Australian Women and War

This education resource focus's on the role of Australian women during wartime from the front line to the home front. It highlights the evolution of women in service since 1899 through to the present day. 

ISBN: 978 1 877007 28 6


In 1900, in her long skirts and stays, Matron Nellie Gould volunteered for the Boer War as a superintendent of a contingent of nurses from New South Wales. In 2004, dressed in regulation army camouflage and wearing trousers, Wing Commander Angela Rhodes was deployed to Iraq as the senior air traffic control officer at Baghdad International Airport. This book on Australian women and war explores this remarkable transformation.

In the Boer War (1899–1902), Australian women's roles were limited. They participated as patriotic war fund workers, school teachers and nurses—all traditional activities. During World War I (1914–18), the only official military roles available to Australian women were as professional nurses in the Australian Army Nursing Service (AANS) or British nursing services such as Queen Alexandra's Imperial Military Nursing Service (QAIMNS), or in associated wartime organisations such as the British and French Red Cross. Some Australian women, such as the novelist Miles Franklin and Red Cross worker Vera Deakin, did make it to the war as attendants, canteen directors, doctors or administrators.

But Australian women's main involvement in World War I was through a range of war charities or patriotic funds, far from the front line—indeed, on the other side of the world. For Australian women, the home front was where the wartime action was—knitting socks, packing parcels, fundraising or undertaking quasi-nursing domestic duties as Red Cross Voluntary Aids (VAs). The focus for much of this female wartime civilian activity was not just the Australian serviceman, but also his dependants, and the wounded and maimed.

The importance of this traditional female war work has never been sufficiently acknowledged. Seen as 'watching and waiting', women were also 'giving 'til it hurts'. With the exception of nursing, women's roles were not considered proper war work. Even nursing was marginalised due to a perception of its inherent 'safety', compounding the view that real war participation only meant being in the front line. Sister Elsie Grant of the 3rd Australian Casualty Clearing Station, sited near Ypres in mid 1917, would not have agreed with such an opinion as she lay huddled in a dugout while her hospital was shelled.

Much changed, however, during World War II (1939–45) with the creation of the women's auxiliary services and the opening up of the female job market through the manpower shortages. The creation of the women's auxiliary services was a very important feature of the war, yet they only represented 2.4 per cent of the total female population. At the peak of wartime employment in 1943, fewer than 32 per cent of available women, including those in the auxiliary services, were in the paid workforce. The vast majority of Australian women were knitting and fundraising, combining home duties and civilian volunteer work.

After 1945, through affirmative action and equal pay, women were gradually absorbed into the mainstream defence forces as gender barriers within the wider society were dismantled. Women began to serve on naval ships and take up key operational positions in the army and air force. Through the changing nature of warfare, especially the peacekeeping initiatives of recent years in Africa, Bougainville and East Timor, Australian women in the Defence Force are now no longer confined to the home front. Today, Australian women represent about 13 per cent of the Australian Defence Force, undertaking work that was unheard of for women even twenty years ago. This book examines this remarkable evolution, through stories of the contributions and experiences of ordinary Australian women, both service and civilian, during wars and conflicts.

An informal portrait of a nurse in full uniform standing outside and holding a an object in her hand.

New South Wales nurses with souvenirs of their time in South Africa: (left to right) Matron Nellie Gould with her leather chatelaine containing tools of the trade, Sister Penelope Frater with her Queen Victoria chocolate tin, Sister Julia Bligh Johnston with a leather sjambok and Buller the dog. AWM A03962

A large crowd packed in with male troops on horseback moving through the crowd.

Crowds of people line the streets of Melbourne to farewell a contingent bound for South Africa, c1900. Scenes like this were common in the early part of the war as the Australian public welcomed and supported the involvement of colonial troops and nurses. National Archives of Australia (NAA) series B580

Before 1914

... ambitious to do their small part ...

In 1901 Miss Ida Robertson, a young woman who had grown up in Hay, on the dry western plains of New South Wales, wrote to Prime Minister Edmund Barton to ask if he could help her go to war. Ida desperately wanted to travel to South Africa as part of a group of teachers who were being recruited to teach in the Boer concentration camps. She thought she had all the qualities necessary for the task: at the mature age of twenty-seven, she had experience of country life and had been a governess for some time. But Ida had an ulterior motive. Her eldest brother, Thomas Robertson, a private in the 1st New South Wales Mounted Rifles, had been killed in action at Rhenoster Kop in November 1900, and she wanted to find out more about his death and see his grave. This was the perfect opportunity to undertake a pilgrimage and to help the war, and she persuaded Barton that she was the perfect candidate.

