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Remembered Today:

Women employed by the RFC in Canada


AngusScully
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The Royal Flying Corps Canada (also called the Imperial Royal Flying Corps) began to hire women in non-traditional roles in 1917. At the end of the war, Canadian writer Allan Sullivan described their role in his book Aviation in Canada 1917 – 1918.


At the [aircraft] Repair Parks alone 135 women were employed in the technical trades while at various camps nearby 600 were mechanics. Unaccustomed to aeroplane work and unacquainted with military routine they have universally performed sterling service. Women civilian subordinates were … employed at Deseronto [ a major IRFC facility east of Toronto] making their temporary homes in the town and radiating out to the two flying camps. The arrangements worked here, as elsewhere, to the definite advantage of the Corps. No record of the [mechanical transport] section would be complete without some reference to the duties performed by the lady drivers who patriotically volunteered for this service. Their history is one of entire success...

The “lady drivers” drove 2000 kilometres a day in cars, trucks, and motorcycles, on primitive roads in severe winter weather.

The fall 2020 newsletter of the Vancouver Island Military Museum has more on this at www.militarymuseum.ca . Click on the Extras, then Newsletters, then Fall 2020.

The first photo here shows women at work in the engine repair shop at the IRFC base near Deseronto , Ontario. The second shows women drivers, part of the Mechanical Transport Unit in Toronto

A digital version of Sullivan’s book Aviation in Canada 1917 – 1918 is available free on-line at Project Gutenberg https://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/58887

Angus Scully

Editor, VIMM

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Hi Angus,

Thanks for sharing.

A few years' ago I had the opportunity to look at the papers of Dermott Lang Allen, which are held by the IWM. I'd have to dig out my notes but I recall that Allen was somewhat disparaging of the accuracy of Sullivan's work, but perhaps it's a case of sour grapes, for Sullivan managed to write Allen out of the the RFC/RAF's Canadian history.

Allen definitely made a number of references to the recruitment of women for transport and other roles. I'll rummage around this weekend and see what I can dig out.

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Hi Angus,

A surprisingly poor return in the end from Allen. He assiduously compiles material in the 1960s for preparing replies to various historical societies and researchers on various aspects of early military aviation - Canadian archives should have copies of some of his correspondence - yet he's quite reactive in manner, e.g. if a question isn't asked he tends not to put forward his views on a particular aspect of RFC training in Canada (or Texas).

Copyright resides with the Allen family and with the IWM but below is an example of a passing mention of 1,200 women employed in support of the Canadian flying services. Although he'd appear to be appreciative of their efforts it takes up less space than an anecdote in relation to one or other of the Hoare brothers ('Frog' and Gurney) in respect of managing a winter training regime.

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Bear in mind that Allen (using his pseudonym 'WingCo') wrote many articles for the Royal Irish Fusiliers' publications; their journal might have been the 'Blackthorn' by the time the various Ulster regiments had been consolidated. Not all articles were published. In that regard his IWM records have plenty of anecdotes which have been reproduced in numerous other publications over the years. Infuriatingly, however, few thought to pose questions to Allen about the role of women and consequently he didn't write an article on the subject. (He had a daughter, so would have been well aware of the challenges faced in times past). Consequently trite praise is all that's recorded, and from a chap who'd first-hand experience of the many and varied roles that women played in respect of the RFC in Canada and the Canadian aviation industry.

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Fascinating to see this, especially the reference to the development of fields in British Columbia for the 1918|19 winter. I could have used that reference in my book, In Our Youth, which deals with training in Canada and post war civil aviation development in BC, especially around Vancouver.

Apparently, the initial evaluation on coastal BC was that there were too many trees to make a suitable training area. In southern Ontario there were plenty of open fields for cadets to land (crash).

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