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Naval servicewomen join sister services for Women At War centenary commemoration

Naval servicewomen join sister services for Women At War centenary commemoration
13 July 2017
Fifty Royal Navy and Royal Naval Reserve servicewomen joined their sister Services from the Army and RAF along with Armed Forces veterans at the National Memorial Arboretum for the Women at War 100 commemoration.

Organised by The Royal British Legion, the Drumhead Service, exhibition and reception marked the contribution of women to the UK’s military capability over the past 100 years.  

At the Drumhead Service, Senior Nursing Officer Nicci Pugh, who served with the Queen’s Alexandra’s Royal Naval Nursing Service, provided a reading from her memoirs recalling the preparations and her personal journey to war on board Her Majesty’s Hospital Ship Uganda.

The hospital ship entered the combat zone of Falkland Sound 35 years ago to treat the wounded and traumatised survivors from both the battles ashore and from the ships that were attacked.

She said, “It was a frenetic, exhausting period, split into watches for 24-hour medical care - but looking back, I can see it was a huge privilege to have been able to help those courageous men who were so badly injured.  I feel quietly proud of our achievements, working so far from home on board our floating hospital throughout the Falklands Conflict.” 

Today has been a fantastic day, meeting so many inspiring women from our sister Services across the generations - in the Navy women are treated no differently from the men

Mechanical engineering technician, Leanne Moon

Secretary of State for Defence Sir Michael Fallon said, “From the fields of Flanders to the deserts of Afghanistan, women have served in our Armed Forces over the past century with distinction and commitment.  

“It is essential that roles in our Armed Forces are determined by ability, not gender, and it is therefore very good news that women are joining us in greater numbers and serving in diverse roles including close combat operations.”

2017 marks the centenary since the formation of the Women’s Royal Naval Service in November 1917. Just five months ahead of the Wrens donning their naval uniforms in 1917, the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC) marked their own centenary on 7 July, following the Government’s decision to allow women to join the British Army for the first time in various supporting roles as drivers, clerks, cooks, mechanics, telephonists and telegraphers.  

No longer acting in a supporting role to the men, today’s naval servicewomen are able to undertake every opportunity that their male counterparts fulfil. Women now serve in command of Royal Navy ships at sea, in HM Submarines and with Fleet Air Arm Naval Air Squadrons.

Women have also taken command of shore-based training units and are represented in specialist naval disciplines from Mine warfare, Engineering, Diving, Intelligence and Information Operations.  

Newly qualified as a mechanical engineering technician, AB Leanne Moon (19) is looking forward to joining her first ship, HMS Defender in September. Laying a RBL poppy afterwards at the National Memorial, Leanne paid tribute to those who were pioneers in the Royal Navy and WRNS in previous generations.

She said: “I am excited to join my first ship, HMS Defender, to travel overseas on operational duties. I expect to be with this ship for at least two years.  Today has been a fantastic day, meeting so many inspiring women from our sister Services across the generations.

“In the Navy women are treated no differently from the men. Given any task - we just get on with it, no problem. The lads on board accept us without question. They know that we have proved ourselves capable and professional.”

Following the Government’s decision in 2016 to open all Naval Service branches to women, those who can meet the RM Commando close combat training standards will, in the near future, have the opportunity to serve in the Royal Marines Corps.

Many women already serve in the Royal Marines Band Service in their dual role as musicians and have had roles in support of the RN Medical Services for over 25 years.  

Sparking social change for women across the world, the UK’s decision to form women-only Services was taken during the First World War when Britain faced a severe shortage of manpower.

During the Second World War as many as 75,000 women served in the Women’s Royal Naval Service, many of whom were represented at the national memorial’s event, either as individuals or as a party from the national and regional Association of Wrens groups.

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