Margaret White's WRANS uniforms

Contributed by: Australian National Maritime Museum

Summer dress and working uniform, cardigan and hat Winter dress and working uniform, and suitcase Physical training uniform, and rain coat Front view of summertime shirt dress Back view of shirt dress Proper right sleeve of shirt dress Proper left sleeve of shirt dress Front view of wintertime dress uniform Back view of wintertime dress uniform Proper right sleeve of wintertime dress jacket Staining on sailor-style shirt Wear to bottoms of shoes Cardigan label Studio portrait of Margaret White, photographer unknown Silver gelatin print of White and friends, reproduced courtesy of the Royal Australian Navy Silver gelatin print, including White, reproduced courtesy of the Royal Australian Navy 'How to Join the Service' pages of a WRANS recruitment booklet, reproduced courtesy of the Royal Australian Navy 'Clothing and Uniform' pages of a WRANS recruitment booklet, reproduced courtesy of the Royal Australian Navy
  • Australian dress register ID:

    506
  • Owner:

    Australian National Maritime Museum
  • Owner registration number:

    00036397-00036420
  • Date range:

    1968 - 1972
  • Place of origin:

    Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
  • Gender:

    Female
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Object information

Significance statement

These Women’s Royal Australian Naval Service uniforms, issued to Margaret Warene White during her service with the Royal Australian Navy, are a near-complete record of training and subsequent issued dress, work and physical training uniforms as well as cash allowance-purchased clothing of the late 1960s-early 1970s. Material relating to female service within the RAN has not been collected to any great extent by cultural institutions within Australia, and so this is a rare and special collection with an impressive provenance.

The fact that these uniforms are so-nearly complete is a verification of Margaret’s pride in representing her nation within a peace-time service. Margaret states “I liked the dress uniforms. But then of course I think we would have liked them even if they were baggy sacks, because we just thought we were the greatest thing going! One was so proud with that little hat on and gloves and a uniform”.

Margaret’s uniforms may be of interest to historians studying general post-war naval history, as well as to researchers concerned with the role and work of women in areas of employment traditionally dominated by men; women have clearly played an integral and fascinating role in varying facets of naval life and work in Australia during the past six decades, as these uniforms attest.

As Margaret reveals, “My sister-in-law was in the Navy many years before me, and she said ‘You’re the only one I know who ever kept anything!’”- thanks to Margaret White’s bowerbird tendencies, the Australian National Maritime Museum and the Australian Dress Register are able to recollect on the fashions of working women of decades past with considerable ease.

Author: Eloise Maree Crossman, 30.10.2013.

Description

Margaret White's Women's Royal Australian Naval Service uniforms, used by White during her service in the WRANS from 1968-1972, Australia.

Specifically, there is a WRANs hat with an HMAS Albatros tally ribbon, a navy blue woollen cardigan, a navy blue raincoat, a summer dress and summer working uniform, a winter dress and winter working uniform, a physical training uniform, three wooden clothes brushes, a brown leather attaché suitcase and four silver gelatin photographs amongst other memorabilia. 

The summer dress uniform consists of a white shirt dress with belt, Radar Plotter insignia and Leading WRAN Rank insignia, white cotton gloves and white shoes. The summer working uniform consists of a white, square-necked cotton sailor-style top with Leading WRAN Rank insignia and a navy black A-line serge skirt. 

The winter dress uniform consists of a navy blue serge jacket and skirt with gold insignia, a black silk tie and brown leather gloves. The winter working uniform consists of a navy-black serge jacket and skirt with blue insignia, a grey-blue collared blouse and a black cotton tie. 

Finally, the physical training uniform consists of a square-necked cotton sailor-style shirt not too dissimilar to the summer working shirt, and a pair of blue Jantzen brand shorts. 

History and Provenance

Births, deaths, marriages, children or family information

Margaret Warene White, born 1951, was a Women's Royal Australian Naval Service servicewoman from the age of seventeen, during the years of 1968-1972.  “When I was thirteen," recalls Margaret, "we had… vocational guidance tours… There was one for the Navy and I thought ‘Oh, I might go and have a look at that’. It was a tour over at HMAS Watson… By the end of the tour I was hooked!... Seventeen was the joining age, and I turned seventeen in April and started training in September”.

Margaret applied and was selected to join the WRANS as a Recruit WRAN Radar Plotter. The recruitment process included medical examinations, an aptitude test and an interview with a naval psychologist; no specific educational qualifications were required.

