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October 13, 2011
Navy women celebrate
Regularly around the country, groups of women meet
for lunch and other activities. They vary in age from
their late '40s to early '90s, but they are as proud and
dedicated today as they were when they wore the
distinctive uniform of the Women's Royal Australian
Naval Service (WRANS) -- now disbanded, but
celebrating its 70th anniversary this year.
LCDR Andrew Stackpool reports.
THE WRANS began as an idea
and because of the determina-
tion of a small number of dedi-
In mid-1940, Frances Provan, a
member of the Women's Emergency
Signalling Corps (WESC), read an article
about the Women's Royal Naval Service
in the UK and believed there should be an
With sheer determination and lobby-
ing of Government officials and the RAN
by WESC founder Florence Mckenzie,
the WRANS was eventually inaugurated.
As there was an acute shortage of
male telegraphists, on April 21, 1941,
the Naval Board recommended the use of
women telegraphists, and Minister for the
Navy Billy Hughes approved the recom-
mendation, with the proviso that no pub-
licity be afforded and he would prefer the
women to be employed as civilians.
These women were to be enrolled --
not enlisted -- and were not subject to the
Naval Discipline Act.
Thus, on April 28, 1941, 14 WRANS
(12 telegraphists and two attendants)
arrived at the RAN wireless/transmit-
ting station Harman. The 'home' of the
WRANS was subsequently commis-
sioned as HMAS Harman on July 1,
None of the women were in the least
interested in a Navy career; they wanted
to do what they could to ensure the war
ended as quickly as possible.
The women quickly demonstrated
their capabilities and, in August, the
Naval Board decided to boost their num-
ber to 1000 and increase the number of
areas of service available to them.
That number was achieved by
February 1943 and by the end of the war
had increased to more than 2500.
The women's worth was fully rec-
ognised on October 1, 1942, when they
were sworn in as fully-fledged, enlisted
members of the RAN -- the WRANS.
Then, on January 18, 1943, the first
16 officers began training at the RAN
College at Flinders Naval Depot (HMAS
The women were employed as teleg-
raphists, coders, clerks, drivers, education
officers, mechanics, harbour messengers,
cooks and sick berth attendants.
Their first Director WRANS
(DWRANS), First Officer (LCDR) Sheila
McClemans, was appointed in late 1943.
In 1945, like their brothers and sisters
in all three Services, the WRANS became
casualties of the post-war reduction in
strength and were officially disbanded on
September 2, 1946, with the last member
of the WRANS being demobilised on
September 30 two years later.
But not for long. The WRANS stood
up again because the RAN was once
again faced with manpower shortages due
to the Korean War.
On December 23, 1950, First Officer
Blair Bowden was appointed DWRANS
and the first rating, PO Eve Ekert, enlist-
ed on January 5, 1951.
Initially, the career range was limited
to telegraphist, writer, sick berth atten-
dant, stores assistant, cook and steward,
IMPORTANT WORK: (L-R) WRANS supply assistants Avis Shearer, Gail Hooper and Irene Evill check
stores at HMAS Leeuwin in Western Australia, circa 1944.
Photo courtesy D. Needham (AWM P01305.002)
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