Women's Royal Australian Naval Service

The Women's Royal Australian Naval Service (WRANS) was the women's branch of the Royal Australian Navy (RAN). In 1941, fourteen members of the civilian Women's Emergency Signalling Corps (WESC) were recruited for wireless telegraphy work at the Royal Australian Navy Wireless/Transmitting Station Canberra, as part of a trial to free up men for service aboard ships. Although the RAN and the Australian government were initially reluctant to support the idea, the demand for seagoing personnel imposed by the Pacific War saw the WRANS formally established as a women's auxiliary service in 1942. The surge in recruitment led to the development of an internal officer corps. Over the course of World War II, over 3,000 women served in the WRANS.

The organisation was disbanded in 1947, but was reestablished in 1951 in response to the manpower demand caused by Cold War commitments. In 1959, the WRANS was designated a permanent part of the Australian military. The WRANS continued to operate until 1985, when female personnel were integrated into the RAN.

WRAN (AWM 009233)
A member of the Women's Royal Australian Naval Service at HMAS Harman in 1941
Sydney 2015 Anzac Day march (17119683648)
WRANS at the Sydney 2015 Anzac Day march


Origin and World War II

In March 1939, Florence Violet McKenzie set up the Women's Emergency Signalling Corps (WESC) as wireless telegraphy organisation for female volunteers.[1] McKenzie established the WESC because of the threat of war, and her belief that training women in wireless telegraphy, morse code, and related skills meant they could free up men for military service.[1] By August 1940, there was a waiting list of 600 women for the small school, and WESC-trained telegraphists were teaching men from the armed forces and merchant navy.[2]

Inspired by an article on the Women's Royal Naval Service, McKenzie contacted the RAN on several occasions to suggest that her telegraphists be employed by the RAN.[3] Although initial letters were unanswered, she was eventually contacted by the Director of Signals and Communications, who proposed an experimental trial.[3] There was opposition from both the government and the Australian Commonwealth Naval Board, although they eventually agreed to the trial after realising there were few other sources of trained telegraphists that could meet RAN requirements.[3][4] Even so, the employment was approved on the condition that there was no publicity attached to the recruitment.[3] Fourteen women from the WESC (12 telegraphists and 2 cooks) were accepted for naval service on 28 April 1941 and employed at the Royal Australian Navy Wireless/Transmitting Station Canberra.[3] Six months later, another nine women were recruited.[3] Although treated as naval personnel, the women were technically civilian employees of the RAN.[5] Despite the formation of women's auxiliaries in the Army and Air Force, the RAN remained reluctant to formally enlist the telegraphists.[3]

The increasing demand for manpower in the Pacific War resulted in a change of opinion in the RAN, with increasing recruitment of female personnel, and public promotion of the service.[4] Approval to form a Women's Royal Australian Naval Service of 580 personnel (280 telegraphists plus 300 other duties) was granted on 24 July 1942, and the initial WESC telegraphists were offered enlistment on 1 October 1942.[6] The scale of the response to recruitment campaigns was unexpected, with over 1,000 women enlisted by the end of 1942.[4] This prompted the RAN to establish an officer corps within the WRANS, with the first training course for female officers beginning at Flinders Naval Depot on 18 January 1943, and a further 16 courses run by September 1945.[4][6]

Women recruited into the WRANS were not permitted to serve at sea, but were able to fill most shore-based positions.[7] WRANS performed a variety of duties, including working as telegraphists, clerks, drivers, stewards, cooks, Sick Berth Attendants, and some technical areas (such as ship degaussing ranges), and intelligence and cryptanalysis.[4] Ruby Boye, the only woman to serve in the Coastwatchers organisation, was commissioned as an honorary WRANS officer.[8] It was hoped that this commissioning (along with the WRANS uniform air-dropped to her) would see the Japanese treat her as a member of the armed forces if she was captured.[8]