In Australian military history, the Boer War, fought from 1899 to 1902 in southern Africa between the British and the Boers— descendants of Dutch settlers—was a fairly minor affair. It does not compare with the magnitude of the slaughter of World War I, the dangers brought by the Pacific War during World War II or the controversy wrought by the Vietnam War. But in terms of the roles played by Australian women during wartime, this imperial war was the beginning of something new. In 1903, the Australian Army Nursing Service (AANS) was formed—female nurses had earned a place in the military and were here to stay.

Australian women directly involved in the Boer War were nursing sisters or teachers. The nursing sisters travelled to South Africa either under their own steam or as part of colonial forces; the teachers were employed to work in the Boer concentration camps towards the end of the war. But the vast majority of women who supported the war effort never left Australia. They worked at home with patriotic funds to provide assistance to the troops and their families.

The nurses' experiences are perhaps the best known, although no-one is sure exactly how many Australian nurses served in the Boer War. Records are incomplete, but up to 1400 nurses served: about 800 from Britain, 400 from South Africa and the rest from New Zealand, Canada and Australia. It is estimated that upwards of sixty nurses left Australia and served in South Africa. Only the New South Wales government funded their nurses, who were part of the newly formed New South Wales Army Nursing Service Reserve (NSWANSR), formed in 1899. On 17 January 1900, fourteen nurses, led by Matron Nellie Gould, left Sydney for Cape Town with the Second New South Wales Contingent, on the Moravian. This was the first official group to leave, although a few individual nurses had sailed earlier at their own expense. On arrival in South Africa, the small New South Wales group was split up and placed under the control of British authorities. Some served in Cape Town at the No. 2 Stationary Hospital, East London, and four worked at the Field Hospital in Sterkstroom. Others were stationed around Johannesburg, 'quartered in an old corn store where at night rats scampered over us' and where they endured arduous working conditions. Though fourteen-hour duty was the daily minimum, 'noone grumbled' commented Matron Gould in her notes.

In South Australia, Victoria and Western Australia, the initiative to send nursing contingents came from the private sector. Patrioticminded citizens caught up in the imperial war fervour organised the hiring of nurses and raised the money for their boat passage, salaries and uniforms. Six South Australian nurses sailed on the Australasian on 21 February 1900, just ahead of those from Western Australia. Victorian nurses were funded by the British government, and departed on the Euryalus with the Third Victorian Contingent on 10 March 1900.

Woman standing in full uniform.

Sister Annie Thomson, one of a group known as the Victorian Nursing Sisters, who went to South Africa in March 1900 aboard SS Euryalus with the Third Victorian Contingent and served at Salisbury, Fort Charter, Bulawayo, Hillside, Mafeking, Springfontein and Tuli. AWM P04544.001

A group of women sitting.

Members of the New South Wales Army Nursing Service Reserve who served in the Boer War. Back row, left to right: Sister Annie Austin, Sister Elizabeth Ward Lister, Sister Mabel Steele, Sister Emily Hoadley, Sister Bessie Pocock, Sister Marion Martin. Middle row: Sister Annie Matchett, Sister Julia Bligh Johnston, Matron Nellie Gould. Front row: Sister Elizabeth Nixon, Sister Penelope Frater, Sister Anna Garden, Sister Nancy Newton, Sister Therese Woodward. AWM A02766

A music manuscript cover.

Sheet music for the Boer War song that was a number one hit across the British Empire. Rudyard Kipling wrote the poem to 'do his bit’ for the cause. Set to music by Sir Arthur Sullivan (of Gilbert and Sullivan fame), the song made hundreds of thousands of pounds for the dependants of soldiers during the war. National Library of Australia (NLA) MUS Nmb783.2 S949

The top half of a woman wearing an ornate dress.

Miss Elsie Rix of Melbourne, sister of the artist Hilda Rix, was a talented singer and actress. She was one of many who recited Rudyard Kipling’s 'Absent Minded Beggar’ to great acclaim, a very popular way to raise money for the patriotic funds. NLA, Papers of Hilda Rix Nicholas, MS 9817

Like their New South Wales counterparts, the nurses were separated by their British employers and scattered throughout the country, in hospitals, hospital trains and hospital ships.

