Armed Forces Week is a chance to show your support for the men and women who make up the Armed Forces community across the UK: from currently serving troops to Service families, veterans and cadets.
Here at The Women’s Organisation, our very own Training and Development Specialist, Jenny Wallwork, served time in the forces long before joining our team, and we want to celebrate that this Armed Forces Week. Take a read of Jenny’s guest blog to discover how her experience as a woman in the armed forces influenced the person we know and love today. Take a read of Jenny’s guest blog this Armed Forces Week …
“Born in Liverpool made in the Women’s Royal Naval Service (WRNS)!” – Never a truer statement said!
In celebration of Armed Forces day I am writing a blog about my experiences and adventures as a Jenny Wren (yes I know, obviously born to be a Wren) within the Women’s Royal Naval Service.
On leaving school I attended a local college to study with the intention of finding employment. At the age of 17 yrs, I was a shy, quiet, but a good kid who enjoyed sport, particularly netball and football, and was looking for my next step in life. I attended a careers convention at college, there were lots of organisations recruiting for the future one being that of the Armed Forces and Police. I enquired about them all, however the Navy really did stand out, it is the Senior Service and their professionalism and all round commitment really appealed to me. I was invited down to Derby Square (RN recruitment office) in Liverpool to attend an interview, I then completed a written academic test and finally a fitness test, I passed with flying colours. My adventure was about to begin.
One question that is often asked is “why did you join the WRNS?”
The fact of doing something different, which sounded exciting and a big adventure was the attraction. I did not know anyone else who had joined the forces, not even family members, I had never been on holiday as a child, we really couldn’t afford it, so to suddenly then to be on the cusp of leaving home at 17yrs and travelling to HMS Dauntless (Reading) for my Basic Training, looking back, seems quite crazy. So, off I went to start the biggest adventure of my life.
What did I gain from being in the Navy?
My naval career spanned 7 years, I felt quite privileged to be a part of an incredible team, as percentage wise, not many women who applied to the WRNS were accepted.
In the beginning I was terribly homesick, travelling the other end of the country, not knowing when I would be home next, gave me a horrible feeling that I had never experienced before, which on reflection isn’t surprising as I was so young, previously I had only been for days out with my family, the furthest being North Wales. I firmly believe that the training and skills I developed, set me up for life, those Leadership and Management skills, Self Discipline, Motivation and Resilience and drive to be the very best that I could be, developing a can-do attitude. has guided me through every pathway of my career. The opportunity to travel, work for NATO and live in Norway for 2 years, building lifelong friendships, representing the Navy and combined services in Netball and Volleyball, opened another social outlet as well as giving me the travelling bug. Even to this day, when asked about my career and my Forces experiences, people are genuinely interested, as for whatever reason, people still think that it was probably not the norm for a woman to be in the forces, in such a male dominant environment.
What was it like being a woman in the WRNS?
I can only speak from my experience, yes it was a tough environment as over 90% of my colleagues were male. I developed resilience like no other, even at a very young age I had the ability to stand up for myself, which as a woman in an extremely male dominant environment is important. When I joined up, women did not go to sea, which I was glad about, as living in such cramped and sometimes smelly conditions was not appealing. However, this all changed in 1990 when women started to go to sea, I had long left by then.
However, being shore based, we did the same job/work as our male colleagues, I think it helped me that I was so sporty and loved football. Having a good scouse sense of humour also helped, as I was always able to have banter and work as a team regardless of gender. Yes, I did witness lots of situations where Wrens were not treated particularly well. Sadly in those days it was accepted as the norm, which in this current day people would not tolerate or be able to get away with. Thankfully, my personal experiences were very positive and I am incredibly proud of my career and life experiences whilst serving in the WRNS.
Would I recommend a woman to join the Armed Forces?
Absolutely yes – the life experiences I gained, the training I received, particularly in Leadership and Management, the ability to adapt to many situations, both emergency (reactive) and planning (proactive). Being coerced into volunteering to be pushed out of a helicopter from 50 feet into Falmouth Bay, as part of the Search and Rescue exercise, which as an 18 year old was incredibly scary (I was the ‘Goldie Hawn’ of the sea, Private Benjamin). The colleagues/friends I met on the way, the opportunities I was given. I am biased towards the Navy, because of my experiences, it was one of the best experiences of my life.
Basic training is tough – after that, things get considerably better
Discipline is everything – work hard, play hard
Take every opportunity given to you – good drafts and the bad
Set your stall out – start how you mean to go on and enjoy the ride!
Picture of my Division HMS Dauntless 1980 – question is, can you find me?