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Women's Royal Naval Service (WRENS)

Flying Wrens -Women at War


Wrens fitting smoke floats to a Swordfish aircraft.

Women played an active part in the fight against the Axis forces, not more so than the Women's Royal Naval Service (WRENS) and the Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA) women aircraft ferry pilots.This page is dedicated to their dedication and bravery. 



Women played an active part in the fight against the Axis forces (see Women At War), not more so than the Women's Royal Naval Service (WRENS). In 1939, there were less than five million women working in Britain. Two million of these were in domestic service yet only a few years later the WRNS reached its peak of 74,620 in 1944. During the war 102 were killed and 22 wounded. WRNS and the FAA, including ground crew, RNAS personnel and Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA) women aircraft ferry pilots.

In 1943 women were allowed to ferry almost any kind of aircraft in the British arsenal. The aircraft list consisted of 120 different planes. More than 100 women were now flying with the ATA at the height of the war. Not all women came from Great Britain, other came from America, Australia, Canada, South Africa, New Zealand, the three Poles, and Chili. 
See British Forces.com


Fleet Air Arm "Camera Girl" 

During World War Two the WRNS reached its peak of 74,620 in 1944. Between 1939-1945, 102 were killed and 22 wounded. The FAA duties of the WRNS varied significantly, and the women radio mechanics were some of the first WRNS to fly with the FAA in their normal duties.. In the 1942 edition of the Illustrated magazine the role of the Flying Wrens was described as : 
 

"the Wrens of the Fleet Air Arm perform a multitude of warlike tasks. they do almost every job on some stations except actually fly on operations against the enemy ...Flying duties do come within the routine of some of these Wrens. Like the girls who take aerial photographs on training operations and during target practice... The photographs show a Wren bringing up a quick-firing gun which she has serviced for a pilot going on "ops"
Flying Wrens - Women at War! The Illustrated Magazine. November 14, 1942 

The first of the flying WRENs was Leading Wren Pat Lees, a 21 year old radio mechanic who was formally "the first WRNS to fly as part of her regular duties". In September 1942 she was flying in 755 squadron Lysanders (eg V9574). 

The aircraft used by the ATA and WRNS varied considerably and perhaps every FAA aircraft type was flown by the ATA women, or worked on by the WRNS for Air Mechanic Training . Just one example is the Superamrine Spitfire K9883 which was transferred from the RAF in 1943 to RN Milmeece as GI 4727M for WRNS Air Mechanic Training. 

 


Women bulding a Miles Master aircraft, 1941

Just some of those who were mentioned or lost during Fleet Air Arm duties:
 

Names of a few 
Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA) women aircraft ferry pilots

Incident

F/Capt Miss PM Bennett ATA

Flying Barracuda DR202 on ATA ferry from Eastleigh, engine overheating, required to force land at Halfpenny Green, 8.6.1945

S/O Miss J Broad ATA 

Flying accident with Barracuda P9787

F/O Miss Cholmondley (Australian ATA) 

12FP Ferry, Whilst flying Swordfish NF 300 engine trouble, force landed safely at Speke.

T/O Miss MO Frost ATA

Whilst starting up Barracuda RJ792 in the morning at Wigtown ferrying from Dunino, 3 prop blades found chipped.

T/O Miss S Hart ATA

ATA Sherburn, whilst flying Barracuda RK358, undercarriage would not retract - accident, 29.6.1945

T/O Miss Barbara Lankhear ATA (New Zealand

Flew Barracuda BP 993. This aircraft was painted with the name "Te Rauparaha" and four vertical bombs over 4 swastikas. 12.9.1945 

F/O Miss CR Leathart ATA 

15FPP Hamble ferry, whilst flying Skua L3020, port leg of Skua collapsed landing on nose at Lee-on-Solent.

T/O Miss MEA Powys ATA

Accident whilst flying Supermarine Spitfire NN192

Cdt Miss PM Provis ATA

Flying Swordfish NF 369 4FP ferry, force landed undershot airfield, hit embankment avoiding hangar and parked aircraft. Turnberry.

T/O Mrs MJ Ratcliffe ATA

12 FP ferry, flying Barracuda ME237 hydraulic leak, landed safely at Wroughton

S/O Mrs M Rose ATA 

Flying Swordfish NF 262 to Worthy Down, problems at 200ft,  force-landed in field ran into hedge overturned 13.5.1944


T/O Miss AM Russell ATA 

Okay after accident flying Supermarine Sea Otter JN252

T/O Miss KM Stanley-Smith ATA 

5(T) FR Thame Ferry, flying Swordfish NS133 port tyre burst taxying Hawarden.

 F/O Miss G Stevenson (USA) ATA 

Okay after accident flying Supermarine Walrus L2184.

