New Zealand Women's Royal Army Corps Association

1961 –

New Zealand Women's Royal Army Corps Association

1961 –

Theme: Service

This essay written by Bronwyn Dalley was first published in Women Together: a History of Women's Organisations in New Zealand in 1993. It was updated by Bronwyn Dalley in 2018.

1961 – 1993

In 1940, the Women's War Service Auxiliary (WWSA) was formed to act as the government's umbrella organisation to control the recruitment of New Zealand women for the armed services. Women drilling in military khaki during wartime traditionally aroused mixed emotions in observers; soon after the WWSA began, a politician questioned its purposes, suggesting it could be a nest 'in which can rest the members of the Fifth Column ... the people who are not whole-heartedly concerned to secure the success of the national effort'. [1] But Walter Nash more accurately described the group as a 'body of competent women who have come together to organise women's services during the war'. [2]

WAACs marching

Auckland War Memorial Museum, PH-NEG-C26134.

Members of the Women’s War Service Auxiliary marching down Queen Street, Auckland, c.1940–42.

The WWSA was the forerunner of the largest women's branch of the armed services during World War II, the New Zealand Women's Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC), formed in July 1942. At its peak, in 1944, the Corps had 4600 women serving in New Zealand and overseas. [3] It was renamed the New Zealand Women's Royal Army Corps (WRAC) in 1952. In April 1961, at a meeting convened by Major Marjorie Hardcastle at the Wellington RSA clubrooms, 24 former members of the Corps agreed to form the New Zealand Women's Royal Army Corps Association. Its aims were to foster esprit de corps, affiliate with other ex-WAAC and kindred associations, and arrange functions. Membership had reached 325 by 1967, and from the late 1970s to the early 1990s, it remained steady at 600–700; in 1992 the association had fourteen branches and 700 members. Although the number of 'wartime' members fell in the 1980s, this decline was offset by younger 'post-war' servicewomen joining the association.

The establishment of the WAAC followed the formation of women's branches in the navy and air force, placing women's service to the army on a separate footing. It allowed the Defence Department to implement its policy of employing women in New Zealand wherever possible, in order to release men for active service overseas. Most of the women who joined the Corps were stationed in camps throughout New Zealand, becoming full members after a six week basic training programme.

The arrival of women presented a number of problems for camp officials. Separate ablution facilities were often unfinished when the first recruits arrived, distinct WAAC uniforms sometimes arrived well after the women, and some men were hostile to the principle of women serving in the army. Only one training camp, at Miramar, was expressly built for the Corps, providing accommodation for 600 women.

The women stationed at home served in a greater range of army duties than those who went overseas. Besides the welfare, hospital, clerical and administrative sections, women also worked in battery and artillery regiments, as signallers, drivers, radio operators and night watchers.

In 1941 200 women recruited by the WWSA left New Zealand for the Middle East, the first women to serve overseas in World War II. The Tuis, as they came to be known, worked mainly as assistants or voluntary aids in hospital wards, although some were clerical assistants and others worked in the New Zealand Forces Club in Cairo, to 'give it a touch of home'. [4]

Members of the WAAC served overseas in a similar capacity, in hospitals, hospital ships, and clubs in Italy, the Pacific, Japan (with the Occupation Force) and London. Sickness was common: 88 percent of the WAAC members serving as voluntary hospital aids in the Middle East in 1943 experienced some form of illness during their stay, and several were invalided back to New Zealand after an outbreak of typhoid at one of the hospitals. At least ten members died while on active service overseas.

Following the cessation of hostilities in 1945, Corps members worked mainly in the clerical, medical, signalling and catering sections. Restructuring of the defence forces in 1977 led to the disbanding of the Corps, and the incorporation of servicewomen into the mainstream of the army.

The sense of sisterhood and patriotic duty fostered during the war years continued in the NZWRAC Association: 'The friendships formed all those years ago are still very much a part of our lives.' [5] It sought to maintain comradeship among its members through regular branch meetings and national reunions, promote the welfare of members by offering practical assistance to those in need, arrange special anniversary functions, and encourage preparedness to give service to the country in peace and war. [6]

1994 – 2018

The Association continued its work for members into the early twenty-first century, providing support and social activities.  In September 2000 the Association relinquished its incorporated status, but remained a group for former female members of the armed services. Its activities were focused on reunions, providing news about members, and circulating images and memorabilia.

Bronwyn Dalley

Notes

[1] W.T. Anderton, NZPD, Vol. 257, 1940, p. 261.

[2] W. Nash, NZPD, Vol. 257, 1940, p. 875.

[3] Review, Vol. 55 No. 8, September 1977, p. 15.

[4] Latham, 1986, p. 18; see also Stout, 1956, p. 299.

[5] Muriel Bloxham, personal communication, February 1993.

[6] Pro Patria, December 1982, p. 3.

Unpublished sources

Bloxham, Muriel, National Secretary, NZWRAC Association, information supplied December 1991, February 1993

Published sources

Hancock, Kenneth, New Zealand at War, A. H. and A. W. Reed, Wellington, 1946

Latham, Iris, The WAAC Story, Wellington, 1986

Pro Patria (magazine of the NZWAAC, and later of the NZWRAC Association), 1943–1992

Stout, T. Duncan M., Official History of New Zealand in the Second World War 1939–45: Medical Services in the Middle East and Italy, War History Branch, Department of Internal Affairs, Wellington, 1956

Stout, T. Duncan M., Official History of New Zealand in the Second World War 1939–45: Medical Services in New Zealand and the Pacific, War History Branch, Department of Internal Affairs, Wellington, 1958

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