United Kingdom / Story

The Women of D Day- The Women’s Royal Naval Service


The Women’s Royal Naval Service, or WRNS/Wrens, was re-established in 1939 and to take up a number of ancillary duties such as wireless telegraphy, radar operation and codebreaking. By 1944, there were more than 75,000 servicewomen, many performing vital roles in the planning and execution of Operation Overlord.

Many women assumed wartime occupations and took up military service. Elsie Horton joined the WRNS and in 1944 was a watchkeeper for the commander-in-chief at Fort Southwick, underneath the Portsdown Hills. She turned twenty on 4 June, just before the original date planned for the Normandy landings on the 5th, which she had gleaned from piecing together all of the signal traffic. She watched aircraft overhead on their way to France, and signal work increasingly used ominous codenames. 

Marjorie Crowe responded to a call for typists to join the Women’s Royal Naval Service. After three weeks of training, Marjorie began work at an office near Victoria in London typing the orders for the landings on Gold Beach. During the execution of the D-Day landings, she worked in Southampton, where she was able to see the full extent of the operation in the volume of equipment being assembled. She and fifteen other WRNS were chosen to board HMS Bulolo when the King visited to inspect the fleet, which indicated something big was about to happen. Come 6 June, she reported feeling at somewhat of a loose end as all of the important preparation had been completed, until her unit was sent to Exbury in the New Forest. She was due to be sent to Normandy after the D-Day landings. However, her commanding officer was taken ill and they could not make the journey. She stayed in the WRNS until July 1946. 

Joan Dale was a writer for the same Force G unit as Marjorie Crowe, but in the flotilla office on Southampton hard for the 33-landing craft flotilla. Her office was located next to the team of artificers who mended the landing craft and the number of vessels, troops and new equipment grew steadily every day. Even a day trip to the nearby Beaulieu took them close to a marshalling camp, and there were thousands of troops in the roads. There was a lot of waiting for something to happen until one day the flotilla officer predicted the date of 6 June based on tidal and weather patterns. On the morning of the 6th, she reported that the entire port was empty and there was suddenly no work.