Wartime Heritage ASSOCIATION
Jean Delaney United States Women's Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC) Looking back, it doesn't seem like an altogether interesting proposition. Join the Army, take over a non-combat post and fill some menial position for the men who would then be transferred to the battlefields. For Jean Delaney, born in Yarmouth, Nova Scotia but the pride of Lynn, Massachusetts, there was no such thing as a menial position, and her desire and joy to help in any way possible is apparent in the records she faithfully kept from her time in service. For nearly thirteen years Jean worked at a civilian telephone exchange and missed only three days. She was the first female in her town to respond to a government appeal for experienced switchboard operators, and was immediately enlisted in the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC). As a result she became a member of the first unit of female soldiers to enter the European theatre of the war following weeks of intense training. Jean received specialist training in the Signal Corps to prepare her for army communications and worked in headquarters where instructions and code messages for bombing missions in Germany were carried out. In November 1942 she returned to her hometown and explained to the community what life in the WAAC was like. She spoke of classes that spanned all hours of sunlight on most days, coupled with marching a required fifty miles per week, and six pairs of shoes to accommodate all that marching. She found Army life strict and rigorous, but remarkably, enjoyed every moment of it. She wrote that she was thrilled with everything, and urged young girls to join the WAAC and receive the benefit of good health, thrills and travel while helping win the war. She said all this while female soldiers were not taken entirely seriously by all. Evidence of this fact is found in her collection of personal documents depicting her range of service. Many make reference to helpless and feeble- minded females, some remarking, "Hey mister, which way is the war?" A journalist reporting on the WAAC's pointed out that the ages ranged from twenty-one to forty-five and the average age was twenty-seven, but he couldn't resist adding that they're all here: blondes, brunettes and redheads. The most poignant document is an editorial cartoon depicting Jean 'earning' a Presidential Unit Citation for Heroic Assistance to the Army under enemy bombing. Jean is depicted with a cup of coffee and a doughnut, while bombs from German fighters drop from overhead. In reality Jean went through a long period of sleeping a mere three hours per day, devoting much of her time to supervising all switchboard operators at division headquarters. She also operated a secret switchboard used by the supreme commanders to coordinate land, sea and air attacks. She lived in a primitive hut for over two years that lacked furniture, carpets and running water, and existed on meals of dehydrated rations and powdered milk. The accommodations provided no protection yet the area was bombed steadily for some sixteen months. She earned her commendation when she survived a bombing with a broken wrist, two broken bones in one foot, and a severe shake- up. Through it all she was eager to return to action. A photo of Jean shortly after the attack sees a young woman absolutely delighted to be playing her part, posing briefly outside the Army hospital. Only the caption gives away that she was suffering, but her enthusiasm to go on was anything but subtle. In fact, Jean was quick to compliment the facility and staff and return to active duty. Jean once said that "words cannot describe the thrill one gets when they see their buddies 'coming in on a wing and a prayer'." She went on to say that, “the ladies of the WAAC take pride and honour in their contributions and play an important role. They handle official messages, maintain bombing raid schedules, repair and grease fighter planes, and drive supply trucks. They maintain a very high morale", she said, as if there were any doubt. She also took immense pride in representing the Army at Sunday service, and she remarked at how so many of the world's famous air heroes could be found in the same place of worship. "The girl sitting beside you is often an auxiliary air pilot, who has just flown a fighter plane across the Atlantic," she said, "and the man in front has perhaps just returned form a history-making bombing mission over enemy territory." During her tenure in the WAAC Jean flew to Scotland, France and even to German in the bombing floor of a 'Flying Fortress'. She visited Hitler's Nazi Headquarters and was one of the first women to fly over and into enemy territory. Even as she flew to Paris in a B-24 Bomber in May 1945, her pass addressed her as 'he'. A small detail to be sure, and one that did little to deter her from making the most of her time. Jean made a point to celebrate meaningful anniversaries, such as the 3rd Anniversary of the WAAC's on May 14, 1945, and tried to maintain high-spirits among demanding circumstances. She, along with other WAAC members, adopted a seven-year old British orphan named Muriel whose father was killed in action. Their effort to support young Muriel grew to a massive donation that helped some three hundred war orphans celebrate Christmas with presents and cheer. It's difficult to imagine this spirit of generosity and kindness under the relentless pressures of the times. Every time German bombers menaced their pitiful little huts, the WAAC ladies grabbed their steel helmets and gas-masks, ran outdoors and dove into foxholes. Yet with this startling image is one equally powerful in contrast, for somewhere, in those makeshift trenches Jean sat, waiting anxiously for the moment to rise up again and do her part. When she was ordered to return to America at the end of the war, she was granted an Honourable Discharge after serving from September 1943 to October 1945. Jean Delaney passed away on May 31, 2002 at the age of ninety-five. The words of Brigadier General Richard C. Sanders are perhaps her greatest tribute: "The bond of friendship and mutual understanding among Air Force personnel, strengthened by contributions such as yours, was a primary factor in making possible the unprecedented accomplishments of the Air Force in the recent conflict." Photos From the Jean Delaney Collection
Return to Story Archive Basic Training – Fort Des Moines,Iowa
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Dance - 1943
Celebration on Base
Marlene Dietrich
Marlene Dietrich
8th US Base Hospital
Jean Delaney - Base Hospital - England 1943
Wartime Accommodations
Flight to Munich
Munich, Germany
Jean Delaney
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(Jean Delaney (second, left to right at center of photo) Flight in a Flying Fortress Flight to Munich, Germany
8th US Base Hospital
Jean Delaney
Jean Delaney United States Women's Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC)
Communications Headquarters