Women's Auxiliary Air Force

Women's Auxiliary Air Force

The Women's Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF), whose members were invariably referred to as Waafs (pronEng|ˈwæfs), 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 in 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.


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.


*Air Chief Commandant Dame Jane Trefusis Forbes, June 1939–October 1943
*Air Chief Commandant Dame Mary Welsh, October 1943–November 1946
*Air Commandant Dame Felicity Hanbury, December 1946–January 1949


ee also

*Women's Royal Naval Service
*Women in the United States Air Force (WAF) (1948-1976)

Further reading

* Escott, Beryl (2003) "The WAAF", Shire Publications ISBN 0-7478-0572-5 (also quoted at [http://www.geocities.com/nasenoviny/WAAFen.html ] in context of Czech WAAFs)
* Watkins, Elizabeth (2008) "Cypher Officer", Pen Press Publications, Brighton ISBN 13:978-1-906206-27-7 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.

External links

* [http://www.raf.mod.uk/history/wraf4.html "The WRAF - Women in the Blue: Working through the Second War years"] Royal Air Force official website
* [http://www.war-experience.org/history/keyaspects/waaf/default.asp "The Work of Women in the Women's Auxiliary Air Force", The Second World War Experience Centre, Leeds UK]
* [http://www.aeroplanemonthly.com/aeroarchive/Women_as_Ground_Crews_news_70091.html "Women as Ground Crews", reproduced from The Aeroplane, No.1686, September 17, 1943]
* [http://www.waafassociation.org.uk WAAF Association]
* [http://www.howardgoodall.co.uk/musicals/gfstext.htm "Girlfriends", a musical about WAAFs] by Howard Goodall: the website includes research material
* [http://www.spitfiresite.com/history/articles/2008/06/early-radar-memories.htm Early Radar Memories; Sgt. Jean (Sally) Semple, one of Britain’s pioneer Radar Operators] Retrieved: 22 June 2008

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