Jenny Wren, Women’s Royal Naval Service

Yesterday, I shared the story of stepping on the cold side of a female officer. Ex Bootneck has an amusing story of his own about his time with some Jenny Finches Wrens:

I too have a ‘dit’ in a similar way that involved a ‘Jenny Wren’ (‘two ringer’ Lieutenant, Women’s Royal Naval Service).

However; those of a Politically Correct position may wish to read on with the thought that I ‘do not’ have a Politically Correct bone in my body; though I am very polite and well mannered, and some times can be blunt and straight to the point without being rude.

To assist our non-nautical friends I will ease the language from ‘salty’ TLA’s (Three Letter Abbreviations) to civvie speak.

Allow me to give a little introduction and lead into the ‘dit’ (sea story) slowly.

Over my long career as a Royal Marine I have been involved in numerous Royal Navy evolutions, one such like is a ‘Replenishment At Sea’ (RAS); either as part of an embarked force or part of a ships company. My first RAS as a young marine, was at sea on HMS Bulwark, a Commando Carrier.

With a nasty storm brewing around the Mediterranean I was in awe of the way the RAS was organised, from the initial ballistic firing of the first line over to the ‘oiler’ (Her Majesty’s Auxiliary Ship providing fuel) to actually witnessing the return transfer of fuel via a sixteen inch diameter hose. As this evolution continued so did the transfer of stores and people, via a Bosun’s chair on a cable barely thick enough to knit with!

As a young marine I had no idea that to ‘volunteer’ for work within a human chain moving stores had advantages. Surrounded by old and bold marines and corporals I watched on in absolute amazement as large boxes of biscuits (you refer to them as cookies), were ‘accidently’ dropped to burst open, only for some of the content to disappear in a flash into black gash bags being carried away by friendly ‘runners’. Senior Chiefs walked the passageways conducting spot checks on any marine with a ‘gash bag’ but the runner would have a forward spotter to act as a look out. It was a great game of cat and mouse, and almost a tradition under the circumstances.

At some point there would be a ‘pipe’ announcing that the stores were going heavy, which meant the replenishment of beer/lager (24 cans per case, and hundreds of cases) were en-route along the chain. At this point the Chief’s were thin on the ground, as they were required to store their own bar as they received their allotment in barrels. The cheer throughout the ship by sailor and marine alike was deafening at such an announcement! While the cat was away etc…

And so it began, the occasional ‘damaged’ case offered two or three tins, which were ‘proffed’ at point of contact and spirited away, but not too often to raise suspicion. It was more for the sport than anything else, as well as a drink later to quench the thirst of a workingman. Besides, the ‘Can Man’ (NAAFI stores manager) had power of write off through stock transfer damage.

At the cessation of the six hour RAS; I was walking back along the Burma way (C deck main passageway) only to be stopped by an old ‘growler’ Senior Chief who eyed the two cans of beer bulging in my shirt. “Royal I do hope they are muscles contained within your shirt” I went beetroot red and wanted to say the big boys made me do it! Mercifully he winked at me and said “on your way” and off he went in the opposite direction!
Back down the Embarked Forces mess deck we divided up our pirated treasure, and shared laughter at tales of previous RAS’s that were so outrageous they just had to be true.

A six-hour RAS also provided aching limbs the following day, which was felt by all; it was regarded as a good work out with advantages.

Modern day as a Royal Marine Detachment. Ship Sergeant Major.

WRNS at sea is a fairly modern day phenomenon for the Royal Navy. I recall sitting in the Chiefs mess slurping tea whilst reading DRO’s (Daily Routine Orders), where upon I came to a pre-warning order; A small detachment of Jenny Wrens would be undertaking sea trials as part of ‘WRNS deploying to active sea service’, they were to embark for a three month acquaint upon our return to harbour.

Having spat my tea over a fellow chief, I took myself to the Marines Barracks to catch up on their ‘craic’ (scuttlebutt) of the day. Late that afternoon in the Chief’s Mess there were some long faces, I for one was up for rubbing their faces in it, as several old salty dogs had previously stated “It will never happen in my time, Nelson will get his eye back before we see WRNS at sea”.

That same afternoon as we were passing close to land we received a mail drop, which included that days news papers; shortly after I sauntered into the mess with a cup of tea and adopted a quick getaway position close to the entrance. I sat reading the Times newspaper waiting for a moment of silence and then said out loud “Bugger me, you will never believe this”? All eyes were upon me as I continued… “Nelson’s statue on Trafalgar Square has got scaffolding going up around it to allow the stone masons access to replace his lost eye”!

