Marion, 1944 as a Wren, and 2021, getting a COVID-19 vaccine

Serving 78 years apart: a former Wren meets sailors at a vaccine centre

Marion Fursman, 94, received her first COVID-19 vaccine on the 11 Jan 2021. Seeing the Royal Navy sailors there in support of the vaccination staff brought her back 78 years to her own time as a Wren (in the Women’s Royal Navy Service). Read her incredible story:

The present day

Seeing the Royal Navy sailors at her COVID-19 vaccination in Ashton Gate, Bristol, brought back happy memories for Marion of her own time serving the country. The Armed Forces have been supporting the running of vaccine centres, helping with logistics and planning, with some Defence Medics giving the vaccines. Marion was sad to leave the Wrens after her father sought compassionate leave for her to return home to care for her mother. Since the war, she has married, had two daughters, three grandchildren and four great grandchildren.

Marion and Boris Johnson at the opening day of vaccines at Ashton Gate
Marion and Boris Johnson at the opening day of vaccines at Ashton Gate

Seeing the Royal Navy has caused her to bring out some old photo albums and share those stories. She even got to meet the Prime Minster during her appointment!

Lt Lauren Hodges and Boris Johnson
Lieutenant Lauren Hodges and Boris Johnson

Lieutenant Lauren Hodges, one of the personnel at the vaccination centre, said that meeting Marion and hearing her stories was the highlight of her day. She is honoured to support the NHS in the COVID-19 response:

“I was in the NHS myself for 10 years before joining the Royal Navy and I know first-hand what an incredibly difficult job it is, both physically and emotionally.

They are all under such immense pressure right now and really need the support from all of us to beat Covid. We really are very lucky to have them.”

Marion at the Vaccine centre in Ashton Gate
Marion at the vaccine centre in Ashton Gate

Marion’s story

In 1944 Marion joined the Wrens as soon as she was permitted, at the age of 17. She was posted to Scotland and given three job options: typing, cooking or driving. She picked and was soon doing driver training in Leeds, learning to drive ambulances and lorries, change tyres and maintain vehicles.

Marion’s group of Wrens, 1944

Soon she was working around the country, including Liverpool Hospital, Petersfield, London, and Bath. One of the most difficult parts of her job was the lack of road signposts during the war. This caused some problems when driving Naval personnel to UK docks!

Marion loved her three years in the Wrens. She fondly remembers camping out on the pavement before the Victory Parade to see the King and Queen, Winston Churchill and Lord Montgomery travel past in carriages and cars.

Marion, 1944
Marion, 1944

Who were the Wrens?

Founded in 1917, the Women’s Royal Navy Service (W.R.N.S. or ‘Wrens’ for short) was initially formed to allow sailors to leave for the war, with the weight of their work in the UK eased. They were brought back for the Second World War after 7,000 assisted in the First World War. The recruitment slogan was “‘Join the Wrens today and free a man to join the Fleet.”

Marion, 1944 with the Wrens
Marion, 1944 with the Wrens

The Wrens included not only Cooks, Stewards, Despatch Riders and Sail Makers, but also Radio Operators, Meteorologists and Bomb Range Markers. There were even Wrens breaking German and Japanese codes at Bletchley Park, and planning Naval elements of operations such as the D-Day landings.

Marion with the Wrens, 1944
Marion with the Wrens, 1944

The Wrens peaked in size in 1944, with 74,000 women enrolled in over 200 different jobs. 3,000 women remained in the Royal Navy after the Second World War, although it wasn’t until 1990 that they were allowed to go to sea, and 1993 when the Wrens were integrated fully in the Royal Navy.

Read more about the vaccine here:

Find out where the UK Armed Forces are deployed around the globe:

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Ministry of Defence

Ministry of Defence

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