© the copyright holder. Photo credit: National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London
The Women’s Royal Naval Service, also known as the Wrens, was first established in 1917. Although dissolved in 1919, it reformed at the outbreak of the Second World War and ultimately merged with the Royal Navy in 1993.
In December 2022, Royal Museums Greenwich acquired a pastel portrait of an officer in the Wrens. The portrait is a striking work of art, full of character and personality. A major addition to the Museum’s collection, this artwork is our first portrait of a woman in a naval role. By contrast, the collection includes over 500 portraits of male officers and sailors. Redressing this gender imbalance will take time, but the acquisition of the pastel portrait is a step towards that goal.
There is just one problem: we do not know the name of the woman depicted. The portrait will be going on display in the Queen’s House in February 2024. We want to be able to share the woman’s story with our visitors, so we are hoping Art Detective can help us identify her.
Little is known of the portrait’s provenance, but the image provides some useful clues. The woman’s uniform reveals that she held the rank of a Third Officer. She may have a medal ribbon pinned to her chest, and she appears to be wearing a wedding or engagement ring. In the upper left, the pastel is signed by the artist, Joseph McCulloch, and dated with the year, 1945. McCulloch lived and worked in Chelsea, so it is likely that the Wren was based in or near London.
Initial searches of the records of McCulloch’s exhibited works and his correspondence with the War Artists Advisory Committee have not yielded any leads. Please help!
Joseph Ridley Radcliffe McCulloch (1893–1961) was born in Leeds and studied at Leeds School of Art, before gaining his diploma from the Royal College of Art. He taught at Ipswich School of Art, 1922–5, then at Clapham School of Art and later at Goldsmiths, 1941–55. He occupied one of the Stamford Bridge Studios and was a member of Chelsea Arts Club. According to a profile published in The Artist magazine in January 1947, he was “one of Chelsea’s most popular characters”, known for his colourful language and acerbic sense of humour. He fell on hard times in later life and died at St George's Hospital, Rothwell, Yorkshire on 9 November 1961.
He was a member of the Royal Society of British Artists and an associate of the Royal Watercolour Society. He exhibited at the Royal Academy and the New English Art Club and at the Redfern, Chenil and Leicester Galleries. He primarily produced landscapes and cityscapes in watercolours and pastels, but also the occasional portrait. In June 1944, the War Artists Advisory Committee purchased his portrait of Tony Smith, a volunteer in the Civil Defence Rescue Service who was awarded the George Cross for rescuing people from a bomb-damaged building in the World's End area of Chelsea.
How many Wren Third Officers were there in 1945? Is there a list of them, including where they were based and their ages? The sitter looks to be in her twenties.
Thanks for your message, Jacinto. I think would have been several hundred Wren Third Officers in 1945. You can find them listed in the Navy List. Here's a link to the July 1945 List: https://digital.nls.uk/british-military-lists/archive/93475778
This link should take you directly to the start of the Alphabetical list of officers of the Women's Royal Naval Service, but, if not, it starts on p. 851 / (809).
Third Officers are those with 3/O in the rank column (A/3/O is Acting Third Officer). No ages, unfortunately, but where they were based is given in square brackets after their names. All basis had codenames so you might need to Google to find out where a particular base was - Pembroke III is a London base, although there were also other bases in the vicinity of London.
London or Chatham shore establishments during WW2:
HMS Pembroke I - accounting base at Chatham between 1940 and 1960.
HMS Pembroke II - accounting base at Chatham between 1940 and 1957.
HMS Pembroke III - accounting base at London and outstations between 1942 and 1952.
HMS Pembroke V - the name for WRNS personnel in London between 1945 and 1946.
HMS Abastor - a little further afield, in Tilbury - training establishment for P.L.U.T.O. so possibly no WRNS?
Royal Naval College, Greenwich.
The London reserve unit at HMS President was closed in 1939 to make way for training gunners and sailors of DEMS (Defensively Equipped Merchant Shipping).
This is just a guess but the Wren Gwendoline Wheatley (1922-2020) was someone who was unusual and whose story might have interested the artist in 1945.
