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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.
 

Women of the WAAF marching at Shelly Bay Air Force Base, Wellington. Smith, Sydney Charles, 1888-1972 :Photographs of New Zealand. Ref: 1/2-046264-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/22677083


Image (above): WAAF, RNZAF, Hobsonville. Photograph taken by Leo White. REF:natlib.govt.nz:emu:WA-21440-G

June Constance Gummer: An avid flyer

June Constance Gummer (nee Howden) joined the WAAF in 1941, and was one of a "small group of Kiwi women pilots who ferried new or repaired aircraft to airfields throughout England during World War II" [I]. Serving under the Air Transport Auxiliary from 1944-1945, she was known as the 'Air woman of the Watch', and flew roughly 22 types of aircraft.

A passionate and courageous woman, June knew from a young age she wanted to fly planes, a passion which would extend into her high school years. June's classmates would refer to her as "Aeroplane Howden", and she was later awarded a New Zealand Herald flying scholarship at the age of 17.

June recalled a time when there was little to no prospects of "any New Zealand woman carrying out flying duties" [III, p.78]. Following her passions, she was posted to Woodbourne in 1941, and would signal "to young pilots in Harvards preparing to land with their wheels still up" [I]. June later learned that the Air Transport Auxiliary was using some women flyers, and decided to go to the UK to join.

On her journey to the UK in 1943, June created a series of sketches. Serving in the Air Transport Auxiliary from 1944-1945, her sketches recall her experiences and thoughts during her time with the ATA, and provide insight into her life.

June's love of flying continued after the war, and she gained her commercial pilots license, flying for the Waikato Aero Club for six years.


Image (above): Photograph of June Howden in a Spitfire during WWII. Image kindly provided by Stoney Burke (June 2018). Image may be subject to copyright restrictions.

Image (below): A sketch penned by June Gummer in 1944. Image kindly provided by Peter Chamberlain, http://www.haddenhamairfieldhistory.co.uk/junegummer.htm

Shiela Weight

Sheila Weight was awarded a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit (MNZM) for her admirable service to the crown.  Pictured in her uniform, clothing was one of the important trademarks of WAAF service. Initially, no formal instructions had been issued on the WAAF's uniform or attire. Later it was decided the uniform should closely resemble the uniform used by Great Britain's WAAF. In May 1942, the WAAF transport uniform was approved, and deliveries were made by May 1943. Women were also given advice on suitable hairstyles and cosmetics, as well as ration coupons for items such as silk stockings (IV, p.24).

Beth Tietjens

Born in Waikato on the 29th of February, 1924, Beth Wade (nee Tietjens) was a part of the WAAF and a WAAC, or the Women's Auxiliary Army Corps. Based at Papakura, she enlisted in the WAAF at 18 years of age, marrying William Wade, a Royal Navy sailor. Beth's service is remembered in her obituary, which highlights her aptitude and dedication: “Beth had served in the WAAF’s during the war, and although the Second World War was a long time ago, Bill and Beth showed the qualities we think of as “Anzac spirit” throughout the rest of their lives, and particularly as their lives came to a close" (Obituary, 11th October 1997).

Marian Jean Barrowman

Born in Taihape on the 27th of July, 1917, Marian Barrowman was a secretary before enlisting in the WAAF. She worked as a staff officer for supplies in Air Headquarters, and is pictured here at her desk. She went on to marry after war, returning to her previous job as a secretary. 

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References

[I] Obituary: June Gummer, 8 June, 2007 https://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=10444535

[II] Chamberlain, Peter (2011). 1944-1945, June Howden, Air Transport Auxiliary. Retrieved from http://www.haddenhamairfieldhistory.co.uk/junegummer.htm

[III] Dawson, Bee (2004). Spreading their wings: New Zealand WAAF's in wartime. Penguin: Auckland, New Zealand.

[IV] Mackenzie, Bathia (1982). The WAAF book: a scrapbook of wartime memories. Whitcoulls: Christchurch, New Zealand.

[V] Montgomerie, Deborah (2001). The Woman's War: New Zealand women 1939-45. Auckland University Press: Auckland, New Zealand.

Citation 

Coombe, Sophie. 'High fliers: snapshots of the Women's Auxilary Air Force', Auckland War Memorial Museum - Tāmaki Paenga Hira, Published: 25/02/2019.

URL: www.aucklandmuseum.com/discover/stories/history/high-fliers-snapshots-of-the-womens-auxilary-air

 


Banner image: Unidentified member of the Women's Auxiliary Air Force repairing a plane at Wigram aerodrome, circa April 1943. Photograph taken by William George Weigel. REF:natlib.govt.nz:emu:PAColl-6388-42