Military Leader

Commander of the New Zealand Women's Auxiliary Air Force

With the Imperial Japanese Army rampaging down the Pacific, and Hitler storming across Europe and into North Africa, it was all hands on deck.

The Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF) was the first of the three services to accept women.

In 1941, they needed a strong leader to guide its newly-formed New Zealand Women's Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF).

They turned to Frances "Kitty" Kain.


The Dunedin-born dietician had been living and working in the Straits Settlements in Southeast Asia before the war, with her mining engineer husband, Maurice, in Malaya.

With war threatening, a pregnant Kain returned to New Zealand and gave birth to a son. The new mum was working for Muriel Bell, the state nutritionist and director of nutrition research at the University of Otago Medical School, when her boss nominated her to oversee a new, all-woman military group.

Primarily tasked to "take over messing, to control every phase of the choice, preparation, and serving of food", Superintendent Kain began the massive job of recruiting and organising the new service based at Rongotai, Wellington.

Within a month, she was organising and supervising the training of the first draft of 200 recruits.

By January 1942, the WAAFs, as they became known, were serving on 11 stations, and by July 1943 they numbered 3600.

Under Kain's leadership, with high feelings of comradeship and patriotism, the WAAFs had branched out and were soon excelling in various mechanical and aircraft trades – once the sole domain of men.

While expecting her second child, Wing Officer Kitty Kain resigned from the service in December 1943.

She was awarded an OBE for her military service in 1949, and some of her original recruits attended her investiture.