Women's Royal Army Corps
The Women's Royal Army Corps (WRAC; sometimes pronounced acronymically as ˈræk, a term unpopular with its members) was the corps
A corps is either a large formation, or an administrative grouping of troops within an armed force with a common function such as Artillery or Signals representing an arm of service...

 to which all women in the British Army
British Army
The British Army is the land warfare branch of Her Majesty's Armed Forces in the United Kingdom. It came into being with the unification of the Kingdom of England and Scotland into the Kingdom of Great Britain in 1707. The new British Army incorporated Regiments that had already existed in England...

 except medical, dental and veterinary officers and chaplains (who belonged to the same corps as the men) and nurses (who belonged to Queen Alexandra's Royal Army Nursing Corps
Queen Alexandra's Royal Army Nursing Corps
Queen Alexandra's Royal Army Nursing Corps is the nursing branch of the British Army and part of the Army Medical Services....

) belonged from 1949 to 1992.


The WRAC was formed on 1 February 1949 by Army Order 6 as the successor to the Auxiliary Territorial Service
Auxiliary Territorial Service
The Auxiliary Territorial Service was the women's branch of the British Army during the Second World War...

 (ATS) that had been founded in 1938. For much of its existence, its members performed administrative and other support tasks, but later they began to be attached to other corps, including the Royal Artillery
Royal Artillery
The Royal Regiment of Artillery, commonly referred to as the Royal Artillery , is the artillery arm of the British Army. Despite its name, it comprises a number of regiments.-History:...

 and Royal Engineers
Royal Engineers
The Corps of Royal Engineers, usually just called the Royal Engineers , and commonly known as the Sappers, is one of the corps of the British Army....

. In the 1980s, married members of the WRAC that had husbands serving with 17/21L were posted to serve within the Regiment as members of the QM Staff, they participated in large exercises in the field. Other WRAC personnel served with the Royal Signals and Royal Army Ordnance Corps as integrated unit members.

In 1974, two soldiers of the corps were killed by the Provisional IRA in the Guildford pub bombings.

On 6 April 1992, the WRAC was disbanded and its members transferred to the appropriate corps of the army, signalling full integration of women into non-combat roles. This was not greeted with enthusiasm by all members of the WRAC, particularly the more senior officers and NCOs, who felt that advancement would be more difficult if they had to compete on an equal basis with men. This was in some ways partly justified as the post of Director WRAC, which carried the rank of Brigadier
Brigadier is a senior military rank, the meaning of which is somewhat different in different military services. The brigadier rank is generally superior to the rank of colonel, and subordinate to major general....

, was abolished and it was seven years before a woman, Brigadier Patricia Purves, again reached that rank. Officially, since a majority of its members had been administrative personnel, the WRAC amalgamated into the new Adjutant General's Corps
Adjutant General's Corps
The Adjutant General's Corps is a corps in the British Army responsible for many of its general administrative services. As of 2002, the AGC had a staff of 7,000 people...


Their training depot was at the WRAC Centre, Queen Elizabeth Park, Guildford
Guildford is the county town of Surrey. England, as well as the seat for the borough of Guildford and the administrative headquarters of the South East England region...

 in Surrey
Surrey is a county in the South East of England and is one of the Home Counties. The county borders Greater London, Kent, East Sussex, West Sussex, Hampshire and Berkshire. The historic county town is Guildford. Surrey County Council sits at Kingston upon Thames, although this has been part of...


Ranks and uniform

The WRAC wore a distinctive Lovat green uniform and for dress occasions a bottle green uniform. Their cap badge
Cap badge
A cap badge, also known as head badge or hat badge, is a badge worn on uniform headgear and distinguishes the wearer's nationality and/or organisation. The wearing of cap badges is a convention commonly found among military and police forces, as well as uniformed civilian groups such as the Boy...

 was a lioness rampant within a laurel wreath surmounted by a crown. Their motto
A motto is a phrase meant to formally summarize the general motivation or intention of a social group or organization. A motto may be in any language, but Latin is the most used. The local language is usual in the mottoes of governments...

 was Suaviter in Modo, Fortiter in Re (Gentle in manner, resolute in deed).

