History

Go to the end of this article if you’d like to read an article written by Squadron Leader R.L. Hall. The history is taken up to the year 1994 and relates to the ‘tough endless battles against the Victorian attitudes with the Establishment’; but finally ‘won the day and all women were transferred into the RAAF’… click here

HISTORY OF THE WOMEN’S ROYAL AUSTRALIAN AIR FORCE

1951-1977

Introduction

Unlike most British Commonwealth countries, Australia decided at the end of the 1939-45 war, to disband all her women’s forces except the nursing services.   But less than three years after the last of the WAAAF were demobilized in 1947, an announcement was made to Parliament by the Governor-General in February 1950, intimating the Government’s intention to re-introduce a Women’s Auxiliary Air Force.

In July 1950, Cabinet approved the re-establishment of a women’s air force in principle, and in August came recognition that women were essential components of the armed forces, in peace and war. No longer an Auxiliary, the proposed new Service was regarded as a Branch of the PAF, which was known as the WAAF until November 1950, when the Minister for Air announced that a further honour had been paid to Australian servicewomen by His Majesty, King George VI, who had approved the adoption of the title ‘ Women’s Royal Australian Air Force’.

First Appointments

By the middle of December 1950, four officers were appointed as Flight Officers in the new Service.  All had had previous service with the WAAAF.  During December these four Flight Officers completed Refresher Courses at Laverton where they were joined by two Section Officers.

Establishment and Purpose

The size of the WRAAF (pronounced WAF) was limited to an establishment of 30 officers and 832 airwomen who were to form a well-trained nucleus which could be quickly and efficiently expanded in an emergency. From the very beginning, members were to engage in productive duties to ease acute shortages of staff in certain trades (eg, clerical and signals musterings) and release members of the RAAF for other work.

In 1965 the WRAAF ceiling establishment was raised to 1050.

Establishment increases since 1951, in the more senior posts have been:

(a)     Officers

  • 1965 – the OIC WRAAF posts at Laverton and Richmond
    were raised to Squadron Officer level.
  • 1968 – the post of the Director WRAAF was raised to Group Officer.
  • 1971 – CWRAAFOs at HQSC and HQOC were upgraded to SOWRAAFs and the post at HQSC was raised to Wing Officer.

(b)    Airwomen

  • 1968 – the first Warrant Officer post was established.
    (The equivalent rank in the WAAAF was Under Officer).

Engagement Periods

In 1951, it was decided to grant officers short service commissions only, which might be extended for a period not exceeding three years, while airwomen were to be enlisted for four years with an opportunity to re­engage for further similar periods.

In 1956, airwomen were permitted to re-engage for a shorter period of 2 years, if desired.

Compulsory Six Year Engagements      After December 1959, WRAAF were included in the Defence Forces Retirements Benefits Scheme and members had to be enlisted or appointed for a period of six years.  Serving members of the WRAAF were given the option of electing to terminate their old engagements and commence new engagements of six years.

Shorter Appointments   In 1970 WRAAF officers were offered four or six year appointments to commission for the first time since 1959.

Three Year Initial Engagement   In 1972 Air Force Regulation 92 was amended to permit airwomen to elect a 3 or 6 year initial engagement.

Permanent Commissions   The first permanent commissions were granted with effect 1 May 1965.

Recruit Training

It had been an early intention to let the Service grow slowly and limit initial recruiting mainly to ex-Servicewomen already trained in skilled musterings.  Enlistments were delayed while Treasury sorted out problems involving relations between the three women’s services, but there was no lack of interest. Scores of enquiries had been received by July 1950 and by October, more that 2000 women had applied to join the WRAAF.

The first group of applicants were x-rayed and aptitude tested at Laverton on 12 December 1950.  On 30 January 1951 (the date accepted as the WRAAF Birthday) 16 trainees from Victoria and seven from South Australian commenced No. 1 Recruit Course at Laverton.  On the same day 27 recruits from NSW began No. 2 Course at Richmond.  Other recruit courses followed in quick succession and training was also conducted at Point Cook and Pearce.

Courses were later confined to Richmond and Laverton.  Training ceased at Richmond and Laverton in 1952 and 1953 respectively and under the new Command structure WRAAF Recruit Training was transferred to Point Cook.  In 1965 the WRAAF Recruit Training Section became a squadron of 1 RTU at RAAF Edinburgh.

Courses for recruits were increased from 4 1/2 weeks to 5 weeks in 1970.

Musterings

Originally 21 musterings were open to WRAAF:

Group II
Group III
Group IV
Fabric Worker Clerk Accounts Steward
Education Assistant Clerk General Clerk
Tailor Clerk Medical Cooks Assistant (later deleted)
Cook Drill Instructor
Driver Motor Transport General Hand
Equipment Assistant Service Police
Medical Orderly Steward
Teleprinter Operator Stores Hand
Telephone Operator
Clerk Stores

With changes in trade titles and groupings, and the introduction of new musterings, the position in 1967 was as follows:

Group I Group II GroupIII Group IV Group V Group VI Group VII
GHAND DENTASST(52) APHPLOT ACCTMOP(52) CLKA(52) ACPLOT(6) EDPOP(63)
STWD TPHONEOP (formerly COOK CLKE PSASSES APHPLOT
SHAND TPRINOP Tracer Cart ) FABWKR CLKEA
TRAINEE CLK WTD CLKG
EQASST SP CLKM
WRADNCO DENTHYG(67)
(formerly DI) EDASST
SEW(52)
TPRINOP(C)
MEDORD

In 1968 the pay-grouping system was again revised and 14 pay-groups were added to the existing seven. Some musterings were re-allotted to pay groups more appropriate to their skills and the mustering of book­binders was introduced.   By 1970 the situation was as follows:

Group I TRAINEE Group 9 WTD
Group 2 GHAND, SHAND Group 10 CLKA, CLKE, CLKM, MEDORD
Group 3 NIL SP, WRADNCO, SEW
Group 4 STEWARD Group 11 ADOP, CLKG, DENTHYG, EDPOP
Group 5 NIL Group 12 ACCTMOP, PSASSES, TRINOPC
Group 6 BOOKBINDER Group 13 CLKEA, EDASST
Group 7 FABWKR Group 14 ADSUP
Group 8 ADPLOT, DENTASST, EDASST Group 18 APHPLOT

TAILOR, TPHONEOP, TPRINOP

In 1971, the Government introduced a new pay scheme as recommended by the Kerr Committee.  All musterings were broad banded into six different groups called pay levels.

