WRNS Ratings Sail-making: On Board 'HMS Essex' at Devonport, 1918

Stanhope Forbes1918

Imperial War Museums

Imperial War Museums

The WRNS was still a new service in 1918 but Stanhope Forbes gives their activities a comfortable Edwardian domesticity, emphasising the traditional nature of their work rather than their radical status.The girls in the foreground wear a variety of tunics and collars. When the service was started in November 1917 the Wrens were not allowed to wear the traditional blue and white striped tunic collar worn by male sailors. However, so many of them obtained and wore these collars as keepsakes from their sweethearts that the authorities swiftly gave in and allowed this addition to the uniform. Forbes was probably aware of this which might suggest another relationship between the Wren and the sailor in the background. Certainly the far sailor’s admiring glance seems directed at the girls rather than at their work.Forbes lived for many years in Cornwall. He was a leading member of the Newlyn School which specialised in plein-air landscapes and genre paintings of the local fishing community. His Wrens sit at their sail-making as they might sit together quilting and the girl in the background raises her heel diffidently, a coy gesture which belies her uniform and professional status.The scene is at one of the Royal Navy’s largest southern bases, at Devonport in Plymouth, across the Tamar river from Cornwall.

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  • Title: WRNS Ratings Sail-making: On Board 'HMS Essex' at Devonport, 1918
  • Creator: Forbes, Stanhope (RA)
  • Date Created: 1918
  • Location: Devonport, Devon, England, UK
  • Physical Dimensions: w1371 x h1066 mm (unframed)
  • Provenance: © IWM (Art.IWM ART 2621)
  • Type: painting
  • External Link: Imperial War Museum website
  • Medium: oil