Centenarian honoured in RAAF’s centenary year

Betty Howells (nee Raby) was already seven weeks old when the Royal Australian Air Force was formed on March 31, 1921.

CAPTION: Leading Aircraftwoman Emma Singleton with the Chief of Air Force award presented to her great-grandmother Betty Howells to mark her 100th birthday. Photo by Sergeant Bill Solomou.

She celebrated her 100th birthday on February 21, 2021.

During RAAF’s centenary year, the Connect with a Centenarian project will honour former Royal Australian Air Force servicemen and women who also turn 100 this year.

The presentation of a Chief of Air Force award recognised Mrs Howells’ birthday and her service to the Royal Australian Air Force during World War II.

Mrs Howells was born in Willoughby, NSW.

She was educated at Willoughby Central Domestic Science School, passing her Qualifying Certificate and completing 18 months in a commercial course.

Gaining working experience in the commercial field at World Marine and General Insurance Company of Bond Street, Sydney, before the war, Mrs Howells’ skills were sought after as Australia depended on everyone to apply their job skills to support the war effort.

Mrs Howells enlisted in the RAAF on January 4, 1942.

With her clerical background, she began work as a stores clerk.

She trained at Women’s Auxiliary Australian Air Force (WAAAF) Geelong before being posted to No. 5 Aircraft Depot Wagga then No. 5 Maintenance Group, Darling Point.

During her posting to Wagga, her expertise was invaluable in keeping Bristol Beaufort, Bristol Beaufighter, Lockheed Ventura and B-25 Mitchell aircraft in the air.

The important function of providing administrative support to RAAF maintenance units in NSW, Queensland and New Caledonia was Mrs Howell’s role at No. 5 Maintenance Group, Darling Point, Sydney.

Mrs Howells discharged from the RAAF on December 13, 1945, having attained the rank of sergeant.

She now lives in Adelaide.

The family tradition of service continues and, as the Royal Australian Air Force commemorates its centenary, with Mrs Howells’ great-granddaughter, Leading Aircraftwoman Emma Singleton starting her career as a personnel capability specialist.

Leading Aircraftwoman Singleton also attended the presentation to mark her great-grandmother’s birthday.

Posted to No. 6 Squadron, RAAF Base Amberley, Leading Aircraftwoman Singleton said she could see similarities in her career to that of her great-grandmother.

“I thought it special that my great-grandmother was in No. 5 Maintenance Group and I start my career in No. 6 Squadron,” Leading Aircraftwoman Singleton said.

“When mum called and asked me what I thought about being invited to attend this very special presentation I realised just how much it meant to me.

“Knowing that I was following in my great-grandmother’s footsteps and realising that I was going where she had gone, was at the front of my mind.

“Realising the differences in how the RAAF was then, and how far forward it is now is illuminating.

“When great-grandma joined, it was in the Women’s Auxiliary Australian Air Force, but I joined the Royal Australian Air Force.

“Today, women are on equal footing with men and able to serve in any capacity.

“Great-grandma had a very fast career progression from recruit to sergeant in three years.

“She was obviously very intelligent, a hard worker and must have adapted very quickly to her roles.

“I am so proud to be her great-granddaughter, I am so proud of her achievements and I am so proud that I have the opportunity to attend this very special presentation to her.

“I love my RAAF career and I look forward to a long career as a personnel capability specialist and hope my career progression is as rapid as my great grandmother’s.”

Director Community Engagement RAAF Edinburgh Group Captain Greg Weller and Executive Warrant Officer Intelligence Directorate Warrant Officer Janet Brennan presented the award to Mrs Howells in a small private ceremony with her family at her home in Adelaide on 22 February.

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