Gwen possibly lived near the artist. To show the distance between her home in 1945, "No. 32 Winchester House, Beaufort Street, Chelsea" and the artist's home "Great Cheyne Studio” (according to the 1939 England and Wales Register), I used the address of his neighbour, 22 Cheyne Row.
According to a family tree on Ancestry, Gwen was the wife of Edwin John Margrie (1918-2003)(m. 1947).
Marcie, our sitter was an officer - Gwendoline Wheatley was not, which is why she's not in the Navy List linked by the NMM. To my eye she looks nothing like her either.
NMM, I can't in truth see any realistic way of moving forward with this. Despite Jane's very helpful information, you're going to need hours and hours of work just to extract London-based possibles (who may or may not include the sitter, who could easily have been up in town for the day from elsewhere - that portrait didn't take long); but you'll still be stuck with a list of many dozens at best. Trying to identify them all and track down relatives and/or images would be a Herculean task, and quite beyond us here (or at least me).
You may get (very) lucky with a relation who recognises her (assuming it's a good likeness) - I do hope so - but a portrait with no provenance or accompanying information, presumably nothing on the back, and precious few clues on the front, is always going to be difficult-to-impossible - and you seem to have taken all the sensible research routes one might try already.
You've missed the boat, really, in one respect: fifteen years ago I knew three WWII Wrens - mothers of friends of mine, all daughters of naval officers, born in 1920, '23 & '24 respectively but still very much compos mentis. One might have shown the portrait to them, and they in turn could have shown it to others...but they're all dead now, alas, the last of them in 2020. There can be very, very few left today.
Many thanks for your contributions, all.
Osmund – we are well aware of the difficulty of this task! I’ve been struggling with the problems that you have identified since I first saw the portrait over a year ago. As you point out, going through the entire Navy List to identify possible contenders would be extremely time-consuming with no guarantees of success.
We have put out a few notices in the national and Navy-related press to see if we can get lucky and find a relation (or a very, very elderly WWII Wren) who recognizes her, but no joy so far.
My hope in posting the question on Art Detective was that it might spark some outside-the-box thinking and that someone might come up with another way of tackling the problem. In this regard, Marcie’s contribution may suggest one possible way forward: although Gwendoline Wheatley is unlikely to be our woman (due to the discrepancy in ranks), local newspapers like the Chelsea News and General Advertiser might provide some useful leads.
I also wonder if further research into Joseph McCulloch might yield some results. As noted above, I’ve checked his correspondence with the WAAC, the archive at Chelsea Arts Club and some of his exhibition records (all the RA exhibits, plus those in the NEAC and RBA catalogues in the Courtauld Library). However, records for the smaller galleries where he was exhibiting have proved harder to find and I wonder if there are any other sources for his career that I am missing. It might be a dead-end, but I’d be interested to know if anyone has any thoughts.
I think I detect a slight similarity with the Artist's wife.Perhaps this is a relative,like a niece? Also I think ,as it is WW2 , the rank insignia is for a Second Lieutenant.
Louis, why on earth would you say that about WRNS officers' ranks? It takes 30 seconds to check! https://tinyurl.com/3p4zbyab
Yes, I agree with Louis. She does resemble McCulloch's wife, Ethel Louisa (or Louise) McCulloch née Stone. She was in the Women's Land Army early on in the war, but appears to have resigned in February 1940. I've no idea whether she might have joined the Wrens later on.
The only problem with this line of thought is that by 1945 she is likely to have split up with Joseph, because she married a John R B Moser in the first quarter of 1946 in Kensington.
I see no particular resemblance with McCulloch's wife, certainly nothing seriously suggestive.
There is a 3rd officer in the W.R.N.S. -D M Stone - made up on the 19th February 1945. I can find no McCullochs in the list.
Just possible she might be a relative of Mrs McCulloch??
And absolutely everyone in the war always had a photo or painting done when they were commissioned.
