The Home of the Wrens

Here are two images of Elizabeth House and a newspaper article of a celebration of the house reaching 100 years old. Interestingly some of you will remember that when the house was sold it was turned into apartments and renamed Elizabeth Apartments.  With the celebration of 100 years the word ‘Apartments’ has been removed and the current tenants have replaced this with ‘House’.  So it is now known as Elizabeth House. And, Yes Maxine is the daughter of WORS Lawes.

Not sure when the black and white images were taken.  Click on Images to enlarge. wen

Elizabeth Houseelizabeth house 1Elizabeth House 2


The Women’s Royal New Zealand Naval Service (or ‘Wrens’) came into being on 11 April 1942 with the approval of the War Cabinet. During the Second World War, some 700 women served in the WRNZNS at various locations within New Zealand. It was estimated that accommodation for forty Wrens in Wellington and sixty in Devonport would be required.

HMNZS Tamaki was considered but it proved too expensive to refit some of the barracks for use by women. In addition, accommodation at HMNZS Philomel was also difficult due to the demands on the accommodation spaces currently in use.

Finding accommodation for the first twenty-four women that joined the Wrens by the end of 1942 proved an arduous battle. Initially, some were quartered in the Wardroom at HMNZS Philomel to the great interest of the sailors on duty.

Those who had family in Auckland were given permission to live at home and travel to the naval base for their duties. Later on, barracks were made available on Mount Victoria in Devonport when the Army moved out.

Because of the increase in numbers serving in Auckland by late 1942 it was clear to Ruth Herrick, the Director of the WRNZNS that suitable accommodation needed to be found in the Devonport Area.

The Ventnor Private Hotel with government approval ,could accommodate fifty Wrens at the sum of £2-2-0 each which covered their bed, breakfast, dinner and a Sunday lunch for a period of six weeks. . The cost would increase if the personnel stayed for shorter terms.

The plans were approved by the Minister and Accommodation Board on Christmas Eve 1942 and the first Wrens moved in on 7 January 1943.

In 1944 Ventnor Hotel was taken over under wartime legislation by the RNZN and made into the Accommodation for the WRNZNS based in Auckland working at HMNZS Philomel.

When compared to the Spartan accommodation at Mount Victoria, the private hotel was an enjoyable luxury.

Our War time “Golden girls, say the service with white table cloths and napkins and being served on, was very special. These girls were treated as house guests for their time there some up till 1946.

At the conclusion of the war Ventnor was returned to civilian control.

In 1946 the WRNZNS were disbanded only to be re-established in 1947 as a direct consequence of the mutiny that took place in that year. By 1949 there were ten officers and 120 ratings serving as Wrens and living in barracks at Philomel.

In July 1951, the Ventnor Hotel was purchased by the RNZN to be the barracks for the WRNZNS. A year was taken up with refurbishment and the first group Wrens arrived in July 1952. This was christened as “Elizabeth House.”

And excerpts from the diary of Janet Braggins (nee Brockie)

3rd July 1952:- The bottom dorm in Philomel is shifting to Elizabeth House and the matelot’s are shifting the furniture.

4th July:- The dorm is like a morgue now most of the girls have gone to Lizzy house, tonight there were only 2 of us in the mess.

10th July 1952:- House warming at Elizabeth House

24th Sept. At lunchtime I shifted to Lizzy House.

6th Oct. Another 8 girls from base moved in today.

3rd Dec 1952 The remainder of  the base block Wrens shifted into the house today.

During the late 1960s up to 125 girls were housed in Elizabeth House (and they were just girls). In those days one had to live onboard until you were 21 or a senior rate, and as most were only 17 or 18 when joined, you could spend your 3 year engagement at “the house”.

The WRNZNS was formally disbanded in July 1977 and the first intake of combined male and female trainees took place in September 1979. During this time of transition Elizabeth House remained in use. But in 1993 it had served its purpose, and Elizabeth House was sold off as part of the rationalisation of property and has been converted into these beautiful privately owned apartments.

I’ve still got lots of very good memories of Elizabeth House. There were parties and Christmas dinners, concerts, dances and all sorts of things. It really was a very happy time.”

The wonderful staircase with memories of skipping down it at high speed and photo shots, going to various Ships Balls. The whole house was a wonderful place to live even though we probably didn’t really appreciate what we had.



This now begs the question What about Margaret House?

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One Response to The Home of the Wrens

  1. Janet Braggins says:

    The black and white photos of Ellizabeth House were most probably taken in 1953 or 1954. I recognise three of the Wrens in the photo with the bicycles – I can put names to two of them – Rae Plant and Joy O’Neill.

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