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Behind the ‘Few’: The Contribution of the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force to British Intelligence during the Second World War

posted on 2023-09-01, 14:38 authored by Sarah-Louise Miller
“The Navy can lose us the war, but only the Air Force can win it”.1 Speaking to the Cabinet in 1940, Winston Churchill shared his conviction that the Royal Air Force would be of critical importance to any hope of Allied victory in the Second World War. This thesis aims to demonstrate how he was correct, not by studying Fighter or Bomber Command as many others have, but by examining the way in which the RAF relied upon various forms of intelligence to make informed operational decisions. Heavily involved in the collection and dissemination of this intelligence were members of the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force, and it is specifically their hidden contribution that is the subject of this research. This thesis will draw heavily upon the official records of the Air Ministry, the RAF and the WAAF, all held by the National Archives at Kew. To corroborate and build upon the historical picture preserved by official records, recorded oral testimony will be utilised, as held by the Imperial War Museum, the International Bomber Command Centre, the Bawdsey Radar Trust and the Association of Fighter Controllers. Diaries will also be referred to, as well as personal papers and collections held by the families of some of the WAAF involved in intelligence work. This thesis identifies key Second World War dates and events where WAAF worked in intelligence capacities behind the scenes, in order to assess the importance of their contribution both towards the British war effort and the Allied victory in 1945. It also addresses the reasons behind the reluctance of the RAF and the British authorities to use women in intelligence roles, aiming to demonstrate how members of the WAAF defied their expectations and overcame social stereotypes by proving very successful in their work towards British intelligence.



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