There was considerable tension between the British military nurses and the Australian civilian nurses. The Australians experienced the prejudices held by the British military medical establishment, who resented female nurses in military hospitals. Historically, male orderlies were preferred, as it was argued that hospital camps were unsuitable places for women. In the military hospitals, nurses were meant to undertake largely advisory roles, overseeing the work of the male orderlies who did the physical bathing and moving of patients. But due to the workload this was often impractical, so Australian nurses rolled up their sleeves and got stuck into it. This led to overwork and physical strain, and attracted the disdain of their male colleagues and the female British nursing staff. Julia Bligh Johnston, a sister from Windsor in New South Wales, noted that the surgeon in charge 'had a great prejudice against the colonial trained nurses'.

The Australian nurses were also dismayed to find that much of their work involved nursing sick and diseased men with dysentery and typhoid rather than battle wounds. Diseases such as typhoid caused almost two thirds of the 22,000 British Empire deaths between 1899 and 1902. For Sister Gertrude Fletcher, who worked in a typhoid ward, the cleaning of patients' mouths, stiff and caked with sores, was one of the worst tasks she had ever done. Sister Julia Anderson, from Victoria, found herself all alone in a remote makeshift hospital on the veldt near Charter in Rhodesia with more than a dozen patients suffering from a range of diseases including pneumonia, malaria and dysentery.

Despite their various experiences, these Australian nurses 'followed the flag' and their motivations, like those of the men who volunteered to serve, were a mixture of a spirit of adventure and the desire to travel. A number of Australian nurses were mentioned in despatches, and three—Sister Martha Bidmead from South Australia, Sister Elizabeth Nixon from New South Wales and Sister Marianne Rawson from Victoria— received the Royal Red Cross.

In 1902, after a British Royal Commission on South African Hospitals, the Queen Alexandra's Imperial Military Nursing Service (QAIMNS) was inaugurated. This influenced the new Australian Government to establish the AANS in 1903. A number of Boer War veterans such as Nellie Gould played key roles in this fledgling organisation. The AANS sat within the new Australian Army Medical Corps (AAMC) but was actually a 'reserve' voluntary organisation providing nurses in times of 'national emergency'. It had six lady superintendents (one for each military district), six matrons and ninety-six nursing sisters, and was to make its mark a little over a decade later, during World War I.

The top half of a woman wearing a uniform and medals.

Sister Agnes Cocks, of South Australia, wears three medals awarded for service in the Boer War. State Library of South Australia (SLSA) PRG 280/1/4/131

A lesser known story from the Boer War was the work of Australian women with the patriotic funds, where men and women came together to raise funds for the dependants of imperial and colonial soldiers. Based on a British tradition of philanthropic wartime organisations, patriotic funds were part and parcel of war activities from the Crimean War of 1854–56. Major patriotic funds were established in every colony. The funds were almost always administered by men, while women did most of the organising and fundraising. There were some exceptions, such as the dynamic and wealthy doyen of Victorian society, Janet, Lady Clarke, who established the Victorian Contingent Fund specifically to assist wives, mothers and children of men who died in the war. A Ladies' Patriotic League was established in Sydney using the network of colonial lady mayoresses across New South Wales. Comforts for the soldiers were made, boxed up and despatched to South Africa. Other groups in the community, such as public school teachers and their students, rallied behind the cause and held concerts, sold penny coupons and played sporting matches, with all proceeds donated to the funds.

Public support for the Boer War patriotic funds waxed and waned, as did the overall support for the war. The Victorian era ideals of philanthropic altruism and the undertaking of good works were justified at a time when dependants of soldiers, and soldiers who returned home wounded and maimed, received little recompense from governments. But as the war dragged on and became more 'grubby', Australians turned away.

However, there was still some commitment from Australian women to do their bit for Empire and country—in early 1902, the Australian Government was approached about joining the imperial authorities in providing experienced female school teachers for the Boer concentration camps in the Transvaal and Orange River colonies. The story of the concentration camps was tragic: from March 1900, thousands of Boer women and children were rounded up and imprisoned by the British. Almost 28,000 died, more than three quarters of whom were children under sixteen. By 1902 the appalling conditions had improved and a camp school scheme aimed at making the Boer population 'British in one generation' was established. Three hundred women teachers from Britain, Canada, New Zealand and Australia were recruited in the last months of the war to teach in the camps.

