The Wrens: Female Dispatch Riders in WWII

 As Americans, when we think of the role of women in WWII, we often envision factories filled with women wearing headscarves, riveting together airplanes.  That may have been what was happening here in the US, but across the Atlantic in Britain, things were definitely more dangerous for the women that helped with the war effort. 

 By 1939, it was clear that every able bodied seamen would be needed to serve on ship and the Royal Navy decided to reconstitute the Women’s Royal Navy Service (nicknamed the Wrens) which had been disbanded after WWI.  Initially 3,000 women were enlisted to perform shore based duties, thus freeing up their male counterparts to go to sea.  The Royal Navy made this point abundantly clear using the recruitment slogan “Join the Wrens and Free a Man for the Fleet.

The first Wrens were put into positions traditionally performed by non-enlisted women.  Jobs like cooks, stewards, typists, etc. were commonly filled by Wrens.  As the War continued it soon became necessary to increase those roles to include jobs which previously had only been held by men.  During the War, the number of Wrens peaked at nearly 74,000 and the number of different jobs they performed increased to over 200.  One of the jobs in which the Wrens received world-wide recognition was that of the motorcycle dispatch rider.

The Royal Navy wanted women who could not only ride but also maintain their own machines, so the first women chosen for dispatch duty were well known competition riders from local race circuits.  

As the War progressed, more women were trained, many of which who served with great distinction.  An Associated Press article from May of 1942 relates the story of Wren McGeorge who was awarded the British Empire medal for bravery following her actions during a bombing raid on Plymouth.  While carrying urgent messages to her commander, McGeorge's motorcycle was struck by a bomb.  Although McGeorge was not injured, the motorcycle was rendered useless.  Still determined to get her messages delivered, McGeorge left the wrecked motorcycle behind and ran the remaining half mile back to Headquarters with bombs falling all around her.  After successfully delivering her messages, she volunteered to go back out.  Hopefully they found her a new motorcycle for the next run!  

 During the invasion of the Low Countries, the London based Wrens worked eight hour shifts, both day and night, to deliver messages between the Admiralty and multiple Embassies.  Their work throughout the Battle of Britain was highly praised as passage through London became increasingly difficult with the German bombing campaign wreaking havoc on the city. 

Although they never served at sea, a total of 100,000 women served in the Wrens during WWII.  Of those, 303 were killed in service to their country.  The Wrens continued in active service until 1993 when they were officially integrated into the Royal Navy.