Wren Despatch Riders

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We were always taken for men'

The WRNS category with the most unique uniform was that of the Despatch Riders. The Wrens had to concoct a variety of warm and weather proof clothing that would keep them insulated and dry whilst out riding.

The end result was the creation of someone who looked very far removed from the glamorous Wren officer of the recruitment posters.

Pair of Wren despatch rider gaiters
Pair of Wren despatch rider gaiters (RNM)

The Riders looked rather unfeminine due to their uniform and were frequently mistaken for being male. They also did a job not considered typically women's work.

These problems did not really bother the Despatch Riders themselves - they seemed to have found it rather funny!

B Holford-Smith served as a Wren Despatch Rider from 1943 to 1945. She describes the uniform -

'Our uniform was different from that of the majority of the Wrens, in that we wore breeches and gaiters and our jackets were cut like hacking jackets and we wore caps with peaks when not wearing crash helmets. This meant we got let off most parades, as we rather spoilt the look of things. However, when on duty, as regards jackets, we mostly had to resort to what was provided for male Dispatch Riders, this was a heavy rubber-proofed, khaki top, usually far too big, so that it reached down to our knees, so Wren uniform breeches sufficed, except in extremely wet weather. The gaiters and socks provided for us proved far too draughty, so were only used on "ceremonial occasions". Those who had contacts in the Fleet air Arm sometimes managed to acquire flying-boots, but most had to rely on the humble "Wellie" stuffed out with sea-boot stockings - even so, on long journeys on wet days it was sometimes necessary to stop and empty our "Wellies" out. During the ice and snow in Winter, on a long journey, one got so cold one felt almost frozen into a permanently fixed sitting position. A flimsy pair of goggles was provided but these were apt to mist up, they were not much use, so we did without. The bright yellow gauntlet gloves and whatever thick scarves we could scrounge to stop wind and rain going down our necks, completed the picture - so it was not surprising that we were actually taken for men while actually on the job. This fact had its funny side, once on arrival at an Army Camp with no facilities for "Ladies", a Guard was called to escort me to the "Gents". He too thought I was a man, and probably imagined I was under arrest or something, for I was marched off and at first he didn't want to let me out of his sight!'


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