The position as at January 1973 is an Annex A of ABO P 2/2.

Training

For the most part airwomen who enlisted in the WRAAF in 1951 were expected to be already skilled in their trade, and training was originally limited to instruction for Service Police and Drill Instructors (now WRADNCOs).  Courses in other subjects have been gradually added and are conducted as required in the following musterings:

Postings – Policy

An early policy that WRAAF should be posted as close as possible to their home town soon proved impractical.  Furthermore, many airwomen had enlisted specifically to see service in other States.

Overseas Service.   A few airwomen took part in operation ‘Southern Cross’ in 1967 and this combined Australian and New Zealand exercise was their first opportunity to serve, for however short a time, outside Australia.  A few months later approval was given by the Government for women in the WRANS, WRAAC and WRAAF to be posted overseas.

Barracks

Units were willing to receive WRAAF from the first but only a few, eg, Laverton, had quarters available. On most units, eg, Toowoomba, new buildings had to be erected and extra equipment obtained.  At SCLAW and Canberra the initial postings of WRAAF were few, and the airwomen were temporarily housed in sick quarters or such huts as were available.

In some cases it seemed a long wait, but the new buildings unmarked by previous occupants and specially designed were well worth waiting for.  For the most part, wherever new quarters were built, a recreation room and kitchenette formed part of the construction or was adjacent to it.  Wooden beds replaced iron beds after the first few years and rubber mattresses were approved in 1961.  Divan beds were supplied to new quarters in the early 1970’s.

The units at which WRAAF served and dates when the first airwomen arrived are shown below:

1951 January Laverton and Richmond
March Point Cook, Pearce, Wagga, Tottenham, Penrith,  Melbourne
Telecom Unit and 2SD.
May Amberley
July Williamtown
August East Sale
November Canberra and RPPU
Unknown BaIlarat (closed 1953)
1952 Mallala (closed 1955) and Toowoomba (closed 1953)
1953 Uranquinty (closed 1958)
1958 Edinburgh
1961 Darwin
1962 1CRU Brookvale
1965 Townsville

Replacements    1967-68 saw the beginning of a new era in WRAAF accommodation.  Comfortable, well-designed brick quarters were built thereafter and offered single rooms with built-in furniture and attractive recreation areas.   Old barracks replaced were:

1967         Amberley
1968         Pearce and Tottenham
1971         Williamtown
1972         MTU and Wagga
1973         Point Cook

Uniforms

In 1950 uniforms were designed for the WRAAF by the Commonwealth Government Clothing Factory in consultation with Miss Rita Findlay, a Director of Georges’ Ltd Melbourne, and despite a certain amount of criticism, these uniforms were a big advance on wartime WAAAF issue.

The summer dress, a blue grey rayon long sleeved frock was quite a change from the old khaki drill shirt and skirt.  A blue forage cap with light blue piping replaced the peaked cap of the WRAAF winter uniform, the new jacket was fitted to be worn without a belt, and a box pleat was added to the navy skirt.  Minor but popular additions to the uniform comprised a black leather sling shoulder bag, black (instead of tan) gloves and nylons.  Permission to fold handbag strap and carry the handbag over the wrist was given in 1960.

Despite the attention given to equipment all difficulties were not foreseen, eg, the size rolls for uniforms were originally copies from those used for the manufacture of women’s garments by a large city firm. Needless to say, such a firm catered for an age range extending far beyond that at which women were likely to be serving in the forces, but this was not taken into account when WRAAF uniforms were ordered.

The arrival of raincoats from the United Kingdom caused further consternation.  These had been made to wartime specifications and it was forgotten that post-war fashion had decreed a lengthened hemline.

Nevertheless, at least the essential minimum of clothing was ready in time and the new style, an initial clothing allowance of £10 (now $42) and the expectation of WRAAF attache and suitcases, made prospects reasonably bright.

A new type of dual purpose coat, a double breasted gaberdine with a detachable inner half-lining, was received early in 1954 and about the same time, the WRAAF, together with the RAAF, changed their black buttons for gilt.  The blue-grey long sleeved summer uniform was replaced in 1956 by a blue-white short sleeved frock.  WRAAF were permitted to purchase nylon raincoats on repayment in 1962, but raincoats were not brought onto the Scale of Issue.

Revised Uniform   The uniform was revised in 1962 and major changes suggested.  Recommendations were made for new styled hats, overalls as a two-piece garment, alterations to Dress 1A and permission to carry umbrellas and to wear high heeled shoes off the unit and on certain informal occasions. These recommendations were approved in 1963, and issues were made progressively as old stocks were used up.  A major revision and updating of uniform was approved in December 1972.

Mess Kits     Mess Kits were approved and worn for the first time in 1965.

Fabric gloves for summer were approved in 1966.

 

Click here to read further on the history of the Women’s Royal Australian Air Force by Sqn Ldr R.L. Hall in 1994