 

 

WRNS MEMORIAL ROLL

The WRNS received some of their greatest losses in a surprise attack by the Luftwaffe on RNAS Ford, Sussex at the height of the Battle of Britain on 18 August 1940. In total 28 personnel were killed and 75 wounded, many being WRNS - one of the most serious death tolls from the Luftwaffe attacks on British airfields. Other WRNS losses whilst on FAA duties 1939-1945 included: 
 

RM Miss JM Ashburner WRNS, RM Miss MEC Batchelor WRNS and CPO FE Andrews RNZN all killed at FP Donibristle when Albacore spun into ground at Fordell Estate, 9.6.1944 

3rd Off. CF Britain WRNS, Sub Lt JA Armstrong, and PO Tel GWH Bagg all killed in Percival Proctor 27.2.1946

1st Officer MEJ Dobson WRNS killed along with PO WC Jones, Lt FP Tennyson, 2nd Lt JL Day RA, and Mr CW Young of Vickers Armstrong. All killed when Dominie R9563 flew into high ground whilst ferrying personnel from Hatston to Donibristle 7.7.1941 

PO PM Gompers WRNS, and PO IF Squires WRNS, died of wounds and W/O GF Burns RAF killed when in Barracuda DR314 which crashed 3 miles from Arbroath airfield (753 sqdn), 27.7.1945

T/O Mrs TDT Jackson WRNS killed with her husband Sun Lt AM Jackson and Sub Lt Fretwell in Swordfish NF235 when dive bombing practice 18 miles west of Perranporth, 23.7.1944.

Ldg Wren (Radio) PA Tansley WRNS, Lt AD Brodie and LA RL Newell all killed in Percival Proctor BV591, after port flap failed, crashed south of Abingdon, 7.7.1942 

TRIBUTE TO A 
LADY BOFFIN

 Mrs GWEN ALSTON

 

Gwen (nee Shone) was born in 1907 at Birkenhead. She joined the Royal Aircraft Establishment in 1933 at Farnborough, working in the Aero Department under H Glauert. During the war years she continued to work at the Aero Department, working primarily on stability and control problems. She also ran the department's spinning tunnel in which aircraft spin characteristics were investigated.

As part of her work as an RAE scientist, she was called upon to fly as an observer on many hazardous test flights. Perhaps her best known work in this field was a series of trials flown in 1944, with Lt Cdr Eric Brown RN, Chief Naval Test Pilot at RAE Farnborough, and who was later to command Aero Flight. Their work was to try and discover the cause of the fatal accidents involving the Fairey Barracuda, five of which had crashed into the sea after releasing torpedoes. 

Captain Brown later remarked "I cannot leave the accident investigation without paying tribute to one of the flight-test observers involved in these tests - Mrs Gwen Alston. Mrs Alston was a truly remarkable "Lady Boffin", who despite having lost her husband in a fatal crash while in a similar duty, never flinched at any risky flight and in all circumstances displayed the essence of courage"

 

 


 

TRIBUTE TO THE QUEEN OF THE AIR AND ATA PILOT

 Mrs Amy JOHNSON MOLLISON

Amy Mollison (nee Johnson) graduated from the University of Sheffield in 1926 and began work as a secretary in London. While in London she became a member of the London Aeroplane Club, gaining her pilot's license in 1928. She was also the first British woman granted an aircraft engineer's license. 

In 1929 she decided to make a reputation for herself by
attempting a long distance flight no woman had ever tried before. She chose to fly to Australia so she would not have to pilot over a large expanse of ocean.  Lord Wakefield to front half of the expense for her craft, a De Havilland Gipsy Moth named "Jason", her father paid for the other half.  After 85 hours of solo flight and
a previous cross country flight record of 147 miles she left for Darwin, Australia on 5 May, 1930.  Her trip took 19 days and she became and instant celebrity, and she was dubbed "Queen of the Air" by the British press. 

Thereafter, she continued making record flights, including a failed attempt to Peking in 1931 and with Jack Humphries as a copilot again in 1931 set a speed record from London to Tokyo in ten days. In 1932 she broke the record for solo flight to Cape Town, South Africa.

Amy Johnston joined the Air Transport Auxiliary in 1939. On 5 January 1941, while on a flying mission for the Air Ministry from Blackpool to Oxford Amy overshot her destination by 100 miles.  She ditched in the Thames Estuary after running out of fuel, and although a convoy trawler tried to rescue her, she drowned.

 

Amy is remembered in many ways, one of which is the British Women Pilot's Association award -- an annual Amy Johnson Memorial Trust Scholarship to help   outstanding women pilots further their careers.

Other links

Women Airforce Service Pilots,WASP website

During World War II, a select group of young American women pilots became pioneers, heroes, and role models...They were the Women Airforce Service Pilots, WASP, the first women in  history trained to fly American military aircraft.
http://www.wasp-wwii.org/
 

 


Created: 3-04-2001, Last Modified 1-06-2005


 
 
 
 

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