Women of WWII: WACs

Conflict: World War II

WAC sergeant Amy Albert receives the keys to a staff car from its former driver

WAC sergeant Amy Albert receives the keys to a staff car from its former driver

They served in England, France, Italy, the South Pacific, North Africa, India, and numerous other countries, as well as stateside. They worked with the Army as typists, file clerks, and stenographers, but also in over 200 other types of positions, including as mechanics, instructors, weather forecasters, photo analysts, telephone operators, parachute riggers, drivers, radio operators, electricians, and cryptographers. Who was this versatile group? The Women’s Army Corps (WAC).

The WAC was originally formed as the WAAC (Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps) in 1942 as an auxiliary to the Army, but in 1943 it was incorporated into that military branch and renamed the WAC. The goal of the WAC was to free up men for WWII combat by replacing them with women in noncombatant military jobs. As WAAC/WAC director Oveta Culp Hobby saw it, “The gaps our women will fill are in those noncombatant jobs where women’s hands and women’s hearts fit naturally.” Not all WAACs and WACs were quite so optimistic about their positions, however; as one disillusioned WAAC put it, “The WAAC mission is the same old women’s mission, […] to stand by and do dull routine work while the men are gone.” This opinion may have had some basis, as the vast majority of WACs were limited to clerical and communications jobs that the Army deemed “appropriate” for women.

Over the course of the war, around 150,000 WACs served at home and abroad. Although they faced discrimination and criticism from various male soldiers and some of the folks back home, WACs were in high demand, and the officers they worked with praised them for their hard work and skill. In fact, General Eisenhower said, “During the time I have had WACs under my command they have met every test and task assigned to them . . . their contributions in efficiency, skill, spirit and determination are immeasurable.” That “efficiency, skill, spirit and determination” was proved by the fact that at the end of the war, 657 WACs received citations or medals.

Below are some photos from Fold3’s WWII US Air Force Photos collection that capture WACs hard at work. The original captions have been included:

England-Bombers returning from missions over Germany which have been damaged of have lost their bearings receive new directions from these WACs in a mobile control unit truck. The WACs standing around the table are plotters who by means of strings track the course of the plane on an operational map. The WAC in the background is the controller’s clerk. The officer is the controller whose job is to maintain direct communications with the pilot, the course of whose ship the WACs are plotting.

England—Bombers returning from missions over Germany which have been damaged or have lost their bearings receive new directions from these WACs in a mobile control unit truck. The WACs standing around the table are plotters who by means of strings track the course of the plane on an operational map. The WAC in the background is the controller’s clerk. The officer is the controller whose job is to maintain direct communications with the pilot, the course of whose ship the WACs are plotting.

Accurate Counting . . . WAC T/5 Catherine Hardy of Homestead Park, Pennsylvania, knows that clothing items stored in the Quartermaster Depot somewhere in Australia must be accurately counted. T/5 Hardy arrived in Australia with the first group of WACS on 12 May 1944.

Accurate Counting . . . WAC T/5 Catherine Hardy of Homestead Park, Pennsylvania, knows that clothing items stored in the Quartermaster Depot somewhere in Australia must be accurately counted. T/5 Hardy arrived in Australia with the first group of WACS on 12 May 1944.

WAC Pfc. Ona May Murray of Monteray, Calif., is shown at work in the operations room at an airbase somewhere in England. 11 January 1944.

WAC Pfc. Ona May Murray of Monteray, Calif., is shown at work in the operations room at an airbase somewhere in England. 11 January 1944.

Interior view of switchboard room operated by WACs at Pine Tree, High Wycombe, Bucks, England. 28 September 1943.

Interior view of switchboard room operated by WACs at Pine Tree, High Wycombe, Bucks, England. 28 September 1943.

At teletype machines in Headquarters of the 12th Air Force are T/4 Florence S. Roth of New Orleans, Louisiana, and T/5 Frances Spooner Of Ely, Minnesota, members of an Air WAC platoon. Italy.

At teletype machines in Headquarters of the 12th Air Force are T/4 Florence S. Roth of New Orleans, Louisiana, and T/5 Frances Spooner Of Ely, Minnesota, members of an Air WAC platoon. Italy.

On the job in Australia . . . . These officers of the Women's Army Corps are seen at work on the night shift of the Postal Section somewhere in Australia, correctly addressing mail to be forwarded to the advance bases. This is part of a group of 70 WAC officers who volunteered to work the swing shift while awaiting transportation to another area, in order to clean up a backlog of mail.

On the job in Australia . . . . These officers of the Women’s Army Corps are seen at work on the night shift of the Postal Section somewhere in Australia, correctly addressing mail to be forwarded to the advance bases. This is part of a group of 70 WAC officers who volunteered to work the swing shift while awaiting transportation to another area, in order to clean up a backlog of mail.

WAC Pfc. Rose Mallory of the 1306th AAF Base Unit, Air Transport Command, welds broken part of an engine. India, 31 August 1945.

WAC Pfc. Rose Mallory of the 1306th AAF Base Unit, Air Transport Command, welds broken part of an engine. India, 31 August 1945.

A member of Women's Army Corps at work. 8th Air Force, England, 29 March 1944.

A member of Women’s Army Corps at work. 8th Air Force, England, 29 March 1944.

Learn more about WAACs and WACs here. Or find many more free images of them on Fold3 here. There are also thousands of pages on Fold3 about them, which you can find using this search. Or read Fold3 spotlights about Women Air Force Service Pilots or the Women’s Land Army. You can also watch an original WAC recruitment video here.