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Women In Service

Hundreds of voluntary women’s auxiliary and paramilitary organisations were formed when Menzies announced Australia’s involvement in the Second World War on 3 September, 1939. They included the Women’s Transport Corps, Women’s Flying Club, Women’s Emergency Signalling Corps and Women’s Australian National Services, to name a few.

Melbourne Vic C 1943 WAAAF telegraphists at HQ Wireless Transmitting Station RAAF Frognall CanterburyMelbourne, Vic. C. 1943. WAAAF telegraphists, several wearing headphones, at work at HQ, Wireless Transmitting Station, RAAF Frognall, Canterbury, one of the largest RAAF Signals Stations.

Formation of women’s services increased significantly when Japan entered World War II in 1941, and the subsequent need this created to release men for service overseas. Finally those who had resisted women’s involvement in the services acquiesced, but not because they necessarily believed in the cause.

Both the Federal Government and Australia’s military did not initially support women being trained to serve in the armed forces. Neither were women’s service organisations taken seriously by the general public, despite the fact that approximately 70,000 Australian women joined the three major women’s service organisations over the following three years.

Thousands of young Australian women left home to join the new women’s auxiliary services:

  • The Royal Australian Naval Nursing Service (RANNS)
  • The Australian Women’s Army Service (AWAS) formed on 13 August, 1941
  • The Australian Army Nursing Service (AANS)
  • The Women’s Auxiliary Australian Air Force (WAAAF) formed on 15 March, 1941
  • The Royal Australian Air Force Nursing Service (RAAFNS)
  • The Women’s Royal Australian Naval Service (WRANS) formed on 21 April, 1941

Leaders of Australian Womens Services 1942

                                            Photo: Leaders of Australian Women's Service 1942

By 1945, approximately 27,000 Australian women had enlisted in the WAAAF making it the largest of the women’s auxiliary forces at that time.

In the WAAAF women’s roles broadened to include mechanics, electricians, armament and transport workers, medical, signals and radio telephony, radar operations, aeronautical inspections, meteorology, catering, messing and clerical work.

The women were not allowed to fly or to serve outside Australia and, until 1943, were not allowed to enlist. Instead they enrolled as auxiliaries for renewable periods of twelve months at a time.

The WAAAF was disbanded in December 1947 making way for a new Australian women’s air force formed in July 1950. In November that same year, this force became known as the Women’s Royal Australian Air Force (WRAAF).

1061 4 WAAFS 4th birthday party 1945 Brisbane

Photo: 4th birthday party of WAAF in Brisbane in 1945 Brisbane