On Saturday 23 October, a memorial to members of the Women’s Royal Air Force (WRAF) was dedicated at the National Memorial Arboretum, in Staffordshire, the Nation’s year-round place to remember.
This new tribute was organised and funded thanks to the intrepid efforts of a diverse collective of WRAF veterans and women currently serving in the RAF, including both commissioned officers and the ranks.
“This memorial has been a long time coming, and is a magnificent tribute to all of the women who served in the WRAF,“ said Sylvia Walker, who led the efforts to install the memorial.
“I was so saddened to discover the lack of a memorial when I attended the RAF Centenary Service in 2018 and immediately determined to do something about it! The stunning final design by the incredibly talented Andy DeComyn incorporates many different ideas suggested by our committee. When we first saw the design we were blown away because he’d captured the very essence of being a WRAF; the friendship and the camaraderie that reaches across the years. We hope the women who currently serve in the RAF will embrace it as part of their history also.”
The first incarnation of the WRAF was formed at the end of the First World War in 1918, where women were deployed at home and overseas in a variety of invaluable support roles, including as nurses, drivers and administrative staff. The organisation was disbanded after just two years, tragically many members lost their lives while serving during the Spanish Flu Pandemic.
In 1949 the WRAF was reformed to give women the chance to enlist in Regular Service. Members of the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF), which had been formed during the Second World were allowed to transfer to the new service if they wished.
Pamela Rackliff was one of the WAAF members who took up the offer and became one of the first members of the reinstituted WRAF in 1949. She was among the more than 150 people who attended the dedication event at the Arboretum.
When she volunteered to join the WAAF in October 1946 where she worked in signals. Despite being issued a ‘demob number’, she accepted multiple offers to extend her service. After becoming a member of the WRAF she met her future husband Peter at RAF Scampton who proposed to her after just three weeks, shortly before he was deployed to Singapore. In May 1950 her service came to an end and she joined Peter in Singapore where they married.
The WRAF was separately administered and had different terms and conditions to the men and although it evolved, that continued until the WRAF was amalgamated into the RAF in 1994, finally giving the women the same terms and pay as the men.
During the 45 years of the WRAF, the women served alongside the men in the UK and were also sent abroad to allow the National Servicemen to come home. They served worldwide including areas of conflict such as Aden, Cyprus, Northern Ireland, Falkland Islands, Bosnia and Turkey and Saudi Arabia supporting Gulf War One.
Fundraising for the memorial was surprisingly brisk, with supporters enthusiastically organising events and activities to raise the money for the memorial and its future maintenance. Nationwide also donated to support the campaign.