Naval Servicewomen gather at Greenwich for WRNS100 celebration 17/07/2017
The Old Royal Naval College at Greenwich has not seen such a large gathering of Naval Servicewomen since the Women’s Royal Naval Service (WRNS) Officers’ training was transferred to BRNC Dartmouth from the College just over forty years ago in 1976.
Up to 300 veterans from the WRNS including women from all ranks and rates serving in today’s Royal Navy enjoyed a grand reunion at the national summer celebration held in London to mark the formation of the women-only service in 1917, to release men from shore-based duties to man ships in the closing stages of the First World War.
The collective noun for a gathering of wrens – of the feathered variety - is the rather unflattering term; a herd of wrens - but ladies and ex-pat former Wrens literally flocked to their former alma mater, flying in from Australia, the United States, Singapore, Canada and from closer to home, from Europe and ports and bases across the UK.
The women’s ages ranging up to the mid-90s representing the last seven decades since the WRNS re-commissioned at the start of the Second World War.
Guests at the WRNS100 Celebration included former Director of the WRNS, Commandant Anthea Larken CBE who commissioned at the Naval College in 1960 and retired from Naval Service having achieved the highest rank in 1992.
Captain Ellie Ablett MBE RN – the Commanding Officer of the Navy’s Initial Training Establishment, HMS Raleigh, represented the servicewomen of today’s Royal Navy as a Guest of Honour.
Vice Admiral Duncan Potts CB and Rear Admiral Paul Bennett CB OBE represented the First Sea Lord and Naval Command Headquarters respectively as two of the very few male Senior Officers to join the celebrations.
A Service of welcome was led by Reverend Pat Mann followed by the parade of the Association of Wrens National Standard along with a procession illustrating various uniforms worn by the Servicewomen in the past 100 years.
A tour of the WRNS Exhibition in the Visitor Centre covered the wartime years and post war when Wrens trained and worked at the Naval College.
With the Painted Hall undergoing a period of conservation work, many of the guests took the opportunity to see the richly-decorated dining hall ceiling up close from the scaffolding as part of a special guided tour.
In the afternoon, guests enjoyed tea served in the Queen Mary Undercroft and amongst the grand Palladian colonnades admiring several views of the Thames.
One of the highlights of the afternoon included a parade of chocolate ships – a traditional event at Annual Trafalgar Night Mess Dinners. The chocolate ships were carried by Naval Servicewomen in historical dress and subsequently devoured with some relish by the women attending.
A group photo of all those attending was taken to mark this remarkable gathering, (when herding the large group of Wrens proved the right collective noun) Vice Admiral Potts addressed those present, he said:
“I am proud to serve in a Royal Navy where women serve as divers, submariners, pilots and engineers; where they have been awarded MCs for courage under fire and have risen to command fighting ships and major shore establishments.
“With the decision that women may now serve in ground close combat roles, including the Royal marines, for the first time in history all branches of the Service are open to men and women alike, with selection based solely on merit – which is how it should be.”
Photo credit RN Phot Unit