Every thing that was not tied or bolted down was thrown in my direction, (as was to be expected); I beat a tactical fighting withdrawal as I hit the exit laughing so loud I thought I would lose my lunch.

And so it came to pass. After weekend leave, the WRNS embarked the following Monday morning for twelve weeks of sea trials. The whole ship started smelling…feminine… Salt water, diesel fumes, baked bread and perfume. Poor old Nelson would have jumped off his column had he not been made of stone!

It was late that Monday morning that I committed the heinous crime of speaking out loud in a non-PC manner to a working party of marines; with the ‘two ringer’ Jenny Wren stood behind me (truly unbeknown to me and not purposely done).

As I turned I looked at the ‘two ringers’ name tally over her left breast (Royal Marines do not wear name tallies). “Morning Ma’am, you must be Lt ******” says I, which received the iced curt reply of “Good morning, I presume YOU are the ships Sergeant Major” upon which she turned on her heel and waddled off. I had a lot more to offer in the way of a reply, which fortunately for both of us did not happen.

That following morning tied up alongside; I assumed my position on the ships duty list as ‘First Officer of the Day’ (OOD), and mustered on the flight deck to observe the on coming duty watch, which was being augmented by several Jenny’s, who were there to observe the ‘on watch’ and assist where required. My Second OOD a Royal Navy Midshipman was to be shadowed by ‘Ma’am’, whose eyes almost burst out their sockets when I was referred to by my duty position.
(The previous evenings DRO’s had been posted detailing a different RN First OOD, who was since required shore side, hence my presence)!

As the Second OOD presented the on going watch to me I gave him a list of duties duly presented to me by the Executive Officer earlier that morning. This day was mine and I was about to savour it to the full. I ensured that the young midshipman (when piped to the flight deck) had his shadow close at hand.
(The Second OOD tends to be busier than a one legged man in an arse kicking competition with a roller skate on his foot in a room full of ball bearings; his duty is always a busy one)…

That early evening whilst conducting ships ‘mess deck’ rounds I took off at speed with Ma’am sucked along in my vortex. It pays to be fit and fast when conducting such a duty as it happens prior to evening supper. With one duty matelot ahead blowing the ‘Officer Approaching’ call on his Bosun’s whistle; I was up and down hatches, ladders and stairwells like a Jack Russell terrier after a rat! My shadow was breathing out of her ears and her note taking ‘pick up points’ ended up looking like a spider had walked through ink on paper.

The following morning as I stood the watch down I noticed we were missing the ‘shadow’. Some thing of which normally would require the courtesy of an explanation, but I decided some ones ego had been pricked sufficiently. I let it go and simply had a bit of ‘craic’ with the young ‘middy’ who was a good all round hand.
(I had studied and worked hard to pass the First OOD Naval Board Exam, some thing I am proud of to this day).

Ships RAS on the way to Gibraltar…

Prior to the RAS the ships Supply Officer as well as the Chief ‘Jack Dusty’ (Stores Chief) detailed different departments to various stations around the ship. WRNS were detailed off as pallet breakers (breaking down the netted cargo loads dropped by chopper), all under the watchful eye of one or two experienced matelots. Obviously speed is of the essence as any delay can, and will, scupper the RAS, which then has to be re-programmed as a separate evolution.

The whole of the RM Detachment assisted the ‘Can Man’ in storing his part of ship (always a pleasure) after which it was on to the de-ammunitioning of the 20mm & 30mm canon shells back over to the Aux ship (the latter being a real testicle buster as there were over eighty cases to be brought up four decks by hand).

All was flowing well until the WRNS buckled, exhausted under the workload! Skeleton hands were drawn from essential duties to replace them, as were a few marines, which did not bode well.

From that day forth, WRNS were placed on the ‘essential’ duties list whenever a RAS was required, which meant some matelots were doubling up on watches after completing the RAS without any down time. For me the initial concept of WRNS at sea had failed miserably, though the powers that be gave it a tick in the box, and the rest is history.

Young Ma’am turned out to be a decent hand, once the chip on her shoulder had been removed. Over drinks in the Chiefs mess one evening prior to the WRNS departure; she joked that it would be the turn of the Royal Marines next (it was left at that, as a joke)…

The day that happens Nelson will get his eye back as well as his right arm!

Jenny Wren has since settled in well within their roles at sea on HMShips, I suppose any new routine within the Senior Service requires time to adapt, after all the service has been around since the Ninth Century AD.

I have the greatest respect for them all.

Ah, that is how you tell a sea-story dit!