Image above shows my display from the Sea Life Roadshow.
The Sea Life Art project is part of the activity plan for the museums new galleries. HMS – Hear My Story is a major new exhibition situated in the brand new Babcock Galleries at the National Museum of the Royal Navy. It will open in April 2014 and will tell undiscovered stories from the ordinary men and women who have been part of the Navy’s history over the last 100 years. (http://www.nmrn.org.uk/explore/hms-hear-my-story)
Over the past 3 years, the Sea life Art projects and community Roadshows have run in 5 different areas in Portsmouth, targeting community audiences who do not traditionally engage with NMRN. Each project is aimed at raising awareness of HMS – Hear My Story. It invites communities to bring up to 90 pupils from each area to the museum, to work with professional artists, learn new skills, and create original artwork based on their links to the Heritage of the Royal Navy. Following this, each pupil and their families, along with the wider community will be invited to a Roadshow where the art will be displayed.
On the display I curated, there was a Women’s Royal Naval Service (WRNS) uniform including gloves, shoes, hat, badge and jacket, photos of WRNS recruitment posters, and photos from the WRINS album given to Chief Officer Margaret Cooper in 1946.
There is also a model of a famous cat called Simon. He was found on HMS Amethyst by a Navy officer where he had been badly injured when he was caught in the River Yangtze Incident. However he recovered and was given the role of catching mice to stop the spread of infections. For his services, Simon was later awarded The Dickin Medal for his bravery in 1949. He died in quarantine in the same year.
A highlight from the Roadshow was explaining the history of the WRNS and WRINS with the visitors. They were keen to find out more about the different roles and tasks carried out by individuals in these groups. Through my own research, I have become fascinated by how much the women had contributed to the war efforts and the influence they had on their societies.
Posters showing the campaign to recruit women for the WRNS.
above: Photocopies from WRINS album
Here is a brief background of information on the Women’s Royal Naval Service (WRENS) & Women’s Royal Indian Naval Service (WRINS).
WRENS – The Women’s Royal Naval Service was formed in 1917. By 1919 there were 7,000 WRENS and in 1939 a further 3,000 were recruited and given new roles such as cipher operators, meteorologists, coders and many other roles. By 1944 there were 74,000 women in the WRENS. Post-war, only a small number of women were kept on, and mainly worked in administration and supporting roles at Royal Naval Air Stations in the UK and overseas.
WRINS – The Women’s Royal Indian Naval Service was formed in 1942, and by 1945 approximately two thirds of women employed by them were Indian nationals. WRINS took part in discussions, debates and general knowledge tests which proved invaluable in developing the skills and broadening the future outlook of Indian women.
Fahima Begum is a trainee based at The National Museum of the Royal Navy, part of Cultural Co-operations Strengthening Our Common Life Programme.