Established to free up more men to engage overseas service in World War II, the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force was created in 1941 and saw 4750 women pass through its ranks, freeing up more men for active service.
These women made an important contribution to the war, taking up positions as pilots, cooks, radar plotters, mess-hands, meterologists, drivers, equipment assistants, medical orderlies and typists for the Royal New Zealand Air Force.
The WAAF recruited women to carry out trades and duties typically undertaken by men during this time. Many men found this unusual, often astonished that "women could perform with distinction jobs which had always been regarded as men's preserves" [III p.10]. Despite these difficulties, women provided valuable service in the WAAF, and by 1942, women were able to hold ranks equivalent to those of men.
A first draft of approximately 200 women was posted to Rongotai in Wellington in April 1941. By the end of the year, ten stations contained women of the WAAF, and during 1942, women had been recruited to a further 11 stations. WAAFs were "posted to every major station in New Zealand", a number of women served overseas in Fiji and Norfolk Island [IV p.17].
A wide variety of women joined the WAAF - while younger women were the norm, older or married women also enlisted. Some of these women were married to men already in the air force, and for many, this was their first job outside the home.
Image (above): WAAF, RNZAF, Hobsonville. Photograph taken by Leo White. REF:natlib.govt.nz:emu:WA-21440-G