WOMEN IN THE ROYAL NAVY
Women were first employed by the Royal Navy in 1696 when a handful were employed as nurses and laundresses on hospital ships. They received pay equal to an able seaman. The practice was always controversial and over the next two centuries first the nurses and the laundresses were removed from service. By the start of the 19th century both roles had been eliminated. Female service in the Royal Navy restarted 1884 when the Naval Nursing Service was formed. It became the Queen Alexandra's Royal Naval Nursing Service in 1902 and is still in operation. Women have had active roles in the British Army since 1902, when theQueen Alexandra's Royal Army Nursing Corps was founded. The Princess Mary's Royal Air Force Nursing Service was formed in 1918. During the Second World War, about 600,000 women served in the three British women's auxiliary services: the Auxiliary Territorial Service, the Women's Auxiliary Air Force, and theWomen's Royal Naval Service, as well as the nursing corps.
From 1949 to 1992, thousands more served in the Women's Royal Army Corps and sister institutions. After 1992, the women were integrated into regular units.
Queen Boudica, who led warriors of the Iceni tribe against Roman forces occupying Britain around AD 62, is often cited in support of arguments calling for the full opening up of the British Armed forces to women.
In 1917, the Queen Mary's Army Auxiliary Corps was formed; 47,000 women served until it was disbanded in 1921. The Women's Royal Naval Service (WRNS) was formed in 1917 as well. Before it disbanded in 1919, it provided catering and administrative support, communications and electrician personnel.
ATS Searchlight Unit in the Second World War
In 1938, the Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS) was created, with 20,000 women serving in non-combat roles during the conflict as well as serving as military police and in combat roles as anti-aircraft gunners.
In 1949, women were officially recognized as a permanent part of British Armed forces, although full combat roles were still restricted to men. In this year, the Women's Royal Army Corps was created to replace the ATS and in 1950 the ranks were normalised with the ranks of men serving in the British Army.
Women first became eligible to pilot Royal Air Force combat aircraft in 1989. The following year, they were permitted to serve on Royal Navy warships.
The 1991 Gulf War marked the first deployment of British women in combat operations since 1945.
The seizure of Royal Navy sailor Faye Turney in 2007 by the naval forces of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard led to some media comment on the role of women and mothers in the armed forces.
Women may now join the British Armed forces in all roles except those whose "primary duty is to close with and kill the enemy": Infantry, Household Cavalry, Royal Armoured Corps, Royal Marines Commandos, RAF Regiment, Special Air Service and Special Boat Service. Women were once excluded from service in the Royal Navy Submarine Service and as Royal Navy Clearance divers, but since their inclusion in the Navy in 1990, they have successfully served as clearance divers.
Female personnel currently make up around 9% of the British armed forces.