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Anzac Day 2021


Women in uniform celebrating in street. Auckland Museum \u003ca href=\"\"\u003e PH-RES-4040\u003c/a\u003e

Women in uniform celebrating in street. Auckland Museum PH-RES-4040

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During the Second World War, New Zealand women served in auxiliary services that had been specially formed to support the various branches of the New Zealand Military Force. Nurses, who served as part of the New Zealand Army Nursing Service (NZANS), were recruited once New Zealand declared war on Germany on the 3rd September 1939. Between 1939 and 1948 over 680 nurses, masseuses, and physiotherapists served in the NZANS in New Zealand and overseas.1 The Women’s War Service Auxiliary (WWSA) was formed in July 1940, and auxiliaries to support other branches of the military were formed soon after. The main role of the WWSA was to coordinate the activities of various women’s organisations to best support New Zealand’s war effort.2 Women were especially keen to serve, and by 1942, 75,000 women had registered with the WWSA.3

This Anzac Day we commemorate two significant events involving servicewomen: the 80th anniversary of the establishment of the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) on 16th January 1941, and the 75th anniversary of the arrival of Jayforce in Japan. 

During the war women were directed into jobs, to release over 200,000 men to serve in the armed forces. These women took on numerous different roles, working in factories, farms, orchards, railways. Two thousands women served as Land Girls being placed on farms throughout New Zealand. Many more women also worked for volunteer organisations like the New Zealand Red Cross and St John. Below are photographs of the many roles women took on during the Second World War. You can also read more about women and service from the links on the side. 



More than 4,700 women were accepted for service in the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force. By the end of war WAAFs had served on every major station in New Zealand, and many served overseas in the Pacific, in Fiji and Norfolk Island.4  Māori women also enthusiastically enlisted with the WAAFs, though their voices are often absent from New Zealand’s military history. Angela Wanhalla and Stacey Fraser have identified 186 Māori women who served with the WAAFs during the Second World War; in their article An Invisible History: Wāhine Māori in the Air Force during World War II, they share some of their stories. 

Though WAAFs served in nearly every trade, they did not pilot aircraft, only five New Zealand women flew military aircraft during the Second World War. Betty Black, June Howden, Trevor Hunter, Jane Winstone, and Marie Furkett served in the Air Transport Auxiliary, ferrying aircraft between factories, active service squadrons, and airfields. Historian Gabrielle Fortune has profiled these “ATA-girls”. 

Despite the significant contribution women made to the Air Force during the Second World War, it wasn’t until October 1986 that women were able to train as pilots within the Royal New Zealand Air Force.5 The restriction on women flying combat aircraft and training for combat was lifted in 1988, but it wasn’t until the year 2000 that the restriction on women serving in combat in the New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) was lifted.6  


This year also marks 75 years since the arrival of Jayforce in Japan. Some 12,000 New Zealanders served in Japan as part of the British Commonwealth Occupational Force. Women from the New Zealand Army Nursing Service and the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps also served as a part of Jayforce. Among the NZANS nurses was Sister Iris Frazer, who had served with the NZANS in Italy and then on to Japan.  Associate Curator Gail Romano has written about the contribution of many of New Zealand’s Nurses in Japan.  

Many of the Auxiliary forces established during WWII became part of the Regular Force after the war. The WAAFs became a permanent part of the peacetime Royal New Zealand Air Force in 1947, and the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps the following year. The Women’s Royal New Zealand Naval Service was disbanded in 1946 and then re-established in 1947, following a strike from Navy men.7 The auxiliaries remained until July 1977, when the NZDF became an integrated force.  

Today, thousands of New Zealand women serve in the NZDF. As of June 2019 women made up approximately 18 percent of the Regular Force. Many continue to serve in trades similar to their forebears such as nursing and logistics.8  

We seldom hear of stories of women in the military, this Anzac Day we are highlighting the contributions of New Zealand’s servicewomen.  New Zealand women have played a significant role in New Zealand’s military history. Women have served in the majority of conflicts since the South African War right up until our most recent conflict in Afghanistan. Below are some of the stories of servicewomen during the Second World War and their varied experiences. 


[1] McNabb, Sherayl. (2015). 100 Years: New Zealand Military Nursing. Sherayl McNabb.  

[2] Hall, D.O.W. 'Women at War' in Episodes and Studies Volume 1, The Official History of New Zealand in the Second World War 1939-1945. 

[3] Stacey Fraser and Angela Wanhalla. 'An Invisible History: Wāhine Māori in the Air Force during World War II.' Auckland War Memorial Museum - Tāmaki Paenga Hira. 

[4] Ross, J.M.S. 'Royal New Zealand Air Force' part of The Official History of New Zealand in Second World War. 

[5] Laine, Shirley. (1989). Silver Wings: New Zealand Women Aviators. Grantham House 

[6] Wāhine Toa: Women in Defence. Air Force Museum of New Zealand. 

[7] Women in the RNZN. National Museum of the Royal New Zealand Navy. 

[8] Women in the NZDF Report, New Zealand Defence Force.