New exhibition at Royal Navy museum


24 January 2017
Joan-Burns-23673.jpg Joan Burns and the motorbike she had to maintain herself
Following a successful fundraising drive, the National Museum of the Royal Navy is to host a new exhibition called Women and the Royal Navy: Pioneers to Professionals.

The exhibition, held in the centenary year of the formation of the Women’s Royal Naval Service (WRNS), charts the history of women and the Royal Navy.

It will uncover some of the lesser-known stories of women dating back to the age of sail when their contribution was disguised or unofficial, to the pioneers who strove to achieve official recognition for women, leading to the establishment of a Naval Nursing Service in 1884, renamed the QARNNS in 1903 and the WRNS in 1917.

It will also highlight their work through the First and Second World Wars to the creation of a permanent Women’s Royal Naval Service in 1949 to the integration of both the QARRNS and the WRNS within the Royal Navy. 

One of the stories told is that of Joan Burns, a WRNS despatch rider who had to not only deliver important orders and messages by motorbike in all weathers, but was also expected to maintain the bike herself.

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Joan made her first uniform by dyeing her jodhpurs navy blue and blacking her riding boots. Her other duties during her career included taking orders out to the D-Day invasion fleet in her launch. She was de-mobbed as Second Officer Joan W M Burns in 1945. After the war, she told her family that she was very proud of her second stripe, but she didn’t know what she had done to deserve it.

The exhibition ends with a look the further advances women have made since integrating with the Royal Navy. These include joining Royal Marine Band Service, submarines and taking on higher roles of command as well as the recent announcement allowing women in front line, close combat roles, which opens the possibility of women joining RM commandos.

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