Women’s Royal Naval Services

Sexism was the accepted social standard in the UK and Commonwealth at the time around the First World War. Women were not seen as capable of providing valuable contribution to the war effort. In the late 1910’s officials began to think men were being wasted in non-combat positions that were deemed “simple enough” for women to handle. This led to the formation of the Women’s Royal Naval Services in 1917 in the UK. These women served as cooks, clerks, librarians, electricians, radar plotters, weapon analysts, and range assessors among other things. The intent of using women to free men for active combat duty was not meant to be subtle, given that the tagline on recruitment posters was “join the Wrens and free a man for the fleet”. The WRNS was disbanded after the First World War, reinstated during the Second World War and stayed active until it was integrated into the Royal Navy in 1993.

The Canadian Royal Navy was established in 1910 after much setback and changes in policy. Following the British reinstatement of the WRNS, The Canadian Women’s Royal Navy Service was created in1942. It stayed active until unifying with all other aspects of Canadian military into the Canadian Armed Forces in 1964-1968. This meant women were allowed to serve as full members rather than CWRNS members.  The navy was the last aspect of Canadian forces to allow women to serve, as the Airforce and Army had already created women’s divisions a full year prior.

Eva Webb was a CWRNS member who served as the librarian of several bases in 1943 eastern Canada. She generously donated her CWRNS outfit, among other important personal effects, to the Maple Ridge Museum. All pieces pictured above are part of Webb’s outfit.  

Her black leather gloves were issued to her upon enlistment. The same is true for her Hat, and patches. Her anchor patch is a simplified version of the CWRNS insignia. The star patch is embossed with SD, which likely meant special detachment. Her chevron patch likely denoted her rank as Corporal. Donor Eva Webb explained that she received her blue and yellow rope badge after 50 years of service in the navy. The button pictured above was removed by Webb from her uniform once she completed her service.

This blog was researched and written by Darren Ragoonath, Douglas College