Her Royal Highness, the Princess Royal, will officially open an exhibition titled ‘Pioneers to Professionals: Women and the Royal Navy’ at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard on Wednesday, 8 March. The exhibition, which has been set up in association with the National Museum of the Royal Navy, highlights the impact of women’s involvement in the Naval Service.
‘Pioneers to Professionals’ is a part of the centenary celebrations of the Women’s Royal Navy Service (WRNS), which was founded in November 1917. The formation of the WRNS was approved by King George V, who himself served in the Royal Navy in his youth. The Princess Royal held the position of Chief Commandant of the Women’s Royal Naval Service from 1974 until 1993, when the WRNS was integrated into the Royal Navy.
The exhibition highlights the impact of women’s involvement in the navy from the 17th century onwards, including their contribution during both world wars and the Cold War. Prior to the establishment of the WRNS, women worked for the Royal Navy disguised as men. However, the formation of the WRNS allowed women to work in an official capacity in shore-based roles, thereby freeing men to work on ships during the First World War. The pioneering work of the original members of the WRNS paved the way for equal rights in the Royal Navy, and today there are no restrictions for women.
The curator of the exhibition, Victoria Ingles, addressed the importance of the commemorations. “The establishment of the Women’s Royal Naval Service 100 years ago was an important milestone in the employment of women within the Royal Navy,” she said. “Their achievements undoubtedly laid the foundations for the integrated naval service that we have today, but it is also important to celebrate contribution of earlier female pioneers who lived and worked on naval ships long before this.”
“Women have undertaken a huge range of jobs and have often confounded expectations about what they could do, and this exhibition seeks to bring some of these inspirational stories to attention,” she added. “We are also keen to highlight the everyday experience of naval women past and present and are encouraging visitors to contribute their own stories helping us to fully reflect the scale and significance of women’s work within the navy.”
Fittingly, the official opening of the exhibition coincides with International Women’s Day. Along with Princess Anne, the event will be attended by current serving personnel, veterans and WRNS representatives, as well as the curatorial and exhibition team.