#OTD in 1942 the Order in Council authorized the formation of the Women’s Royal Canadian Naval Service (WRCNS).

At the outbreak of war, many women organized themselves into unofficial paramilitary groups across Canada, in cities including Saskatoon, Peterborough, Montreal, and Halifax. The women of these paramilitary groups pushed their governments to permit auxiliary groups within the Canadian Armed services, arguing that women were both ready and equipped to fight. While the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) did not see extensive combat until the summer of 1941, it soon became apparent that the country would need to mobilize its women to meet the demands of the Canadian effort in the war.  

 As early as April 1941 discussions began within the CAF as to how they would be able to incorporate women into their service. While the Canadian Army and the Royal Canadian Air Force seem to believe integration was possible, the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) felt it was “unnecessary and unjustified.” On 20 June 1941 the Canadian Government issued a statement that requested the Canadian services to create auxiliary corps comprised of women to help alleviate the labour burden. In response the Canadian Army and the Royal Canadian Air Force began developing its own women’s auxiliary corps. However it would take more than a year for the RCN would create its own women’s service. On 31 July 1942, the Order in Council authorized the Women’s Royal Canadian Naval Service (WRCNS). The role of these service women was to preform duties that could release men “for duties of a heavier nature than they are now preforming.” Servicewomen were often referred to as  “Wrens”, like their British counterparts, after the small “industrious birds. The Wren is pictured on the WRCNS crest and continues to be a popular term to describe the naval service women.

The WRCNS was a highly successful integral force, and by the end of the Second World War had nearly 7,000 women in their service. According to Barbara Winters Canada was the first in the Commonwealth to use women as integral, rather than auxiliary, members of the naval service. In similar trend as the RCN, the WRCNS often took its lead from its British counterpart, the Women’s Royal Navy Service served as a model to which Canada’s service would be based. The WRNS describes the enthusiasm of the WRCNS to develop a strong service: “The Dominions all started women’s naval; services, and most of them wrote to us for advice. Canada went a big step further. They wrote to the Admiralty asking for a long of two senior WRNS offices to start their service.” Throughout their service Wrens contributed in many different branches, ranging from minimal requirement positions to highly specialized positions.  The WRCNS offered women an opportunity to participate in the war, earn a wage, and enroll in various trainings that had been otherwise inaccessible. Between 1942 and 1945, the Wrens amassed nearly 7 000 service women, 1 000 of those serving overseas. The WRCNS left a lasting legacy that would encourage the RCN to reinstate the WRCNS several years later in the Korean conflict. In 1955, the Wrens were the first in the Commonwealth fully integrated women’s component into the Royal Canadian Navy service. “The women who served in the WRCNS provided valuable wartime aid to Canada, their service benefited them both as individuals and as a community, giving them a sense of purpose, pride, and confidence they would carry with them for the rest of their lives.” 

Further Reading on the Wrens:

Caldwell, Robert. “The Women’s Royal Canadian Naval Service” in AA Blue Water Navy, Volume II, Part 2: The Official Operational History of the Royal Canadian Navy in the Second World War, 1943-1945. Toronto: Vanwell Publishing Limited, 2007.

Dundas, Barbara, A History of  Women in the Canadian Military. Ottawa: Art Global, 2001.

Barbara Winters, “the Wrens of the Second World War: their Place in the History of Canadian Servicewomen,” Nation's Navy: In Quest of Canadian Naval Identity. (Montreal: McGill-Queens University Press, 1996).


1. Ruth Roach Pierce, They’re Still Women After All: The Second World War and Canadian Womanhood (Toronto, 1986), 41.

2. “Women’s Army Already Trained,” Vancouver Sun (Vancouver: 27 June 1941);
The article reported that women were “practically in the army now..… or at least that’s the hope of Vancouver’s uniformed women, following the announcement today that several thousands women are to be enlisted as an auxiliary corps to Canada’s armed forces.”

3. Barbara Dundas, A History of Women in the Canadian Military. (Ottawa: Art Global, 2001), 48.

4. Ibid.

 5. Barbara Dundas, A History of Women in the Canadian Military. (Ottawa: Art Global, 2001), 60

6.  Robert Caldwell, “The Women’s Royal Canadian Navy,” A Blue Water Navy, (St. Catherines: Vanwell, 2007), 594.

7. Ibid

8. Barbara Winters, “the Wrens of the Second World War: their Place in the History of Canadian Servicewomen,” Hadleye et al (ed), A Nation’s Navy, 296.

9.  Robert Caldwell, “The Women’s Royal Canadian Navy,”  596.

10.  “WRCNS - The Wrens”, CFB Esquilmalt Naval and Military Museum. http://www.navalandmilitarymuseum.org/archives/articles/paving-the-way/wrcns-the-wrens

11.  Robert Caldwell, “The Women’s Royal Canadian Navy,”  596.

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