The reason behind the slow assimilation of women in the Navy

There was an early topic on the Navy allowing women to serve in Submarines now there are women serving on every other class of ship.
It would seem that with advancing age there are fewer of us that remember what life was like serving on ships and submarines back in from our point of view not so long ago.
I first went to sea in what we called broadside messing, not to far removed from the days of the table between the guns of a 19th century of a Man of War. We slung our hammocks above the mess tables and our small lockers and stowed them lashed tight during the day in the hammock nets in the corner. A stainless steel locker contained our crockery and cutlery, a large square bucket for washing the dishes and a toaster. The killick of the mess (killick- small anchor. A leading seaman in charge of the mess with a badge of a fouled small anchor) arranged the “cooks of the mess “ for each day. The two chosen took a stainless steel tray to the galley where they were served the correct potions for the number of the mess and the food was consumed in the mess, there was no cafeteria. In the afternoon the same two would queue outside the victualling store to get the mess allowance of bread, butter and jam. The showers and toilets were situated at each of the ship and there were no doors on the toilets, the showers were open.
Pyjamas may well have been packed in the officers cabin trunks that we struggled with but they weren’t included in our kitbags.
Submarines were another level. No showers, no refrigeration, no privacy, two toilets for 63 men and ask yourself what woman would have wanted to have unwashed hair stinking of diesel for six weeks.
By the standards of today we suffered what would pass for bullying today. Conversation with senior rates was strictly one sided, we doing a great deal of listening, and the volume being delivered not generally required repeating. There was no conversation with officers apart from a monosyllabic acknowledgement of an order.
Today our Navy is a different world with the ships being designed from the beginning to cater for gender differences and facilities that were beyond our comprehension then.
The refrain from some feminists that it took so many years to achieve what we have today forget the way things were.


I too slung a hammock in my first ship HMAS ANZAC and the messing was the same (no stainless steel though - aluminium) and messed aft necessitating a dash along the iron (weather) deck dodging the seas with dinner. Much fun and steep learning curve. Not entirely suitable for females.

The only woman to have stayed at sea overnight in the ship - before my time - was Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II when the ship escorted the Royal Yacht around Australia. She stayed in the captain’s cabin of course - he moved out also of course. Knowing she was to be embarked in the coming weeks the ship fitted a special silent flush toilet to obviate the usual noisy flush using a huge lever and full fire main pressure - straight over the side - those were the days! Never had a blockage.

The stokers, ever helpful in the installation, made and fitted a take-off pipe as a bit of a joke to bottle the Royal Wee but subsequently caught a bigger, more solid prize. It remained - varnished and preserved - on a backing plaque in the ERA’s mess for the life of the ship and probably resides today in pride of place over the bar of some grizzled old tiff who still enjoys relating the story.

Anyway, I served later with women as crew. There were serious teething problems in some ships initially and there will forever be issues with fraternisation but the problems abated as the women became more sea-competent in all the ranks and sailed in sufficient numbers not to be an oddity.

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