The Women’s Royal Canadian Naval Service (WRCNS), aka as “Wrens”, was an element of the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) that was active during the Second World War and post-war as part of the Royal Canadian Naval Reserve (RCNR) until the unification of the Canadian Forces (CF) in 1968. The WRCNS was in operation from October 1942 to August 1946.
The WRCNS was modelled on the Women’s Royal Naval Service (WRNS), which had been active during the First World War and then revived in 1939. The RCN was slow to create a women’s service, only establishing the WRCNS in July 1942, nearly a year after the Canadian Women’s Army Corps (CWAC) and the Royal Canadian Air Force Women’s Division (RCAF WD). By the end of the war however nearly 7,000 women had served with the WRCNS in 39 different trades.
The ByTown II, later renamed HMCS Conestoga (“The Stone Frigate”), was the WRCNS training centre in Galt, Ontario, and became the first female-commanded Canadian commissioned “ship” in June 1943 when Lieutenant Commander Isabel Macneill was appointed commanding officer. That September Commander Adelaide Sinclair became the first Canadian Director of the WRCNS, a position she held until the disbandment of the WRCNS in July 1946.
The WRCNS was revived as part of the Naval Reserve at the beginning of the Korean War. It was disbanded a second time in 1968 when the RCN as a whole was folded into the unified CF.
A Historic Sites and Monuments’ board of Canada plaque in Halifax commemorates the WRCNS.