Little did 19-year-old Hackney girl Evadne Gordon know, when she joined the Royal Naval Reserves on 31st March 1977, that 40 years later she would still be serving.
Chief Petty Officer Gordon, 59, was both the first person from her family to be born in the UK, after her parents moved from Jamaica in the 1950s, and the first to join the Armed Forces.
Now Evadne is celebrating becoming the longest serving female member of the Royal Naval Reserves, and she has no intentions of hanging up her uniform just yet.
Back when she first joined as a Wren after responding to a newspaper advert and attending a selection interview, Star Wars had only just been released, James Callaghan was Prime Minister, Abba topped the charts with Knowing Me Knowing You, and female Naval Reserves were not allowed to carry weapons or serve aboard a ship.
Of course, a lot has changed in the four decades since, with Reserves now fully integrated into the Armed Forces and for the first time since they were able to join the Armed Forces, women are able to serve on the front line and do all the jobs that their male colleagues can.
“The changes have been really positive, women are now treated equally. I wasn’t allowed to serve at sea or carry arms when I joined, but now there are no limits to what we are able to do. There has been a lot of progress, and it’s great to see.
“The Royal Naval Reserves are fully integrated now too. When I joined[the Wrens we were a separate entity and lots of full timers didn’t know who we were and what we did, they thought we were veterans on the reserve list. Now we are no different than the Regulars and do our jobs alongside them.”
Evadne’s long career has included parading during the Lord Mayor of London’s show, stints training hundreds of officers and personnel in Hong Kong, Gibraltar, Dubai, and Portugal in addition to the UK, and she was also responsible for sending and receiving transmissions from Royal Navy ships around the world.
In 2012, she was part of the welcoming party for the Queen during the Diamond Jubilee celebrations for the Royal barge’s arrival at HMS President, where she still serves in the Operations (HQ) Branch, and in the early eighties even met The Queen Mother.
“Back when I joined, Wrens could only sign up for three years, so I thought I would give it a go and see where it led to. It just seemed like an interesting thing to do. I never planned to stay for forty years, but each time I had the opportunity to extend I did. I am still in and have just put in for another extension.”
“I have had a fantastic time. It’s worthwhile, and very interesting. They always say that you get out of it as much as you put in. It’s hard work, but it’s so rewarding, and you meet some very interesting people.”
In addition to her military work, Evadne, now a grandmother, also holds down two civilian jobs – one at the Queen Mary University in an administrative role and the other at the Jamma Umoja residential family assessment center in Bromley. She’s even been able to use the many skills she’s picked up as Reserve including a military tracking system she introduced in her civilian role to track staff training.
“The most important elements of military life I have brought to my civilian jobs is the discipline and team work, and the fantastic sense of camaraderie.”
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