Celebrating women in the RAF this International Women’s Day
Today marks International Women's Day. Over the last century, the role of women within society, and indeed the armed forces, has changed momentously.
From the Second World War, where crucial support roles were undertaken by women while men were serving in the field, to now, where women are serving in their own right. We spoke with four inspirational women – both serving and ex-serving RAF personnel to find out about their experiences in the RAF and what International Women's Day means to them…
Former Senior Aircraftswoman Juliet Sellars – "I loved being a woman in the RAF as I felt special"
"I joined the WRAF was because my family lived in North Devon when I was a teenager and RAF Chivenor used to send buses to pick up us lasses to go to dances there. I loved the atmosphere and I caught the bug there at age of about 13. I used to love the opportunities we used to have to fly in the Anson with pilots clocking up their flying hours.
Early in 1962 there was a requirement for operations clerks to go to RAF Boulmer and I volunteered to go there. I was working underground which I quickly got used to and was very interesting. Of course this was during the ‘Cold War’, though we were just doing our jobs.
I loved being a woman in the RAF as I felt special and mostly we were treated with respect and looked after by the chaps. On occasion of course there would be the odd one who misbehaved and tried it on but I dealt with it.
I have often said to young women I have met that the WRAF has brilliant opportunities. At least give it a try!"
Flight Sergeant Michelle Crolla MBE, RAF Brize Norton – "I've always felt like I belong and that I have got where I am on merit"
"I joined the RAF after the army wouldn't recruit me because I was too small. One of my career highlights in the RAF was getting an MBE in 2019 for my service in the military. Being a woman in the RAF has honestly been really positive. I’ve always felt like I belong and that I have got where I am on merit.
For young women considering a career in the RAF, my advice would be if you are prepared to work hard you can have a really rewarding and fulfilling career, there are so many great opportunities to be had."
Irene Strange, former RAF Teleprinter Operator – "Stay strong, broaden your horizons, grow in strength and stand up to your rights"
"I worked in the RAF just after the Second World War as a Teleprinter Operator and was trained in Morse code – I have a long term memory and even now, aged 90, I remember it all!
I attended my very first International Women's Day meeting in 1969 in Aden in the Middle East, and then Benghazi in Libya, praising the endeavours of the empowerment of women and becoming an equality activist. In those days it was a man's world but, overcoming the bias for English women to work out there at that time, I applied to the the chartered bank in Aden and became a secretary in the daytime and broadcaster for the Aden Forces in the evening.
On returning to England I opened a guest house for the homeless, taking in ten different people a week, which I continued to do for twenty five years, between 1981 to 2006. Today, age 90, I am still in business as an owner and director of a small block of flats in Southsea.
Perseverance and believing in myself has driven me forward, proving that women can overcome events as we face them and become responsible for our own thoughts and actions. What I say to women not only in the RAF but in general is to stay strong, broaden your horizons, grow in strength and stand up to your rights. Reach out and turn those possibilities and probabilities into reality – don't leave it until my age wishing you had done all that you had wanted years before."
Sergeant Georgie Smith, Teleperformance at AFCO Bristol – "The fact that ALL roles can be offered to women is a true testament to how the RAF view diversity and inclusion"
"I wanted to join the RAF to experience the adventure and travel it would bring outside of an average 9-5 job. My favourite memories have always been whilst being away on Ops and exercise, including low level flying over Alcatraz, the busy tempo of Kandahar and the majestic wildlife of the Falklands.
As a mother, there were times where it was extremely challenging trying to balance a military career and parental responsibilities; however, my eldest son has since joined the RAF as a Regt Gnr so I believe the experience of growing up in a military family also brings many benefits for our children and the next generation.
I was also diagnosed with MS in 2015 and that was particularly difficult navigating certain policies back then, but I’m pleased to say that through lots of hard work and dedicated individuals from across the three services, we have enabled a much more inclusive and diverse way of thinking and this will benefit many over the years moving forwards.
I've had nothing but positive experiences as a female in the RAF, I have never felt different to anyone else regarding gender and being allowed to exercise the rights to do roles that may be seen as more male influence such as detention handling in Afghanistan. In particular the fact that ALL roles can be offered to women is a true testament to how the RAF view diversity and inclusion."