During the war, women played a significant
role with the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF).
Their contribution to the British Commonwealth
Air Training Plan (BCATP) was especially
important: as women took on many different
responsibilities, men were made available
to serve overseas and BCATP schools had
no concerns about personnel shortages.
Mrs. E. Elliott
cooking spaghetti in the kitchens
of No 3 Service Flying Training
School (SFTS), Calgary.
Defence Image Library, PL 11309.
A Privy Council order authorized the creation
of the Canadian Women’s Auxiliary Air
Force on July 2nd, 1941, renamed the Royal
Canadian Air Force Women’s Division
on February 3rd, 1942. Kathleen Oonah Walker
was the Women Division’s first officer,
with the rank of Flight Officer from the start
of the Division. H.R.H. Princess Alice was
to be the Division’s third officer,
as an honorary rank, though.
Kathleen Walker’s mandate was to
set up the RCAF’s women auxiliary
services. She was well versed in the RCAF’s
structure, her husband – who died
in May 1941 – having been Group Captain
C.C. Walker. She also had in-depth experience
of volunteer and auxiliary organizations.
Recruitment started in 1941 under Walker’s
supervision and that of Section Officer
Jean Flatt Davey.
Many reasons could motivate a young woman
to enlist in the RCAF Women’s Division:
patriotism, a taste for adventure, a husband,
a father or a brother with the RCAF. Training
took place at first at Havergal College
in Toronto, soon to be designated as No
6 Manning Depot. On December 1st, 1941,
a first cohort of WDs completed training
and was declared ready to serve. Actually
recruiting went so well that a second training
centre, No 7 Manning Depot, was established
in Rockliffe, near Ottawa, on April 11th,
monitoring at the Eastern Air
Command HQ, Halifax, January 9th,
Defence Image Library, PL 14623.
In January 1942, when the first WDs joined
No 2 Service Flying Training School, at
Uplands, near Ottawa, they were given a
rather limited range of duties: administrative
and clerical work, dental assistants, equipment
assistants, weather observers, telephone
operators, photographers, wireless operators,
fabric workers, tailors, laundry staff,
cook. But in the following months the scope
of their responsibilities was significantly
increased: they became chauffeurs, hairdressers,
musicians, pharmacists, laboratory assistants,
parachute riggers, and more and more often
they held jobs that used to be strictly
for men, such as electrical and mechanical
As of mid-1942, Women’s Division
members received new responsibilities outside
the BCATP framework; they served in operating
centres of the Western and Eastern Air Commands,
they worked at interpreting reconnaissance
or bombing photographs. Soon, a first group
of WDs was sent overseas to serve in Great
Britain. In January 1945, 1,450 WDs were
with the RCAF Overseas HQ and with Bomber
Command’s No 6 Group HQ and bases.
2nd Class Laura Bagby towing
a trainer aircraft with a tractor,
No 3 Service Flying Training
School (SFTS), Calgary, Alberta.
Defence Image Library, PL 11323.
The RCAFdenied women the possibility to
fly in fighter or reconnaissance planes
on account of the potential danger. When
women flew, it was usually as passengers
on familiarization flights, or, less often,
when specific work had to be done. But WDs
did find themselves in dangerous situations
as those serving overseas were exposed to
bombing raids, especially during the summer
of 1944 when Germany launched V-1 raids
Although their tasks did not allow them
to accomplish glorious deeds or to give
their lives, the WDs’ outstanding
work was reflected in numerous citations.
Squadron Officer Kathleen
Lorena Jeffs (Toronto), awarded MBE (Member
of the British Empire), January 1, 1944
for work in the Directorate of Supply
Administration, AFHQ, Ottawa.
Squadron Officer Jeffs, as Chief Messing
Officer to the RCAF, has personally reorganized
the messing services and established a
messing branch of the Women’s Division
consisting of highly qualified dieticians.
Under her direction a very high standard
of Service messing has been achieved which
has been an important contribution to
the welfare and morale of aircrew training
in Canada. This officer has displayed
outstanding ability and energy in the
performance of her duties.
photographers getting ready
to take off; from left to right:
Flight Sergeant A.D. Lang, Aircraftswomen
M. Dudlyke, M. Clayborne and
Defence Image Library, PL 20839.
Sergeant Myrtle Eileen
Boreham (Toronto), awarded BEM (British
Empire Medal), January 1, 1944 for services
in RCAF Overseas Headquarters.
In her service career,
this airwoman has been outstanding in
her devotion to duty, and in her after-duty
hours she has not spared herself in furthering
the good spirit of morale and comradeship
among Airmen and Airwomen. In her capacity
as a Sergeant, working in the section
for recruiting Canadian women in the RCAF
Women’s Division in England, she
has been a constant inspiration to ail
recruits, with her enthusiasm for the
service and her desire to place it above
At its highest, in December 1943, the RCAF
Women’s Division’s boasted a
staff of 591 officers and 14,562 members
of all ranks. In all, 17,038 women proudly
wore its uniform before the service was
abolished on December 11th, 1946. It amounted
to 8% of the overall RCAF personnel during
Women were permitted once more to join
the RCAF only in 1951. In 1980, women were
accepted as military pilots; in 1988, Canada
became the first western country to license
women as fighter pilots.