Veterans

Welsh veteran holds Guinness World Record for longest career in the Royal Navy

Her impressive career lasted for more than 40 years.

This year has been quite momentous for WO1 (Retired) Barbara McGregor. 

Not only did she leave the Royal Navy, but the veteran from Bridgend, Wales, also officially became the longest-serving female in the Senior Service. 

The veteran even has a Guinness World Record to prove it. 

WO1 (Retd) McGregor joined the Women's Royal Naval Service (WRNS or Wrens) in 1977 and retired earlier this year, which means that her impressive career spanned 43 years and 189 days.

In 1993, members of the Women's Royal Naval Service were amalgamated into the Royal Navy and WRNS was disbanded as a separate service. 

After more than 40 years of service, WO1 (Retd) McGregor's close friend Annie was determined that the veteran should get "recognition for staying for so long" so wrote to the Guinness Book of Records to get the ball rolling.  

After providing some paperwork to confirm the record, WO1 (Retd) McGregor's Royal Navy career became recognised as being the longest for a woman.

WO1 (Retired) Barbara McGregor with Royal Navy friends Longest career in the navy (active duty/service) (female) (Picture: WO1 (Retd) Barbara McGregor).
WO1 (Retired) Barbara McGregor with friends she joined the WRNS with 1977 (Picture: WO1 (Retd) Barbara McGregor).

However, for the Royal Navy veteran, quality is more important than quantity, saying: 

"I always say, it's not so much the years you do, it's what you do in those years that is important." 

The Guinness World Record holder comes from a military family as her brother was in the Royal Marines, her father was in the Physical Training Corps of the British Army and her grandfather was a Major in the Royal Welch Regiment. 

Initially, WO1 (Retd) McGregor wanted to be a veterinary nurse but found it difficult to see animals in pain. She also had her heart set on becoming an air hostess but her French "wasn't quite good enough" so she started enquiring about other career options. 

Speaking with Richard Hatch and Jade Callaway on BFBS the Forces Station, WO1 (Retd) McGregor told of how her journey to joining the Royal Navy started, saying: 

 "I met a couple of ladies who were in the Wrens, filled out a coupon in a newspaper as you did all those years ago, and a lovely lady ... from Bristol came to see me in my school and she showed it to me as, you know, career." 

WO1 (Retd) McGregor says that, in the 1970s, most girls would join the Royal Navy for about four years because eventually, they would leave to get married and have children.

Something women with hopes of a long career in the Royal Navy simply could not do then. She said: 

"If you got married and if you had a child, you had to leave the service. How things have changed."

WO1 (Retired) Barbara McGregor 1987 at the Regulating School at HMS EXCELLENT Longest career in the navy (active duty/service) (female) (Picture: WO1 (Retd) Barbara McGregor).
WO1 (Retired) Barbara McGregor at the Regulating School at HMS EXCELLENT in 1987 (Picture: WO1 (Retd) Barbara McGregor).

After four years, WO1 (Retd) McGregor started a new chapter in her career by becoming a Naval Police Woman and meeting her now-husband while in Gibraltar. They both decided that, as they were not planning a family any time soon, she would continue her career. 

However, as soon as the rules were changed so that women in the Royal Navy could have a career and children, their son was born 12 months later.

WO1 (Retd) McGregor's career 

The veteran began her career as a Wren Radio Operator and had ambitions to travel and play sports. Her career saw her serving at HMS Heron in Yeovilton, HMS Dryad in Portsmouth, and HMS Rooke in Gibraltar. 

She went on to train new female ratings at HMS Raleigh in Cornwall. Later in her career, WO1 (Retd) McGregor returned to HMS Raleigh to train female and male recruits together. This was at a historic time which saw women deployed to sea for the first time in 1990. 

All members of the WRNS were given an option to volunteer for sea - WRNS Officers went to sea in 1990 but the ratings did not until much later - but WO1 (Retd) McGregor decided not to because her husband was already at sea and she was at the top of her career path with no sea experience so felt as though it would have been a "foolhardy" decision. She said: 

"They were very difficult times, hard decisions had to be made by many, some have regrets but I certainly do not. 

"However, I have always said if I was starting out again aged 18, I would be eager to serve alongside my male colleagues at sea." 

WO1 (Retd) McGregor feels immense pride to have been the first Regional Development Manager in Recruiting and finally for being the first to hold the position of Command Warrant Officer for the Royal Navy Careers Service where she was responsible for all recruiters nationwide in each Royal Navy and Royal Marines Careers Office.

Cover Image: WO1 (Retired) Barbara McGregor in 2017 when she was promoted to the Command Warrant Officer of recruiting (Picture: Crown Copyright).