The Royal Canadian Air Force Women's Division was a non-combatant element of the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) which was active during the Second World War. The Women's Division's original role was to replace male air force personnel so that they would be available for combat-related duties. First called the ''Canadian Women's Auxiliary Air Force'' (CWAAF), the name changed to ''Royal Canadian Air Force Women's Division'' in February 1942. Women's Division personnel were commonly known as ''WD''s.
The RCAF was the first branch of the Canadian armed services to actively recruit women.〔(''RCAF Women's Division'' Reprint from ''Roundel'', Vol. 3, No. 3. October 1993. ) Retrieved 13 February 2015〕
At the beginning of the war, Canadian women began pressing for the right to be allowed to join the war effort. This, along with manpower shortages, led to the air force conceding that women could help the war effort by taking over many men's duties with the aim of freeing up men for work that was directly related to combat. The Royal Air Force suggested that the RCAF form its own women's unit much like the RAF Women's Auxiliary Air Force. In June 1941, 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, its function being to release to heavier duties those members of the RCAF employed in administrative, clerical and other comparable types of service employment."〔Ziegler 1973, p. 6.〕
The CWAAF was modelled on and structured like the Royal Air Force Women's Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF). To assist with the organizing of the new RCAF women's unit, several WAAF officers were temporarily loaned by the RAF. 〔Ziegler 1973, p. 8.〕 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.〔
Originally, only nine trades were open to women; however, duties expanded as the war progressed and a total 69 trades became available. Among the many jobs carried out by WD personnel, they became clerks, telephone operators, drivers, fabric workers, hairdressers, hospital assistants, instrument mechanics, parachute riggers, photographers, air photo interpreters, intelligence officers, instructors, weather observers, pharmacists, wireless operators, and Service Police. RCAF regulations at the time precluded women who possessed flying licences from flight instructing or front-line duty.〔Barris 2005, pp. 302-303.〕
Most WDs were located at British Commonwealth Air Training Plan and RAF training stations across Canada and Newfoundland, many served in Canadian operational stations, some served in the United States and many were posted overseas with RCAF Overseas Headquarters and No. 6 (bomber) Group.
Princess Alice, the then viceregal consort of Governor General Alexander Cambridge, Earl of Athlone, served as Honorary Air Commandant of the Women's Division.
A total of 17,038 women served with the Women's Division before it was discontinued in December 1946. Twenty WDs received the BEM, 12 officers received the MBE, and one officer, Dr. Jean Davey, was awarded the OBE. Twenty-eight WDs died during the war from various causes.〔Ziegler 1972, p.159.〕
Women were again permitted to enter the RCAF in 1951 when the air force was expanding to cover Canada's NATO commitments.〔Ziegler 1972, p. 160.〕 Women were accepted as military pilots in 1980, and Canada became the first Western country to allow women to be fighter pilots in 1988.〔("The Royal Canadian Air Force Women’s Division." ) ''Juno Beach.'' Retrieved 10 February 2015〕
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