Could the medal be the Lloyd's Medal for Bravery at Sea? It has a ribbon that's white with two blue lines, and that's what I can see from the image we have here (and on the RMG website).
If it is that, there were only four women ever awarded it (they are listed on the Wikipedia link), so it does narrow the field somewhat. One of whom was Maria 'Mary' Ferguson, who lived in Chelsea.
Thanks for your suggestion - Maria 'Mary' Ferguson is an interesting suggestion. The medal ribbon certainly appears similar to the Lloyd's Medal and the Chelsea connection also adds up. However, I can't find evidence that Ferguson was ever reached the rank of Third Officer in the WRNS: she doesn't appear in the Navy List and her uniform, now at IWM, is that of a Petty Officer: https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/30101117
Does anyone have evidence to that Ferguson did become a Third Officer? Do we think there is a likeness? See photos here: http://thehistorybucket.blogspot.com/2019/06/two-girls-in-lifeboat.html
In fact, for visual comparison, Mary Ferguson's jacket with that Lloyd's Medal ribbon (and the British Empire Medal) is in the IWM: https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/30101117
I realise this jacket is of a different rank (Petty Officer) to our sitter's, but I'm not sure where to find info about promotions etc. Presumably the sitter (whether it's Ferguson or not – I am not saying it is!) would be entitled to wear the Lloyd's Medal ribbon on whatever jacket, at whatever rank, so they could have been captured at Third Officer rank, then been promoted and wore it on the new uniform at a later date (or be listed differently on the Naval List).
Sorry, posted my above comment before refreshing the page and seeing NMM's reply!
The striking looks of the sitter recall those of Patricia Mountbatten who was an Acting Third Officer, WRNS, from March 1945, in HMS Pembroke (Chatham), and was then appointed Third Officer that September before going out to HMS Braganza (Bombay). The portrait might mark her promotion. She retired in June 1946 and married Lord Brabourne four months later. (If so, it would be an engagement ring rather than a wedding ring, but there is little definition.) I am wary because, as drawn, the sitter's mouth seems fuller and narrower than Mountbatten's. (How realistic was McCulloch?) On the Mountbatten webpage there is a photograph of her in WRNS uniform; Getty has others.
The resemblance is enough to be tolerably plausible. McCulloch was only an occasional portraitist, meaning painting people was not his speciality. A Mountbatten, of course, could have done better, but things work differently in and around wartime.
The black & white photographs of Patricia Mountbatten in the attached composite all date from 1945 and 1946. While there is a somewhat passing resemblance, this portrait's sitter's hairstyle does not match that of hers.
Many thanks for your suggestion, Humphrey. I had also noticed the resemblance to Patricia Mountbatten and it was independently noticed by another colleague as well, so there might be something in it.
However, as yourself, Jacinto and Kieran point out, there are a few reasons for doubt. Can the slight issues with the likeness (e.g. hairstyle) be attributed purely to McCulloch's inexperience as a portraitist? And how would someone like Mountbatten come to sit for McCulloch, as opposed to a higher profile artist? As Jacinto notes, strange things happened in wartime, but it would be good if we could come up with a more concrete link between Mountbatten and McCulloch. Was she often in Chelsea or did she have any connections to Chelsea Arts Club?
If this were to be Patricia Mountbatten, I doubt it would have been a commissioned portrait, since it makes no sense to commission someone like McCulloch for that. It would have been something done more or less informally or on the spur of the moment, but even then, one would expect the picture to have remained in family hands. So, on balance, the sitter is probably someone else.
Is it known exactly how the painting came into the collection in December 2022? Was it gifted or purchased or through some other route?
The daughter of Thomas William Stone and his wife Sarah Anne Payne, Ethel Louisa Stone was born on the 15th June 1910, and would therefore have been 35 in 1945. She does not appear to have had any siblings. At the age of 24 she married Joseph McCulloch in Chelsea in the Spring of 1934. To me, the lady in this work appears to be more in her 20s than in her 30s.
Osmund, did Acting Third Officers wear the same uniform as Third Officers?
It was a dealer purchase Kieran, without any information indicative of sitter.
