Women's Auxiliary Air Force founded

16 January 1941

Cover of WAAF recruitment booklet (Archives New Zealand, AIR 118 Box 114/78r)

The Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) was formed to enable the Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF) to release more men for overseas service during the Second World War. Within 18 months, authorities also created a Women’s Auxiliary Army Corps and a Women’s Royal Naval Service.

The WAAF contributed to the war effort by easing personnel shortages. Initially, women served as cooks, mess-hands, drivers, clerks, equipment assistants, medical orderlies and typists. By the end of the war, they were working in a variety of trades.

In April 1941 an initial draft of 200 women, led by Superintendent Kitty Kain, arrived at RNZAF Station Rongotai in Wellington. WAAFs went on to serve at every major air force station in New Zealand, as well as Fiji and Norfolk Island.

Women did not hold service ranks until 1942, when the WAAF officially joined the RNZAF. They subsequently held ranks equivalent to those of men.

At its peak in 1943, the WAAF numbered more than 3600. Approximately 4750 women passed through its ranks. More than 100 achieved commissioned officer rank, mainly in encoding and decoding work and administration.