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).
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
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.
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
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.