Kieran, my understanding is that those bearing 'acting' (and also 'temporary') rank in the UK armed forces wear (and in WWII would have worn) the same uniform and insignia as those with the same substantive rank. 'Acting' rank - a perfectly normal procedure - is and was used as a way of checking that the subject is up to the job. If so, the rank may be subsequently confirmed as substantive (frequently with backdated seniority) - Patricia Mountbatten, for example, was confirmed in the rank of Third Officer on 13 Nov 1945 (though not in the Gazette until 15 Jan 46), with seniority of 11 Sep. At the time she was actually in Ceylon (Sri Lanka), and had been since the autumn, working under her father Admiral Lord Louis at SEAC HQ in Kandy.
I agree that our portrait is not her. I also put together a comparison of images like yours last night; somewhat superfluous now, but as it shows a full sequence of hairstyles (all quite unlike ours) with fairly precise dates from 1941-46 I'll post it anyway. In truth I don't think our sitter looks much like her, and certainly not close enough to make an identification - the only image that does is the pastel of her as a child (that Humphrey linked). Our sitter is clearly not Mary Ferguson either - facially they could hardly look more different, and Naval Lists up to July 1946 confirm she never became an officer.
I worry about the likeness in ours - in my experience quickish pastels tend to prettify the sitter, and women often end up with pert little child-like noses. And how accurate is that medal ribbon meant to be (if it is one at all)? - not very if the wild lapels and roughly-sketched sleeve rank markings are anything to go by. Note that Mountbatten has no medal ribbon in the July 1945 photo attached; of the ones she wears in the summer of 1946 I can only identify (uncertainly) the Defence Medal. This and the other fairly standard WWII one, the 1939-45 War Medal, had to be applied for, and were not generally available till later in 1945 - I think it unlikely she'd have done so until her return to England from the East in '46. And any other specific awards like the Lloyds War Medal or the Distinguished Service Medal/Cross (both are possible visually) would surely have been noted in biographies (incl. the ODNB)? One should also realise that Patricia Mountbatten was never a remotely bohemian character, and moved in very elevated, indeed royal circles. She matured early and took her responsibilities seriously, often appearing with her parents at public events and charitable functions. She was very close to (and hugely admired) her father, and I just don't think this rather relaxed and slapdash image is right for her.
Ears are important in identifying sitters in photographs, though less so in portraits, I dare say. But judging by the Mountbatten ear in the rightmost photograph in Osmund Bullock's series, either our girl is not her, or McCulloch wasn't any good at drawing ears. In the same vein of taking artists' marks seriously,
I don't follow Osmund Bullock's dismissal above of Louis Musgrove's suggestion of Second Officer. Her right sleeve is Second Officer, the left sleeve is Third. Would this have been possible dress for an Acting Second Officer?
I kid you not, but my first impression was this is a court/war artist's capture of an uneasy subject undergoing a court martial.
Any records of such a trial at the time ?
If the medal ribbon is depicted accurately (white / grey with a blue stripe at each end, the plates in Tapprell Dorlings definitive book "Ribbons& Medals" shows there are ONLY 2 possibilities: The Naval Conspicuous Gallantry Medal or LLoyds Medal for Bravery at Sea.
To identify a woman who won either in WWII should be straightforward - there cannot be many, if any.
I wonder if any of the families of these women have a photo of a group, in which their relative is shown as well. I'm quite sure that many of these families would be proud to share such information with you.
LM for Bravery
All awards were for acts during the Second World War. The last were announced in October 1948. In all 541 Lloyd's War Medals for Bravery at Sea were awarded. Four were awarded to women: Miss Victoria Drummond, Miss M. E.Ferguson, Miss E. M. Owen, and Mrs. E. plumb
In your introduction you note that "By contrast, the collection includes over 500 portraits of male officers and sailors. Redressing this gender imbalance will take time, but the acquisition of the pastel portrait is a step towards that goal."
Given that - since the earliest days of the Royal Navy, and indeed the Merchant Navy, the East India Co, etc., etc. - both officers and sailors have been overwhelmingly men, how do you intend to "redress the gender imbalance" ?
