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The Women's Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF), whose members were invariably referred to as Waafs ( ), was the female auxiliary of the Royal Air Force during World War II, established in 1939. At its peak strength, in 1943, WAAF numbers exceeded 180,000, with over 2,000 women enlisting per week.

A Women's Royal Air Force had existed from 1918 to 1920. The WAAF was created on 28 June 1939, absorbing the forty-eight RAF companies of the Auxiliary 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.

WAAFs did not serve as aircrew. The use of women pilots was limited to the Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA), which was civilian. 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. They were active in parachute packing and the manning of barrage balloons in addition to performing catering, meteorology, radar, transport, telephonic and telegraphic duties. They worked with codes and ciphers, analysed reconnaissance photographs, and performed intelligence operations. WAAFs were a vital presence in the control of aircraft, both the radar stations and iconically as plotters in the operation rooms, most notably during the Battle of Britain. These operation rooms directed fighter aircraft against the Luftwaffe, mapping both home and enemy positions.

Nurses belonged to Princess Mary's Royal Air Force Nursing Service instead. Female medical and dental officers were commissioned into the Royal Air Force and held RAF ranks.

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 Women's Royal Air Force on 1 February 1949.

Ranks

Initially, the WAAF used the ATS ranking system, although the Director held the rank of "Senior Controller" (equivalent to Air Commodore) instead of "Chief Controller". However, in December 1939 this was changed, other ranks now held almost identical ranks to male RAF personnel, but officers continued to have a separate rank system, although now different from that of the ATS. From February 1940 it was no longer possible to enter directly as an officer; from that time all officers were appointed from the other ranks. From July 1941 WAAF officers held full commissions.

WAAF Recruitment poster


WAAF Pattern 1 WAAF Pattern 2 Equivalent RAF rank
Aircraftwoman 2nd Class Aircraftwoman 2nd Class Aircraftman 2nd Class
Aircraftwoman 1st Class Aircraftwoman 1st Class Aircraftman 1st Class
Leading Aircraftwoman Leading Aircraftman
Assistant Section Leader Corporal Corporal
Section Leader Sergeant Sergeant
Senior Section Leader Flight Sergeant Flight Sergeant
Under Officer Warrant Officer
Company Assistant Assistant Section Officer Pilot Officer
Deputy Company Commander Section Officer Flying Officer
Company Commander Flight Officer Flight Lieutenant
Senior Commandant Squadron Officer Squadron Leader
Chief Commandant Wing Officer Wing Commander
Controller Group Officer Group Captain
Senior Controller Air Commandant Air Commodore
Air Chief Commandant Air Vice-Marshal


Directors



WAAFs serving with SOE

Several members of the WAAF served with the Special Operations Executive during the Second World War.



Flying Nightingales

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 Ampneymarker, Broadwellmarker, and Blakehill Farmmarker. 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.

Pictures

Image:Noor-Khan-WAAF-Uniform.jpg|Nora KhanImage:Waafsspeakgerman large.jpg|WAAF Operation Corona Radio OperatorsImage:HRH Princess Alice Commandant of the WAAF.jpg|HRH Princess Alice, Duchess of Gloucester Commandant of the WAAFImage:Barrage ballons.jpg|WAAF Barrage Balloon crews at RAF Cardington.

Notes

  1. Called Senior Sergeant until at least July 1941. Air Ministry, Women's Auxiliary Air Force: Notes for the Information of Candidates, 5th edition, 1941.
  2. Not used at first, but introduced by July 1941. Air Ministry, Women's Auxiliary Air Force: Notes for the Information of Candidates, 5th edition, 1941. Renamed Warrant Officer by 1948. Ministry of Defence, Pay, Retired Pay, Service Pensions and Gratuities for Members of the Women's Services, 1948.
  3. Created in 1943. The only people to hold the rank were Dame Jane Trefusis Forbes (1 January 1943), Princess Alice, Duchess of Gloucester (22 March 1943; she had been an honorary Air Commandant since 1940) and Dame Mary Welsh (August 1944).


See also



Further reading

  • Escott, Beryl, Women in Air Force Blue, Patrick Stephens, 1989. ISBN 1-85260-066-7
  • Escott, Beryl, Our Wartime Days, The WAAF in World War II, Sutton Publishing Ltd, 1995. ISBN 0-7509-0638-3
  • Escott, Beryl. The WAAF : A History of the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force. Shire Publications, 2003. ISBN 0-7478-0572-5 (also quoted at [96319] in context of Czech WAAFs)
  • Gane Pushman, Muriel, We All Wore Blue: Experiences in the WAAF, Tempus, 2006. ISBN 978-0752441306
  • Rice, Joan, Sand In My Shoes: Coming of Age in the Second World War: Wartime Diaries of a WAAF, Harperpress 2006. ISBN 0-00-722820-1
  • Watkins, Elizabeth, Cypher Officer, Pen Press Publications, Brighton. 2008. ISBN13: 978-1-906206-27-7 A first hand account by a young WAAF cypher officer on active duty in the Egypt, Kenya, the Seychelles and Italy in World War II.
  • Wyndham J, Love is Blue, Heinemann, 1986. ISBN 0-00-654201-8
  • Younghusband, Eileen., Not an Ordinary Life. How Changing Times Brought Historical Events into my Life, Cardiff Centre for Lifelong Learning, Cardiff, 2009. ISBN 987-0-9561156-9-0 (Pages 36-70, 251-255 and 265-267 describe the experiences of a WAAF radar Filterer in WWII.)


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