Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF-PLSK)
he service of Polish women in the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (PLSK – Pomocnicza Lotnicza Służba Kobiet) during World War II was a valuable contribution to the war effort of the Polish Air Force in Great Britain. Polish WAAFs constituted over 13 percent of the ground personnel of PAF. Various training courses gave WAAFs a number of skills that allowed for the replacement of men in various specializations. The British Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) was created in June 1939. The Defence Regulations from April 1941 gave women equal opportunity in recruitment and service. This allowed the first Polish woman, Helena Paszkiewicz, to join the British WAAF. She began her training on July 31, 1941, and on 1st of October received the degree of Aircraftwoman 1 (ACW1). After the creation of the PLSK, S/O (Squadron Officer, WAAF equivalent of RAF Squadron Leader) mjr Helena Anna Paszkiewicz became commander of the Polish WAAF until the PAF was disbanded.
In view of the arrival of a large number of women with Anders Army from the Soviet Union to the Middle East, and in order to deal with constant shortages of personnel, the commander of Polish Air Force, gen. Ujejski, proposed to the Minister of National Defence, gen. Marian Kukiel, and to the Commander-in-Chief, gen. Sikorski, a plan to recruit about 1,500 volunteers for auxiliary tasks in the PAF. In result, the Polish Minister of National Defence, regulation dated 4 December 1942 called for Polish women to join the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (PLSK). In April 1943, 36 women were selected to train as instructors for the other volunteers. One of them was Helena Paszkiewicz, who left the WAAF to join the PLSK. These women were sent to Falkirk in Scotland for the initial training, which lasted from May 1 to June 10. On June 17 women admitted into the WAAF were sent on a course in Wilmslow, which later became the base of the PLSK. After the course, some of them were selected for officer training in Windermere, and the rest received ranks of NCO.
Talks held in June 1943 with the Air Ministry did not bring PLSK autonomy. All Polish WAAFs remained an integral part of the British force and subject to the King’s Regulations. It was agreed to the Polish WAAFs can wear the PAF insignia and the “POLAND” tabs on the uniforms. In October 1943, over 1,000 potential Polish woman recruits waited in Africa and Palestine for transport. The first group of them, numbering 107 women, began training in camp Wilmslow on November 2nd. Assistant Section Officer (ASO, WAAF equivalent of RAF rank Pilot Officer) Aniela Palędzka, the top student of the officer course, was Polish commander of this group. The Instructor staff was supplemented with 22 Polish women holding NCO ranks. In spite of the great difficulties with the English language, the course was completed on time, on 4 January 1944. From February until the summer of 1944, four more courses were organized under the direction of Section Officer (SO, equivalent of RAF rank Flying Officer) Paszkiewicz and Polish WAAF instructors increasingly assumed responsibility for providing training.
In March 1944, a large transport of women from the Middle East (594 volunteers) arrived in UK and provided most of the new recruits. The final contingent of women from the Middle East – 169 women – arrived in July 1945. The last three recruit courses were organized in the first half of 1945, attended by more than 200 women who came from France (daughters of Polish immigrants), Germany and the Netherlands. The latter ones were Polish Home Army fighters from the Warsaw Uprising captured by the Germans, and prisoners from the concentration camps.
Some volunteers came from as far away as the United States, Canada, Argentina, China and Japan. Polish WAAFs, possessing the necessary qualifications, received officer commissions in their respective categories. They were assigned to units of the PAF as early as the beginning of 1944, and by the end of that year took over all the WAAF functions at most Polish stations, including RAF Faldingworth. At RAF Station Faldingworth, Alicja Kaliniecka was the only woman Intelligence Officer, and several Polish women worked along with Polish mechanics servicing Avro Lancasters of Polish 300 Bomber Squadron. Over all, Polish WAAFs served at 26 RAF stations. Female commissioned officers filled post in: RAF and WAAF administration, intelligence, accounting, storage and provision of materials, food supplies, ciphers and education. Volunteer NCOs and aircraftwomen worked in 45 occupations. More than thirty women were trained to work as nurses in infirmaries, hospitals and dental clinics. High grades received in courses and later efficient service in units gained them the recognition of both the PAF and the RAF. There were two physicians, F/Lt MD Chmura and F/Lt MD Kałuska, and three dentists: F/Lt MD K. Albrecht, F/Lt MD H. Reckner-Andersz and F/Lt MD E. Stocka. In addition, pre-war Polish women pilots served in the Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA), ferrying aircraft from factories to operational units in all theaters of war. These were: por. Anna Leska-Daab, por. Stefania Wojtulanis-Karpińska and ppor. Jadwiga Piłsudska-Jaraczewska. During nine recruitments between June 1943 and June 1945, up to 1,436 Polish women, aged 17 to 43 years, joined the PLSK, 52 became commissioned officers and 110 non-commissioned officers. On 8 May 1945, 1,137 women were serving in the WAAF. Some remained at their positions until the disbandment of the PAF in May 1947.
PLSK after the war
ost PLSK volunteers decided not to return to “socialist” Poland, because many of them lived in the area which was incorporated into the Soviet Union. The majority stayed in the PLSK and in 1947 joined the Polish Resettlement Corps. Members of the Corps signed contracts for a two-year service, which was to be used for acquiring education and skills in a variety of civilian occupations, seeking work or obtaining a scholarship at British universities and colleges. Many volunteers had married and started families. On 1 December 1968, the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force formed a section of the Polish Air Force Association in the Great Britain. As their motto they chose: – “We serve for the Polish cause”.
In the following years, in North America and UK, new organizational units were established. In 1972 a branch of the PLSK-WAAF was set up in Toronto, and chaired by Anna Ejbich. In 1977 a Section, under the leadership of Zofia Boyko-Bialkowska, was established in Nottingham and gathered volunteers from Central England. In 2004, during the XXX Congress of the PLSK it was decided to disband the PLSK. During its 36 years of existence the PLSK actively participated in all activities of the Polish Air Force Association. It organized 30 reunions, keeping in touch with colleagues in Poland, Canada and the USA. The PLSK supported charities helping the most needy colleagues and orphanages, missions and hospitals in Poland. Women in the the PLSK stood alongside Polish airmen who fought in World War II, honorably fulfilled their patriotic duty, and after the war united in Sections in the Polish Air Force Association, proudly “served for the Polish cause”.