I checked this site but could find no women listed
Robin (Campbell), I didn't dismiss Louis's suggestion of a second *officer*. What he suggested (06/10/2023 10:36) was a second *lieutenant*, believing that to be (if I understood him correctly) the lowest officer rank in the WRNS during WWII. This is wrong: second lieutenant was and is the lowest commissioned rank in the army – in the WRNS the equivalent was third officer (and in the Royal Navy proper, sub-lieutenant). There was no such rank as ‘second lieutenant’ in the WRNS - that's the point I was trying to make. See https://tinyurl.com/52a6jjuv
I don't see the rank insignia as being different on the two sleeves, though the depiction is so sketchy it's hard to know what was intended. In any case I don’t think there is any precedent in any of the services for wearing different ranks on different cuffs or shoulders to indicate ‘acting’ rank. I cannot readily prove this for the WRNS, as even in the original photo of July 1945 from which I cropped Miss Mountbatten’s image (https://tinyurl.com/54f7b7z4) just one cuff is visible; I can only say I am sure that it is so.
Canada had their own WRENS with the same uniform and insignis but had CANADA on the top of the shoulder. Many were stationed in London.
For the small amount of the artist's biographical information that it contains, the attached wedding announcement is from the Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer of Friday 27th April 1934.
Apologies for the typos above - posted in an unhelpful hurry.
Martin (Jones), there are at least two other possibles for the medal ribbon, assuming the representation is even vaguely right (by no means a certainty, as I've said). And unlike the CGM (just 80 sea ones awarded 1939-45) and Lloyds War Medal for Bravery at Sea (541), they both had WWII awardees numbering in the thousands:
The Distinguished Service Cross (for officers, commissioned & warrant, up to the rank of Commander) - over 4,500 recipients.
The Distinguished Service Medal (for other ranks up to the rank of Chief Petty Officer) - over 7,100 recipients.
The 'sea' type of the Albert Medal (Bronze or 2nd Class) is also conceivable, though visually less likely - just 216 awardees since 1866 altogether (not just WWII) "for gallantry in saving life at sea".
I'm attaching images of all the ribbons for comparison.
The Collection have a higher-res image on their own website (https://tinyurl.com/bdkmmevs). As well as having a very different colour balance to our version, it shows on zooming in and going to fullscreen just how quick and sketchy this portrait is. A "major addition to the Museum’s collection"? Well, in the context of current social / historical requirements, perhaps, but its artistic merits seem slight.
In this other colour iteration the sitter's hair looks more auburn than brunette, which may or may not help - I now doubt even more that this is likely to be a reliable likeness, as I do that the medal ribbon can be safely interpreted. See attached details.
David (Edmond), though I like your thinking, it seems that during WWII members of the WRNS, perhaps surprisingly, remained technically civilians and were not subject to military law (though they certainly had their own rules & regulations). Since the Naval Discipline Act did not apply to them, a Court Martial would have been legally impossible. See https://tinyurl.com/2xrfpdp2
Though not really helpful for identification purposes, you can read a highly illuminating selection of memories about life and work in the WRNS here https://tinyurl.com/mr3jadh6.
Hi all, many thanks for your messages and continued discussion of this topic.
Re: the image on our website – Osmund correctly highlights the different colour balance in that image compared to the one that appears on ArtUK. This is due to a technical issue affecting the image on the website, which means that the colour balance is not displaying correctly. The image on ArtUK is a more accurate representation of the portrait’s colours.
I can’t help with identification of the sitter, other than to say whether she was acting or substantive Third Officer would make no difference to her uniform. It is a sketch as she only has 6 gold buttons visible and WRNS officers had 8. Her cap badge is poorly rendered as on first glance I thought it either Chief Petty Officer or USN, but the two blue diamonds and her brown gloves (ratings and POs had black gloves) confirm her officer status. Her medal ribbon could be Conspicuous Gallantry Medal or St Sava medal (Serbia). She certainly looks ill at ease and ready to do something. A Canada flash would be worn on her right shoulder, but not seen here.
