First Female Navy Deployment 30 Years Ago 'Real Defining Moment'

Commander Lucy Ottley has been reflecting on her memories seeing the event, and her thoughts about the Royal Navy's future.

It is 30 years since women were first deployed to sea in the Royal Navy, setting sail on HMS Brilliant in 1990.

Commander Lucy Ottley is the Secretary of the Naval Service Women's Network and was attending high school at the time, but remembers it as "a real defining moment" watching it on television.

She was the first female officer to be appointed to 847 Naval Air Squadron of the Fleet Air Arm and was Secretary to HMS Ark Royal during the Iraq war.

"It was a real corner to turn in those days," Cdr Ottley added.

There is a long history of women working with the Royal Navy.

The formation of the Women’s Royal Naval Service (WRNS) in 1917 was seen as an important milestone.

It allowed women to work in an official capacity in shore-based roles as cooks, stewards, dispatch riders, sail makers and in intelligence – the WRNS motto being 'Never at Sea'.

In more recent times, Commander Sarah West joined Type 23 frigate HMS Portland in Rosyth as the first woman in the Royal Navy’s history to be selected to command a major warship in 2012.

Then, in 2016 the coalition Government lifted restrictions on women serving in ground close combat roles and now all roles across all the services are open to women.

As of this year, just under 10% of the Royal Navy is female, and with women now able to join the Royal Marines and the submarine service, there are no longer limitations on where they can serve.

Female personnel boarding HMS Brilliant in 1990 CREDIT PIPPA GREGORY.jpg
Female personnel on board HMS Brilliant (Picture: Pippa Gregory).

The Royal Navy was among The Times' top 50 employers for women 2020 list – the third year in a row the service has been acknowledged.

"Our numbers are increasing – there are over 3,000 women now serving in all areas of the Royal Navy and I think it’s about doing a good job and doing what you want to do and making those opportunities work for you.

"I think the opportunities are there but I think we’re still working to get our first flag-ranked female officer and I would really hope that we would see one of those very soon become Admiral, and that will be a great day when we have our first female Admiral in the Royal Navy."

When asked if the Navy will ever see a 'First Sea Lady', she added: "I really hope that’s on the cards in the future and I know that lots of work is being looked at across diversity and inclusion. That’s an actual possibility going forward."

In July, Britain's most senior military officer said the Armed Forces must stamp out the "laddish culture" responsible for driving out talented female and minority ethnic personnel. 

General Sir Nick Carter, the Chief of the Defence Staff, also said there needed to be "positive action" to reform the military's career structure so that women who took time out to have a family were not "massively disadvantaged".

"It is simply unacceptable that in the top 150 or so of top general officers across the three services we only have three women," he said.