Girl guiding and the RAF

Black and white image of Girl Guides around a Spitfire.
Photo credit: Girl Guides of Canada archives.  Girl Guides contribute to buy two air ambulances, 1940.

The RAF have a long and fascinating history with many inspiring and brave Girl Guides, who played a vital role during World War II.

In 1941, the RAF urgently requested that the Girl Guiding Headquarters provide cotton reels to help with the war effort.  The Girl Guides sprang into action, collecting 15,000 reels within months; but little did they know this request would go on to save many lives.  Decades later, declassified files revealed the RAF had made the request for a top-secret government project by M19, to help rescue prisoners of war.  

M19 was working with cotton companies to hide maps of Europe, German money, and contact details of people who could help prisoners inside the reels; these were then sent into German prisoner of war camps to help people escape. 

Other Guides close to RAF Kenley, laid a mile of pennies along the main road between Coulsdon and Purley; raising money for Spitfire aircraft.  While many from across the British Empire raised over £46,000, to buy two air ambulances for RAF Hendon.

Maria Jasinska, a Guide from Nazi-occupied Poland, also played a vital role by smuggling people abroad.  Sadly, the Nazis executed her in 1943 when they found her trying to help three British Officers return home.  The RAF gave her family a certificate after the war, o acknowledge her bravery and sacrifice, 'in appreciation for the help given to the Sailors, Soldiers and Airmen of the British Commonwealth.'

Black and white image of Girl Guides build a sandbag barrier against a building
Photo credit: The Scouts Heritage Service.  Scouts and Guides work together to put sandbags up, as part of air raid precaution activities.

These are only a few stories of the many Girl Guides that worked with the RAF.  Yet still to this day, girl-guiding is closely linked with the RAF.  Together, they develop activities that educate girls and introduce STEM subjects; such as interstellar adventures, learning how aircraft fly, deciphering codes and discovering how radar and rollercoasters work. 

Women only form a quarter of the STEM workforce in the UK.  But by cooperating with our partners, we hope girls will feel inspired and empowered to do incredible things – just like their predecessors did during World War Two.  There are many Girl Guides who have gone on to achieve remarkable things in the RAF. 

Acting Corporal Avis Joan Hearn worked in the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force as a Radio Operator, based at RAF Poling.  On the 18th August 1940, she received news of an imminent attack.  Avis stayed at her post to receive vital messages, while buildings around her collapsed as 87 bombs fell from the sky.  She received the Military Medal for her bravery and devotion to duty; which can now be seen on her medal bar and uniform jacket at the RAF Museum in Cosford.

Elizabeth Harrison was part of the French resistance during World War Two, when she helped distribute supplies and deliver messages to support the movement.  She later settled in the UK in 1968, becoming secretary for the RAF Escaping Society - an organisation that supported people who had helped RAF personnel escape or evade capture during the War.

Flight Lieutenant Mandy Hickson was a Girl Guide before joining the RAF in 1994.  She became one of the UK’s first female Tornado pilots, flying fighter jets in 45 missions over Iraq during the early 2000s conflict, and went on to write her book, 'An Officer, Not A Gentleman.'

Group Captain Anne-Marie Houghton graduated in 1991, as the RAF’s first female Navigator.  She went on missions alongside pilots to keep aircraft on course and on target; deployed on Operations in Afghanistan, Libya, the Balkans, the Middle East and Far East; and soon earned the rank of Group Captain in October 2017, becoming one of the highest ranking female Officers in the RAF today. 

Read more about the fascinating history and inspiring Girl Guides of World War II and today.