“As soon as I finished my course," states Margaret, "another WRAN and I got transferred to HMAS Albatross [in Nowra]… We were transferred to AJASS- the Australian Joint Anti-Submarine School [first established in 1951]. It sounds more exciting than in actually was... we were the lackeys... We had what was called a tactical floor… It was basically in grid squares and they would draw maps on it like coast lines and that sort of thing… They would say things like ‘HMAS So-And-So was here’, and one of us would run out from behind a curtain and put a ship down, or a submarine. We had all the models".

Margaret began her appointment on the 30th of September, 1968, and worked hard to become a Weapons Assessor and a Leading WRAN (akin to a Leading Seaman). With the Vietnam War drawing to a close, however, armament production was cut back and Margaret found herself needing to transfer into a new role; this was not without complications, as a new job would result in the loss of her rank and entitlements. As such, Margaret remained with the WRANS until she applied for a discharge on the 25th September 1972.

She was one of over 600 members of the WRANS in Australia by 1970. 

How does this garment relate to the wider historical context?

While Margaret and her peers were proud servicewomen of the Women’s Royal Australian Naval Service, she was at times hesitant to wear full uniform off-base as her service was during the Vietnam War. “While most of my friends liked my uniform,” Margaret reminisces, “we sometimes didn’t wear it because of the [Vietnam] Moratorium [Campaign]”.

Moratorium marches, demonstrations and teach-ins occurred nation-wide during the Vietnam War.

Where did this information come from?

Telephone conversations with Margaret White

WRANS Recruitment booklet (ANMS0834 [048]) 

This garment has been exhibited

Margaret's summertime shirt dress, belt, buttons and suitcase are currently on show in the Naval display of the Australian Maritime Museum. 

  1. Place of origin:

    Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

  2. Cost:

    WRANS uniforms are issued, though additional dress can be purchased via a cash allowance. As Margaret states, “The Navy issued you with everything, and... they paid you a clothing allowance, which was like a couple of dollars… You had to maintain the uniform… If your stockings went kaput you had to buy another pair of stockings… If you did something wrong… You might get stoppage of pay… But your clothing allowance was never included in your pay… [So] there was no excuse for your uniform to be in any state of disrepair”. 

    Upon joining the Royal Australian Navy, women were given a cash allowance and a shopping list. “We had to buy underwear, bras and pyjamas," remembers Margaret. "They all had to be cotton, because cotton is the most fire resistant… We would have inspections, and they [the inspectors] would inspect your underwear as well… But who wanted to wear cotton underwear and cotton bras?!... What most of us [WRANS] did is we would come to Sydney and go and buy everything in the cheapest cotton... and buy nice stuff with the money left over!”

  3. Owned by:

    Currently in the Australian National Maritime Museum collection, though formerly the property of Margaret Warene White. 

  4. Worn by:

    Margaret Warene White, during her WRANS service 

  5. Occasion(s):

    Margaret's uniforms were worn at work, training, exercising and even on special occasions as well as off-base.

  6. Place:

    Margaret White’s HMAS Albatross tally ribbon signifies that she was posted, amongst other places, at HMAS Albatros in Nowra. 

  7. Designed by:

    The Royal Australian Navy (RAN)

  8. Made by:

    (See 'Manufacture')

  9. Made for:

    WRANS recruits

Trimmings / Decoration

As these items of clothing constitute uniforms, they have very little trimming and or decoration. The winter dress and working uniforms' serge jackets, however, as well as all shirts and the summer dress uniform shirt dress have embroidered Radar Plotter and Leading WRAN insignia on each sleeve- that is symbols or tokens of status and office. Embroidery is gold metallic fibre on the dress uniform jacket, blue cotton on the working uniform jacket, and black cotton elsewhere.  

Margaret White's WRANS hat also showcases a tally, a black ribbon with gold-yellow inscription bearing the name of a ship or establishment (in White's case, the establishment HMAS Albatross where she was stationed the majority of her service with the WRANS).

Ribbon

Tally ribbon on hat

Embroidery

Ebroidered insignia on jackets, shirts and shirt dress

Fibre / Weave

Each of Margaret White's uniform constituents is made of different fabrics. The summertime shirt dress is polyester and viscose; working sailor-style tops are cotton and skirts are serge.

Wintertime dress was mostly serge with cotton shirts, and rayon silk and cotton ties.

All undergarments purchased with uniform allowances were cotton.

  1. Natural dye
  2. Synthetic dye

Manufacture

All clothing manufactured in the late 1960s-early 1970s

Label

WRANS training and subsequent issue dress was made by a range of manufacturers. Some manufacturers are identifiable via labels, such as the 'Nylmah Trading Co.', on the label of the navy-blue pure wool cardigan, or 'Jantzen'- with archetypal diving figure- on the label of the blue physical training shorts.

