Canadian Women’s Auxiliary Air Force
Following the outbreak of World War II, The British Commonwealth Air Training Plan (BCATP) was created as a massive, joint military aircrew training program created by the United KingdomCanadaAustralia and New Zealand. It remains as one of the single largest aviation training programs in history and was responsible for training nearly half the pilotsnavigatorsbomb aimersair gunners
wireless operators and flight engineers who served Commonwealth countries during the war.
In June 1941, as more Canadian women pressed for the opportunity to join the war effort and manpower shortages grew, the government formally decided to allow the enlistment of women in the armed services. The 1941 order-in-council authorized “the formation of a component of the Royal Canadian Air Force to be known as the Canadian Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (CWAAF), its function being to release to heavier duties those members of the RCAF employed in administrative, clerical and other comparable types of service employment.” Since the CWAAF became an integral part of the RCAF, another order-in-council changed the CWAAF to the RCAF Women’s Division (WD) on 3 February 1942.
Kathleen Oonah Walker, the former head of the transportation service for the Red Cross in Ottawa, and Jean Flatt Davey, a doctor from the medical branch of the RCAF, became the first two members of the CWAAF. To them fell the enormous task of recruiting the initial group of women from across the country that, after training, would form the backbone of the organization.
Three photographers getting ready to take off; from left to right: Flight Sergeant A.D. Lang, Aircraftswomen M. Dudlyke, M. Clayborne and Jeanne Farris. National Defence Image Library, PL 20839.
In total, 17,038 women served in the RCAF (WD) during the Second World War. At its peak, in January 1944, the Women’s Division fielded 15,556 personnel at home and abroad. Thirty died while in active service.
Today, women are an integral part of Canada’s military, serving at all ranks – from private to general, and in all environments – with no restrictions on the jobs they can undertake. The Canadian Armed Forces are a world leader in terms of the proportion of women in its military and in the areas in which they may serve. Among its allies, Canada is highly regarded as being at the forefront of military gender integration.
There are many exceptional Canadian women serving today in the RCAF. Captain Brasseur, later Major, along with Captain Jane Foster went on to become one of the first women to pilot a CF-18 Hornet fighter/interceptor. She is also noted in the annals of military aviation history for being the first woman to investigate a military aviation accident in Canada. In recent years, women of the Royal Canadian Air Force have gone on to achieve such successes as those of Brigadier-General Lise Bourgon, a former helicopter pilot who assumed command of Joint Task Force-Iraq in May 2015. Also in 2015, Lieutenant-General Christine Whitecross became the first woman to hold that rank. She was also the first female commander of Joint Task Force North and the first woman appointed as Chief Military Engineer.
An Avionics System Technician is ensuring everything works properly on an airplane before takeoff.