History of the women's royal naval service

Et dominabitur a mari usque ad mare

When Canadians first think of their Canadian Armed Forces, they visualize the Canadian Land Force Command, often called the Canadian Army. They imagine the infantry division with roaring tanks. What they rarely see or think of, however, is the importance of the Canadian Forces Maritime Command, otherwise known as the Canadian Navy, or the Royal Canadian Navy. When the Royal Canadian Navy was first inaugurated in 1910 ("Second World War"), it already served under national auspices, from sea to sea, Esquimalt to Halifax. In the First World War, although it served admirably, it had no Coming of Age, no Battle of Vimy, to raise its profile. However, during the Second World War, the Royal Canadian Navy burgeoned into what it is today: a full-fledged armed force dedicated to protecting the longest maritime border in the world - Canada.

When the Second World War first began, the Canadian Navy had a small fleet. A modest operation, it grew in size and stature throughout the war. The war sparked the nation into building one of the world's largest fleets at that time, jumpstarting an era of naval importance. Thousands of Canadians from coast to coast signed up for the Navy, many of them experienced sailors. Hundreds of ships were built during this period, raising the power and the capabilities of the Royal Canadian Navy. The Navy faced many difficulties, as German submarines began to prowl the Atlantic Ocean from the onset of the war. Indeed, the Royal Canadian Navy started out much smaller than the German Navy, but nevertheless, it influenced the war in its entirety. The Royal Canadian Navy was a vital component in maintaining the hundreds of thousands of square kilometres of water. It protected Canada as German ships entered the Gulf of St. Lawrence, reaching closer to home than any other nation had in the previous wars. The Royal Canadian Navy's Pacific fleet also played a valuable contribution to the war against Japan; it helped defend and protect British colonies. However, the Royal Canadian Navy was also made of an equally important function which saved Britain and its allies - The Merchant Navy.

The Canadian Merchant Navy was an equally essential part of the war effort, yet often forgotten. The Second World War was a coming of age for the Canadian Merchant Navy, as it grew more than ten times its size. Often risking their lives, the Merchant Navy and the Royal Canadian Navy traveled together, against enemies unseen. There are no national legends, no tales of their heroic feats. Their actions are remembered by few Canadians, yet they served valiantly, meandering between mines and enemy ships to fulfill their duty. From the onset, it served as the main vehicle of the transportation. When war was declared September 10, 1939, hundreds of thousands of people started to volunteer to fight in Europe. Those men traveled in Park Ships, ships responsible for transporting the soldiers across the Atlantic, amidst a battle of naval superiority where boats were sank regularly. The Merchant Navy transported not only those soldiers, but it also delivered tons of cargo, helping to keep Britain in the war. Despite their gallant actions during the Battle of the Atlantic, many of the deeds performed by the Merchant Navy were forgotten. However, the period of 1939-1945 helped lay the foundation for future wars where the Canadian Merchant Navy would again become influential.

Another contributing factor to the rise of the Royal Canadian Navy was the introduction of the women's fleet, called the Women's Royal Canadian Naval Service (WRCNS). Nicknamed the WRENS, they were the first women to challenge the male-dominated naval forces. Previously, women had only in the nursing capacity. In 1942, everything changed, especially onboard His Majesty's Canadian Ship Conestoga, where it was the only ship commanded by a woman ("History"). It was a Coming of Age moment, when both males and females, dedicated to serving and protecting, this great country, were allowed to. Women were allowed to take additional responsibility within the Navy. Although they were not treated equal immediately, their effort and hard work opened up doors for generations of women afterward.

Today, the Canadian Navy sails around Canada, and around the world. From the far reaches of Alert, Nunavut, to the coastline of Somalia, the Canadian Navy can be found. Yet, it can trace its roots back to the thousands that served in the Second World War, during the Coming of Age of the Royal Canadian Navy. Their actions laid the foundations for generations to come. On the centennial celebrations of the Canadian Navy, a single bell will ring to remember those soldiers of the sea who lit the torch for future generations of the Canadian Navy. It is a torch carried no brighter than during the Coming of Age of the Canadian Navy. Their vision of a Canada, glorious and free; May it be a vision carried on for eternity.

Works Cited

  • "History of the Women's Royal Naval Service." Wren Association of Toronto. Web. 23 Mar. 2010. <http://www.thewrens.com/history/canada/>.
  • "In the Second World War." Veterans Affairs Canada. Web. 24 Mar. 2010. <http://www.vac-acc.gc.ca/remembers/sub.cfm?source=history/other/sea/second# cont>.

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