Memorial Day is first and foremost a day honoring members of the military.
A local Victorian veteran turned naval historian has spent over a decade doing this to ensure the story of a particular branch of the Navy is preserved lest we forget.
The Royal Canadian Women’s Naval Service (WRCNS nicknamed “Wrens”) was formed on July 31, 1942 amid the chaos and devastation of World War II. It was the naval branch of the women’s service and established separate organizations for the Army and Air Force until 1941. More than 6,700 women have volunteered for this service. The WRCNS became independent from the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) and was dissolved on 31 August 1946.
Lt.-Cmdr. Dave Freeman is a long-time Navy service member from a Navy family where his father, uncles, cousins and other relatives also served in the Armed Forces. Freeman served with many front-wrens during his service in the Navy and kept records of the people he encountered during his service.
In later years, he gave these to Mary Grant, who was compiling the records of the wren into a historical compilation. Grant died 11 and a half years ago, and Freeman was asked if she would continue her work.
“Someone came to me with this project and said, ‘Oh, you only need three weeks.’ It’s been 11 and a half years now.”
Freeman got to work, scouring available records and visiting every naval museum in the country, often with little success.
“Usually naval history doesn’t even mention wrens, otherwise they’d get a line, which choked me.”
The best sources of information often come from the wrens themselves. Reunions are a particularly good source of information, with a large percentage of ex-Wren returning to events after they left service for many years.
“I think it’s because of their camaraderie with other[people]who served. They formed bonds that lasted for years — until they passed away. That’s what a lot of them said, they spent Had such a fun time and made such great friends. They shared some great experiences. They just kept in touch.”
All the information Freeman had accumulated over the years was compiled into two volumes, one as an index of all the wrens he was able to identify by name and service number, and the other focused on the stories of those wrens he had been able to talk to or with. Gather more information from it.
“Once I get it to bed and publish it, hopefully this will be the end of it. However, my experience – having published two other books – may need to be added. Because there is always someone who finds something you haven’t found before, Someone was holding her mother’s stuff and didn’t know what to do with it.”
If you have a relative who served in the Women’s Forces of the Royal Canadian Navy and are interested in speaking with Freeman, please email [email protected]
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Canadian Armed Forces CFB Esquimalt Royal Canadian Navy West Coast