Worse Things Happen…


wrns1During my absence I had several emails asking about my historical articles and was there a book. Now there is a good idea. The answer is not at the moment, but I have picked up a few titbits here and there. In this vein I had several requests for more about the caning WRNS during WW2.

I am not sure if I have published some of this material before but here is a quick snippet of what I could find.

WRNS were established in 1939 under the Civil Establishments Branch at the Admiralty. They were therefore often considered as civilian workers rather than members of the service. Wrens could be punished, including discharge from WRNS, disrating, suspension, stoppage of leave and deductions from pay. They could also be charged in a Civilian court. They couldn’t be court martialled. Wrens remained free of the Naval Discipline Act until 1977.

Up until then they were constituted under the same military law and procedures as laid down for boys and other cadets. This allowed a loop hole in the Kings (later Queen’s) Regulations preventing corporal punishment.

One serving WRN reported:

Often you would get a soft officer who would just give you a dressing down. Failing that there was a procedure to follow. After ensuring the offending girl had understood the offence, the officer would then to order them to disrobe down to the necessary. The woman was expected to pull down her service knickers to her ankles and bend over. She could then expect anything from between six to 36 strokes of the cane across her bare bottom depending on the offence and the level of authority of the officer carrying out the punishment.

A six was called a tick and was usually administered by the supervising office. Where this was a male officer he might cane across the knickers or skirt, but he was not obliged to allow this dignity.

My usual officer was a woman and she would always cane the bare bottom and could hand up to 24 strokes, although thankful she would often only give you 12.

The most dreaded punishment was a ‘commanding officers 30.’ This could under some circumstances be increased to 36 strokes and was particular dreaded as our CO was a man.”

A contributor to FemFirst contributed this:

“I asked my mother-in-law about this topic. She’s an old lady, but quite open about worldly subjects. When she was in the Wrens in WW2, was there corporate punishment for minor offences? And what kind?

She told my wife and I that it did happen fairly often. On a base she was posted to, there was one old male officer who was notorious for handing out beatings to the younger Wrens for trivial offenses.

Surprisingly, my mother-in-law, who says she was punished in this way twice, still doesn’t know whether there was any sexual motive or whether the officer was just a very strict disciplinarian from another era!”

Despite this regime it was recorded that between 1940 and 1942 only 37 wrens out of 11,000 deserted.

Nor was this type punishment limited to war time.

Mrs Gwen L, Cobham, Kent wrote:

I attended a Wrens’ Naval Cadets training school in London, in the early 1950s. We were subjected to similar discipline, which did sometimes include being caned on the behind, though it wasn’t bare but over our knickers. I don’t think it did me any harm, but I don’t think it did me any good either. What I do know is, bullying still went on, but we did tend to show more respect to authority and we were certainly not as rude as our modern-day counterparts, male and female.

Mary S, who served up until 1975 claimed that although corporal punishment was not allowed “taking a good hiding could get you out of all kinds of scrapes.”

“If you were lucky, taking six or 12 across the bum was better than going on report. I even heard of a girl having her knickers taken down and going across an officer’s knee for a bare bottom spanking. Definitely not in the book, but it happened and quite frankly, so what? Literally, worse things happened at sea.”

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