The Old Royal Naval College, Greenwich is celebrating 100 years of the formation of the Woman’s Royal Naval Service (WRNS) by launching a special exhibition exploring the lives and experiences of the women who served and trained in Greenwich.

Opening on 7 July 2017, the free exhibition spans the period from the First World War to the late 1970s.

The Old Royal Naval College, then simply called the Royal Naval College, was a naval training establishment for most of the 20th century, but few appreciate the role that women played here. As early as 1918, Wrens were posted to Greenwich to relieve men for active service. The exhibition explores changing attitudes to women in uniform and puts the development of the WRNS into the context of wider social change at the time.

During the Second World War, the opportunities open to women expanded rapidly. No longer confined to clerical and domestic roles, Wrens served as radio and cypher operators, despatch riders and signals personnel to name just a few. Over 74,000 women served during the war and the shortage of officers had to be addressed by expanding the WRNS Officers’ Training Course at Greenwich. Between 1939 and 1945 around 8,500 women were trained at the site.

The exhibition explores their wartime experiences, from dining in the luxurious surroundings of the Painted Hall to taking shelter in the cavernous tunnels beneath the site during air raids. It also sheds light on the other specialised courses that were taught here, including women who were trained to intercept signals from German ships and submarines.

Post war, the story draws heavily on the recollections of many former Wrens who trained in Greenwich. Sixteen new interviews have been undertaken and the exhibition includes rarely seen photographs bringing to life this important chapter of the Old Royal Naval College’s history.

Sarah Duthie, Director of Public Engagement, said:

“This exhibition has given us a unique opportunity to explore how extraordinary women have contributed to the history of the Old Royal Naval College and we have been thrilled at some of the discoveries the team has made. Wrens consistently pushed the boundaries of what was expected of them. The exhibition tells stories of their experience at Greenwich, not just the pioneering activity of the Wrens but also the fun they had and the joy they felt at living and learning on this spectacular site.”

The exhibition has been researched and curated by a team of volunteers from the University of the Third Age in collaboration with former Wrens and the Old Royal Naval College. Entry is free.


- END -

Notes to editors:

For more information or images contact:

Tom Ryley, Communications officer [email protected]

+44 (0)20 8269 4762

Listings info:


The Visitor Centre,
Old Royal Naval College,

Opening Dates & Times:

Friday 7 July to Sunday 3 December 2017; Daily, 10am to 5pm

Entry free

About the Old Royal Naval College:

The Old Royal Naval College, Greenwich is Sir Christopher Wren’s riverside masterpiece. This British landmark encompasses some of the finest buildings in the world, and is the must-see architectural centrepiece of the Maritime Greenwich World Heritage Site.

Visitors can see the magnificent Painted Hall and the Neoclassical Chapel, hear the stories of the site and of those who lived and worked here, and enjoy the beautiful historic grounds.

With a bar and restaurant serving locally sourced quality British food, the Old Royal Naval College is the perfect destination for a great day out. Admission is free and all are welcome.

Established as the Royal Hospital for Seamen by King William III and Queen Mary II in 1694, the buildings of the Old Royal Naval College were designed by Sir Christopher Wren, and from 1705 provided accommodation for retired sailors, housing as many as 2,700 residents at its peak in 1814. In 1869 the site became home to the Royal Naval College, an officers’ training academy, until 1997. When the Navy left, the site was opened to the public as an extraordinary cultural destination to enlighten, enrich and delight for present and future generations.

About University of the Third Age:

The University of the Third Age (U3A) movement is devoted to providing educational, creative and leisure opportunities for people no longer in full-time employment. A network of local Universities of the Third Age groups offer retired and semi-retired people the opportunity to come together and learn together, not for qualifications but for its own reward: the sheer joy of discovery. Activities are organised mainly in small groups that meet regularly, often in each other’s homes. Members, through sharing their knowledge, skills and experience, learn from each other.