The Ladies Go To War

by Kurt Rand

Canadian women have taken their places with the men in the RCAF. The Women's Auxiliary proves a valuable adjunct by relieving men for fighting.

With the first classes of the Canadian Women's Auxiliary Air Force trained, young women are now taking their place with men in a number of jobs in the Royal Canadian Air Force. Air- women in a uniform similar to that of the air force are now seen on the streets of Canada's larger cities and at air training bases throughout the dominion.

Announced last summer, training of the auxiliary air force did not start till late in October. First classes were trained for administrative work, with officers being appointed from these classes. Any airwoman has a chance to reach officer rank in the CWAAF, qualifications depending entirely on merit and ability to lead. Like the sister service in England, which sent officers to train the Canadian organization, the CWAAF will replace men as much as possible in administrative and clerical work, cooking, transport driving, as equipment assistants, fabric workers, hospital assistants, telephone operators and in general duties. Later, like their sisters in Great Britain, they will learn to be wireless operators, dental orderlies, instrument mechanics, spark plug testers, parachute packers, flight mechanics, armorers, electricians, balloon operators — in fact to fill nearly every ground job now done by men in the air force.

So many young Canadian women want to get into active service that traveling selection boards have been in operation throughout Canada for some time, interviewing those who have applied for enlistment, sending as representative a number of Canada's young womanhood as possible to the training center at Toronto. As a result, graduates of the first courses hail from both the Atlantic and Pacific coast, the prairie provinces as well as industrialized Ontario and Quebec.

Training courses at present cover a five-week period with 150 recruits being taken in every week. In the first six months it is planned to train a force of 2,000 airwomen for the various jobs in the Canadian air force. When they are placed at the air training bases throughout Canada they will live in their own quarters at the air base, will be directed by air force officers in regard to work, while discipline and welfare will be the responsibility of the CWAAF officers.

The Canadian Women's Auxiliary Air Force takes in women between 21 and 40 years who can pass the medical examination, are over five feet in height, can pass a trade test for the position for which they are applying, have a minimum of high school entrance education and have no record of convictions for indictable offenses against them. No girls in the Canadian civil service, nor married women with children under 18 years of age, are being accepted. They join for service anywhere that Canadian air force troops may be sent, whether inside or outside the dominion.

Airwomen receive two-thirds the pay of their corresponding rank in the air force, thus starting at about 90 cents per day. There are three grades of airwomen: AW2, which is the rank on enlistment; AW1 and leading airwoman. Non-commissioned ranks start at corporal, go up to under-officer class 1, which corresponds to warrant officer class 1 in the air force. Commissioned officers start at assistant section officer which is the equivalent of pilot officer in the air force or second lieutenant in the army. Highest rank in the CWAAF is air commandant, the equivalent to air commodore in the air force.

Although the uniforms of the air force auxiliary is practically the same as that worn by the men, the women's uniforms present greater tailoring difficulties, each airwoman having to be individually fitted and a large variety of stock kept on hand. It has been found, that the average shirt collar size taken by the women's auxiliary is 13½, average bust measure 36 and average cap size 7½. The women are supplied with their uniform free, except when appointed to officer rank. As officers they are given a uniform allowance and most procure their own outfits. The air force, however, stops at issuing underclothing. The British air force had too much trouble meeting the feminine requirements for undies, so the girls are given an initial allowance of $15 and a quarterly allowance of $3 for underclothing. They can pick their own.

Airwomen have to forget about such things as highly colored nail varnish and makeup, earrings, trinkets, bracelets and handbags. They are just not "according to regulations." They may wear a reasonable amount of makeup and nail polish, also wedding and signet rings. When on leave they can wear civilian clothes and dress up to their heart's desire. Incidentally, members of the CWAAF cannot marry without permission and at least six months' service.

Girls joining the administrative service of the CWAAF must have high school or similar educational qualification, must have had executive work in business or social work and be able to deal with and organize other people. Stenographers are required to take dictation at 100 words per minute, type at 40 words per minute and be familiar with office procedure. For general clerical work girls with business college training and at least three years' office experience are being taken.

Cooking will be a main job for the women's auxiliary, and cooks must be accustomed to catering to large numbers or be skilled practical cooks. Transport drivers must have a motor mechanic's certificate issued by a recognized trade school or automobile manufacturer and know how to drive on highways under all circumstances. Equipment assistants will go into stockrooms, and so must have stockroom and stock-keeping experience. For fabric workers the air force wants strong intelligent women with experience in sewing, especially with power-driven machines. Hospital assistants must have Red Cross or other ambulance training, and will do the work of nurses in training. Telephone operators must know switchboard operation and have a good speaking voice. Girls with domestic service experience are required for cleaning duties and as messengers and runners, while messwomen are those with experience as waitresses.

It is expected that before long the Canadian Women's Auxiliary Air Force will train its members for teleprinter and plotting duties, the jobs women are doing in a big way in Britain's WAAF in marking the course of raiding aircraft on large operations maps.

This article was originally published in the August, 1942, issue of Flying and Popular Aviation magazine, vol 31, no 2, pp 47, 112.
The original article includes 2 photos.
Photos are not credited.