When the Royal Air Force was formed on April 1st 1918 the new service inherited the female air elements of the Women’s Royal Naval Service (WRNS) and the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC). The Women’s Royal Air Force (WRAF) survived until 1920 by which time the level of disarmament meant that the trades the women undertook were now replaced by the surplus of men who had become available.
Women were called back to serve in the RAF as war loomed once again in 1939 in the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF). The WAAF served throughout World War II and briefly beyond until 1949 when the service was renamed back to the Women’s Royal Air Force on February 1st 1949. It was the passing of the Army and Air Force (Women’s Service) Act in 1948 that created the opportunity for a permanent peacetime role for women in the Armed Forces, in recognition of their invaluable wartime contribution. Around 80% of RAF trades in 1949 were open to members of the WRAF and this would rise over time.
On April 1st 1994, in recognition of the increasing number of roles women undertook in the RAF, the WRAF was disbanded and its members formally merged with the full-time RAF. In the 21st century, there are no boundaries on gender in the RAF with female aircrew having served in combat over Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria.