The Image of Women in the Navy

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To bed with the Wren

The image of the Wrens has enjoyed an ambivalent relationship with male naval personnel. Their services to the war effort were highly commended by many in the Admiralty, but many servicemen did not really regard females in uniform as important or necessary. Others saw them as just being there for the added pleasure of the sailors.

Listen to Marjorie Spencer comment on the attitude of male Stewards towards Wrens (RNM).

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Read a transcript of this oral history

There were a variety of well used jokes and anecdotes about the purpose of the Wrens. Wrens, for example, demanded the right to wear black silk stockings in summer, rather than woollen ones, during World War Two. The First Lord of the Admiralty, Lord Alexander of Hillsborough, stated that 'the Wrens like the feel of them and so do my sailors'.

An alleged signal was sent out to all tailoring establishments on contract to the Service when stocks of woollen cloth was low - 'Wren skirts will be held up until the ratings needs are satisfied.'

Another common saying was, 'Up with the lark, to bed with the Wren.'

There were various humorous poems written by men in the Navy about the Wrens, highlighting the women's apparent uses.

'The Wrens' poem, written by a serviceman at Kranji W/T station, WWII
'The Wrens' poem, written by a serviceman at Kranji W/T station, WWII (RNM)

Read a poem written by Lieutenant Clifford Wright RNVR about the WRNS

During World War Two there was undoubtedly a tendency towards living for the moment and this often encouraged short term or intense relatioships to develop as couples never knew if they would both survive the war. American GIs began to arrive in Britain during 1943. Their salaries were seven times that of British servicemen. They therefore had far more money to spend on British girlfriends, as well as access to luxury goods such as chocolate and silk stockings with which to win them over. It was thrilling for the British girls, including the Wrens, to go to dances and films with GIs.

Valentine's card given to Wren Elizabeth Candy, 1946
Valentine's card given to Wren Elizabeth Candy, 1946 (RNM)

To find out how the WRNS were portrayed in naval cartoons, select Next


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