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War Economy

Women's Organisations for War Work

Women's Organisations for War Work

Most of the wartime effort of women was by individuals who became salary or wage earners, and accepted employment in industries where wartime recruitment of men had left vacancies. However, a great deal of unpaid work was also done, while a considerable organisation was devoted to attracting more women into war work and co-ordinating their efforts. A group of Women's Auxiliary Services was set up and played an important part in freeing men for the armed forces and for essential work.

The Women's War Service Auxiliary was established in 1940 to provide a national organisation co-ordinating the war effort of New Zealand women.1 The Auxiliary kept a register of all women

1 Parliamentary Paper H-11a, Report of the National Service Department, 1946, p. 28.

page 92 volunteering for work which would assist the war effort. The strength of the Auxiliary and affiliated organisations reached a peak of over 75,000 in 1942, when 250 district committees were operating under the Central Executive.

From the register, the Auxiliary organised groups of voluntary workers. The largest was the Canteen Section, twenty thousand strong, who helped staff canteen huts at military camps, service clubs and hospitals throughout New Zealand. Next in importance was the Clerical Section of ten thousand members who undertook the bulk of the clerical and typing work for the Home Guard and the Emergency Precautions Scheme. For long periods members attended in the evenings at army offices and at service camps to overtake arrears of clerical work. Their clerical and typing contribution played an important part in the mobilisation of New Zealand's military forces, especially during the period in 1942 when the possibility of Japanese invasion required diversion of all possible manpower to active service.

The third most numerous group was the Transport Group, comprising five thousand members trained in all aspects of civilian transport. In most districts, members of this group were seconded to the Emergency Precautions Scheme and undertook convoy duties, collection of waste paper and similar work.

There was a Hospital Group of two thousand women who, besides undertaking hospital visiting, trained as hospital aids in kitchen and laundry work. Members also performed voluntary work for Hospital Boards, such as clerical and telephone work, and admission of patients.

Smaller groups of women were concerned with vegetable growing, obstetrical work and signalling.

Up to October 1942 the Auxiliary was responsible for the recruitment of women for the Women's Auxiliary Armed Forces, and, throughout the war, helped with national campaigns such as loans, bond sales, and patriotic fund appeals. The Auxiliary performed valuable work by co-operating with the National Service Department in keeping in touch with members of the Women's Land Service and by acting in an advisory capacity on the general welfare of service personnel and the employment of women in war work.

The Women's Auxiliary Air Force was established in January 1941 and reached a peak strength of nearly four thousand in August 1943. By VJ Day1 the strength had dwindled to about 2500, but there were 600 women still serving as late as March 1946. Members of this force were employed as shorthand-typists,

1 15 August 1945.

page 93 clerks, domestics, kitchen workers, and dental and medical assistants. During the period of peak mobilisation in New Zealand many were employed on technical work such as radio location.

The Women's Army Auxiliary Corps came into being towards the end of 1941, when a draft of thirty volunteers embarked for the Middle East. This corps reached a peak strength of 4600 in July 1943. By VJ Day the numbers had shrunk to about 2500, and by March 1946 fewer than a thousand women were still serving.

The strength of the Women's Royal Naval Service in New Zealand rose steadily after its inception in May 1942 to a peak of over five hundred in October 1944. Most of the women served ashore, in clerical or domestic work, although some were engaged in manning motor-launches in the Auckland harbour. Over a thousand women in these three services served overseas.

The Women's Land Service, where over two thousand women were serving by the second half of 1944, was established on a small scale in 1940 to supplement male labour on farms when recruitment started to have serious effects. The contribution made by these women is discussed in the chapter dealing with farming.1

1 Chapter 8.