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Thu, 27 Jun 2019
WAAF 80th Anniversary

28 June 2019 marks the 80th anniversary of the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF).

In 1939 the RAF formed the WAAF with the aim to recruit women to fill particular roles which could be completed by men or women, and thus conserve the manpower of the RAF. The WAAF began as a sister section of the Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS) and when war was declared in September 1939 the WAAF had not yet completed its transition to independence. The Service entered the war with only 1,734 recruits but by October 1943 there were approximately 180,000 WAAFs in service.

By March 1945 there were more than 1,000 WAAFs posted at Bletchley Park. Their postings covered a range of activities, but by 1942 the majority of the WAAF contingent were Teleprinter Operators. In 1944, the roles of the WAAFs had been re-distributed and the women were now split up into Teleprinter Operators, High-speed Wireless Operators/Morse Slip Readers and clerical roles.

WAAF 80th Anniversary
1 / 10Many of the WAAFs working at Bletchley Park were Teleprinter Operators who became known affectionately as ‘teleprincesses’. Several veterans recall working in the teleprinter building at Bletchley Park, shown here newly restored, up to 64 teleprinters were in operation at one time. The environment was less than glamorous; the teleprinter building had no windows so many WAAFs underwent sun lamp treatment to combat the lack of sunlight, and one WAAF’s discharge papers attributed her hearing loss to the noise level of her work. Bletchley Park WAAF Eileen Gascoyne remembers: “it was just like walking into a factory; just loads of machines and neon lights which were always going on the blink which didn’t help the eyesight one bit”.