Forty experienced, patriotic Australian women teachers who supported the British imperial cause in South Africa and were of the Protestant faith were sought. Advertisements were placed in major newspapers in most capital cities. The conditions of employment were for a twelve-month contract at a salary of £100 per annum, with a maximum age of forty years. Passage to South Africa was included, as was a grant of £3 for teaching equipment. More than 350 applications were received for the forty positions. This was seen as a wonderful opportunity for women to take part in the war effort and to demonstrate imperial loyalty. It was also an adventure, and some, like Ida Robertson, had additional motives.

The forty teachers selected included married, widowed and single women. By the time the group was assembled, the war was over, but it was decided that there was still plenty of work to do in South Africa so, on 31 July, the teachers embarked from Melbourne—minus one, Mrs Heapy, who was put off suffering from 'ship hysteria and consequent delusions'.

On reaching Cape Town the Australian teachers, like their nursing counterparts, were split up into small groups. They were allocated to various schools in and around Johannesburg, the Kimberley and Mafeking, as well as the Irene concentration camp, a huge tent city on the outskirts of Pretoria. We do not know what happened to many of these women teachers. As South Africa was considered a 'good marriage market', some married and stayed there; others fulfilled their contract and came home. But with the war already over before the teachers arrived, there was little interest in keeping tabs on these women's adventures. In just over a decade, world events were to spiral out of control, and a far more calamitous war was to dominate the lives of Australian women.

A black and white group photograph of several women and a couple of men.

Australian teachers bound for South Africa to teach children in the Boer concentration camps, July 1902. From Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia, they are pictured here at the Training College in Grattan Street, Carlton, before embarking on their journey. The Australasian, 9 August 1902

A painting of a ship with onlookers and people on board.

The departure of the first Queensland contingent for South Africa, by Ann Midgley, 1899, oil on academy board, 47 x 62.1 cm. AWM ART50111

A man in uniform with a woman and three children.

A Warrant Officer farewells his wife and children in the city park of Launceston before continuing in the parade to farewell the First Tasmanian Contingent, October 1899. AWM P01209.041

A group of men, some in uniform, and a woman in uniform.

Sister Beatrice Huston of Clermont, Queensland, was one of a number of Australians who made their own way to South Africa. Huston nursed at Bloemfontein and Green Point Camp Military Hospital, near Cape Town, where she is pictured with some of her patients and orderlies. John Oxley Library, Queensland, JPL Neg. No. 107339

Four women and eight men.

Sister Frances 'Fanny’ Hines, seated on left, photographed with General Sir Frederick Carrington and medical staff in Rhodesia, died on active service during the Boer War. From Victoria, Hines left for South Africa with the Third Victorian Contingent in March 1900. Posted to Enkeldoorn, she was left alone to care for more than twenty patients; by August she was dead from pneumonia. She was buried with military honours in the cemetery at Bulawayo. NLA, The Australasian, 7 July 1900

A room full of people, some on beds and some standing with flags also present.

Australian nurses served at No. 2 Stationary Hospital, Johannesburg, South Africa, which was located in a converted Masonic Hall. AWM P01840.002

A group portrait of Women nurses in uniform.

Nurses from South Australia ready to embark for South Africa, February 1900. Back row, left to right: Sisters AB Stephenson and Agnes Cocks. Front row: Sisters M O’Shanahan, LA Watts, Martha Bidmead and AM Glenie. State Library of South Australia (SLSA) B 9065

People standing in front of a house.

The family of Trooper John Bisdee VC (eighth from left) welcomes him home to Tasmania, December 1900. Bisdee was awarded the Victoria Cross for his actions on 1 September 1900 near Warm Bad, Transvaal, and later served in World War I. AWM P02939.051

A black and white group photograph of people sitting and standing on a wooden floor.

Australian nurses and soldiers return home from the Boer War, c1901. AWM P05416.002

Four women, three are knitting and one is holding a camera.

In a scene common across the country, a group of friends from Cudgewa in Victoria gather together to knit socks for soldiers, 25 October 1916. State Library of NSW (SLNSW), At Work and Play collection, 00874

World War I

... the army beyond the firing line ...

World War I has a special place in Australian history. The young nation, recently federated, reacted quickly to the news of the outbreak of war in August 1914. Thousands of men rushed off to enlist. During the next four years, nearly 417,000 men enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) with about 324,000 serving overseas. Despite two referenda, conscription was never introduced and Australia remained the only combatant country with a wholly volunteer force. Some of Australia's most enduring symbols were born in the ravines and hillsides of Gallipoli, and later on the muddy wastelands of the Western Front. The date 25 April, commemorating the first landings on Gallipoli in 1915, has become our de facto national day, symbolising Australia's coming of age.

