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Royal Navy creates tribute to women pioneer sailors

22 June 2017
The Royal Navy joined with Plymouth City Council in opening a civic garden on Monday as a tribute to women who serve in the Royal Navy.

A plaque on Armada Way, by Babcock (the MOD industrial partner at Devonport Naval Base) was unveiled in the garden by Joan Picton, 97, a veteran former member of the Women’s Royal Naval Service (WRNS) which marks 100 years of its formation this year.

A group of former WRNS - the pioneering women of the Royal Navy who forged a future of equality for their colleagues in today’s service, joined in the garden launch which also marks the start of Armed Forces Week.

The WRNS was formed in 1917 and its members known as Wrens. The service did not require women to go to sea, although many did so and all played a huge role in World Wars one and two. The Wrens were integrated into the main Royal Navy in 1993 with all women serving alongside male colleagues in all aspects of the Navy.

Joan (born Joan Roe) of Saltash cut the ribbon round the plaque and said: “I fully believe in ceremonies like this because it shows younger people that there is a thriving Royal Navy with women playing their part.  I was in the Wrens in the early days and it showed the way forward to integrating women fully into the Royal Navy. I’m proud to be part of that, although I’m not quite old enough to be among the first Wrens, I am one of the few left - as old as I am.  It’s sad but there are none left from the Wrens that I know.

“Most will tell you that the Wrens were the best times of their lives and certainly it was an exciting time when women were given the chance to get away from the domestic atmosphere and have a taste of a sort of freedom to contribute on the same level as men. I leaned secret messaging which I’m pleased to say was good for the Navy. I didn’t go abroad only because my brothers were also in the Navy and I didn’t want to desert my mother.’’

It is a fantastic recognition of 100 years of Women in the Navy by the City of Plymouth and will be a permanent reminder of this strong bond

Mrs Jacqueline Clink, former WRNS officer and wife of Admiral John Clink, Flag Officer Sea Training

Joan was born at Milehouse, Plymouth (then largely farmland), and schooled at Plymouth Art School. Her family moved to Saltash in 1938.  She signed up for WRNS during summer 1939 and called up in 1939 as a writer to Mount Wise House. She served at HMS Defiance in Plymouth and then Greenwich for cypher training, then to HMS Daedalus and HMS Heron before leaving in 1945. Her father and grandfather were in the RN and three brothers in RN (Fleet Air Arm, hydrographic service and submarines) while her sister drove ambulances during the war).

This project came about through Plymouth City Councillor Brian Vincent and Mrs Jacqueline Clink. A former WRNS officer, Jacqueline (wife of Admiral John Clink Flag Officer Sea Training based at HMS Drake, Plymouth), worked with the council liaising with the Lord Mayor’s office on designing the garden.

Jacqueline said: “It is a fantastic recognition of 100 years of Women in the Navy by the City of Plymouth and will be a permanent reminder of this strong bond.’’

Lieutenant Jenny Ruscoe, and five sailors from HMS Raleigh, who have just passed out of initial training and are waiting to go onto their specialist training and a steward spent a day digging the beds and planting the beds - totally transforming the area already appropriately decorated by the HMS Ark Royal anchor.

Nancy Hill, trustee of the Association of WRNS, said: “This is a very impressive tribute to all the women who serve in the Royal Navy, not just former Wrens.’’  She urged any women who serve in the Royal Navy to join the Wrens Association. Anyone interested is asked to contact Nancy on 01752 774075.

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