RCAF

Royal Canadian Air Force Centennial

Tributes

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Royal Canadian Air Force Logo: Stylized eagle in the center, symbolizing strength and agility, with maple leaves and blue and white colors to represent Canadian identity.

With immense honor and respect, we celebrate the centenary of the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF), an institution that embodies courage, excellence, and dedication to service over a remarkable century. Since its founding in 1924, the RCAF has played a crucial role in defending and promoting peace, shaping history, and inspiring generations.

Over a hundred years, the men and women of the RCAF have fearlessly taken to the skies, defending the ideals of freedom and justice that are fundamental to the Canadian identity. Their bravery in times of conflict, such as during World War II, where RCAF pilots significantly contributed to the Allied victory, is a testament to the courage and commitment of this exceptional air force.

Beyond combat moments, the RCAF has been a vital force in responding to natural disasters, humanitarian missions, and protecting Canadian airspace. Its legacy extends beyond geographical boundaries, touching lives and communities worldwide.

On the centenary of the RCAF, we pay tribute not only to the aviators and support personnel but also to the families who, with patience and resilience, supported their loved ones in service. We recognize the sacrifice and devotion that have permeated each decade of this extraordinary journey.

To the Royal Canadian Air Force, we express sincere gratitude for its exemplary service, continuous innovation, and vital role in defending the sovereignty and security of Canada. May this centenary be a moment of celebration, reflection, and inspiration for future generations who will continue to carry forward the impressive legacy of the RCAF. May the wings of the RCAF continue to soar high, defending freedom and peace for many more years. Congratulations on 100 years of exemplary service!

The national flag of Canada featuring a stylized red maple leaf at the center, flanked by two vertical red bars on the sides and white background.

Willa Walker was born in Montreal in 1913 and was educated at The Study, a private girls school before moving briefly to Paris to study French. Her first job was as a postmistress on the Empress of Britain ocean liner which allowed her to travel the world.

Walker became the social secretary to Lady Marler, the wife of the Canadian minister to Washington before meeting David Walker, a Scottish Captain in Great Britain’s Black Watch. They married in 1939. David returned to his division shortly after the wedding and was sent to France in 1940. His entire division was captured in Normandy and were in POW camps for the entire war.

After the signing of an Order-in-Council allowing women to enlist, the RCAF formed a Women’s Division and Walker joined the war effort at the age of 28. She was in the first group to graduate in late1941. In early 1942, she was posted to Rockcliffe, Ontario at No. 7 Manning Depot, in charge of new female recruits in Canada. Walker was promoted to Wing Officer and became the Commanding Officer of the Women’s Division in Canada just over a year later. That was, at the time, the highest rank a female was able to attain. She was in charge of setting up training depots across Canada, discipline and increasing the number of female recruits. Walker spent several years travelling across the country as the spokesperson for female recruitment, speaking to young women and their families about the many positives of females in the armed forces.

One of her arguments for women serving was "You would consider it the right thing for your sons to do, and you should also feel that it is the only right course for your daughters. They aren’t looking for glamour. They want it to be hard. They want to experience to some extent the life that their relatives had”, referring to the family members who had perished in the war. With her colleague, Dr Jean Flatt Dave, Walker emphasised that, because the female recruits exercised regularly, had good medical care and ate nutritiously, they were healthier than other women. Another benefit for the recruits was that they received the same post-war benefits as their male counterparts. Over 17000 women joined the Armed Forces during WWII.

Walker spent much of her time fighting for the acceptance and rights of women in Canada’s military. In January of 1944, she was made a Member of the Order of the British Empire in England. She resigned from the RCAF in late 1944. David returned from his ordeal as a POW and the family lived in Scotland and India before settling in New Brunswick.

Walker was involved with numerous organizations in their community including The Canadian Club, Charlotte County Museum, Charlotte County Historical Society, Charlotte County Archives, Girl Guides, St Andrews Library and Greenock Presbyterian Church. She wrote a book “Summers in Saint Andrews: Canada's Idyllic Seaside Retreat” which was published in 2006.

She died in 2010. A park in Rockcliffe, Ontario, was named after her and dedicated in her honour.

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