A man in uniform pinning a medal on a woman in uniform.

The Prince of Wales awards Sister Alice Joan Twynam the Royal Red Cross, Government House, Sydney, 1920. Twynam family archives


In August 1914, nursing was the chief way for women to participate directly in war. During World War I nurses became highly sought after. Perhaps because of the demand and the peripatetic nature of the profession, no-one knows exactly how many Australian women served as nurses during the war. The official war historian for the medical services, AG Butler, stated that 2139 Australian Army Nursing Service (AANS) nurses embarked from Australia, and a further 129 were officially seconded to the British service, Queen Alexandra's Imperial Military Nursing Service (QAIMNS). But the figure was certainly higher, possibly closer to 5000. There were hundreds of Australian nurses who were already in Britain or who made their own way to London or Egypt and then managed to get across to France. Many of these women have not been properly accounted for or recognised in our war history.

During the war, wherever there was a need for trained medical staff, there was generally an Australian female nurse or doctor among the contingent. Many enrolled in British hospitals and convalescent homes or worked for the British, French or Belgian Red Cross or the Young Women's Christian Association (YWCA). Others found themselves in remote theatres of war such as Salonika and Russia, or with Elsie Inglis' Scottish Women's Hospitals in Serbia and Royaumont, France, run entirely by female doctors and nurses. Possibly the first Australian nurse under fire was Sister Kitty Tully from Boorowa, New South Wales. In the QAIMNS, she was with a group of British women doctors and nurses, led by the suffragist Mabel Stobert, working in Antwerp when the city was shelled and occupied by German troops in October 1914. They managed to escape through Holland and back to the safety of Britain.

There were two distinct groups of Australian nurses in World War I: members of the AANS who left Australia 'officially', and the rest. This distinction has become blurred over time and we now tend to refer to Australian nurses as one homogeneous group. At the time they were all considered to be 'on active service', but after the war, for official recognition and eligibility for a range of repatriation benefits, only those women enlisted with the AANS (and those 129 nurses sent to India as QAIMNS nurses by the Australian Government) were officially recognised. Similarly, the Australian Service Nurses National Memorial on Anzac Parade in Canberra acknowledges only those women who served in the AANS, as does the Australian War Memorial's Roll of Honour.

I've been a soldier now for nearly three years, & please God I will go right on to the end, as soon as I am fit again ... if anything happened, and I too, passed out, well, there would be no finer way, and no way in which I would be happier, than to lay down one's life for the men who have given everything.

Sister Narrelle Hobbes, five months before she died on 10 May 1918

Four men and a woman.

Australian Sister Narrelle Hobbes with some of her patients from Gallipoli at St David’s Tent Hospital, Malta, 1915. Narrelle enlisted with the QAIMNS, the British nursing service. Melanie Oppenheimer collection

The first Australian women to get to France as a group were those nurses who joined the Australian Voluntary Hospital (AVH) on 19 August 1914. These women, all fully trained and highly experienced nursing sisters, were part of the so-called 'Australian colony' in London. Within one month, the AVH—the brainchild of Rachel, Lady Dudley, wife of a one-time Australian Governor-General—was a fully equipped and functioning hospital at Wimereux in France. Rachel had persuaded the wealthy Australian expatriate beer baron Sir Robert Tooth to fund the venture. She worked in the hospital throughout the war, first as a Voluntary Aid (VA) and then as a qualified anaesthetist. The hospital was taken over by British authorities in 1916 and renamed British Stationary Hospital No. 32.

Another example of Australian nurses who fell outside the 'official' rubric was a group of twenty nurses who left Sydney on 4 July 1916 in the hospital ship Kanowna, bound for the battlefields of France. This venture was organised by the Australian Red Cross and financed by the Australian Jockey Club. 'The Bluebirds', known for their dark blue uniforms especially made by David Jones in Sydney, were 'gifts for France', a gesture undertaken in the grim days of the war when the French were suffering at Verdun.

