Title: Been There Done That

Author: Mill, Lorna

Condition: Very Good Plus

Edition: 1st Edition

Publication Date: 1983


Cover: Soft Cover without Dust Jacket – 106 pages

Comments: This book gives a human insight into the service women of the Royal Australian Navy humane and caring service.

The Service was established in April 1941 when the Royal Australian Navy enrolled 14 women at HMAS Harman, the wireless telegraphy station near Canberra. Two women were stewards, and 12 trained as telegraphists. At the time, the formation of this civilian unit was not publicised, but this changed when the War in the Pacific was perceived as a growing threat to Australia.

One of the girls, Francis Proven, read an article about the Women’s Royal Naval Service, and several of the telegraphists became enthusiastic about the idea of a Women’s Royal Australian Naval Service. McKenzie offered the Minister for Navy fully trained female morse code operators, in order to free up men for active service. On 31 January 1941, after six months of lobbying, the Naval Board approved the use of women telegraphists, preferably as civilians. On 18 April 1941 the Minister for the Navy, Billy Hughes, approved the employment of fourteen women with a provision that there be no publicity. On 21 April, the Navy Office sent a letter to the Commodore-in-Charge at Sydney authorizing the entry of women into the Navy as WRANS.

The initial fourteen women (twelve telegraphists and two domestic helpers) had their medical test on 25 April and arrived at HMAS Harman in Canberra on 28 April 1941. Francis Proven became WRANS number 1.

On 1 October 1942, the WRANS were sworn in as enlisted personnel in the Royal Australian Navy. In December 1942, newspaper coverage was used to promote the existence of the WRANS and encourage applications. The first 16 WRANS officers were trained at the Flinders Naval Depot, and by February 1943 their numbers had increased to 1,000. By the end of the war, their numbers had increased to over 2,500.

WRANS performed a variety of duties, working as telegraphists, coders and clerks; but also as drivers, education officers, mechanics, harbour messengers, cooks and sick berth attendants. Some WRANS worked for the Allied Intelligence Bureau, the Censorship Office, and the Allied Translation Section of U.S. General Douglas MacArthur’s Order of Battle unit. WRANS personnel also served as domestic staff at Government House, Yarralumla, staffed the Honours section of the Governor-General’s Office, ran a choir for charity performances and radio broadcasts, and published Harmania, a newspaper.

The Service was disbanded in 1948 but was re-formed in 1951 to help the RAN cope with manpower shortages, and by 1959 was later incorporated as a non-combatant (and thus non-seagoing) part of the permanent naval forces. HRH Princess Alexandra was the Honorary Commandant of the WRANS. She paid a visit to HMAS Harman in 1959 and 1978. Angus Ogilvy accompanies her on the later visit.

Women were permitted to serve aboard Australian naval ships in 1983. Subsequently, WRANS personnel were fully integrated into the Royal Australian Navy, and in 1984 the Women’s Royal Australian Naval Service was again disbanded.