Breaking Down Barriers - Women's Royal Indian Naval Service

"their diversities of thought and upbringing were forgotten in the all-important task of helping the Navy in it's time of need..."

As it looked for support during WW2 the Royal Military of Defence searched internationally, offering the women of India new prospects in the work place. Though they were not allowed to go to sea they could become deeply involved in naval life and play a vital role in defeating the enemy. Through confidence, a sense of duty and pride of service these women were able to make a difference, directly confronting issues that still enormously affect us today, those of race and gender equality.  

Chief Officer Cooper is presented with her farewell gift - a photo album from the WRINS - Chief Officer Cooper is presented with her farewell gift - a photo album from the WRINS

The photographs below are taken from a photo album recently presented to the National Museum of the Royal Navy by Margaret Cooper, who served as Chief Officer and was Deputy Director of the Women's Royal Indian Naval Service (WRINS) from 1944-46.

The Women's Royal Indian Naval Service (WRINS) was formed in 1942, and by 1945 approximately two thirds of women employed by them were Indian nationals. World War Two brought a wealth of opportunity to the women of India, they became a useful and intrinsic part of our Royal defence forces.

WRINS arrange models of ships, escorts and attackers in conformity with the tactical problem set

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. They were assigned specialist tasks: top secret decoding (see below), clerical duties, training in gunnery tactics and much more.

WRIN performing top secret task in decoding

The Indian women who served in the WRINS were valued highly in society, after leaving the WRINS they were promised the privilege of being at an advantage amongst all others, and becoming a founder and member of "a progressive post-war India, in a way that few other careers could achieve".

Maintenance work being carried out on a 40 mm Bofors gun - Maintenance work being carried out on a 40 mm Bofors gun

WRINS at work

The WRINS assisted in opening the possibilities of employment to the women of India as they built up a nation in both war and peace. Consisting mostly of young women, the WRINS massively improved the status of women in India. Women could work away from their families, gaining more professional and social independence.

"In India there is still a big prejudice against girls and women working with men...but the women are so keen to get into the Services that they are breaking it down" - Second Officer Kalyani Sen (the first Indian Servicewoman to visit the United Kingdom).

Jobs pertaining to the military service were assigned to women to release men for service in the field. It was initially formed to provide personnel for service in the army, but later on it was expanded to include the naval and air forces in India also. 

"Women of many nationalities, castes and creeds are represented in this young service, and it is particularly interesting and encouraging to those who know the WRINS, to note how well these women and girls with their many diverse opinions and customs, get on together in their every day life and work" - Chief Officer Cooper
"The war is producing a new spirit in India, the India of the future" - The Countess of Carlisle, Chief Controller of the WRINS.


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