The Navy was the last branch of the Canadian armed forces to accept women as recruits.
The Women's Royal Canadian Naval Service was not established until July 1942, much later than the Women's Royal Naval Service in Britain (also known as 'Wrens').
Canada's Admiralty was slow to see the importance of bringing women into the RCN. However, by the end of the Second World War, there were more than 6000 regular personnel and officers in the WRCNS.
The fact that women now serve in all aspects of naval operations is mainly due to the hard work and adventurous spirit of the Wrens, who celebrated their organization's 60th anniversary in 2002.
It was not all plain sailing for the Wrens. They were paid one-third of what the men earned, in keeping with the misguided (and soon to be disproven) notion that it took three women to do the work of one man. A Chief Petty Officer in the WRCNS, for example, would have needed to save all of her wages for three years just to accumulate the same amount of money earned by a (male) civilian worker in one year.
There was also much discrimination, both from within the ranks of the military and from the wider community. Women in the Navy were not always taken seriously, as this contemporary newspaper article makes clear:
"We don't know how to spell that two-note whistle, with the emphasis on the last note that is, we believe, the equivalent for "Not bad!" or "Woo-Woo!", but that's the one we almost gave a few moments ago. We just saw the trimmest little craft we've seen since coming to Navytown.
Talk about lines! Why, she was sweeping along there with her sails trimmed and with her soft colors showing up against that blue background - just the loveliest sight a sailor would want to set his eyes on. Is she a schooner or a sloop? You got it all wrong, chum. Heck no, she was a Wren!"
From the March 1943 issue of The Crow's Nest, the Canadian Navy newspaper.
In spite of such opposition, the Wrens persevered, and took advantage of the new opportunities opening up to them.
There were 22 different job categories open to women in the WRCNS, depending on their background and experience. The Naval Service drew up specific guidelines to measure a job candidate's ability and aptitude. Here are some examples of how women were evaluated for work as Wrens:
Just one year after the WRCNS was established, the Wrens were already earning high praise for their efforts. Their contribution to naval morale and efficiency was noted by Vice Admiral Percy W. Nelles, Chief of Naval Staff -
"I wish to thank the patriotic women who have entered their country's service and have added so capably to the combat strength of the navy by helping to man the shore establishments in this country. In one short year you have proved yourselves of immeasurable value to the naval service by taking over many tasks with skill, diligence and cheerfulness. As Chief of Naval Staff, I am proud of your record and the contribution you are making to the final victory."