‘Pioneers to Professionals: Women and the Royal Navy’ opened on 18th February 2017 and focuses on the history of women working in the Naval Service. The exhibition reveals some of the lesser known stories of women dating right back to the Age of Sail more than 250 years ago, when the contribution of women was disguised or unofficial.
To coincide with the Women’s Royal Naval Service (WRNS) 100 launch and International Women’s Day, the National Museum of the Royal Navy, Portsmouth Historic Dockyard, will host an official launch of the exhibition today.
Women working in an official capacity for the Royal Navy were recorded as men on official records. The first female uniformed service, the Naval Nursing Service Alexandra’s Royal Naval Nursing Service in 1903. This led to the formation of the WRNS in 1917. The exhibition aims to highlight women’s involvement and impact in both world wars, the Cold War, the integration of the WRNS with the Royal Navy, and the continued efforts of female personnel today.
The objects in the exhibition illustrate the role of women in the Royal Navy in the widest spectrum, ranging from a rare First World War uniform (only 5,500 women served during the 20 months the service operated in the First World War) to an oboe owned by a member of the Royal Marine Band Service. A time capsule buried in 1974 was discovered at RNAS Culdrose. The then head of the WRNS, Commandant Mary Talbot, had buried the everyday items that defined the life of a Wren at that time, including badges, descriptions of the trades undertaken, clothing and official documents.
Curator Victoria Ingles said, “Historically the work of the Naval women was rarely recorded and often overlooked, yet thousands have actively contributed to worldwide naval operations over centuries. During this time women have undertaken a huge range of jobs and have often confounded expectation about what they could do, and this exhibition seeks to bring some of these inspirational stories to light. We are also keen to highlight the everyday experience of naval women past and present, and are encouraging visitors to contribute their own stories, helping us to fully reflect the scale and significance of women’s work within the Royal Navy.”