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Sylvia Evans

Air Woman Sylvia Evans during World War II.In 1941, with World War II raging overseas, Sylvia Evans made a trip to her local recruiting office to enlist in the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF). Impressed by the corporal at the office, who was excited to see a university-educated woman trying to join up, Sylvia began what was to become a highly successful, not to mention lengthy, service career. The following account was generated from conversations with Sylvia Evans that took place in the Spring of 2003.

Sylvia Evans was first a member of the Canadian Women's Auxiliary Air Force (CWAAF), patterned after the Women's Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) in England, joining the Royal Canadian Air Force Women's Division (RCAF WD) when it opened in 1942. After enlisting, Sylvia was interviewed by a travelling board of Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) officers, trying to ascertain her suitability for an officer position. In October, 1941, among a small group of women, the first from Edmonton, she departed for Toronto to be trained in administration under the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan (BCATP).

Air Woman Sylvia Evans waiting at the Macleod railway, 1942.In Toronto, Sylvia was first enrolled in a basic training program that all RCAF women attended, achieving a rank of Airwoman 2nd Class (AW2). Comparable to the Initial Training School (ITS) that airmen began with, basic training lasted approximately six weeks. Women received their uniforms and were educated in drills, regulations, routine, physical education and discipline. Upon completion, women were posted to further training or onto a job. Educated in modern languages at the University of Alberta, Sylvia found herself being considered for a commission right away and was posted in Calgary, an Assistant Section Officer employed at No. 4 Training Command (TC).

Sylvia travelled to No. 7 Service Flying Training School (SFTS) in Fort Macleod, No. 15 SFTS in Claresholm and various other BCATP sites in Alberta to assess and make recommendations regarding the living conditions of women on the base.

After two years at No. 4 TC, Sylvia continued her work at a new station in Montreal. A year later, she was transferred to Eastern Air Command in Halifax, and a year after that, Sylvia, who had been promoted to Squadron Officer rank, was chosen to be H.R.H. Honorary Air Commandant Princess Alice's private secretary. She then accompanied the Earl of Athlone (Canada's then Governor General) and his wife Princess Alice on visits across the country.

Sylvia Evans accompanies H.R.H. Princess Alice while inspecting Air Force trainees on parade.The RCAF WD was closed shortly after the war ended. As expected, the post war military budget was scaled back substantially and so were the personnel. Sylvia was discharged from the RCAF in 1946 and decided to return to Edmonton and her family. Between 1946 and 1951, Sylvia pursued other interests by helping her family and chairing the Edmonton chapter of the Alpine Club of Canada. In 1951, when the RCAF began to expand, due to their involvement in NATO, women personnel were accepted again. The RCAF approached Sylvia with an offer of an advisory position in Ottawa. She accepted and moved to the capital. Much of Sylvia's post war service included travelling across the country or being stationed overseas in Metz, France. She remained a working member of the RCAF until 1962, when she reached the age for compulsory release.

When asked about the sentiment surrounding women when they first joined the RCAF, Sylvia describes a different time, a time of military expansion and a need for volunteers. Simply put, the war was on, it was time to help, regardless of whether you were a man or a woman.

Although she has not served with the RCAF for over 40 years, she recalls it fondly. She talks of lifelong friends she made. Many have since passed on, but she continues to trade letters with others. She describes working all over Canada and coming to see much of our vast country in travelling with the Air Force.

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