Over 3,000 women enlisted in the WRANS during World War II, with 2,671 active at the war's end: 10% of the overall RAN strength, but significantly fewer than the 18,000 each in the Women's Auxiliary Australian Air Force and Australian Women's Army Service.[9][10] The WRANS was disbanded in 1947, with all personnel discharged by 1948.[11]

1951 reestablishment

In 1950, pressure on naval manpower from Cold War commitments prompted the RAN to reestablish the WRANS, albeit reluctantly, with every other possible option examined first.[4][12] The decision was announced on 18 June 1950, with formal inauguration at the start of 1951.[12] Wartime WRANS could re-enlist, but their previous service was not recognised for pay or advancement.[12] Women could only occupy specifically designated shore posts, and would be discharged if they married or became pregnant.[12] Despite these restrictions, there were 1,500 applications for the initial 250 positions.[12] The postwar WRANS operated on a policy of taking over shore duties to free up RAN personnel for at-sea service: a policy described as "a Wran in, a man out".[13]

In December 1959, the WRANS were granted permanent status.[14] By the start of the 1970s, there were almost 700 women serving in the WRANS, including postings at all nine RAN shore establishments, and personnel accompanying the Naval Communications Detachment based in Singapore.[15]

The WRANS' senior officers campaigned to expand the service and remove restrictions that hampered recruitment and retention.[14] In 1969, the restriction on married women was removed, and the automatic discharge of pregnant women was dropped in 1974.[14] In 1975, Prime Minister Gough Whitlam announced the intention to investigate the posting of women to ships on non-combat deployments.[16] By 1978, WRANS personnel were receiving equal pay to their RAN counterparts.[16]


The Sex Discrimination Act 1984 made separate women's branches for the Australian Defence Force unsustainable.[17]

In 1985, the regulations relating to the WRANS were repealed, and female personnel were integrated into the RAN.[18]


The directors of the WRANS were:[19][20]

  • Chief Officer Sheila McClemans (1944–47)
  • Chief Officer Blair Bowden (1950–54)
  • First Officer Joan Cole (1954–56)
  • First Officer Elizabeth Hill (1956–58)
  • Captain Joan Streeter (1958–73)
  • Captain Barbara MacLeod (1973–79)
  • Commander June Baker (1979–83)
  • Commander Marcia Chalmers (1983–85)

Ranks and uniforms

For the first six months, WRANS used the green WESC uniform set up by McKenzie. Naval tailors copied the Women's Royal Naval Service uniform, and clothing was available by July 1941, but without shoes. The uniform was a winter outfit with a jacket with two rows of three buttons, a skirt, blouse, hat, tie and underwear. Later a summer uniform with a dress, belt and socks was issued. The dress had a wide white collar and buttons down the front.

Ranks of the WRANS
WRANS rank Equivalent RAN rank
Chief Officer Commander
First Officer Lieutenant Commander
Second Officer Lieutenant
Third Officer Sub-Lieutenant
Chief Petty Officer Chief Petty Officer
Petty Officer Petty Officer
Leading Wran Leading Seaman
Wran Able Seaman

