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Top Merlin Helicopter Instructor Reflects on Century of Women Working

Published: 14 Sep 2017

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 serving and ex-service female personnel at RNAS Culdrose and how these roles have changed in some of their lifetimes.

Lieutenant Commander Lauren Hulston is the Senior Observer in charge of training the Merlin Force on 824 Naval Air Squadron (NAS) at RNAS Culdrose. As an Observer she is the mission commander of the aircraft, operating radar and radios.

Lauren joined the Royal Navy in 1999 as a trainee observer. Her father had been an Aircraft Handler in the Fleet Air Arm, so she had a good idea about what was involved. At the time, there were very few female aircrew in the navy, just seven observers. Although her role had only recently been open to women, she was pleased that there were no special dispensations made based on her gender. She found the team spirit during training excellent, and the boys and girls just worked together to complete their work. Lauren was a student on the first Merlin course, as previously aircrew had been taught on the Seaking Mark 6 helicopter.

Now she is in charge of that training pipeline, a role that she sees as a real honour. But it has been a long journey to get here. She has spent a lot of time at sea serving on aircraft carriers. She has also flown the Merlin off Royal Navy’s frigates while serving on 829 NAS. She now really relishes teaching the next generation of aircrew.

When reflecting about the past, and the women that have served before her in the Royal Navy and the WRNS, Lauren feels a real sense of legacy. She has met a number of retired female naval personnel through her love of golf. Lauren plays for the Royal Navy and has an annual match with the WRNS Golf Society. In the society are women that have served in the Royal Navy and WRNS, and some even served in the Second World War. Conversing with the older ladies, Lauren says that they are fascinated by the careers of women in the Royal Navy today, and she is equally interested in what the WRNS did in the past. Of course women of a bygone era did not have equal opportunities, many were expected to stay at home and not have jobs. But these early navy girls were pushing the boundaries and opening doors by doing tasks that were very different from women in civilian life.

Today life in the Royal Navy for women is no different to a man’s day. There is no such thing as an average day; each is different. For an experienced aviator like Lauren, one day she may be working in the office processing paper work and e mails, just like many other middle managers - the next she could be flying off a ship. This could be followed by a day of physical training or firing weapons. Another important role is developing the careers of those working for you, so time is spent helping resolve career issues or assisting a trainee who may be struggling. The bottom line Lauren says is, ‘you need to have a positive attitude, be prepared to perform a diverse range of tasks and get stuck into anything that comes your way.

She also says that the future of the Royal Navy and Fleet Air Arm is looking very bright indeed. This has been highlighted recently with the new aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth arriving in her base port of Portsmouth , with the second carrier, HMS Prince of Wales under build to follow on behind. 


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