Initially the WRAC retained the separate ATS ranking system. However, in March 1950 it switched entirely to Army rank titles, the first of the women's services to do so (the Women's Royal Air Force
Women's Royal Air Force
The Women's Royal Air Force was a women's branch of the Royal Air Force which existed in two separate incarnations.The first WRAF was an auxiliary organization of the Royal Air Force which was founded in 1918. The original intent of the WRAF was to provide female mechanics in order to free up men...

 switched in 1968; the Women's Royal Naval Service
Women's Royal Naval Service
The Women's Royal Naval Service was the women's branch of the Royal Navy.Members included cooks, clerks, wireless telegraphists, radar plotters, weapons analysts, range assessors, electricians and air mechanics...

 retained separate ranks until its disbandment in 1993). The highest rank available to a serving officer was Brigadier, held by the Director WRAC, although the Controller-Commandant, a member of the Royal Family
British Royal Family
The British Royal Family is the group of close relatives of the monarch of the United Kingdom. The term is also commonly applied to the same group of people as the relations of the monarch in her or his role as sovereign of any of the other Commonwealth realms, thus sometimes at variance with...

, held a higher honorary rank. Princess Mary
Mary, Princess Royal and Countess of Harewood
The Princess Mary, Princess Royal and Countess of Harewood was a member of the British Royal Family; she was the third child and only daughter of King George V and Queen Mary. She was the sixth holder of the title of Princess Royal...

 held the post from 1949 to her death in 1965 (beginning as a Major-General and being promoted General
A general officer is an officer of high military rank, usually in the army, and in some nations, the air force. The term is widely used by many nations of the world, and when a country uses a different term, there is an equivalent title given....

 on 23 November 1956) and the Duchess of Kent held it from 1967 to 1992 (with the rank of Major-General).

List of Directors WRAC

  • Brigadier Dame Mary Tyrwhitt
    Mary Tyrwhitt
    Brigadier Dame Mary Joan Caroline Tyrwhitt, DBE, TD was a British Army officer. She was the last director of the Auxiliary Territorial Service and the first director of the Women's Royal Army Corps when it was established on 1 February 1949.-External links:**...

    , 1949–1950
  • Brigadier Dame Mary Coulshed
    Mary Coulshed
    Brigadier Dame Mary Frances Coulshed, DBE was a British Army officer who served as Director of the Women's Royal Army Corps ....

    , 1950–1954
  • Brigadier Dame Mary Railton, 1954–1957
  • Brigadier Dame Mary Colvin
    Mary Colvin
    Brigadier Dame Mary Colvin, DBE, TD was a director of the British Army Women's Royal Army Corps and president of the British Horse Society.-Family:...

    , 1957–1961
  • Brigadier Dame Jean Rivett-Drake, 1961–1964
  • Brigadier Dame Joan Henderson, 1964–1967
  • Brigadier Dame Mary Anderson, 1967–1970
  • Brigadier Sheila Heaney, 1970–1973
  • Brigadier Eileen Nolan
    Eileen Nolan
    Brigadier Eileen Joan Nolan, CB was a former Director of the Women's Royal Army Corps .-Early years:Eileen Joan Nolan was born at Bournville, near Birmingham...

    , 1973–1977
  • Brigadier Anne Field, 1977–1982
  • Brigadier Helen Meechie, 1982–1986
  • Brigadier Shirley Nield, 1986–1989
  • Brigadier Gael Ramsey, 1989–1992
  • Brigadier Joan Roulstone, 1992–1994 (as Director Women (Army) during transitional period)

Band of the WRAC

At the time of the WRAC's disbanding the Band of the Women's Royal Army Corps, formed in 1949, was the only all-female band in the British Armed Forces, although the Royal Air Force
Royal Air Force
The Royal Air Force is the aerial warfare service branch of the British Armed Forces. Formed on 1 April 1918, it is the oldest independent air force in the world...

(which had once had its own all-female band) had already started to integrate female musicians into all of its bands. From the mid-1990s, women have served in all British Army bands. The instruments, assets and personnel of the former WRAC Band became the new Band of the Adjutant General's Corps.

Further reading

  • Bidwell Shelford. Women's Royal Army Corps (1997) 141pp
  • Noakes, Lucy. Women in the British Army: War and the Gentle Sex, 1907–48 (2006), the standard scholarly history; focus on ATS
  • WRAC archive of regiments.org
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