Women in World War Two: The RAF Air Transport Auxiliary

The front cover of Picture Post dated 16 September 1942 using a photograph of First Officer Maureen Dunlop to highlight The Story of the ATA.

It is odd to hear debates in the US Congress about permitting women to serve in the combat infantry or do other dangerous jobs in the US military. Put them in supply units or other jobs “in the rear with the gear” seems to be what is often said. Yet as we learned in Iraq and Afghanistan, the front line in modern warfare can be very fluid. Supply columns in the rear are attacked. And the women assigned to those supply units? They defend themselves and their supplies. With guns. So why do we keep them from “dangerous, front line” combat units if they are capably defending themselves in rear echelon units? I don’t know.

One reason history can be subversive is that an example from the past can often defeat an argument being made in the present. If one holds the opinion that women should not serve in combat or dangerous positions in the military, then that is a philosophical belief not a factual belief. There is hardly anything wrong with philosophical beliefs. We all have them on a variety of issues. But confusing a philosophical belief with a factual belief leaves one open to being defeated by the facts themselves. Here is an example:

In this clip from BBC Four, we see a snippet of a documentary made in the UK about the heroic women who flew for the RAF Air Transport Auxiliary.

From BBC Four:

During WWII 168 female pilots fought against all the odds for the right to aid the war effort. These trailblazers were part of the Air Transport Auxiliary – a thousand strong organization that delivered aircraft to the frontline RAF. They were expected to fly wherever the need was greatest, in whatever aircraft was required – one in 10 women pilots died flying for the ATA.

[Image courtesy of Wikimedia.]

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Charles McCain

Charles McCain is a Washington DC based freelance journalist and novelist. He is the author of "An Honorable German," a World War Two naval epic. You can read more of his work on his website: http://charlesmccain.com/

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