Princess pays tribute to navy’s ‘pioneering’ breed of female sailors

Princess Anne signs the guest book with Professor Dominic Tweddle Picture: Habibur Rahman (170350-77)
Princess Anne signs the guest book with Professor Dominic Tweddle Picture: Habibur Rahman (170350-77)

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PIONEERING women in defence have been praised by royalty for the ‘vital’ role they play in protecting Britain.

Princess Anne paid tribute to the efforts of women in the navy during a visit to Portsmouth’s National Museum of the Royal Navy.

Current service personnel, Alice Kightley, Jankey Jagne, Heather Bisby, Natalie Hutchinson and Hannah Quigley Picture: Habibur Rahman (170350-61)

Current service personnel, Alice Kightley, Jankey Jagne, Heather Bisby, Natalie Hutchinson and Hannah Quigley Picture: Habibur Rahman (170350-61)

She launched the museum’s latest exhibition which chronicles the history of women in the Senior Service.

As well as meeting ex-members of the Women’s Royal Naval Service (WRNS) – which this year marks its centenary – the princess also spoke to modern-day female naval pioneers, from submariners to helicopter pilots.

The royal said: ‘It is important to reflect on the vital contribution women have made, and continue to make, to our Royal Navy and to society,’

The visit fell on International Women’s Day which is a chance to celebrate the role women play in society.

Sub LT Abigail Freeman looking at some of exhibits Picture: Habibur Rahman (170350-62)

Sub LT Abigail Freeman looking at some of exhibits Picture: Habibur Rahman (170350-62)

It was also a chance to reflect on the role of the WRNS, which laid the foundations for women serving at sea.

Founded in 1917, the service allowed women to work in an official capacity in shore-based roles.

HRH The Princess Royal held the honorary position of Chief Commandant of the Women’s Royal Naval Service from 1974 until 1993 and then, when the WRNS was integrated into the navy, she assumed the position of Chief Commandant for Women in the Royal Navy.

Among the guests invited to the launch included helicopter pilot Lieutenant Commander Julia Rogers.

She was one of Britain’s first female aviators and has flown about 1,800 hours, tackling everything from search and rescue to dangerous extraction missions of wounded soldiers in Iraq.

‘It didn’t occur to me I was a trailblazer,’ said Lt Cdr Rogers, who is based in Portsmouth. ‘It took 16 years being in the navy to realise what I had done.’

Leading Medical Assistant Karen Campbell is one of the first women to become a submariner – a role which has only recently been opened to women.

The 34-year-old said: ‘I’m really, really proud to be called one of the first female submariners.

‘It sounds really cheesy and corny but I love working with the guys.

‘The guys could not be any better.’

The museum’s exhibition celebrates women’s contribution to the naval service over the last 250 years and holds a number of key artefacts.

Commodore Inga Kennedy is one of the navy’s most senior female officers.

She said: ‘This is an incredibly proud day for women in defence and women in the Royal Navy.’