Maritime Museum celebrates history of the Wren uniform

Grace Brodie, Staff Sergeant

Grace Brodie, Staff Sergeant of the Toronto Branch of Red Cross Transport “C” Company, 1941. Photo: Maritime Museum of British Columbia.

Peter Mallett, 
Staff Writer

When Lieutenant (Lt) Grace Brodie joined the Women’s Royal Canadian Naval Service (WRCNS) in July 1942, she faced a unique challenge.

“No one had created a women’s uniform,” said Heather Feeney, Collections and Exhibits Manager at Maritime Museum of B.C. “Brodie was handed a stack of material and told to find a tailor of her own.”

But Lt Brodie, one of the first female ‘Wrens’, was tenacious and resourceful. Her Second-World-War-era dress uniform, created by a Vancouver-based tailor, is now part of a new exhibit at the Maritime Museum of B.C.

Feeney researched Lt Brodie’s uniform after it was donated by Lt Brodie’s estate executor, who also donated her Red Cross uniform to the museum’s collection and provided much of the background information for Feeney’s research.

According to Feeney, the civil and military tailor, John Doig of West Pender Street, was less than impressed with the idea of making a uniform for a woman. But Lt Brodie appealed to their shared Scottish heritage, and Doig embarked on the project.

Feeney notes Lt Brodie’s uniform is made from men’s uniform suiting, which gave the jacket a superior drape and sheen compared to those made from regulation serge.

The first alteration Doig made was to switch the standard Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) dress uniform buttons. The buttons would appear out of proportion since Lt Brodie was only 5’1” (1.55 metres) in height. Doig suggested using mess buttons instead.

The rest of the story behind Lt Brodie’s uniform is part of the Douglas St. museum’s Darn It! Our Maritime Make and Mend Culture display.

Lt Brodie’s Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) career lasted from 1942 to 1945. All reports from that time indicate she was highly regarded and won the respect of her fellow officers.

According to biographical research files at the museum, Lt Brodie completed high school in Aurora, Ont., and did her basic training in Ottawa. She was then posted to the Naval Reserve training unit HMCS Discovery. The unit trained approximately 650 Wrens between 1942 and 1946. Lt Brodie was also present for the commissioning of RCN College in Esquimalt, B.C., on Trafalgar Day, Oct. 21, 1942.

For more information about the Maritime Museum of BC and its exhibits

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