Of the twenty in the Kanowna, four had already served overseas on active service. Sister Nellie Crommelin worked in the American Women's War Hospital in Devon in 1915; Sisters Dorothy Duffy and Elfrida Warner had been in France; and Sister Ethel (Elsie) Cook had enlisted in the AANS in October 1914 and sailed in the Kyarra two months later. Elsie had her position terminated when the authorities found out she was married. She returned to Sydney in April 1916, but one month later applied for a Red Cross position, returning to Europe to be closer to her husband, who was in the AIF in Egypt.

When the Red Cross call went out, Sister Hilda Loxton was working at the Children's Hospital in Camperdown, Sydney, with her friend Winifred Hough. Much to their disappointment, when they arrived in France the French Red Cross despatched them to an infectious diseases hospital in the south of the country. The other nurses were similarly posted to remote hospitals in regional France, far away from the front, which created considerable unhappiness. There was some discussion within the Australian Red Cross about transferring the nurses to the AANS or recalling them to Australia, but that never happened.

A woman standing in front of buildings with a gas mask on.

Australian Sister Winifred Hough with her gas mask. Winifred worked with her colleagues, Sisters Hilda Loxton, Annie Jamieson, Helen Wallace and Lynette Crozier, all of whom were sent to France by the Australian Red Cross in 1916. When close to the front line, they were frequently subjected to gas attacks. AWM P01908.017

Some of the nurses were later relocated to the Western Front. Hilda Loxton and four others were transferred to the Hôpital Chirurgical Mobile No. 1, situated at Beverau, near Dunkirk, and later moved to Oest Hoek and Rausbrugge. This mobile hospital was established and funded by a wealthy American, Mrs Bordern Turner, and attached to the 36th French Corps. According to Hilda, it was a large 1000-bed hospital staffed by French, British and Australian nurses. Sometimes the hospital was only a few miles from the front line; they were frequently bombed and suffered gas attacks. Hilda described these attacks in her diary, saying the nurses preferred to use 'turkish bath towels [as] a good substitute for the masks' as they were more comfortable to wear when the gas fumes entered the hospital. She also described the noise of the guns and said that many of the nurses had ongoing headaches from the constant barrage. The nurses dealt with horrendous injuries fresh from the trenches. One of the Australian nurses with Hilda, Annie Jamieson, was institutionalised and struck off the nurses' registry in the 1920s as insane, possibly due to her wartime experiences.

In July 1917, at Amiens, Sisters Elsie Cook, Lilian Fraser Thompson, Elfrida Warner and Fanny Harris were presented to King George V. 'The King asked us quite a lot of questions and why we being Australian nurses were nursing in French Hôpitals', wrote Sister Fraser Thompson. On behalf of her colleagues, she carefully explained to the King how 'the Australian Red Cross had given us to the French as a gift'.

Some of the Red Cross nurses, including Alice (Elaine) Robinson, Dorothy Duffy, Elsie Cook and Hilda Loxton, were awarded the Medaille de la Reçonnaissance Française for their war work. But they received little recognition back home—like many other Australian nurses who worked outside the AANS, the Bluebirds were not eligible for Billy Hughes' generous war gratuity, originally pledged during a preelection speech in Brisbane on 21 October 1919. The gratuity was to be a gift from the Australian people to ex-servicemen and women who had seen active service, 'in recognition of honourable services during the war'. The 129 Australian nurses who had been seconded to the QAIMNS in 1915 had trouble as well. Due to the shortage of qualified nurses, and acting upon a request from the British government, this large group of Australian nurses, many of whom were already members of the AANS, had been made to resign before embarking from Australia in 1915. The press took up their cause, as did the Returned Sailors' and Soldiers' Imperial League of Australia (later the RSL). The nurses were eventually awarded the war gratuity, and the government even paid the difference between the English and the higher Australian rate of pay.

But not all were so lucky—Australian women who travelled to England and enlisted with the QAIMNS under their own steam were not recognised. Sister Narrelle Hobbes is one example of these independent women. Aged in her mid-thirties, this experienced nurse from Brewarrina in western New South Wales, having missed two early calls for AANS nurses and eager to do her bit for the war effort, travelled to London to enlist in the QAIMNS. On board Ballarat were four other young Australian nurses with the same intention: Sylvia Bell, Kathleen Fitzpatrick, Elsie Welman and Rose Kirkcaldie. Rose was, in fact, one of the first Australian nurses sent on 'active service'. She was part of a hastily arranged small group, led by Matron Sarah de Mestre, who served on Grantala from late August to December 1914 in Rabaul and Suva. On arrival back in Sydney, they discovered that two groups of AANS had already sailed with the AIF, and at that point there were no preparations for more. Rose and her colleagues discovered that their stint on Grantala was not considered as part of the AANS, and they had to reapply for active service. Rather than hang around for the AANS to get organised, Rose made arrangements to get herself to London. As she wrote:

Friends returning from England told us that only imbeciles would set out on such a wild goose chase; that England possessed far more nurses than she was ever likely to need; that our hospital training would probably not be recognised; that 'colonials' were not personae gratae in London, and that it was highly improbable that we should get any work at all to do.

