Force History – Squadrons and Units

Auxiliary (Women’s) Territorial Service

Shortly after the formation of the Royal Air Force in 1918, over 24,000 women were recruited into an equally fledgling Women’s Royal Air Force. They served as mechanics, parachute packers, instrument mechanics and drivers. The Force was disbanded in 1920. Although ‘Auxiliary’ in title, this early female Force was not based on a part-time volunteer reservist basis, as was the Auxiliary Air Force which was founded in 1924 some 4 years after the Women’s Royal Air Force had disbanded. Consequently, despite its indispensable contribution to the early days of the Royal Air Force, this first Women’s Royal Auxiliary Air Force is not relevant to the history or achievements of the Auxiliary Air Force.

Moving on, in 1934 discussions took place for the first time on introducing women into the armed services on a part-time basis. However, in 1936 the Imperial Defence Committee concluded that the formation of a reserve of women in peace was neither desirable nor necessary. That all changed in 1938 with the very real threat of imminent war, and in May of that year following a change in Cabinet policy, it was decided to set up a part-time Auxiliary [Women’s] Territorial Service under Army control. The Air Ministry supported a proposal that women enrolled in the Service for duty with the Royal Air Force should be segregated into 48 separate companies and, whilst wearing khaki, should have a distinctive badge to show their light blue affiliation. By the end of 1938, it had become evident that closer links were required between the 48 companies and the Royal Air Force. Consequently, in January 1939 the Air Council assumed responsibility for the companies which were then affiliated to the Auxiliary Air Force. Some 6 months later, all 48 of these companies became the nucleus of an entirely separate service known as the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force. Despite the inclusion of the word ‘Auxiliary’ in the title, this new Force no longer had an affiliation with the part-time reservist Auxiliary Air Force. Thus, before the War, part-time female reservists were affiliated with the Auxiliary Air Force for a mere 6 months, and it was not until 1948 that part-time female reservists were again recruited into the Auxiliary Air Force, this time into the Fighter Control Units. With the disbandment of the Fighter Control Units, in 1960 many of these women would have transferred to the 3 recently formed Maritime Headquarters Units of the now ‘Royal’ Auxiliary Air Force. Since then, part-time female reservists have continually served in Royal Auxiliary Air Force units in a variety of roles.