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Women in RNZN Timeline



11 April 1942

Establishment of Women’s Royal New Zealand Naval Service (WRNZNS) was approved by the War Cabinet.

Overall 640 women served, mainly in signalling but also other areas including intelligence, watch keeping and driving.

The WRNZNS was one of three women’s services established. The others were Women’s Army Auxillary Corps and Women’s Auxillary Air Force.

18 May 1942

The first Director of the WRNZNS, Ruth Herrick is appointed.


Women’s Royal New Zealand Naval Service is disbanded by the government.

May 1947

Following a strike, a large number of men left naval service creating a severe personnel shortage.It was decided to reform the WRNZNS. The first Director was Lorelle Corbin who stayed in the role until late 1963; the longest serving Director.

29 July 1977

Human Rights Commission Act leads to changes to Defence Policy which in turn leads to the disbandment of Women’s Royal New Zealand Naval Service and the beginning of the integration of women into the RNZN.

The final WRNZNS parade was held on 29 July, 1977.

New Zealand Navy Orders 64 and 156/77 set out the policy for the employment of women in the RNZN.


The first contingent of female Able Communication Operators is posted to HMNZS Irirangi at Waiouru.


Lorna Horan and Charlotte Marsh graduated as the first female Leading Physical Training Instructors.

September 1979

The first intake of integrated Basic Common Trainees into the Royal New Zealand Navy.  The intake includes 18 women and 51 men. This was the first group of women to train with the men under the policy developed in 1979.


Four years after the integration of women into the RNZN a paper was written on the employment of women at sea. Recommendations included provision for women to serve aboard HMNZS Tui and Monowai.


Chief Petty Officer Helen Reader – Master at Arms becomes the first woman to be appointed as Regulator.


Defence Council Order 2/86 authorised Chief of Naval Staff to offer ‘temporaray sea-going postings … in non-combatant ships’ to women.

December 1986

Thirteen female ratings and one officier joined the survey ship HMNZS Monowai for ‘Women at Sea Pilot Study’ (WAPS) – designed to run for three years. Nine of the ratings had already had a brief introduction to the ship in late October on the ship’s passage from Auckland to Lyttelton.


Lieutenant Butcher (now Dean) became the first female officer posted into a complement billet in an RNZN ship as supply officer on HMNZS Monowai.

Although some administrative aspects of employing women at sea needed further analysis, the practical aspects of trial proved successful and the employment of women at sea in non-combatant vessels with suitable facilities continued.

The first woman to do shore patrol duties was Able Writer Vicki Ryan.

Lieutenant Commander Sue Taylor became the first woman to complete RNZAF Staff College.


Warrant Officer Radar Plotter Fay Baker becomes the first woman appointed as a Senior Rates Mess President.


Women in the RNZN are given the opportunity to elect either sea going service or to remain non seagoing. Navy order 35/1989 authorises the permanent employment of women at sea in the RNZN.

All women entering the RNZN from January 1989 intake would be required to serve at sea except those in a limited number of shore only trades.

Approval was given for women in the RNZNVR to undertake sea experience at the discretion of the RNZNVR Divisional Commanding Officer. A guideline of 10-15% women within any mixed gender ship’s company is set.

April 1989

Chief of Naval Service approves the policy for employment of women at sea in RNZN.

Branches and trades open to sea service by women are Supply and Secretariat Branch consisting of cooks, writers, stewards, stores assistants; Medical Branch, Communications Branch (radio trade); Regulating Branch and PTI Branch. Officer specialisations included in the policy are Supply and Secretariat, doctors and chaplains.

May 1989

Navy Order 35/89 Women at Sea is released.

May 1990

Review of practical bars to employment of women in the Leander Class Frigates.


Lieutenant Commander Cornelia Beentjes becomes the first woman promoted to Commander in the RNZN.

Reverend Pauline Law becomes the first female Chaplain within the Navy.

Petty Officer Jenny Harris commands the first all female guard for a gun salute to HMNZS Southland.

February 1991

The policy to allow women to seek entry into the Engineering Branches of the RNZN is approved.

May 1991

Radio Fitter Branch is opened to female ratings.

June 1992

Chief of Naval Staff approves the introduction of women into the Seaman and Technical Branches of the RNZNVR.

December 1992

NZ Fleet Temporary Memorandum titled ‘Guidelines on the Employment and Treatment of Women in the RNZN’ is issued.

April 1993

All RNZN branches with the exception of the Diving Sub Branch are opened to women on an as required basis.

HMNZ ships Southland and Wellington are declared available for mixed gender manning.

HMNZ ships Canterbury and Waikato are made available for the posting of women for training purposes as required.


Commander Cornelia Beentjes becomes the first woman promoted to Captain.

Lieutenant Maxine Lawes is the first RNZN woman to be appointed as Aide de Camp to the Governor General.


HMNZS Wellington while in the North Arabian (Persian) Gulf as part of the Multinational Interception Force  is the first RNZN frigate to take women into a combat zone.

January 1996

Approval is given for the HMNZ ships Canterbury and Waikato to be declared available for full mixed gender manning.


Chaplain Pauline Law becomes the first woman to be appointed as Principle Naval Chaplain.

Lieutenant Commander Margaret Weller becomes the first female Officer’s Mess President in the HMNZS Philomel Wardroom.



Lieutenant Bronwyn Jones becomes the first female Officer in Charge of an Inshore Patrol Craft.


Lieutenant Bronwyn Jones becomes the first female Navigation Officer.

Rachel Blackby becomes the first woman to serve as an operational Leading Hand, as Electronic Warfare Leading Hand.


January 2000

Chief of Defence Force announces that restrictions on women serving in combat, peacekeeping, peace enforcement, humanitarian and many other similar roles are to be abolished.

Regular and Non-Regular Service Women are to serve on the same basis as Service Men with respect to combat roles. This also enabled women to enter the Diving Sub Branch.


Lieutenant Commander Beryl Oldham becomes the first woman to command a 100 strong tri-service Guard of Honour.


Lieutenant Commander Lisa Hunn becomes the first woman to be appointed as a Principle Warfare Officer.

December 2019

Commodore Melissa Ross becomes the first woman to be appointed Deputy Chief of Navy.
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