See also


  1. ^ a b Christopherson, in Mitchell, Australian Maritime Issues 2010, p. 67
  2. ^ Christopherson, in Mitchell, Australian Maritime Issues 2010, p. 67-8
  3. ^ a b c d e f g Christopherson, in Mitchell, Australian Maritime Issues 2010, p. 68
  4. ^ a b c d e f Dennis et. al., The Oxford Companion to Australian Military History, p. 607
  5. ^ Christopherson, in Mitchell, Australian Maritime Issues 2010, p. 71
  6. ^ a b Christopherson, in Mitchell, Australian Maritime Issues 2010, p. 69
  7. ^ Christopherson, in Mitchell, Australian Maritime Issues 2010, p. 74
  8. ^ a b Christopherson, in Mitchell, Australian Maritime Issues 2010, p. 76
  9. ^ Frame, No Pleasure Cruise, p. 196
  10. ^ Christopherson, in Mitchell, Australian Maritime Issues 2010, p. 70
  11. ^ Christopherson, in Mitchell, Australian Maritime Issues 2010, p. 78
  12. ^ a b c d e Christopherson, in Mitchell, Australian Maritime Issues 2010, p. 79
  13. ^ Christopherson, in Mitchell, Australian Maritime Issues 2010, p. 80
  14. ^ a b c Christopherson, in Mitchell, Australian Maritime Issues 2010, p. 80-1
  15. ^ Dennis et. al., The Oxford Companion to Australian Military History, p. 608
  16. ^ a b Christopherson, in Mitchell, Australian Maritime Issues 2010, p. 81
  17. ^ Christopherson, in Mitchell, Australian Maritime Issues 2010, pgs. 82, 85
  18. ^ Christopherson, in Mitchell, Australian Maritime Issues 2010, p. 82
  19. ^ Libby Stewart (2014). "Australian Defence Force". The Encyclopedia of Women & Leadership in Twentieth-Century Australia. Australian Women's Archives Project.
  20. ^ Mason, Ursula Stuart (2012). Britannia's daughters. Pen & Sword Military. p. 160. ISBN 9781848846784.


  • Christopherson, Kelly (2011). "The Women's Royal Australian Naval Service". In Mitchell, Rhett (ed.). Australian Maritime Issues 2010 (PDF). Papers in Australian Maritime Affairs. 35. Sea Power Centre – Australia. pp. 67–88. ISBN 978-0-642-29757-0. ISSN 1327-5658. Archived from the original (PDF) on 27 February 2012. Retrieved 6 March 2012.
  • Dennis, Peter; Grey, Jeffrey; Morris, Ewan; Prior, Robin (2008). The Oxford Companion to Australian Military History (2nd ed.). South Melbourne, VIC: Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780195517842. OCLC 271822831.
  • Frame, Tom (2004). No Pleasure Cruise: the story of the Royal Australian Navy. Crows Nest, NSW: Allen & Unwin. ISBN 1741142334. OCLC 55980812.

Further reading

  • Nelson, Annette (1993). A History of HMAS Harman and its people: 1943–1993. Canberra: DC-C Publications.

External links

1941 in Australia

The following lists events that happened during 1941 in Australia.

Australian Women's Land Army

The Australian Women's Land Army (AWLA) was an organisation created in World War II in Australia to combat rising labour shortages in the farming sector. The AWLA organised female workers to be employed by farmers to replace male workers who had joined the armed forces.

Australian women during World War II

Australian women during World War II played a larger role than they had during World War I.

Barbara MacLeod

Barbara Denise MacLeod, (15 February 1929 – 9 January 2000) was an Australian naval officer who served as director of the Women's Royal Australian Naval Service (WRANS).Born in Bunbury, Western Australia, MacLeod graduated from the Western Australia Teachers College and taught primary school for two years. She joined the WRANS as an officer candidate in 1953, and over her years of service "served in every establishment where the WRANS were posted". She was the first woman to attend the Australian Administrative Staff College and, on appointment as Director of Navy Industrial Policy in 1979, became the first woman of captain's rank in the Royal Australian Navy to be appointed to a position typically reserved for a male captain. In 1982 she also became the first Australian woman to serve as aide-de-camp, to Queen Elizabeth II.MacLeod was appointed a Member of the Order of Australia in 1975, and received the Queen Elizabeth II Silver Jubilee Medal.

Blair Bowden

Blair Thisbe Bowden, (née Williams; 7 June 1916 – 30 September 1981) was an Australian naval officer who served as director of the Women's Royal Australian Naval Service (WRANS).Born in Dunedin, New Zealand, Bowden received an arts degree from Canterbury University College before moving to Australia and enlisting in 1943. She was a member of the first training course for potential female officers, receiving the rank of third officer. By the end of the Second World War she had been promoted to first officer and was "senior serving WRANS officer in the New South Wales command". The WRANS was disbanded in the immediate post-war period, but on its reformation in 1950 Bowden was appointed as its director, a position she held until 1954. She then moved to London and worked at the Australian High Commission, receiving the British Empire Medal in 1970.

