus, the WRNS Friendly Association, first renamed the Society of Wrens, then, by the end of the year, finally as the Association of Wrens, was formally set up in November 1920 with Dame Katharine Furse as President.
DAME VERA LAUGHTON MATHEWS DBE – an ex-suffragette, was the Officer in Charge of the Crystal Palace Wrens Unit 1917-19, and post-war was involved in the setting-up of the Association. She became Chairman of London Branch and was the first Editor of 'The Wren'. In 1939, she was invited to be part of the Advisory committee which met with the Admiralty prior to WWII, and was subsequently appointed Director WRNS. Her outstanding professionalism and generous personal qualities helped to promote the WRNS to be seen as an effective organisation. The book 'Blue Tapestry' her personal account of the service, was heralded as a 'revealing, astounding and thrilling picture' (Woman's Journal). Dame Vera, as a Life President of the Association of Wrens was an enthusiastic figure at reunions in the post-war period.
PATRON – HRH the Princess Royal
Admiral and Chief Commandant for Women RN
MRS ANTHEA LARKEN CBE, PRESIDENT AOW
Served in the WRNS (1956–1991) initially as a Range Assessor, before being commissioned 3/0 WRNS, in 1960 as a Photographic Interpreter, then transferring to the Secretarial specialisation. She was appointed Director WRNS, and ADC to HM the Queen in 1988. During her career she was involved in significant developments as the WRNS prepared for integration into the RN. She was awarded the CBE in 1990 and an Honorary degree by the University of Greenwich in 2000. Mrs Larken joined the Association in 1984, was appointed Vice President in 1991, and succeeded the late Miss Daphne Blundell as President in 1991.
MRS MARY HAWTHORNTHWAITE
Served in Communications Branch 1959-68 in happy places such as Lossiemouth and Gibraltar, Londonderry and Culdrose. Retired on marriage. Joined Cheltenham Branch in 1979. Attended first AOW AGM in 1999. Served on Executive and Finance 2002-08, Vice Chairman 2008-11. Chaired Constitution Committee 2010-11. Living far away from the sea in Gloucestershire, was Secretary to the local Sea Cadet committee and to the county committee for KGFS. Surprisingly the wife of a Soldier, mother and mother-in-law of RAF officers.
St Mary le Strand (London WC2R 1ES) became the Official Church of the Women's Royal Naval Service, the Women's Royal Naval Reserve and the Association of Wrens, in 1984.
The WRNS Book of Remembrance is housed here; the hassocks were stitched by former Wrens; the paschal candlestick commemorates the Wrens lost in the sinking of the SS Khedive Ismail; the alms dish given in memory of those Wrens who died in the sinking of the SS Aguila; the green frontal given in memory of Dame Jocelyn Woollcombe, (former Director WRNS and President of AOW); and the blue pulpit fall presented by the Brighton & Hove Branch of the AOW.
An annual AOW Carol Service is held here in early December. This year it will be on 7 December 2013 at 1330, all welcome. We are very pleased that by changing this event to a ‘non-working’ day many more of our younger members, including serving RN personnel, are now able to attend. See CALENDAR & EVENTS pages for further information.
Visiting information: www.stmarylestrand.org
* Reproduced from a painting by Mick Hanley by kind permission of St Mary le Strand with St Clement Danes Parochial Church Council.
Crown Copyright for photos and text extracts sourced from the Royal Naval Museum Online Collection www.seayourhistory.org.uk, The Imperial War Museum Online Collection www.iwm.org.uk and Royal Navy Picture desk.