‘Women on the Front Line – their untold stories’
WAAF Radar Operators at Bawdsey in WWII
There were over 640,000 women in the armed forces during WWII. Of these around 8,000 of the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) served in crucial and secret roles in RAF radar stations. These stations around the UK were often the first target for German bombers so working there could be very dangerous – effectively, the women were on the front line.
RAF Bawdsey was the first operational radar station and had the first school for training WAAFs in radar. The Bawdsey Radar Museum, with a Hidden Histories grant from SHARE, has been carrying out research into why relatively little is known about the lives of and the work carried out by these women who were the eyes and the ears of the wartime RAF. One of the reasons was that anyone who worked on radar signed the Official Secrets Act and they stuck to it like glue well beyond 1971 when they were freed from its constraints.
The exhibition has been given a sub-title of ‘Who wore the trousers?’. Two of the WAAFs interviewed about their work described how they had to wear trousers for the first time in their lives as part of their working uniform and it infers what a vital role women played in radar. The exhibition explores the role played by women in the development and operation of RAF Bawdsey through the lives of five extraordinary individuals – Jane Trefusis-Forbes, founder of the WAAF, Dr Mary Taylor, theoretical physicist and three radar operators Hilda Pearson, Jean Semple and Peggy Haynes.
See www.bawdseyradar.org.uk for more information and details of opening times and dates.