Florence Violet McKenzie

Florence Violet McKenzie OBE (née Granville; 28 September 1890 or 1892 – 23 May 1982), affectionately known as "Mrs Mac", was Australia's first female electrical engineer, founder of the Women's Emergency Signalling Corps (WESC) and lifelong promoter for technical education for women. She campaigned successfully to have some of her female trainees accepted into the all-male Navy, thereby originating the Women's Royal Australian Naval Service (WRANS). Some 12,000 servicemen passed through her signal instruction school in Sydney, acquiring skill in Morse code and visual signalling (flag semaphore and International Code of Signals).She set up her own electrical contracting business in 1918, and apprenticed herself to it, in order to meet the requirements of the Diploma in Electrical Engineering at Sydney Technical College and in 1922 she was the first Australian woman to take out an amateur radio operator's license. Through the 1920s and 1930s, her "Wireless Shop" in Sydney's Royal Arcade was renowned amongst Sydney radio experimenters and hobbyists. She founded The Wireless Weekly in 1922, established the Electrical Association for Women in 1934, and wrote the first "all-electric cookbook" in 1936. She also corresponded with Albert Einstein in the postwar years.

HMAS Harman

HMAS Harman is a Royal Australian Navy (RAN) base that serves as a communications and logistics facility. The main base is located in the Australian capital of Canberra, and is geographically recognised as the suburb of Harman (postcode 2600). Established in the late 1930s as the Royal Australian Navy Wireless/Transmitting Station Canberra, the facility was commissioned into the RAN as a stone frigate in 1943. In addition to its communications and logistics roles, the base hosts reserve units from both the Australian Army Reserves and Royal Australian Air Force Reserves, as well as cadet units from all three branches of the Australian Defence Force Cadets.

The base is also reported to be a major contributor to the U.S. National Security Agency's XKeyscore surveillance program.The commander of the base is Commander David Luck, RAN.

Joan Streeter

Joan Streeter, (née Ritchie; 25 April 1918 – 14 April 1993) was an Australian naval officer.

Born in Melbourne, Streeter attended a business college and worked as a clerk before joining the Women's Royal Australian Naval Service (WRANS) in 1943. She was trained as an officer and served at the bases Penguin, Kuranda, Kuttabul and Rushcutter before the discontinuation of the service after the end of the Second World War. The service was reformed at the onset of the Korean War; Streeter, who had in the interim moved first to London and then to Canada, returned and was in 1958 named director of the WRANS. She served in this role until her retirement in 1973 and "was influential in developing government policy to encourage women to enter naval careers". Significantly, in 1968 she spearheaded a reform to allow women to remain in WRANS after they were married.Streeter was appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire in 1964.

Margaret White (judge)

Margaret Jean White (born 4 June 1943) is a former Supreme Court of Queensland justice—the first woman to sit on the Supreme Court of Queensland. White was appointed to the Supreme Court in 1992 and was elevated to an Appeals Court Justice in 2010 until retirement in 2013. She has also previously served as a law lecturer at the University of Queensland.

Royal Australian Air Force Nursing Service

The Royal Australian Air Force Nursing Service (RAAFNS) was a branch of the Royal Australian Air Force, which existed from 1940 to 1946, and from 1948 to 1977. Members served in World War II, the Korean War, the Malayan Emergency, and the Vietnam War.

Royal Australian Naval Nursing Service

The Royal Australian Naval Nursing Service (RANNS) was a former female branch of the Royal Australian Navy. The RANNS was formed in October 1942, wartime demands lead to a need to recruit women directly into the RAN. At its wartime peak the RANNS was made up of 56 nursing sisters with at least 12 months prior experience. The RANNS was disbanded 1948 but the demand for nurses was so great that the organisation was reformed in November 1948. In June 1984 the RANNS and the other female branch of the RAN, the Women's Royal Australian Naval Service, were incorporated into the permanent force and all female nurses became members of the nursing branch of the RAN.

