Air force a man's world till Waaf came along

GOOD TIMES: Mary Blackwell and Evelyn Hutchins are getting ready for a Waaf reunion.
ROSS GIBLIN/Dominion Post
GOOD TIMES: Mary Blackwell and Evelyn Hutchins are getting ready for a Waaf reunion.

Women in the air force are widely accepted today - but two Wellington women remember being resented by men when they served as auxiliary staff during World War II.

Evelyn Hutchins, 97, and Mary Blackwell, 87, joined the New Zealand Women's Auxiliary Air Force (Waaf) in 1942 and will be celebrating their 70th Waaf anniversary this Saturday.

Mrs Hutchins, a great-grandmother, worked as a transport driver and is still on the road in her 1996 Nissan Skyline - which she calls her "boy-racer car" - having recently passed her latest driver's licence test with 98 percent.

Mrs Blackwell, now president of Wellington's ex-Waaf association, worked in the dining room at Ohakea and Levin as a "mess-hand" or kitchen hand.

Mrs Hutchins says that, when she first joined, she felt some men disliked women in the air force because the women were conscientious.

"When we drove the big long troop carrier at Harewood, none of us ever collected a gatepost with it but the men were always doing something like that."

Both women met their husbands during their service in the Waaf. Mrs Hutchins' late husband, Thomas, a former flight sergeant, was among those strongly against women being in the air force.

She remembers him being a strict and mean boss but, over time, he began to mellow.

"When I was on night duty, while the planes were flying one night, he came out and opened the door then sat beside me," she says. "I thought, 'Good heavens, this is odd.' But from then on we started fraternising - off station."

One thing she and Mrs Blackwell shared during their service was that they were both singers and, when word got around of their talents, they were quickly snapped up to entertain the troops and staff.

Mrs Blackwell says she joined the Waaf because it was the popular thing to do at the time. "All my friends were joining and I didn't want to be left behind."

Both women say they would encourage young women to join the air force because they believe it is an exciting and rewarding career.

What Is The Waaf?

The Women's Auxiliary Air Force was founded in Britain by King George VI in 1939. In 1941, the War Cabinet approved the formation of the WAAF in New Zealand to free up more men for service overseas.

Women were employed as cooks, mess-hands, drivers, clerks, equipment assistants, medical orderlies and shorthand typists. By the end of the war they were working in many trades.

Members of the Waaf subsequently held ranks equivalent to those of men and, at its peak in July 1943, the Waaf numbered more than 3600.

Source: www.nzhistory.net.nz

The Dominion Post