I wondered if McCulloch might have copied from a photo rather than using a live model. The Sketch, The Sphere and The Tatler etc. all published photos of women in service during the war.
THE WREN LOOK: TYPES OF SENIOR SERVICE GIRL. (1942). The Sketch, 197(2560), 265.
When I see this picture I'm reminded of the research I did on Anthony Gross for his potential illustrations for George Borrow's Bible in Spain. That research led me to Gross' work at the ATS in London in 1941. (His studio was also in Chelsea) It was there he met Eileen Bigland who also wrote on Borrow.
Bigland's book on the ATS shows many sketches of the volunteers/recruits (I don't have a copy I used the British Library, but also the IWM have a copy). Note that Bigland also wrote a history of the WRNS at abut the same time. Perhaps the artist above illustrated that other book which I haven't seen.
Eileen Bigland, Britain's other army: The story of the A.T.S (London: Nicholson and Watson, 1946)
Angela Weight in Anthony Gross, The War Years. Many of Gross’s war pictures can be found at the Imperial War Museum, including his ATS pictures: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/search?query=Anthony Gross
The Story of the W.R.N.S. (Women's Royal Naval Service)
London: Nicholson & Watson, 1946. 188 pages. Black and white photographic plates.
As an ex-Wren, I have several old books on the Service in which photographs are marked as having come from the "Dauntess Collection", HMS Dauntless being the establishment where Wrens did their initial training. Might it be possible to track down this photographic collection (possibly IWM?) and do some cross-checking with images in that? Perhaps there is some computer software that could make the job easier.
Have you tried contacting the local branches of the Association of Wrens? There are still some older ladies around in these Associations who may know something?
Elaine - many thanks for these ideas. We have indeed been in touch with the Association of Wrens: they are going to print something about the portrait in the next issue of The Wren magazine, which will hopefully reach some older members (who may not be online).
We do hold a collection of archival material, including photograph albums and scrapbooks of press clippings, from HMS Dauntless here at the National Maritime Museum. Unfortunately, none of it has been scanned/digitised, so we would need to go through it all manually and there is a very large volume of material - it would be a Herculean task!
Ah, that is a shame! I'm part of a group of volunteers digitising and researching for the RWA. Do you have a similar group? Would love to join in if so!! So important to get all this stuff digitised for the future.
I presume you have seen the photo online of a 3/O called Margaret Woodyear (about whom I can find nothing!). Not an exact resemblance but quite close!
Margaret Elizabeth 'Mollie' Woodyear was born on the 19th March 1921, at Wandsworth, London. Her father, Sydney John David Woodyear (1894-1984), a 'Bank Clerk', and her mother, Louie Owen, had married at Ecclesall Bierlow, Yorkshire, in 1920.
In the 1939 Register, Margaret was listed as being a 'Bank Typist'.
According to the London Gazette of 7th July 1944 she was promoted to the ranks of Acting Third Officer on 4th June 1944. See also the attached from The Navy List of 1945.
On Saturday 1st June 1946, Margaret was married at Holy Trinity Church, New Barnet, to Peter Charles Killby (1920-1995). See the attached, from the Richmond Herald, of Saturday 8th June 1946.
She died at Redhill, Surrey, on the 26th February 2015, aged 93.
Thanks for these contributions. I'm afraid we don't currently have a volunteer digitisation group, Elaine, but it sounds like a good idea. I'll make a note to look into it.
Thank you for the suggestion of Margaret Woodyear and for the additional research into Woodyear, Kieran. I can see where you are coming from with the likeness and it seems like Woodyear was, at least in civilian life, London-based, although it would be interesting to know what she was doing in 1945...
3/O M.E. Woodyear was stationed at HMS Pembroke III in the Oct 45 Naval List (correct to 29 Sep). This (as Jane W told us last week) was an accounting base "at London and outstations". However I don't consider the likeness anything like close enough for even a possible identification, let alone a probable one.
