Sunday, 5 July 2015

Rozelle Raynes: she was there, and she wrote about it

Rozelle Raynes, a former Wren Stoker in WW2, and later a Merchant Navy assistant purser, died on June 22, age 89. Her most famous book was Maid Matelot: Adventures of a Wren Stoker in World War II (1971).
Obituaries appeared in the Times and Telegraph.
So I won't repeat details here. I will simply comment that from my perspective, as someone who knows womens' Merchant Navy and Royal Navy history), Rozelle exemplified three key trends in women's maritime history.

1.Posh gels in mucky jobs

Born in 1925 she enjoyed the war in one of the most highly-desired WW2 Women's Royal Naval Service jobs - working on small boats where about 300 women showed great mechanical prowess and even maritime passion. And she was one of the many aristocratic Boats Crew Wrens who did not, in any way, act grand; Lady Frederica Rozelle Ridgway Pierrepont's fingers were as begrimed as anyone else's and she was always democratic in her friendships.

2. A prize for commercial shipping - and a pioneer
She was one of the many Wrens whose WW2 experience of life in naval service enhanced their taste for the sealife to such an extent that they tried to join the Merchant Navy afterwards (You could work at sea in the MN, but not in the RN) at that time.
Like Elizabeth Sayer, the most famous pioneering ex-Wren who became a purser in 1947, Rozelle was snapped up by a company keen to employ staff who'd had all that excellent WRNS training, including informal training in socialising well, surviving happily far from home, and coping with being in situations where men outnumbered women by as much as a hundred to one. In the 1960s she was one of the early women assistant pursers on Townsend ferries , crossing between Dover and Calais.

3. Hooked! A boatie forever

Wartime WRNS service seemed to turn many women towards enjoying recreation on small boats, including long and risk-taking voyages after the war. In From Rudders to Udders Jane Taylor, Rozelle's contemporary, describes lived on a floating shop-gas station on the Hamble. She later went on become master of a ferry. Rozelle did a single-handed yachtswoman who did epic voyages and wrote about them.
Painting of Rozelle as a girl, by her mother. © The Stonebridge Trust, The Pierrepont Collection. It can be seen at what was once her ancestral home, Thoresby, Notts.
A beacon and the best of avatars</
A few score more of her remarkable sort may still be alive (and slowly, sadly giving up their boating). But no-one celebrated that life in print as Rozelle did. Her articles then books kept alive that culture of women's avid post-1940s seafaring. She inspired sea-mindedness in countless others who didn't have that WRNS experience (but would like to have had it),decades before yachtswomen Clare Frances and Ellen MacArthur.
For me Rozelle Raynes is the best woman writer about seafaring of her period. No-one matches her. If the small and disparate world of women seafarers gave out medals she would certainly have been awarded the highest and shiniest one For Enabling Women to Access Seafaring. She showed girls and women the sea was a place open to women, which they could approach with agency and enjoy with verve.

No comments: