In the 1990's,the former women's services - WRNS, WRAC, and WRAF - were disbanded and women absorbed into the regular services. Whilst women still cannot serve in combat roles, they are armed and undergo the same training as their male counterparts. However, the original transferees would not have had the same training as men - particularly weapons training - and I am wondering how this disparity in skill sets was managed? Also, did women have the option to leave rather than be amalgamated?

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    "women still cannot serve on the front-line" so… what are they training them for? I'm confused.
    – o0'.
    Feb 19, 2015 at 9:34
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    @Lohoris good point! Think they serve with front line troops, guess "if push came to shove" they could help defend selves/unit? Not sure tbh.
    – TheHonRose
    Feb 19, 2015 at 10:37
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    Women do currently serve on the front line, they fly aircraft and crew/command warships. They are precluded from serving in front line infantry roles in the RAF Regiment, Army and Royal Marines; but they can be posted to "front line" areas.
    – Kobunite
    Feb 19, 2015 at 16:19
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    Actually Women do serve on the front lines in the British military, just not in so-called "combat roles". There are women who served as front line medics in Afghanistan, for instance.
    – Semaphore
    Feb 19, 2015 at 18:07
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    @Lohoris - That might not be a bad question (although probably for another stack). I know from Iraq War history that women serving support roles (eg: truck drivers) on occasion found themselves under attack and participating in firefights. I believe in the Army, even the cooks get trained for combat along with everyone else (although in the US army such tasks are increasingly being contracted out). Just not always to the same level.
    – T.E.D.
    Feb 19, 2015 at 18:58

1 Answer 1


The process was pretty gradual. For the WRNS, their association's website outlines it. Post-WWII, the service shrank to about 3,000 women in support and administrative jobs. Wrens had never been allowed to serve on board ships. In 1974, it was decided that integration had to happen, but this took decades:

  • In 1976, WRNS officer training moved to the main RN officer training establishment.
  • In 1981, WRNS other ranks initial training moved to the main RN other ranks site. At this point, Wrens became subject to normal service discipline and had a wider range of trades opened to them, but they still couldn't go to sea.
  • In 1990 they went to sea for the first time.
  • In 1993 the WRNS was disbanded and they became equal to men in almost all capacities (they couldn't serve on submarines until very recently).

The transition process was long enough to give plenty of time for retraining.

The WRAC association website is less detailed, I'll keep looking.

The WRAF seems to have been more integrated with the RAF from its foundation in 1949, with about 80% of trades open to women from the beginning. The first female aircrew were in 1962, and training was fully integrated by 1970. Operational female aircrew happened in 1990, and the services merged in 1994. Again, there was plenty of time for retraining.

Medical staff were special cases. Female medical, dental and veterinary officers always had full commissions in the men's services. Chaplains were another special case, complicated by different religions' rules on female ministers. Each of the British services also has an associated nursing organisation, whose personnel are mostly female.

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    PS I also understand that a lot of female personnel were transferred to the Adjutant-General's Office - now Home Command - which provides most of the administrative, personnel and training etc support services.
    – TheHonRose
    Nov 17, 2016 at 15:56
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    In the Army, yes. That's one of the few things that is clear to me about the end of the WRAC. Nov 17, 2016 at 16:21

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