As we've discussed on here many times, the 'looks like' method is too uncertain and subjective - both in how the artist perceived the sitter, and in how researchers later perceive the result - to be of use without further evidence. This can be within the artwork itself, and/or in associated provenance. An extremely close resemblance can sometimes trump the need for this, but that is very rare with unidentified sitters. In my view none of those suggested to date have anything more in common than being the right rank, and the right sort of age and colouring - there must have been many hundreds of Wrens in 1945 of whom this was true. And I don't believe a London base means much, for reasons already given - Wrens did get leave, and I'm sure many of them managed to get up to town to spend it.
To find a suitable Wren who received a medal with colours approximating those we apparently see might be a starting-off point - the DSM & DSC are perhaps the most likely, in view of the large numbers awarded, and they are theoretically searchable in the London Gazette - but I can't see any other way of getting further with this. Except, of course, via the artist's life and work, but relevant details of that have proved elusive.
On which note, I think I shall bow out of this one now...good luck!
Looking at the two pastel sketches side by side, Patricia as a child and the unknown Wren, there are enough stylistic similarities to raise the possibility that they might be by the same person. I don't know where that takes us, as they're very informal sketches.
The trouble with Margaret Woodyear as a suggestion is that the sitter is shown as wearing a wedding ring in 1945 and as Kieran has pointed out that Woodyear didn’t get married till 1946. I suppose a woman in wartime might wear a wedding ring as ‘protection’, but she would be unlikely to be painted with it.
Even though it’s the best match for colour, the medal can’t be the Lloyds War Medal for Bravery at Sea, because as Osmund’s helpful list attached to his post of 11/10/2023 01:05 shows, that is for merchant vessels and this woman in in the Royal Navy. In any case, the only one of the four female recipients who was an officer was the redoubtable Victoria Drummond (the others were two stewardesses and a passenger) and she would be 51 in 1945. The DSC seems the better bet, though digging through the 4,500 or so WWII recipients will be difficult – though a woman naval recipient might have got publicity elsewhere as unusual.
Osmund, sorry to have taken so long but I have been away. I don’t my full post about Canadian wrens made it but I was questioning whether, in wartime, the nationality of servicemen and women was displayed on their uniform?
Using the April 1945 edition of the quarterly Naval List (just before the European war ended, and thus perhaps the maximum WRNS size), I've now looked in detail at the numbers of women listed there. The NMM's estimate (05/10/2023 17:25) that "there would have been several hundred Wren Third Officers in 1945" is far, far too low. In fact there were over 2,750 women of that substantive rank, along with nearly 750 'acting' 3/Os - a total of 3,500, give or take! I'm afraid this only emphasizes how hopeless it is trying to find the sitter by looking randomly at a tiny number of Wrens whose names happen to crop up on the internet.
Eric, there were indeed Wrens in the navies of both Australia (WRANS) and Canada (WRCNS), but their numbers were much smaller - in Apr 1945 each listed just 80 or so 3/officers or equivalent (the WRCNS used the ordinary naval rank of sub-lieutenant). It's not impossible our sitter was among them (though it's likely many were not even based in the UK), but the probability is clearly extremely low in view of the hugely larger number of possibles in the (British) WRNS.
While 'who is this?' is a question worth asking, an answer is more likely to be by luck than any systematic approach, as efforts above tend to show. Anyone of the sitter's apparent age will be dead, so not volunteering: the chance will be of someone at least in the next or a later generation recognising her, probably from a family owned photo of some sort.
NMM had a parallel case in 2006 with two Wren cadet officers shown in Muirhead Bone's very large drawing of Royal Naval College personnel dining the Painted Hall at Greenwich during WWII.
During contact then with a John and Daphne Loch in Wiltshire (both then elderly and now gone) for entirely unconnected reasons, the latter produced an old B&W photo of it as a 'by-the-way' and identified herself and her Wren friend in it. The son of one of the College officers included later added a little more on others shown after (to best of my recollection) seeing the image online, as also noted in the entry.
In other words, it's a case of hope rather than system or expectation.