Women who served in the Women's Royal Canadian Navy (WRCNS) during the Second World War are a vanishing resource.
Of those who joined the WRCNS during this period, many are no longer with us, and the remainder are advanced in years.
Information about these women can be patchy and incomplete, or may already have been lost. Where did they serve? What kind of work did they do? What challenges did they face? Most importantly, who were they?
To help preserve the history of the WRCNS, CFB Esquimalt Naval & Military Museum has begun a project to gather data about Canada's Wrens.
Due to the efforts of museum volunteer Mary Grant, a list of Wren service numbers and names is being compiled. You can search through those names using the Wren List Search at the bottom of the page.
This is not a definitive list and the museum recognizes this. We also recognize that we need assistance to fill gaps in this list, remedy omissions, or supply fresh information. If you can tell us more, please contact: webmaster@NavalandMilitaryMuseum.org
If there is a lack of information about the Wrens, this may be due to the fact that women who joined the WRCNS during wartime were busy serving. Documenting their own workaday activities was not a high priority. They may not have recognized the importance of the jobs they did so routinely and so competently.
In certain instances, the keeping of detailed records like diaries and journals was also discouraged, for fear that key information might go astray. Letters to loved ones at home and abroad were subject to censorship, and photographs were not always easy to obtain.
Another factor may have contributed to the relative lack of data on wartime WRCNS members. When the war ended and their service was disbanded in August 1946, Canada's Wrens, in common with civilian women who worked for the war effort, were encouraged to return to "business as usual".
As Wren Audrey Sim Shortridge recalls in her memoir On the Double, Matilda!:
"There were many women, during the war years, who had gone to work at jobs considered unconventional for women. Now they were being dismissed.
Some of them had been widowed and needed the work, but this did not seem to matter. Now we were expected to slot back into our traditional roles. We went back to the old way of doing things. We put on our hats and white gloves when we attended any function. We appeared conventional, but underneath, we knew that things for women would never be the same again.
Some may not have been able to reach new horizons, but we made sure our daughters and granddaughters were quietly programmed to believe in themselves. "
To find out more about the WRCNS, contact the ex-WRCNS Association of Toronto's web site at the Wren Association of Toronto‘s ‘Locate a Wren’ forum. Another source of information is the Naval Museum of Manitoba site. In addition we have found a list of WRCNS officers for the period 1939-1945 at the following link.
Technically, officers had file numbers, while Wrens had official or service numbers. Please note that file numbers for officers in the WRCNS start with an O (not a zero), plus four or five digits. Officer numbers were allocated according to the position of the individual's last name in the alphabet. These numbers were shared with their male colleagues - for example the surname Freeman, whether for a male or female officer, appeared in the 23300 plus range. Service numbers for Wrens, on the other hand, were part of a standalone series, and the numbers were allocated sequentially, depending on when the woman joined the service.