Scrapbook relating to the Women's Royal Naval Service (WRNS)

Archive Collection

Scope and Content

This scrapbook consists of press cuttings, including photographs, from national and regional newspapers, documenting the formation of the Women's Royal Naval Service (WRNS) in 1917, and the appointment of Dame Katharine Furse as its first Director. Many cuttings describe parades, drill and inspections by various dignitaries. There is also coverage of the case of Violet Douglas-Pennant, Lady Rhondda's report on the state of the Women's Royal Air Force (WRAF) which led to her dismissal as Commandant of the Women's Royal Air Force, and the subsequent Judicial Inquiry set up by the House of Lords. The collection ends with victory celebrations in 1919 and the demobilisation of the WRNS. It also includes a large number of cuttings and photographs relating to women's war work in general.

Administrative / Biographical History

The Women's Royal Naval Service (1916-1993) (WRNS), members known as Wrens, was formed in 1916 during the First World War. The Royal Navy was the first of the armed forces to recruit women and the Wrens took over the role of cooks, clerks, wireless telegraphists, code experts and electricians. In Nov 1917, Katharine Furse, the former Commander-in-Chief of the Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD), was appointed director. The women were so successful that other organizations such as the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC) and the Women's Royal Air Force were established. By the end of the war, in Nov 1918, the WRNS had 5,000 ratings and nearly 450 officers. The Women's Royal Naval Service (WRNS) of the First World War was demobilized in 1919 and was not reformed until Apr 1939. The main objective was for women to replace certain personnel in order to release men for active service. At first the Wrens were recruited from navy families living near the ports. During the Second World War the Women's Royal Naval Service was expanded rapidly. Between Dec 1939 and Jun 1945 numbers increased from 3,400 to 72,000. The duties were expanded and included flying transport planes. WRNS units were attached to most naval shore establishment in Britain. A large number of women served abroad in both the Middle East and the Far East. Some members of the service were employed in highly secret naval communications duties. The Wrens remained in existence until 1993, when women were fully integrated into the Royal Navy.

Katharine Furse [née Symonds] (1875-1952) was born in Bristol, on 23 Nov 1875. She married Charles Wellington Furse (1868-1904), the painter in 1900, but he died four years later. In 1909 she joined the first Red Cross Voluntary Aid Detachments (VAD) attached to the Territorial Army. In the First World War (1914-1918) she was involved in setting up VAD stations in France and London. In 1916 she was appointed the First Commander in Chief Women's VAD and in 1917 Director Women's Royal Naval Service (WRNS, also known as the Wrens). She was created a Dame in 1917. She was a keen skier and was involved with the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts.

Conditions Governing Access

This collection is available for research. Readers are advised to contact The Women's Library in advance of their first visit.

Acquisition Information

Transferred from TWL Printed Collections, Jul 2006.

Other Finding Aids

Fonds Description

Related Material

The Women's Library also holds further scrapbooks devoted to the subject of women's war work:

10/16 Scrapbook [Women during the First World War] (1907-1921)

10/17 Scrapbook: [Suffrage and Women's War Work] (1907-1919)

10/26 Scrapbook relating to women's work in the First World War (1914-1919 )

The Autograph Letter Collection contains letters written by Dame Katharine Furse, the first Director of the WRNS, and Dame Vera Laughton Matthews, Director during the Second World War:

9/1/1328 Letter Dame Vera Laughton Matthews to Mrs Horton

9/2/ Letters from Dame Katharine Furse to various recipients