The Role of Second Officer Kalyani Sen in World War II

  • The World War 2 began as a European war in the early years. Later, the war also engulfed Africa and Asia. Later when Japan and the United States also jumped into it, the war actually transformed into the World War. With the involvement of Britain, Indian armed forces were automatically led into the war. There were lakhs of Indians who fought alongside Allied Forces against the rampaging German Wehrmacht. Besides men, even Indian women joined the great war.

While the role of British WRNS (Women’s Royal Naval Service) is widely acknowledged in WW2 till date, few people know about the contribution of the WRINS or the Women’s Royal Indian Naval Service (India’s counterpart to the WRNS) in the World War 2.

During WW2, the Women’s Royal Indian Naval Service was established, as part of the The Royal Indian Navy (RIN). Although women didn’t serve on board, however, it was the first time when women were given a role in the navy.

Very few people are aware that Second Officer Kalyani Sen was the first Indian service woman to visit the UK with Chief Officer Margaret Cooper, at Rosyth. When Sen was offered the invite for a comparative study of the training and administration in the Women’s Roal Naval Service, she accepted it with alacrity and left for her two-month study visit.

By 1942, the threat of a Japanese invasion of India at peak. Therefore, the British formed the Women’s Auxiliary Corps (India) for female volunteers so that they could contribute to the war cause. It was the first time when women were serving the Indian Army in non-medical roles.

In 1945, the Wrins were given a separate wing from the Women’s Auxiliary Corps (India) to help the Royal Indian Navy in its defence of India’s coasts and harbours.

Here’s a picture of Kalyani Sen from the visit — in a white shirt and naval jacket with gold braid over her sari. It was published in all major Indian publications as a symbol of “new India”. In an interview with the Daily Herald that soon followed, Sen explained:

In India, there is still a big prejudice against women working with men. But the women are so keen to get into the Services that they are breaking it down.

After this, many girls in India were kept to join the Wrins. They were provided military-style hostels for stay and these hostels were run by women officers while training for a multitude of “shore jobs”.

But unlike the British Wrens (who wore rough serge dresses, woolen stockings, and thick overcoats), the Indian Wrins has a different uniform. Indian Wrins wore white saris with blue borders and seaman’s arm badges.

Here are some rare photographs of Wrins from the bygone era.

By: M Thakur on Monday, December 4th, 2017