Dunkirk 1940. The British Army is saved from annihilation by the Royal Navy and a myriad of small boats. But why is a girl there, driving a naval motor cutter to take troops to the ships lying off the beaches under constant bombardment?
“This was no place for a woman” is the Navy’s official view of her presence, yet to Wren Jane Beacon it seemed a natural place to be. Joining the Wrens (the Women’s Royal Naval Service) in October 1939, she had become their first experimental boat crew Wren and by May 1940, she was an expert in handling small boats.
A strong, determined and independently minded young lady, always at a bit of an angle to authority, her natural impulsiveness has taken her to Dunkirk; “to do her bit” and she succeeds brilliantly, despite direct orders not to go.
Wren Jane Beacon goes to War is about much more than her exploits at Dunkirk, however, central though they were to her development; the book tells the whole story of her coming of age under extreme conditions. Being a Wren would not have been her chosen path in life – a place at Oxford University was open to her, but the call of duty to serve her country in its grim fight for survival, overwhelms this. A tough choice in 1939 for a girl not yet out of her teens, but she makes an outstanding, if chequered, success of it.
At the beginning of World War Two, women still lived limited lives.
Without consciously trying to, Wren Jane Beacon is in the vanguard of young women striking out to new relationships with authority and the male of the species, while shaking the social order to its foundations. Not least, her independent approach to her sexuality is of a new order.