Type above to decrypt our story...


































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.


This Collections uncovered album was first published on 27 June 2019.

Many of the WAAFs working at Bletchley Park were Teleprinter Operators who became known affectionately as ‘teleprincesses’.

Many of the women who joined the WAAF at Bletchley Park were trained typists, and a significant proportion were under 21yrs old. Most WAAFs started out at RAF Innsworth and then moved on to other bases for specialist training.

This diagram of how to insert teleprinter paper is taken from a notebook kept by WAAF Dorothy Joyner during her teleprinter training at RAF Cranwell in Lincolnshire in 1942. Among her notes are details of the duties of teleprinter operators such as “operators must treat all messages as confidential, and must on no account discuss their contents outside the Signals Office”, as well as definitions of important words including the difference between a ‘cypher’ and a ‘code’.

Shift-working was the norm for WAAFs at Bletchley Park, with most adhering to the standard Bletchley Park shift pattern of three eight-hour shifts: 8am-4pm, 4pm-midnight, and midnight to 8am.

This photograph, taken in 1945, shows a group of WAAFs with RAF Flying Officer Stanley Raimes who worked within the Central Signals Registry at Bletchley Park.

This photograph shows WAAF Peggy Nicholls fourth from left in the front row with fellow WAAF Morse Slip Readers at Leighton Buzzard. The photograph was presented to her by friends, who have signed the reverse of the photograph, on the occasion of Nicholls’ marriage to Cliff Chester in September 1945.

Joyce Todd was a WAAF Intercept Operator at RAF Chicksands, which supplied information to Bletchley Park. She recalls her work: “we were each given a frequency to listen on, and swung the dial either side of that. We were told that we were listening to the German air force, but were not told anything more. We listened to Morse, five letter codes, and wrote it down on a special form in four or five columns. Signals were collected when they were finished and as far as we knew were given to dispatch riders and sent to what we knew as X Station. We didn’t hear that that was Bletchley Park until much later.”

The experience of working at Bletchley Park and the skills they learnt stayed with all the WAAFs once the war was over. Elizabeth Freda Cooper [pictured] was posted at Bletchley Park as a Morse Slip Reader and described Morse as her second language. Barbara Mulligan, who was a Wireless Operator/Morse Slip Reader at Bletchley Park from 1942 – 1945 states; “I still know my Morse code – when you’ve learnt it to that extent, you never forget it.”

Most WAAFs based at Bletchley Park were accommodated at RAF Church Green. In early 1944 a drama group was set up as a diversion from daily work and the group would perform five plays before the end of the war. One performance by the RAF Church Green Dramatic Society was ‘Saloon Bar’ by Frank Harvey, a thriller. Teleprinter Operator and Morse Slip Reader Caroline West was in the cast and remembers fellow WAAF Kate Karno, who came from a famous music hall family, drilling the team like a professional stage director.

The poem outlines a usual day for a WAAF, including tiring shift work and snatches of down-time; from being “dragged from our cots, long before the dawn breaks”, and that “we natter and smoke as if nothing else mattered, but our brief relaxation is very soon shattered.” However, the final lines reflect how proud the WAAFs were of the work they completed at Bletchley Park during the war.

Related articles