Saturday, January 29, 2011


A few months ago I found this image of a World War Two recruiting poster.  I can't recall now where I found it but being interested in things telegraphic I stuck it in my picture file.  What caught my eye was the semi-automatic bug key, the slightly furrowed brow and the look of mild concentration on that pretty face.

Recently my curiosity about the WAVES got the better of me and a couple mouse clicks later I landed at the NHHC or Naval History and Heritage Command website.  You've got to love the military and their incessant use of acronyms.  Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service began in August of 1942 when Mildred McAfee was sworn in as a Naval Reserve Lieutenant Commander.  McAfee was the first female commissioned officer in the history of the U.S. Navy and was the first director of the WAVES program.

From the start the WAVES was an official division of the Navy whose members held the same rank and pay grades as their male counterparts.  The vast majority of WAVES performed clerical duties although women quickly proved adept in aviation maintenance, the medical professions, communications and other non-combat support roles.  The World War Two era brought about dramatic changes in the military and these pioneering women deserve great credit for stepping up to serve their country in what was up until then an exclusively male institution.

The Navy recruiting poster pictured above was made from an oil on canvas painting by John Philip Falter.  Following is a short note about the painting from the NHHC website:

"This woman operates a telegraph key. The Navy ran a school for radio personnel beginning in 1942. Research suggests that John Falter used a Naval photograph taken during March 1943 of Virginia L. Scott as the basis for this image. She is sending a message from the code room of the Radio School at Madison, Wisconsin. The Navy used this painting to print 40,000 posters, 71,000 window cards and 57,000 car cards in June of 1943."


  1. Hello Mike,

    What a great post....I've always felt a sense of despair when it comes to the waste of a good mind. This post makes me appreciate how valuable women are to their country AND society.

    I often wonder why more women don't pursue the CW mode on the bands. It shouldn't be a male dominated sport. I can count on one hand the QSO's I've made with female operators.

    Thank goodness, we've come a long way since the 40's. We still take so much for granted....

  2. Thanks John for your comment,

    I Agree. 20 years ago in the AF I served with a few good women. Tough work on the flightline, lifting bomb bay doors and rolling munitions in all kinds of conditions. These ladies were highly motivated and in some cases outshined many of the guys.

    I have a cousin in the AF who joined when I did. She is now a MSGT and a loadmaster. She flies all over the world on transports and has family at home.

    I thought it would be nice to give a little recognition to these special soldiers past and present.

  3. Absolutely....I have a female friend who has spent three tours in Iraq as a load-master. She flies on a C-130. I also play Bridge with a Colonel in the Air National Guard. She's one of the finest people I've ever met...

  4. That's cool John. My Grandpa was a combat engineer in WWII. He drove a mobile bridge at Guadalcanal. My Dad was Army too. I was born at Ft. Benning Army, Hosp. in GA. So I got it in my blood I guess.

    Anyway about the poster. A lot of these old recruiting posters have the girls posing with big smiles like the glamour shots of the day. That's what really got me with this one. As a cw operator myself I was not surprised to learn that quite possibly the artist rendered the painting from an actual photograph. She really looks like she's sending and trying not to mess up. And using a bug key even! I've been sending and receiving for two years and although I don't make as many mistakes as when I first started I still am no A-1 op! I can't imagine what it must have been like for the ops in the past who used the code for their job. And lives might have depended on it.

    Quite a legacy we have to play around with this Morse Code thing.