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November, 2011 Monthly archive

While carrying out more research on RAF Duxford in the First World War, we came across this description of life at the airfield, written by an airman who served here in 1918:

“Sleeping quarters were huts holding about fifty beds, twenty five either side of a partition. Beds were three boards and two trestles, two blankets and a palliasse. The later we filled with straw to our own satisfaction, if an extra two trestles could be found they were used to form a cross at each end, this gave one board flat in the centre with a tilt to the other two forming a concave of supreme comfort β€” until an officious NCO interfered.

“Uniform not in use had to be folded precisely and placed on shelf above the bed. For kit inspection every item was laid out in uniform order on the bed, any shortages charged for replacement. Blankets folded at head of bed every morning. No sheets or pyjamas, I slept in vest and pants. When I attained the age of manhood, eighteen, my pay was increased to one shilling a day, the normal for all the services. Half a million men died in France for a shilling a day.

“It’s difficult to remember sequence of events at Duxford, the early days seem to have escaped altogether, most of my memories being of later times when I was well established there. Early on I formed a friendship with one of my own age…and similar upbringing. On weekends off we went to Cambridge and enjoyed a plate of bacon and eggs, then a row on the Cam in a sliding-seat skiff. That shilling a day seemed to stretch a long way, but I suppose we saved it all up for those occasions.

“Others spent theirs having a lively time at dances in Sawston (three miles from Duxford) or on the camp, but that was not for us. Goodness knows how we spent our evenings, there was no radio.”

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Members of the WRAF at Duxford. By permission of the Imperial War Museum. IWM Q114860

We’ve been doing some research concerning the Women’s Royal Air Force (WRAF). The WRAF was established in April 1918, at the same time as the the RAF. Women who had been serving within the other services – the Army and Royal Navy – could be transferred across, and it was also opened up to new members. Contained within the ‘Conditions of Service’, we found this list of jobs that were open to its recruits:

Clerk
Storewoman
Cook
Waitress
Laundress
Housemaid
Vegetable Woman
By-Product Woman
Pantrymaid
General Domestic Worker
Acetylene Welder
Camera Repairer
Coppersmith
Electrician
Fitter (Aero engine)
Fitter (General)
Instrument repairer
Machinist
Magneto repairer
Rigger
Tinsmith and Sheet Metal Worker
Turner
Vulcaniser
Wireless Mechanic
Wireless Operator
Carpenter
Motor Car Driver
Draughtswoman
Upholsterer
Painter
Photographer
Shoemaker
Assistant Armourer
Packer
Storewoman (Non-Technical)
Tailor
Fabric Worker
Motor cyclist
Washer (Motor Car)
Telephone Operator

The First World War dramatically increased the range of jobs that were undertaken by women, beyond the traditional fields such as domestic service (which employed between 11-13% of the female population in England and Wales from 1911-1914). Many of these new jobs were carried out by WRAFs at Duxford, as the photograph below shows.

Members of the WRAF in the Motor Transport yard, Duxford, 1918. By permission of the Imperial War Museum IWM HU 040586

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