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- HMAS Harman (base)
- September 2006 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
By Telegraphists S.V.T and D.G.H.
This article first appeared in the Australian War Memorial publication HMAS in 1943. Ed.
During the Great War of 1914-18, several new auxiliary services were formed in England, among them the Women’s Royal Naval Service. The women recruited into this organisation rapidly proved themselves thoroughly efficient and reliable in many branches of naval work, and played a worthy, if not spectacular, part in the winning of the war. Accordingly, when 1939 found England once again at war, the WRNS was speedily enlarged, and its activities extended to embrace many branches of work hitherto undertaken by men of the Royal Navy.
It was not, however, until early 1941 that women here in Australia, who were trained and qualified as telegraphists, were given the opportunity to join the Navy. A service was inaugurated under the title of the Women’s Royal Australian Naval Service, with a view to enlisting women for duty in naval wireless transmitter stations to release more trained men for service at sea. Twelve girls were entered at first: I was one of that twelve.
My first, main and lasting impression is one of honoured tradition, rigid discipline, and everything comme il faut. The Navy is the senior service and the silent service, and the memory of Drake, Nelson and Jellicoe is evergreen. Unaccustomed to discipline as we were at first, we found this textbook approach to everything rather irksome; but we soon realised that there is no place in the Navy for procrastination, dilettantism, or laissez-faire policies. We know we have a job to do and that ‘England expects . . . ‘ and so on, and we’re not going to let her down.
We live under the same conditions as the men. On this particular station, we are accommodated in modern, well furnished cottages, with large gardens and well-paved streets. We are victualled in a general mess and meals are of excellent quality. We work watches side-by-side with a rapidly diminishing number of men, for as soon as we girls are experienced, the men are released for the more arduous duties at sea. Our time off is our own – except for divisions, working parties, church parties and an occasional ‘clear lower deck’!
We found it highly amusing to be told to swab a deck, and the idea of ‘catching a liberty boat to go ashore’ seemed fantastic and incongruous when we merely wanted to go down the street to do some shopping. We were moved to merriment being addressed as ‘station crew’, and instructed to ‘stand by’, or hearing the driver of an official car being told to ‘go astern’. However, we soon became accustomed to the curious jargon, and would now never dream of referring to the galley as the ‘kitchen’.
In the work, we found interest, enjoyment and the thrill of doing a real job of work. We have, with our increasing numbers, already replaced some 90 per cent of the men previously stationed here, who have been drafted away where Wrans are as yet unknown.
The hours are exacting, but it’s the old principle of the ‘roundabouts and swings’; and oh! the blessed comfort that comes at the end of a ‘48 on’ when, heavy of eye and light of head after the Morning Watch, we see the reliefs appear at 0800. Surely there is no greater joy in the world! Before I started watchkeeping, my bed was to me a necessary evil – now it is an ecstatic luxury, a haven and a cherished friend.
Our numbers are drawn from all walks of life. We are mainly former business girls; a few come from the circle known vaguely as ‘society’, but one and all are pulling their weight and standing on their own feet probably more firmly than ever before. We do our own housework, washing (‘dhobying’ in naval parlance), gardening, etc., and we take our turn at camouflaging, slit trench levelling and anything else that comes along, and we are the better for it. Recently, a number of girls have been recruited into our ranks as teleprinter operators and cooks, and it appears that more and more Wrans are to be enlisted.
There have been many precious things in my life, but none that I treasure as dearly as my insignificant little title – A Wran.