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International Women's Day

Women are best represented in the RAF, where they form 15% of UK Regular personnel and 23% of Reserve personnel. This important day is marked by many due to the lack of representation of females in male dominated roles. While we recruit regardless of gender, there have been many historical barriers which has impacted female recruitment and created a longstanding stereotype for Armed Forces personnel.

We would like to highlight recent barriers within the Armed Forces, and praise those who have faced adversity and inspired others to follow in their footsteps.

Alexandra Chalmers Watson & Dame Helen Gwynne-Vaughan - Britain’s first all-female military unit, the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps in 1917.

1939 - Women's Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) founded.

Pauline Gower - When the Second World War broke out, Pauline was one of the few female pilots in Britain. Pauline advocated hiring them for the newly founded Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA), a civilian organisation ferrying new and repaired aircraft from factories to operational squadrons. Overcoming the initial resistance within the RAF, Pauline continued to push for more women, including recruits. Eventually, more than 150 women served with the ATA, comprising about a tenth of the total number of ferry pilots.

They were expected to fly every type of aircraft, even if they had not received training on that specific type. ATA pilots flew through all kinds of weather without the aid of radio communications. Also, ATA airfields were not immune from Luftwaffe bombing raids. Pauline Gower was nearly killed when Hatfield was bombed. Around one tenth of ATA pilots died during the war.

Pauline was awarded a Member of the British Empire Medal. Maybe more importantly, she obtained the same pay for women pilot as the men received for doing the same work, which made the ATA the first government organisation to do so.

1949 - WRAF reformed as a permanent force. 80% of jobs were available to women but they were prohibited from combat duty.

Jackie Moggridge - In 1952, Jackie was one of the first five women to earn their RAF wings. The next woman would not earn her wings until 1991. After initially being rejected to join the RAF when the Second World War broke out because she was female, Jackie was accepted to fly in the Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA) in 1940. She ferried 1,438 planes to waiting RAF pilots, flying 82 different types of planes. She later became the first female commercial airline captain.

Julie Gibson - Made history in 1991 as the first female operational pilot, paving the way for the women who fly combat jets today. Women have been in the RAF for nearly a century – but it took more than 70 years before they were allowed to fly.

1994 - WRAF disbanded and 6,547 members are integrated into mainstream RAF roles. Only two jobs - fireman and aerial erector - are still unavailable to women in the RAF.

1997 - The number of jobs available to women in the Army increases from 47% to 70%. Only Tank and Infantry regiments remain men only.

2002 - The MoD upholds ban on women serving on the front-line with the Army. But women could serve on fighting ships in the Navy and pilot fighter aircraft in the RAF.

Captain Philippa Tattersall - The first woman to complete Royal Marine training, completing the same tests as her male colleagues in 2002.

Michelle Norris - The first woman to receive the Military Cross. The Royal Army Medical Corps private was just 19 when she saved her commander’s life in a firefight with more than 200 insurgents in Al-Amarah, southern Iraq, in 2006.

2008 - British Armed Forces total 187,000 of which 17,620 are women. 96% of RAF jobs are open to women, followed by 71% in the Navy 67% in the Army.

Elaine West - In 2013, West becomes the first woman to be promoted to Air Vice-Marshal within the RAF. Having joined the WRAF in 1978, she joined straight from school. It also makes her the first female military two-star.

Lieutenants Maxine Stiles, Alex Olsson & Penny Thackray - The first women to serve on a Royal Navy submarine, following the lifting of the ban on women serving on Submarines in 2011.

Susan Ridge - the British Army’s first female general and the highest-ranking woman to date when she is promoted to Major General in 2015.

2017 - The RAF became the first branch of the British military to open up every role to men and women. In 2018, all roles in the Armed Forces were available to women due to a previous ban on women engaging in ground close combat.

Lieutenant Charlotte Lord-Sallenave - Commissioned into the Household Cavalry in 2018 and became the first female officer in the Regiment's over three and a half century history.

2018 -  All British Armed Forces ground close combat roles open to women.

Sue Gray - RAF engineer promoted to Air Marshal in 2019. The role made her the most senior female military officer in the British Armed Forces at that time.

Nina Croker - The first woman to serve as a mounted Trooper in the Sovereign's mounted body guard in 2019. 

Captain Rosie Wild - The first woman to pass the Parachute Regiment’s ‘P company’ in 2020.

2020 - The first female RAF Regiment Officers successfully completed the 25-week course required to become members of the RAF Regiment.

Rear Admiral Jude Terry - The most senior female Royal Navy Officer ever upon her promotion to Rear Admiral in 2022. 

Now in 2023, men and woman serve alongside each other making an equal contribution to the modern Armed Forces. 


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