Nancy Bird Walton, a pioneer of Australian aviation died on Tuesday 13 January, aged 93. In addition to her life’s work promoting the place of women in civil aviation, she was a major force in leading the women’s volunteer effort on the home front during the Second World War. Walton was New South Wales and Australian Commandant of the Women’s Air Training Corps (WATC), a volunteer organisation that preceded the formation of the Women’s Auxiliary Australian Air Force (WAAAF).
The Women’s Air Training Corps was a voluntary organisation started in Queensland by Mrs Mary Bell in 1939, which subsequently spread throughout Australia. Many civil aviation organisations including the Australian Women’s Flying Club of Sydney, which had already been aiding the war effort under Walton's leadership, changed their names to be part of the WATC. The women who volunteered for the WATC demonstrated a commitment to the war effort that convinced the Australian War Cabinet and military leaders that a women’s Air Force should be created—eventually, the WAAAF. Walton was a crucial part of this process, acting as Commandant of the New South Wales arm of the WATC, and later, of the entire Australian organisation.
The Australian War Memorial holds several items in its collection relating to Nancy Bird’s volunteer service during the Second World War. A prized item is Walton’s WATC Commandant’s uniform. An example of a WATC lapel pin is shown below:
The Australian War Memorial collects records, photographs and other artefacts relating to voluntary organisations, like the WATC. These records allow us to understand the essential role of these organisations during times of war. They especially remind us of the role women played in the war effort on the home front. Walton was proud of the part played by women in the war effort, and worked tirelessly in aiding Australian airmen during the Second World War.