History of the WRNS BT


  • The WRNS was created in November 1917 as a result of heavy naval losses in the previous years. The promotion of the WRNS was based on “free a man for sea service”.
  • Over 6,000 women undertook a variety of duties including some that were deemed too difficult for women!
  • Dame Katherine Furse led the WRNS and was a tireless worker involved with all aspects of the service, including the introduction of a uniform with royal blue lace.
  • The Admiralty disbanded the service on October 1 1919, but the ladies had made a great impression in their short existence. During that period the service had lost 23 women.
  • In 1939 Mrs Vera Laughton Mathews became Director of WRNS for the Second World War. It became evident that a Benevolent Trust would be required, not only to help in cases of hardship during the war, but also to help ex-Wrens returning to civilian life after demobilisation. A draft constitution was circulated in 1941.
  • The inaugural meeting of the Trust took place on Saturday 25th April 1942. HM The Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother agreed to become patron of the Trust and HRH the Duchess of Kent, Princess Marina (right) was elected President.
  • By 1944 74,000 women were undertaking a variety of 200 different jobs. During the war the service lost 303 women.
  • Problems were experienced in the early days due to the rapid growth of the service and the constant move of personnel. Typical requests for assistance were from those with homes damaged by fire, billeting fees for evacuated children, medical expenses and unpaid leave to care for sick relatives and younger siblings.
  • As a testament to the valuable service performed by the women’s service, it was made a permanent service on 1st February 1949. Service was voluntary, and it maintained its own discipline.
  • The Trust saw a marked increase in grants for children’s education and school care to help single mothers. Concern was expressed over the increase in HP debts.
  • The WRNS BT was granted a Royal Charter in 1950 by the King and in 1951 interest free loans for house purchase were introduced.
  • During the 1960s large numbers of ex-Wrens reached retirement age. There was an increase in help for divorced and deserted wives with young families. In 1967 HRH Princess Marina died.


  •  In 1972 the Royal Charter was amended and Command Committees were abolished in 1974. HRH The Princess Royal became Commandant of the WRNS in 1974 and accepted the invitation to become President Of The Trust.
  • The service was bought into line with the Navy itself and made subject to the Naval Discipline Act in 1977.
  • During this period state benefits improved, typical requests for help were for; house repairs, rent, rates, TV rental, fuel and furniture.
  • The 1980s saw an increase in applications from overseas members and from single parent families. Typical requests now included help with, nursing home fees, disability aids, furniture and house removals. The first lifeline alarm was given in 1985.


  • 1990 saw the first women serve on board ship in a trial period. During this period grants increased in value, more help with debt was requested although it was hoped that the newly formed CSA would be of some help.
  • The WRNS was integrated into the RN and was disbanded as a separate service in 1993; women were fully integrated into the Navy, with the exception of the submarine service.


  • Since 2000 the Trust has seen an increase in demand for help towards the cost of local authority and private residential care. Many applicants have approached the Trust for a contribution to their top up fees for care home costs or assistance with the costs of temporary and permanent care which is to be provided in their own home. The Trust will also supplement the States allowance to meet an applicant’s personal needs where applicable.
  • HRH The Princess Royal agreed to become Patron of the WRNS BT in 2002 after the death of HM The Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother.
  • In 2009 the regular General Amenities Grant replaced seasonal amenity grants to become a flexible grant awarded on a sliding scale and capped at £600 per annum. It is typically paid in two equal instalments in April and October.
  • In October 2010, the members of the WRNS BT agreed a proposal to allow the Royal Navy and Royal Marines Charity to nominate a representative to sit on the WRNS BT Central Committee. This positive decision will ensure the continuing health of the Trust in the years ahead.



  • The main age group of applicants were of pensionable age, with medical aids forming the largest proportion of grants expenditure after annuity and amenity grants.
  • Measures were introduced by the Trust to help applicants in their 50s who are unable to work, are below state pensionable age and who do not qualify for the minimum income guarantee.
  • The Overseas Grant was introduced on 1 January 2011 to support former Wrens who live overseas and is paid quarterly.


  •  On 25th April 2012, the Trust celebrated its 70th Anniversary and launched a book about its work entitled “70 Years of Trust”.
  • During 2014 all regular weekly grants were reviewed. The Weekly Maintenance Grant, the Weekly Support Supplement together with the Overseas Grant now constitute Regular Charitable Payments within our portfolio and are reviewed annually.


In 2017 the Trust looks forward to celebrating 100 years since the WRNS was originally formed.

For details visit www.wrns.co.uk or WRNS100

The National Museum of the Royal Navy has an extensive WRNS archive, containing material relating to the history of the service from First and Second World Wars as well as the permanent service, including official documents, personal manuscripts, photographs, recordings, uniforms and artefacts.

If you have any material that you think may be of interest to the museum then please do contact them, details can be found on their website. nationalmuseumrn.org, and fleetairarm.com