The Women's Royal Air Force (WRAF) was the women's branch of the Royal Air Force. It existed in two separate incarnations, from 1918 to 1920 and from 1949 to 1994.
The first Women's Royal Air Force was an auxiliary organization of the Royal Air Force which was founded in 1918. The original intent of the WRAF was to provide female mechanics in order to free up men for service in World War I. However, the organization saw huge enrollment, with women volunteering for positions as drivers and mechanics and filling other wartime needs. This first WRAF was disbanded in 1920. The last veteran from this era was for a while thought to be Gladys Powers, who died in 2008, but Florence Green, who died in February 2012, was subsequently found to be the last-known surviving WRAF veteran.
On 1 February 1949, the name was revived when the Women's Auxiliary Air Force, which had been founded in 1939, was renamed the Women's Royal Air Force. The WRAF and the RAF grew closer over the following decades, with increasing numbers of trades opened to women, and the two services formally merged in 1994, marking the full assimilation of women into the British forces and the end of the Women's Royal Air Force.
The Central Band of the WRAF, one of only two all-female bands in the British Armed Forces, was disbanded in 1972. Some of its musicians transferred to the Band of the Women's Royal Army Corps.
The target strength had been a force of around 90,000, figures are unreliable until 1 August 1918, when the strength was 15,433, approximately 5,000 recruits and 10,000 transferred from the predecessor organisations. The first incarnation never exceeded 25,000.
Depots were opened in 1918 at Handsworth College, in Glasgow, at RAF Flowerdown and at York.
|WRAF rank||Equivalent RAF rank|
|Pilot Officer||Pilot Officer|
|Flying Officer||Flying Officer|
|Flight Officer||Flight Lieutenant|
|Squadron Officer||Squadron Leader|
|Wing Officer||Wing Commander|
|Group Officer||Group Captain|
|Air Commandant||Air Commodore|
|Air Chief Commandant||Air Vice-Marshal|
These ranks were introduced in 1949. The First World War service used different ranks.
List of Commandants WRAF
- Gertrude Crawford, 1918
- Violet Douglas-Pennant, May–September 1918
- Helen Gwynne-Vaughan, September 1918–1920
List of Directors WRAF
- Air Commandant Dame Felicity Hanbury, 1949–1950
- Air Commandant Dame Nancy Salmon, 1950–1956
- Air Commandant Dame Henrietta Barnet, 1956–1959
- Air Commandant Dame Anne Stephens, 1959–1962
- Air Commandant Dame Jean Conan Doyle, 1962–1966
- Air Commodore Dame Felicity Hill, 1966–1969
- Air Commodore Philippa Marshall, 1969–1973
- Air Commodore Molly Allott, 1973–1976
- Air Commodore Joy Tamblin, 1976–1980
- Air Commodore Helen Renton, 1980–1986
- Air Commodore Shirley Jones, 1986–1989
- Air Commodore Ruth Montague, 1989–1994
- Air Transport Auxiliary
- Women Airforce Service Pilots, US equivalent
- Women's Royal Naval Service
- Women's Royal Army Corps
- Patricia Howard
- World's last' WWI veteran dies, BBC News, 7 February 2012
- 108-year-old woman emerges as Britain's oldest first World War veteran, Nick Britten, Daily Telegraph, 16 January 2010
- Women in Air Force Blue. p. 21.
- An honorary rank held only by Princess Alice, Duchess of Gloucester, who held it as a rank (until 1968) and later an appointment throughout the WRAF's existence. On 1 April 1994 her title changed to Air Chief Commandant for Women, RAF, by which time she held the rank of Air Chief Marshal.
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- Search and download Service records of women who joined the WRAF, 1914-1919 from The National Archives.