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Women of the WAAF – Joan Woodruff

Our thanks to RAF Benson for providing this article and photographs.

Women of the WAAF: Joan Woodruff (née Heraghty)

Joan Heraghty was born on 4 November 1923 and originally came from Goldthorpe, a few miles away from Doncaster in South Yorkshire.

At eighteen years of age she decided to join the Woman’s Auxiliary Air Force. After her days of learning to march and learning about the Royal Air Force (square bashing) she was selected to be trained at the Royal Air Force Balloon Command Training Unit, where people were taught how to operate and repair barrage balloons.

Joan was selected to be a Winch Operator. This meant she was in command of the machine that let the balloon rise up from its trailer to the required height, and also bring it back down when required. She rose in rank from Aircraft Woman 2 (ACW2), through Aircraft Woman 1 (ACW1), to Leading Aircraft Woman (LACW).

LACW Joan Woodruff 544 Sqn

LACW Joan Woodruff 544 Sqn

Though the exact date isn't known, at some stage in her career with Balloon Command she chose to change to an Aircraft Frame Mechanic. She evidently arrived at Royal Air Force Station Benson and was assigned to 542 (Spitfire) Squadron. Although her change of trade she became an ACW2 once again in this unit, she still kept her LACW rank within he rold one, so she could return to that trade if she chose to.

As a junior mechanic she was given tasks of checking tyre pressures, checking coolant and oil levels, as well as team member to push out the aircraft from the hangar after a servicing. Being in a hangar to do all these tasks would be a luxury in those days - in most cases these tasks were carried out on a daily basis outside, in pretty much all weathers.

A mechanic at the time would have a pretty tiring day as there were no vehicles available to drive the mechanics around the airfield, they either walked to each aircraft, or used a RAF supplied bicycle.

On 10 Septermber 1943 all the servicing work on each of the Squadrons was changed. Servicing crews from the Squadrons combined to become 8540 Service Echelon, and every mechanic and engineer worked on any and all the aircraft requiring service, regardless of which Squadron it came from.

Amongst the servicing crews was Leading Aircraftman Edward Cecil Woodruff, also a mechanic, who came to England from Canada having joined up on 29 August 1939.

Edward and Joan met while working together, and eventually got married in Mexborough in South Yorkshire.

Joan was transfered from 542 Squadron to 544 Squadron on 2 April 1945 and from then worked more closely on the Dehavilland Mosquito, a twin engine aircraft. She even had two flights in the Mosquito which she enjoyed very much.

When the war finished, both Joan and Edward stayed at Benson. Joan took the train to Wythall in the west midlands in August 1945 and arrived at RAF Wythall No. 105 Personel Dispatch Centre. There she was given civilan clothes ready for her to return to civilian life and returned to Wallingford, again by train, on 28th August 1945.

Her final discharge date from the RAF was 23 October 1945.

In her release book the brief statement of her service was written by Wing Commander J.R.H. Merfield:


A good trades woman who has given every satisfaction in her work.

She is keen and can be relied upon to give of her best at all times.


She left the United Kingdom with Edward, and set up a home and family in Canada.

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