Women In The Air Festival, 1973
At the time of the commencement of World War 2 in 1939 the Army Cadet Force, Air Training Corps and Sea Cadets Corps were already established as organisations for boys who would become members of Her Majesties Forces when they were old enough. However, there were no such organisations for girls who would also be subject to conscription to war work. Girls and Women did not normally go to work other than to do what were considered to be occupations suitable for females.
Married women seldom worked outside the home and in fact women schoolteachers had to leave their employment upon marriage, as did women in a number of other professions.The war changed all this and women joined the Women’s Services, Land Army, Fire Service etc, or they were conscripted into factories and other bodies involved in war work. Girls who were not old enough to do these jobs wanted to get involved and so went along to the ATC, ACF or SCC meetings asking to join.
They were not welcome but still persisted even to the degree of getting themselves into some sort of uniform. Eventually, the Government of the day realised that something had to be done for these young women and so, in 1942, Miss Florence Horsburgh, the then Minister for Education, was instructed to set up an organisation to be known as the National Association of Training Corps for Girls.
Under this umbrella, 3 Corps were formed – the Girls Training Corps, Women’s Junior Air Corps and Girls Nautical Training Corps. As will be seen from their titles, these two latter organisations specialised in Air and Sea training whilst the GTC covered a more generalised programme of training. Local ladies of some standing were recruited as leaders and girls flocked to join. Many units met in either Army Cadet or Air Cadet premises or other in schools and village halls.
Cadets learnt morse and semaphore, small household repairs like changing a fuse and fitting a tap washer and learnt drill. The WJAC followed courses on Aircraft Recognition, basic aviation and other air related subject while the GNTC concentrated on nautical matters such as knots and sea navigation. They were all involved in helping the war effort, doing things like collecting milk bottle tops and going out in groups to gather rose hips and other hedgerow plants which would be used to make vitamin additives for children, They also acted as messengers for Air Raid Precautions Wardens and assisted in many other ways depending upon the needs of the locality in which Units operated. Membership was considerable and the 3 Corps were well known and took part in many Regional and National events. Old newspaper cutting often show photographs and articles about parades and other things in which Corps contingents were involved.
Three girls' cadet corps: Girls' Nautical Training Corps, Womens' Junior Air Corps and Girls Training Corps
When the war ended it was considered no longer necessary for the Corps to continue and plans were made for them to be wound up. However, once again, the membership had other ideas and wanted things to continue. Programmes were up-dated to fit in with post-war life but community service continued to play a very important and vital part of the Corps activities. HRH Princess Alexandra, whose mother the late Princess Marina, Duchess of Kent had taken a great interest in the affairs of the Corps, became Corps Patron in 1955. In 1963, the GNTC were invited to join the Sea Cadet Corps leaving the other two Corps on their own.
An ad hoc committee under the Chairmanship of Sir John Lang was set up to consider the future and a merger was arranged. This took effect in July 1964 when a new organisation called the Girls Venture Corps was introduced. At this time, most WJAC units worked closely with the ATC and the majority of GTC were affiliated to the Army Cadets.
Neither wished to lose their identity and so the GVC had two wings – Ground for the ex-GTC and Air for ex-WJAC. A new uniform for the former, designed by Norman Hartnell, the Queen’s dressmaker was produced. This followed the fashionable line of the day – “Beatle” caps and collarless jackets in dark turquoise blue. Eventually the need for two wings became unnecessary and everyone went into RAF blue. At the request of the cadets, the words Air Cadets were added to the title in 1987.Outdoor activities now form a large part of Unit programmes including adventure training etc. and so a working uniform of olive green trousers with sweatshirts is worn as well as the RAF blue pullovers and skirts.
Much has happened over the past 50 years of the Corps’ existence and it is hoped that as in 1940, members are being offered the sort of activities they want. The Corps would never have been established, had it not been for the persistence of those original wartime members but as long as there are girls who want a female organisation offering exciting activities, it will survive.