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Jeanette Davies

Education Assistant, Leading Wren, Womens Royal Naval Service

"I served with 45 Commando Royal Marines for the Tour of Duty in 1981 to West Belfast, Northern Ireland."

Jeanette Davies (nee Bell) during initial training at HMS 'Dauntless'

Fresh from Teacher Training College and looking for adventure, I joined the Wrens in May 1980. At 22 I was a little older than many of the other girls and as an Education Wren, I was involved in training recruits through to supporting personnel about to leave the Service.

I volunteered to participate in the November Ceremonies in 1980, and was part of the Royal Navy contingent at the Festival of Remembrance , Royal Albert Hall and the National Service of Remembrance at the Cenotaph. It was at this event, I first met Royal Marines and was inspired to volunteer to serve with 45 Commando Royal Marines for the Tour of Duty in 1981 to West Belfast, Northern Ireland.

This was a period known as the Troubles and the Hunger Strikes. There were 12 Wrens attached to 45 Cdo RM, our roles were to carry out administrative functions to release Marines to patrol the streets.

Our accommodation was at Musgrave Park Hospital and our working location was at Springfield Road Police Station. Travelling to and from these locations, in armoured vehicles, we would regularly encounter riots, rocks and petrol bombs being thrown. It was an exceptionally volatile period with many casualties, with a background of the sound of gunfire and rocket launchers. Our accommodation was next to the Helipad, where injured personnel would be flown in to the Hospital. It was during this deployment that I met my husband and within a few months we were engaged and married. By this time I had been posted to the Commando Training Centre Royal Marines, training new recruits, very happy and pregnant.

Sadly, at that time, Queens Regulations Royal Navy stated that you would be ‘Dismissed Services No Longer Required’ if you were a convicted criminal; homosexual; or pregnant.

I was very distressed at the prospect of leaving the Navy, I felt ashamed and rejected.

In the 1990s a number of Judicial Reviews, supported by the Equal Opportunities Commission challenged the Ministry of Defence’s policy to dismiss pregnant servicewomen.

In 1992, I was one of many former servicewomen who put forward an appeal through the Employment Appeal Tribunal. Liability had been accepted, and the cases were heard to assess levels of compensation.

On the morning of my Tribunal, the six strong legal team from Ministry of Defence  (MoD) faced my local solicitor – it felt intimidating. The MoD arguments brought up the fact that my husband had left the service soon after the birth of our son, and that we had a second child – information suggesting that I had never intended to make the Navy a ‘career’. Throughout the morning settlement offers were passed to my solicitor, I was reluctant to accept as I needed my ‘day in court’. And I got it.

It was a huge catharsis to speak openly about the effect being dismissed for being pregnant had on my self worth and career prospects, and how much I had loved being a Wren.

The evidence in my Medical and Service records highlighted my ambition and commitment to the Navy. The outcome was an appropriate financial settlement – but also the recognition of the personal anguish caused.

My experience did not deter either of my children from joining the UK Armed Forces. My son had always wanted to join the Royal Marines and he did so at 16 – much to my concern. After 2 years as a Marine, he was selected for Officer Training. He has recently been promoted to Lt Colonel – he has served in Iraq and four tours of Afghanistan. My daughter joined the Royal Artillery as an officer at 26 she served in Afghanistan and the Falkland Island before she left after 6 years.

I have remarried - one of the young Royal Marine Officers I had met during my time in West Belfast. He was the Officer in Charge of Recruit training when my son passed out. Through his role as Commanding Officer Royal Marines Merseyside, I was involved in supporting families and young people (Cadets). During Royal Marine Deployments in Afghanistan, he was the Regional Casualty Notification Officer. He would receive phone calls about injuries and fatalities – and he would visit the families to inform them and ensure that they were supported.

Each occasion my son was deployed in Afghanistan,  whenever the phone rang, I would fear the worst. So when my husband was Casualty Notification Officer, each call felt very personal – some of the young men I knew. I would visit families with my husband and was able to support, empathise and cry with them, as I was also a Royal Marine Mum. It was through this experience that I first engaged with working with the Veteran community and saw how incredible the work is to support physical and emotional wellbeing for service personnel and families and how much it is needed.

My husband retired from the Royal Marines in 2013 and Laterally Transferred to the Royal Australian Navy to support the implementation of the Amphibious Capability. I have retrained as a counsellor and am now working with Veterans Centre Sydney Northern Beaches, bringing my experience and commitment to the needs of Veterans and their families.

 

 


Maternity leave arrangements for British servicewomen were finally introduced in August 1990

The Women's Royal Naval Service was disbanded in 1993. The 4,535 remaining Wrens were integrated into the Royal Navy and able to serve on HM Ships at sea, at all ranks and rates.

Women became eligible to join the Royal Marines Commandos in 2019.

In Australia the restrictions on the employment of women in combat roles were removed in 2011.