Culdrose Warrant Officer looks back on career as WRNS Celebrate Centenary
As we look forward to celebrating 100 years of women working with or in the Royal Navy, each day this week we profile the work of some serving and ex-service female personal at RNAS Culdrose and how the roles of female Naval personnel have changed in some of their lifetimes.
Warrant Officer Aircrewman (WOACMN) Bridgette Turner is the Base Warrant Officer at RNAS Culdrose. This is the most senior position held by a non-commissioned officer at the Air Station. She is a key part of the senior management team.
Bridgette joined the Royal Navy on 21st February 1983 as an aircraft engineer. After basic training at HMS Raleigh, Torpoint, Cornwall and professional training at HMS Daedalus in Hampshire she became an Engineering Mechanic at RNAS Yeovilton in Somerset.
When Bridgette joined the Royal Naval, opportunities for women were different from today and were very limited. All roles were shore based; women did not go to sea. So when the opportunity to fly and go to sea became available, Bridgette jumped at the chance. She became the first female Aircrewman in 1990.
The transition from engineering to aviation was a real challenge. Not only did she have to put into practice her new role of Aircrewman, she also had to learn about life at sea. She had ten years of Naval experience to draw on at this stage, but it was still demanding. Her transition to her new role was eased by receiving lots of support, good training and keeping her sense of humour. Of course these new character building experiences allowed many more doors to be opened; the range of opportunities became so much wider.
Bridgette enjoyed her time at sea, but being one of the first it took a while for the numbers to build. ‘I first realised that women were fully integrated when I was an instructor on 824 NAS. I was teaching women and men. You saw a measurable output when students passed out. I realised it was a changing Navy.’
Her first frontline squadron was 814 Naval Air Squadron (NAS). Here she embarked on one of the Royal Navy’s aircraft carriers and deployed overseas. She then came back to Culdrose and passed on her operational experience as an instructor on 810 NAS.
Around this time the Royal Navy’s new Merlin helicopters were being introduced. Bridgette found herself in the Merlin project quite early and was part of the team that commissioned 824 NAS, the Merlin training squadron. In this role, she was in the team that took the Merlin Mark 1 to sea. She flew and instructed on the squadron, gaining her A2 qualification which opened many more flying opportunities. Bridgette sees this period in her career as some of the most rewarding times. She joined Naval Flying Standards flight, colloquially known as ‘Trappers’, the Fleet Air Arm’s equivalent of OFSTED, and was the first female to do so. In this role she flew every type of Naval Aircraft and ensured that the standards of work by the Royal Navy’s Aircrewmen were maintained at the highest level.
As a result of her excellent work at Trappers she was then promoted to Warrant Officer Aircrewman and was drafted to 820 NAS as the squadron Warrant Officer. She remained there for 3 years, spending much of that time deployed. She then became Merlin force Operations Officer before being selected to become RNAS Culdrose base Warrant Officer.
As Base Warrant Officer she enjoys working with people and helping them progress in their careers. She is the eyes and ears of the Command on the camp. Gauging how people feel at Culdrose and how that could impact on the operation capabilities of RNAS Culdrose.
When asked if she misses flying, she said, ‘I walked away from aviation with a smile on my face. I often get pins and needles when I see the aircraft deploy. But I will not be walking out under that rotor disc again’.
Bridgette says that it was always her dream to join the WRNS. As she progressed she took the opportunities that became available to her. Her Great Aunt was one of the first WRNS. She feels that WRNS 100 is a celebration of their heritage and passion. She is very much looking forward to the celebrations and carrying the baton.