  1. Hand sewn
  2. Machine sewn
  3. Knitted
  4. Other

Cut

  1. Bias
  2. Straight

Fastenings

  1. Hook and eye
  2. Lacing
  3. Buttons
  4. Zip
  5. Drawstring

Stiffening / Lining / Padding

According to Margaret White, the dress shirt (not donated to the ANMM) worn with the winter dress uniform had a detachable collar that was "very stiff", and which "deteriorated quite quick".

Measurements

dress jacket skirt
Girth
Neck 330 mm 485 mm
Chest 890 mm 1050 mm
Waist 700 mm 900 mm 800 mm
Hip 960 mm
Cuff 360 mm 300 mm
Hem circumference 1490 mm 1010 mm 1260 mm
Vertical
Front neck to hem 830 mm 570 mm
Front waist to hem 535 mm 580 mm
Back neck to hem 952 mm 645 mm
Back waist to hem 545 mm 570 mm
Sleeve length 220 mm 590 mm
Horizontal
Neck to sleeve head 145 mm 150 mm
Cross back 370 mm 355 mm
Underarm to underarm 420 mm 455 mm
Convert to inches

Only measurements of the summer dress uniform shirt dress, and the winter dress uniform jacket and skirt have been provided. 

The skirt's hem circumference is pleated.

Additional material

Articles, publications, diagrams and receipts descriptions

The Women's Royal Australian Naval Service (WRANS), an integral part of the Royal Australian Navy (RAN), was inaugurated as a peace-time service in 1951 and was granted permanent status in December, 1959 (it was disbanded in 1984, upon the full integration into the RAN of women). Its principal purpose was to form a well-trained nucleus which could rapidly and efficiently expand in the event of a war. It also alleviated manpower shortages resulting from men being assigned to combat roles.

WRANS performed a variety of duties, including working as telegraphists, coders and clerks, to education officers, drivers, mechanics, harbour messengers, cooks and sickberth attendants. Women worked as domestic staff at Government House, Yarralumla, as well as in Radar Counter-measure, the Allied Intelligence Bureau and the Censorship Office. The service never exceeded 3,000 women enlisted at any one time.

Imagery and text published in newspaper advertisements and promotional material collected by Margaret White illustrate the methods used by the RAN to promote the Navy as an attractive and viable career option to both young men and women in the 1960s. An emphasis is placed on a job in the WRANS being important and of value to society.

All WRANS recruited were trained initially at HMAS Cerberus in Victoria. Radar Plot WRANS like Margaret White received technical training at HMAS Watson in Sydney, New South Wales. Upon completion of training, WRANS were able to serve in establishments.

Margaret White visited many establishments, including though not limited to HMAS Swan, Hobart, Vendetta, Oxley, Yarra, Melbourne, Vampire, Quiberon, Anzac, Stalwart, Stuart, Parramatta, Sydney, Queenborough, Perth and Brisbane, though she spent most of her time at HMAS Albatross, as indicated by her cap’s tally ribbon.

Other related objects

ANMS0832 [038]: A silver gelatin print of a studio portrait of Margaret White (photographer unknown). As White states, “first leave you got we all raced home and got studio photos in our dress uniforms".

ANMS0832 [039]: A silver gelatin print of Margaret and three fellow WRANS women all in their summer work uniforms, photographed by a RAN Official Photographer on the 18th of November, 1968. 

ANMS0832 [043]: A silver gelatin print of 29 uniformed WRANS women, including Margaret (presumably also photographed by an Official Photographer). 

ANMS0834 [048]: The 'How to Join the Service' and 'Clothing and Uniform' pages of a WRANS recruitment booklet. 

Condition

Overall, Margaret’s uniforms are in near-excellent condition, as new and with little signs of wear (though obviously they are well-worn; the lack of physical evidence of this is a testament to the strength of these garments).

Only White's sailor-style work shirt is in fair-to-good condition. There is what appears to be mould staining to the proper left of the shirt in particular, perhaps due to storage. Margaret's shoe soles are also scuffed.

Margaret fondly recalls polishing her WRANS hat with sandshoe whitener to keep it in good condition.  

 

Evidence of repairs

No alterations or repairs to note. As Margaret White stated in a phone conversation “Have you seen my uniforms?!- They’re in perfect condition!... I can’t remember replacing much at all… It was all good quality stuff”.

State

  1. Excellent
  2. Good
  3. Fair
  4. Poor

Damage

  1. Stained
  2. Mould stains

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