Category Archives: WRENS

Wren Petty Officer’s Badges

Last year we looked at a wartime Petty Officer’s badge in red thread here. That example was for a male PO in working dress and recently I have been lucky enough to pick up an example of the same badge, but in blue:imageThe blue colour indicates that the badge was for a member of the Women’s Royal Naval Service, whilst the king’s crown indicates that this is a badge from the Second World War. The badge has clearly been worn on a uniform at some point, but it still retains the paper backing to protect the rear of the stitching:imageIn the same purchase of the petty officer’s badge, this trade badge of an ‘S’ inside a star was included:imageThis is a Wren’s trade badge for the supply branch and many Wrens were drafted into this branch to manage the navy’s stores in warehouses ashore, freeing up men for service aboard ship. It is likely that this pair of badges has been together since the war. Again this patch has been worn, but retains its backing:imageOne Wren Petty Officer describes some of her duties in wartime:

In April 1942 I joined the WRNS and was sent to Alton where we had a 6-month course at a place called Surbiton Towers. We learned morse code and had to read it at 25 words a minute, four-letter code. We had to pass at over 90% before we were allowed to be considered competent and sent to a wireless station.

I was sent to Scarborough with a number of other Wrens. It was a new underground station and we worked shifts 8 — 1, 1 — 11 and 11 — 8. I remember one time when all the lights fell down and as we were underground, we were in the pitch black. However, up there, we didn’t really come into contact with the War as there was no bombing etc…

Then I went to a holding depot in Rochester and was sent to Greenwich Royal Naval College where I was a writer keeping records etc. From there I was sent to Chelsea Embankment and as I was a writer, I got interested in running the WRNS quarters. I became Petty Officer Quarters Assistant. I loved that — it was a very interesting job. I went to Parkstone Gardens, Chelsea. I had to see that they had their meals which was a very busy job. I think we had about a shilling a day for each Wren — of course, a shilling would buy quite a lot then but you still had to make sure that nothing was wasted. I also had to see that the quarters were clean and well run.

When we were in London with the bombing, we really sort of treated it as routine. We had wire netting on the windows. On the siren sounding, we had to go to the basement. Quarters were almost empty during the day as staff were out on duty. When I was in charge of the register at Chelsea, they were allowed to go and sleep elsewhere as long as they were registered and it was considered better to disperse them so as to avoid the problems of direct hits. If they were able to go home or to someone they knew that was all right. I went home of an evening and I think that was reassuring for my Mother

Here we see Wren Constance Hale with the petty officer’s badge clearly visible on her sleeve:PearnConstanceWRNSPettyOfficerHMSPhilante

WRNS Jigsaw Book

As all those who have served in the military will know, there are long periods of boredom with nothing happening. Service personnel fill these lulls with chatting, reading, playing cards and any other form of cheap, easily portable forms of entertainment. One popular pastime, especially in barracks, during the Second World War was the jigsaw puzzle. Tonight we have a jigsaw designed and produced by Waddingtons with service personnel and their families very much in mind:imageThis set is in the form of a thin book rather than a traditional box and has the Women’s Royal Naval Service badge on the front, along with a price of 2/6. The back of the book explains how a small box can be folded up to store the jigsaw puzzle and to post it to those in the services:imageSadly it seems that the jigsaw was given to someone else at the time as it is missing. The rest of the booklet has a brief history of the WRNS up to this point in the war, with line drawings to illustrate the story:imageimageimageimageI have not had much luck tracking down a history of these puzzles and I have yet to find any other examples of this puzzle, as ever if you have more information that can help fill the gaps, or indeed a photograph of the puzzle itself, then please get in contact so we can flesh out the history of this object a bit more!

Tuesday Finds

The usual morning trip to the market has turned up a few nice bits again. Whilst I went a little over my budget, I am pleased with what I’ve picked up and there are some very nice bits.

WRENS Jacket

I have a large number of uniforms within my collection, from all three services covering the whole of the twentieth century. However up until now all these uniforms have been for men. I have not consciously avoided adding women’s uniforms to my collection, however there are fewer of them out there due to the much smaller numbers of female service personnel and consequently they are often more expensive than their male equivalents.

I have finally rectified this by purchasing a jacket which would have been worn by a second officer (lieutenant) in the Womens’ Royal Naval Service, or WRENS. The WRENS were founded in the First World War and despite being disbanded in 1919 and reformed in 1939. It was the only women’s branch of the armed forces to retain its name after WW2 and it retained its seperate identity until it was absorbed into the main Royal Navy in 1993.

imageThe WRNS officer uniform was based on its male equivalent, this example being made of fine barathea, fastened by a double row of gilt king’s crown naval buttons:

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 Light blue lace at the cuffs indicates rank, with a diamond replacing the male ‘executive curl’:imageThe navy were also unique amongst the armed forces in having jackets that fastened in the female style i.e. right over left. This example has the medal ribbons for the Defence Medal and the War Medal:image

Britsh MkVII waterbottle

Based on the design of waterbottle issued in the Great War, the Mark VII was an updated version introduced just before the Second World War. The old Blue enamel was replaced by a dark green version and instead of stitching the string holding the cork to the felt cover it was now fastened to a small wire eye welded to the neck of the bottle.photo 4This design of waterbottle would be used throughout the war and into the 1960s. This example is missing its felt covering and has a few knocks but is in good condition otherwise; it is faintly marked 1955 on the base. I have a fair few of these now, but due to the different webbing sets I am collecting i can always use a few more.

Postcard of Dragoon Guards

This rather battered postcard cost me the princely sum of 50p. According to the inscription on the back it shows the 4th Royal Irish Dragoon Guards’ Colours and Escort at Haworth, a small town in West Yorkshire, famous as the home of the Bronte Sisters.

The  4th Dragoon Guards were raised in 1685 and became famous in the First World War when a squadron became the first element on the British Expeditionary Force to engage the German Army in 1914 in Mons. The Regiment was amalgamated with the 7th Dragoon Guards in 1922 to form the 4th/7th Dragoon Guards.photo 3The dress of the civilians and the use of Full Dress uniform leads me to believe the photo was taken before the First World War, whilst the small figure of a soldier in Service Date in the background dates it to after 1902 when that uniform was introduced.

British Passport

Whilst not strictly military, I bought this passport mainly for one reason: the Visa stamped inside. The use of passport documents in the UK goes back to 1414, but the widespread issue of such documents really began during the First World War, despite widespread opposition from the British public throughout the interwar years.photo 1

This passport was issued to Mr Rowland Hardcastle of Leeds on 28th April 1937. Mr Hardcastle is described as being 5 ft 3 1/2 inches with blue eyes and dark brown hair and born on 5th August 1905. There are a number of foreign visas stamped inside, the most interesting being this one:

photo 2Issued in 1938 by the German consulate in Liverpool, this visa stamp has the Nazi swastika and eagle stamp clearly visible. By the stamps he seems to have had business in Cologne. It is sobering to realise that just a year later Britain and Germany were in a head long slide to war.