July 2nd marks an important date in Canadian history as well as a pivotal point in the quest for the fair and equal treatment of women. On this day in 1941, the Royal Canadian Air Force was granted permission by the Canadian government to create the Women’s Division of the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF-WD).
Although Canadian women had a history of service in the military, their contributions had been limited to caring for the wounded and sick soldiers, where they were known as “nursing sisters”. In fact, according to Veterans Affairs Canada, more than 2800 Canadian women served during the First World War, often near the front line of action in Europe. These brave women were respected for their compassion and courage as they worked healing and nurturing during this time of conflict.
Photographer: Gerald Milne Moses. Courtesy of Library and Archives Canada (PA-190792), Ottawa, Ontario.
In reality the act of officially enlisting women into the RCAF in 1941 arose from a shortage of personnel – with the large numbers of men serving overseas during World War 2 (1939-1945) in combat roles job vacancies opened up on the domestic front – jobs normally held by men. Although women were not paid the same as men doing the same job (two-thirds, then later four-fifths of a man’s wage) they were trained in many non-female occupations such as aircraft maintenance, aerial and meteorological surveys, operating communication equipment and packing parachutes in addition to filling administrative supporting roles. What women were not trained for was as flying instructors or for front line combat – that would not occur until the 1960’s when women were granted the ability to be deployed in combat.
Photo: Courtesy of the National Air Force Museum of Canada
More than 17,000 women served with the Royal Canadian Air Force Women’s Division between 1941 and 1946 filling important supporting roles to the Canadian Forces personnel serving overseas.
given to Floret Louise Cantrill from Chilliwack who served with RCAF Women’s Division (Courtesy Chilliwack Museum and Archives)
For more information on Canadian women’s role in World War 1 & 2 here is the link: http://www.veterans.gc.ca/eng/remembrance/those-who-served/women-and-war/history/military