ARMY, air and sea cadet organisations have long existed for boys, providing a good grounding for many a young lad intending, once old enough, to serve with one of the country’s three armed forces.

Historically, girls weren’t welcome, though this is not the case now.

So it was in 1942, that the then Minister for Education, one Miss Florence Horsburgh, was instructed by the government to set up an organisation called the National Association of Training Corps for Girls. And under this umbrella, three corps were formed – the Girls Training Corps, the Women’s Junior Air Corps and the Girls Nautical Training Corps.

Young women flocked to join, as evidenced in this picture from that era of the 24 girls of the Whitehaven company of the Women’s Junior Air Corps which used to meet in the Irish Street School. How smart and eager they all look in their pale grey uniforms (which they had to buy themselves) and so happy to be part of an organisation that would teach them a wide range of skills such as Morse code and semaphore, first aid, and how to effect small repairs like changing a fuse and fitting a tap washer.

The girls of WJAC learnt military drill and followed courses in aircraft recognition, basic aviation and other related subjects. And there would be social events, joining with the boys from local Air and Sea cadets, which were always popular.

At that time married women rarely worked outside the home but the war changed all that and saw them in jobs with the Land Army, the fire service and in the factories. The girls of the WJAC helped the war effort too – collecting milk bottle tops, gathering rosehips for vitamins for children, and as bike messengers where air raid precautions were implemented.

When the war ended they were no longer considered necessary and plans were made for these corps to be disbanded. However, the female cadets had other ideas and wished to continue. Programmes were updated to fit in with post-war life, Princess Alexandra became Corps patron in 1955 and in later years the WJAC was merged into a new organisation called the Girls Venture Corps Air Cadets, which still continues today. Open to young women between the ages of 11 and 20, it offers many opportunities and experiences from camping to crafts and flying to canoeing.

Many of those pictured here were from the Bransty area and those still with us will now be in their late 80s and 90s… perhaps you recognise some of them?

Back row, from left, Edna Campbell, Thelma Hodgson, Nancy Cushion, Violet Cushion, Martha Woodend, Margery Black, Jean Hodgson, Dorothy Moss, Phyllis Pearson, Iris Railton. Middle row, from left: Jessie Sanderson, Charlotte Blaney, Isobel Coid, Annie Hartley, Pauline Denvir, Teresa Evans, Audrey Thompson, Mildred Graham, Hannah Sanderson.

Front row, from left: Mildred Walker, Alex Lowery, Maggie Chamley, Mrs Doris Ogilvie (leader), Miss Laugh, Mrs Platt, Mary Graham, Mona Bell, Gwenny Pearson.

  • Whitehaven currently has an Air Cadets unit which is open to girls and boys aged 12-18.