Ruby Boye

Ruby Boye, (29 July 1891 – 14 September 1990) was an Australian coastwatcher on the island of Vanikoro in the South Pacific Area during the Second World War. She was Australia's only female coastwatcher.

Sex Discrimination Act 1984

The Sex Discrimination Act 1984 is an Act of the Parliament of Australia which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex, marital or relationship status, actual or potential pregnancy, sexual orientation, gender identity, intersex status or breastfeeding in a range of areas of public life. These areas include work, accommodation, education, the provision of goods, facilities and services, the activities of clubs and the administration of Commonwealth laws and programs. The Australian Human Rights Commission investigates alleged breaches of the Act. The office of Sex Discrimination Commissioner, created in 1984 alongside the Act, is a specialist commissioner within the AHRC.

The Act implements Australia’s obligations under the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women which came into force in September 1981 and which Australia ratified in July 1983, subject to several reservations and declarations, the main one relating to paid maternity leave. The Act also gives effect to parts of International Labour Organization Convention 156 which concerns workers with family responsibilities.

Sheila McClemans

Sheila Mary McClemans, (3 May 1909 – 10 June 1988) was an Australian servicewoman, lawyer, barrister and company director. She set up the first all female law firm in Western Australia and was the first female barrister to appear before the Supreme Court of Western Australia.

Shirley Fenton Huie

Shirley Wanda Nonie Huie (9 August 1924 – 23 June 2016) was an Australian author. Her best-known published works are And The Second Prize Is—Across Australia by Bus, Tiger Lilies, The Forgotten Ones, and Someone Else's Country.


WRAN may refer to:

Neville Wran, 35th Premier of New South Wales and ALP President

WRAN (FM), a radio station (97.3 FM) licensed to Taylorville, Illinois, United States

WSVZ, a radio station (98.3 FM) licensed to Tower Hill, Illinois, United States that held the WRAN call sign from 1997 to 2014

WRAN-LP, a defunct low-power radio station (100.1 FM) formerly licensed to Randolph, Vermont, United States

IEEE 802.22, a standard for Wireless Regional Area Network (WRAN) using white spaces in the TV frequency spectrum

Women's Auxiliary Australian Air Force

The Women's Auxiliary Australian Air Force (WAAAF) was formed in March 1941 after considerable lobbying by women keen to serve and by the Chief of the Air Staff, who wanted to release male personnel serving in Australia for service overseas. The WAAAF was the first and largest of the wartime Australian women's services. It was disbanded in December 1947.

Women's Emergency Signalling Corps

The Women's Emergency Signalling Corps (WESC) was founded by Florence Violet McKenzie in 1939 as a volunteer organisation in Sydney, New South Wales. As World War II loomed, McKenzie saw that with her qualifications and teaching skills she could make a valuable contribution. She foresaw a military demand for people with skills in wireless communications. As she told The Australian Women's Weekly in 1978: "When Neville Chamberlain came back from Munich and said 'Peace in our time' [sic], I began preparing for war."Initially, training was provided to female trainees, but after the war broke out, the corps also provided training to male servicemen using a pool of female instructors. In 1941, a number of WESC personnel were recruited into the Royal Australian Navy initially as civilian employees before becoming part of the Women's Royal Australian Naval Service in 1942. Throughout the war, the demand for signals training saw over 12,000 servicemen and recruits receive training at the WESC school, while 3,000 women also received signals training, with around one third joining the services. The organisation was dissolved in 1954.

Women's Royal Canadian Naval Service

The Women's Royal Canadian Naval Service (WRCNS or "Wrens") was an element of the Royal Canadian Navy that was active during the Second World War and post-war as part of the Royal Canadian Naval Reserve until unification in 1968. The WRCNS was in operation from October 1942 to August 1946.

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