Women in the Air ForceSusannah Walbank
During the First World War, members of the Women’s Royal Naval Service (WRNS) and the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC) worked on air stations. The decision was then taken to merge the Royal Flying Corps (RFC) and the Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS) to form the Royal Air Force (RAF). It was thought that a separate women’s air service was needed which led to the formation of the WRAF in 1918.
Civilian enrolment into the WRAF was huge in 1918 and personnel who were already in the WRNS and the WAAC were given the choice of changing roles to the WRAF. This meant that the number of members soared to 32,000 people. The minimum age for joining was 18 and there were a number of health checks which meant that candidates from polluted cities were excluded. Those that enrolled from upper class families were made officers.
The original idea was for the female mechanics to free up men for service in the First World War. The women in the WRAF had many roles including clerks, household and welders. By 1920 there were over 50 trades open to women including, tailoring, photography and catering. This meant that the men were free to enter into combat.
There were very strict rules in the WRAF and they were listed in the published Standing Orders booklet. Uniform requirements were listed and bans on actions such as smoking while on duty were listed. They became known as the most professional and disciplined of all the women’s services.
The WRAF’s were split into two groups. The first was the Immobiles who lived at home and worked at their local station. The second group was the Mobiles who lived on, or near to their workplace and were open to transfer. On the 24th of March 1919 the first group from the WRAF arrived to serve in France.
A year later the second group was sent to Cologne in Germany. They were employed as clerks, nurses and drivers which meant men were free for the forces. The WRAF was disbanded in 1920 after the First World War.
In 1948 the Army and Air Force (Women’s Service) Act was passed which created opportunities for women in the Armed forces. All new members were enlisted into the Royal Air Force and took the same oath as men and endured the same conditions. Women were still unable to undertake combat duties.
Despite their non-combat status the WRAF were posted in post-war-conflict places such as Kenya and Cyprus where they helped with vital support. In 1970 the first females were admitted into the RAF College Cranwell. The WRAF merged with the RAF during 1994 and the number of trades open to women grew rapidly. In 1989 women became eligible to pilot Royal Air Force combat aircrafts.
The last surviving war veteran from the WRAF, Florence Green, died in February 2012.