Women in the war-era RCAF

A member of the Women’s Division checks instruments at No. 1 Bombing and Gunnery School in Jarvis, Ont.

When the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) medical branch was formed in 1940, 12 Royal Canadian Army Medical Corps nurses serving at air stations transferred to the RCAF. They became the basis of the RCAF nursing service, which remained separate from the RCAF Women’s Division (WD).

The RCAF permitted the employment of women in 1941, creating the Canadian Women’s Auxiliary Air Force to “release for other duties those members of the RCAF presently employed in administrative, clerical and other comparable types of service employment”. The change to the designation RCAF Women’s Division came in February 1942. Their motto was “We serve that men may fly”.

Initially, WD members received only two-thirds the pay of their male counterparts, although this increased to four-fifths in mid-1943. They were allowed to be married, but could not have dependent children or, in fact, any dependents — and thus were not eligible for a dependants’ allowance. They had their own rank structure that paralleled the male structure; for instance, leading aircraftwoman instead of leading aircraftman and wing officer instead of wing commander.

Over the course of the war, approximately 17,000 women served with the WD. Married women began to be demobilized in late 1944, and the last member was discharged by March 1947. RCAF nurses, however, continued to serve.

In 1951, enrolment of women into the RCAF was again authorized.


Popular recruiting slogans targeted at women during the war included “That men may fly” and “Mon père voudrait il que je m enrôle” (Would my father want me to join?).

RCAF enlist poster

 Royal Canadian Air Force Women's Division Badge


The RCAF was the first service to recruit women during the Second World War, the last to release them, and the first to recreate its women’s organization during the post war period.