Sea Rangers2020 sees the centenary of the founding of the Sea Rangers. Keep an eye on the website for details: https://searangers.org.uk/the-sea-ranger-2020-centenary-celebrations/. So far their plans include a Centenary Parade and Service in Portsmouth on Saturday 25th April 2020.
By chance, I've just recorded the story of Sea Ranger Janet G. I'm interested in the way young women found ways to connect with seafaring.
Born in 1939 Janet became a Girl Guide, a Sea Ranger, a Wren, then a Girl Guide leader. Rangers were part of the Girl Guide movement.
Janet and her Sea Rangers pals (pictured left) especially loved going on summer training trips. For one or two weeks a year a SR unit would have a solid spell on the water, usually on a shared boat. For Janet in the 1950s this included being on the Sea Rangers' own motor torpedo boat at Dartmouth.
Being in a Sea Ranger unit meant any city girl, whatever her poverty, could almost become a Nancy Blackett, the boaty heroine of Arthur Ransome's inter-war children's books like Swallows and Amazons.
You learned so much...
Not only was membership of the SR a way for young women over 16 to learn small boat skills and gain access to the sea at a time when gendered restrictions on mobility meant women travelled less than men.
(Only one per cent of UK merchant seafarers in the 1920s and 30s were women. Many ships had no woman crew at all until the 1970s and even later.)
But also being with the Sea Rangers also meant former WW1 Wrens could enjoy passing on nautical culture, volunteering as Sea Ranger officers.
And the would-be ‘sailorettes’ these officers trained could then be fast-tracked into the Women’s Royal Naval Service, as Janet G was in the 1950s.
But usually members did not go on to work on merchant ships as stewardesses. The SR didn't funnel women into a water-based career. Rather it helped develop transferable skills as citizens and responsible human beings.
Being a Sea Ranger, or a member of the other related organisation, the Girls Nautical Training Corps, meant being proudly part of a sea-minded network: rowing and sailing boats, tying knots, communicating by Morse and semaphore, learning maritime lore.
Other ‘Daughters of the sea’
1920: The SR began, growing from the Girl Guides
1942: The more militaristic GNTC started, then really took off until 1946.
Patriotically, some members of these organisations, especially in the mid-20th century, saw themselves as ‘daughters of the sea’.
They had fun, for all that there was naval-style discipline too, as the picture of Janet's SR colleagues shows. (Pictured left, above)
As part of a strong, can-do, adventurous team, girls and young women in the SR and GNTC developed confidence, a sense of agency and also a sense of motility - the idea that one was capable of travel.
|Happy Families playing card. Mrs
Jack Tar, the sailor's wife, and Miss Jack Tar
were usually portrayed as being on land.
Master and Mr Jack Tar were seagoing.
Gender did not have to be an obstacle to accessing maritime life directly. Thanks to the SR and GNTC women didn't have to rely on being the daughter or wife of Jack Tar as a way to connect on to maritime life. Any member could connect in her own right.
Sea novels for girlsFrom the mid-1930s to the 1950s Sea Ranger novels boomed. (GNTC novels, by contrast, seemingly did not exist).
In genre such novels were far closer to the girls adventure juvenilia end of the spectrum, than to cruise ships novels (the other booming genre of sea fiction for women in the 1930s).
Authors of SR books such as Helen Beatrice Davidson (fl.1898- 1998) - see below, Lucy of the Rangers - also wrote about Brownies and Girl Guides.
Frances Olivia Hartopp Nash (1887-1953) shows her sea-minded heroine transitioning from the Girl Guides, as in:
- (1922) How Audrey Became a Guide
- (1923) Audrey in Camp
- (1925) Audrey at School
- (1933) Audrey, The Sea Ranger.
In other words, becoming a motile young woman - who got away from home - was represented as natural progress. The novels encouraged readers to see that they could move on from earlier girlhood in wholesome organisations within the scouting and guiding community, become women who travelled, and even be heroic. Frances also wrote about girls' adventures on land, including at boarding school.
Some Sea Rangers include:1929 (and 1938): Ethel Talbot, Skipper and Co, A story of Sea Rangers
1933: Frances Olivia Hartopp Nash, Audrey, the Sea Ranger
1934 : Helen Beatrice Davidson, Sea Rangers of the 'Rodney'
1934; Mary Shrewsbury, All Aboard the “Bundy”: A sea-ranger story
1935: Helen Beatrice Davidson, Adventurers in Camp: A Sea Ranger Story
1935: Ethel Talbot, Sea Rangers All
1937: Ethel Talbot, Sea Rangers’ Holiday
1938 (and 1955) Ethel Talbot: Rangers and Strangers
1943: Frances Olivia Hartopp Nash, Lucy of the Sea Rangers
1948: Geoffrey Prout, Sea Rangers at Sloo
And in the air too...Sea Rangers stories have a counterpart in flying novels for girls by Dorothy Carter (1901-1948). That thrilling new field, civilian air transport, was a profitable topic for the Josephine March-type writers of the day.
Had Louisa May Alcott still been around and in the UK she'd surely have written another quartet for girls: Little Brownies, Good Guides, Great Air Rangers, and Brilliant Girl Pilots. Actually it appears that there were no novels about Air Rangers, Sea Rangers’ counterparts.
Celebrating mobility, and making clear that long-distance travel was not just confined to boys, these inspirational Sea Ranger novels were the ‘daughters’ of earlier girls’ boarding school novels such as those by Elinor Brent-Dyer and Angela Brazil.