Reply To: Female officers and ratings in the RN front line.

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Frank Scott

    ‘Front-line’ in the Royal Navy is everyone in a ship from junior cook to captain, so the moment the RN allowed women to serve at sea in 1990 they were front-line. One RN frigate in Gulf War 1 had women in the crew, and after that the only hold-out for some years was submarine service, which claimed some medical issues (now discredited). The most senior female officers in the RN in 2023 are rear-admirals (2*), one surface fleet & one surgeon.

    Interestingly in India their Navy is very much in the van of women’s rights, and their most senior officer is a Surgeon-Vice Admiral (3*), so they can claim to be ahead of the RN. Moreover, unlike RN female officers who have WRNS legacy tricorns, the Indian Navy have normal peaked caps, and in my opinion this makes them look much smarter & more ‘of one company’.

    In fact the RN did experiment with small numbers of WRNS serving at sea in RFAs before 1990. Most notably WRNS air engineering ratings in RFA Engadine, the aviation training ship, who embarked for short periods with pilot/observer training classes. Not sure when that began, probably mid-1980s. In late 1982 one WRNS 2/O Met Officer embarked in RFA Fort Grange in support of 826 Naval Air Squadron (ASW Seakings) for a four month deployment to Falkland Islands.

    Somewhat counter-intuitively the feminist movement was very unsupportive when the RN first embarked women at sea, and was totally silent when the press predictably whipped up frenzy of sexist opposition & portrayed WRNS in very negative manner (“How will wives cope with their husbands exposed to all this temptation on ships”, etc.).