Women’s Auxiliary Air force – History 1939 – 1949

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During the war the women of Britain joined many organisations and various armed services, wheras before the war women had not been able to join the sevices. One of the Corps especially created for women was the “Women’s Auxilliary Air Force”. The Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) was formed in June 1939. The main reason for this service was to release men for combat posts.

A Womens Royal Air Force had existed from 1918 to 1920. The WAAF was created on 28th June 1939, absorbing the forty-eight RAF companies of the Auxillary Territorial Service which had been formed since 1938. Conscription of women did not begin until 1941. It only applied to those between 20 and 30 years of age and they had the choice of the auxiliary services or factory work.

Women were accepted between the ages of 17 and 44. By the year 1943 there were 180,000 women in the WAAF. The work done by the WAAF covered virtually every activity carried out by men including Intelligence Operations.

WAAFs did not serve as aircrew. The use of women pilots was limited to the Air Transport Axillary (ATA – which was civilian) which delivered aircraft to the various RAF bases. Neither did they participate in active combat, though they were exposed to the same dangers as any on the “home front” working at military installations.

WAAF’s were also active in the following:

Parachute Packing

Manning of The Barrage Balloons

All types of Catering

Meteorology

Radar

Transport,

Communications duties including wireless Telephonic and Telegraphic operations.

Intelligence Operations using Codes and Ciphers

Analysis of reconnaissance photographs Operation Rooms controlling Radar, Aircraft and Plotters.

Nurses belonged to Princess Mary’s Royal Air Force Nursing Service

Medical and Dental officers were commissioned into the Royal Air Force and held RAF ranks.

Alas, WAAFs were paid two-thirds of the pay of male counterparts in RAF ranks.

By the end of World War II, WAAF enrollment had declined and the effect of demobilisation was to take thousands out of the service. The remainder, now only several hundred strong, was renamed the Womens Royal Air Force on 1st February 1949.

Nursing Orderlies of the WAAF flew on RAF transport planes to evacuate the wounded from the Normandy battlefields. They were dubbed Flying Nightingales by the press. The RAF Air Ambulance Unit flew under 46 Group Transport Command from RAF Down Ampney, RAF Broadwell and RAF Blakehill Farm. RAF Dakota aircraft carried military supplies and ammunition so could not display the Red Cross.

Training for air ambulance nursing duties included instruction in the use of oxygen, injections, learning how to deal with certain types of injuries such as broken bones, missing limb cases, head injuries, burns and colostomies; and to learn the effects of air travel and altitude.

In October 2008 the seven nurses still living were presented with lifetime achievement awards by the Duchess of Cornwall.

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Copyright © 2010 Paul Hussey. All Rights Reserved.

My family tree has been traced back to the early Kings of England from the 7th Century AD. I am also a direct descendent of Sir Christopher Wren which has given me an interest in English History and Icons which is great fun to research.

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