Diocese of Portsmouth

    Cathedral packed to honour women in the Navy

    6 Nov. 2017

    A PACKED cathedral has paid tribute to 100 years of women in the Royal Navy.

    HRH Princess Anne was the guest of honour at a thanksgiving service in Portsmouth Cathedral to mark the centenary of the Women’s Royal Naval Service (WRNS).

    She also unveiled a commemorative stone outside the cathedral’s west door, which will become a permanent feature of the cathedral landscape. It marks both 100 years since the formation of the WRNS and celebrates women’s service in the Royal Navy.

    Former members of the WRNS – known as Wrens – and serving naval personnel packed the cathedral for the service, which included a reading from the gospel of Matthew by HRH Princess Anne.

    Stories about and quotes by former members of the WRNS were read during the service. A Book of Remembrance, listing the names of women who died serving their country, was presented. And prayers were also led by former members of the WRNS, interspersed with sung liturgy created by the Iona Community.

    The Chaplain of the Fleet, the Ven Ian Wheatley, preached the sermon, talking about how women have enriched and enhanced the work of the Royal Navy, using the Biblical metaphor of salt enhancing the flavour of food.

    “I can’t help but be struck by the resonance of the Biblical image,” he said. “All the reports say how women have been as good as their male counterparts, and not infrequently better. You have been salt and light in so many different ways and we want to give thanks for your service and the positive effect you have had on the Naval Service.”

    After the service, HRH Princess Anne was led outside to the commemorative stone by the dean, the Very Rev David Brindley. She removed the white ensign to reveal the single block of Portland stone, which had been engraved to mark the centenary. It was then dedicated by the Chaplain of the Fleet, and the Bishop to HM Forces, the Rt Rev Tim Thornton.

    The commemorative stone had been created by stonemason Robyn Golden-Hann in her studio in rural Hampshire. It also features carvings of caps and hats worn by former Wrens and serving naval officers over the years.

    HRH Princess Anne meets members of the cathedral clergy before the service
    HRH Princess Anne reads the gospel during the service
    HRH Princess Anne admires the commemorative stone after unveiling it

    The WRNS was originally created in 1917, when the Royal Navy decided to employ women to fulfil shore-based jobs to “free a man for the sea”. When peace was declared in 1919, the service was disbanded.

    However, with war imminent in 1938, the service was reformed and the role of women in the Royal Navy was expanded. In 1949, because of their outstanding service, the WRNS became permanently established. By 1993, the WRNS was becoming increasingly integrated with the Royal Navy. The service was therefore disbanded and all the women transferred into the Royal Navy.

    HRH the Princess Royal is Chief Commandant for Women in the Royal Navy, and patron of the Association of Wrens.

    To see more photos from this special day, click here.