Within a month of arriving in London, Narrelle, Rose and Elsie were accepted into the QAIMNS and on their way to Malta to nurse the wounded from the Gallipoli campaign. Narrelle wrote to her family:

My Dears, you say you had your first real touch of the war when the casualty list came out, that's nothing, I thought that too, when I first read the lists, but it's only when you see them brought in stretcher after stretcher in that endless procession and wonder if, when you see the next man's face, if you will see one of your own friends, dear heaven, it's awful & every man or boy ... is somebody's boy.

Rose was more graphic in her descriptions:

There were men with burns and flesh wounds beginning on the crown of their heads and finishing on the soles of their feet; men with limbs off; others, less fortunate, with limbs shattered beyond repair, each movement of which caused them torture; there were men shot through the abdomen; men shot through the chest; men scarred with ugly bayonet wounds; men with burns from bursting shells covering most of their bodies and limbs.

Rose later went on to serve in France and wrote of her war service in the book In Grey and Scarlet.

Women performing surgery on a patient.

Sister Alice (Elaine) Robinson at work in a French operating theatre, seated at the head of the patient. Robinson was one of the nurses sent to France by the Australian Red Cross. She had trained at the Royal Alexandra Hospital for Children at Camperdown, Sydney, and was head of the baby clinic in North Sydney before departing Australia in 1916. Unrecognised by the Australian Government, Robinson was awarded the Medaille de la ReÇonnaissance FranÇaise by the French in 1920 for her work during the war. Melanie Oppenheimer collection

Principal Matron Grace Wilson

A key Australian nursing figure of World War I was Queenslander Grace Wilson. Trained at Brisbane Hospital and in midwifery in London, she was almost 36 years old on enlistment. She joined the AANS in October 1914 and was appointed principal matron of the 1st Military District. Grace left Australia in May the following year with the 3rd AGH and, after a short stop in London, was posted to Lemnos where a tent hospital was established to care for the wounded and sick from Gallipoli. The conditions were extremely primitive. Grace had to deal with difficult logistics, lack of basic medical equipment and supplies, and an intransigent and unsympathetic male military hierarchy. She led by example, overcoming a challenging environment. After the evacuation of Gallipoli, Wilson and the 3rd AGH were transferred to Abbassia, Egypt, then to England and eventually to Abbeville, France, in April 1917. Second to Matron Evelyn Conyers in the AANS hierarchy, Grace was mentioned in despatches at least four times for her administrative work; she received the prestigious Royal Red Cross (RRC), 1st class, and was appointed CBE in 1919. She had that 'rare quality which inspired deep and lasting loyalty', and was deeply sympathetic to her staff and the broad AANS organisation. During the inter-war period, Grace remained connected to the AANS, becoming Matron-in-Chief in August 1925. She led the AANS to George V's coronation in 1937, and later served in the Middle East until health issues led to her retirement. Grace Wilson continued her involvement in a range of voluntary organisations, including the Australian Red Cross, Girl Guides, Returned Nurses' Club and Edith Cavell Trust Fund. She died in 1957 in Melbourne and was given a funeral with full military honours.

A female nurse standing in front of a campsite and holding an umbrella.

Armed with parasol and notebook, Matron Wilson does her rounds of the tent wards at 3AGH on Lemnos. AWM A05332

Ethel Gillingham

Ethel Gillingham was one of the few Australian women to be captured by the enemy during World War I. A trained nurse from Colac in western Victoria, and in England at the outbreak of war, Ethel joined the British Red Cross Society (BRCS) as a nursing sister. In April 1915, with a group of twelve trained nurses, four Voluntary Aids (VAs), a doctor and four male orderlies, Ethel left London for Vrnjatchka Banja in Serbia, where they were replacing the staff at a BRCS hospital. The unit reached their destination by travelling by train through France and then boat via Malta, Athens and Salonika, and finally by road. Described by one British VA as 'very nice to work under', Ethel was employed in the operating theatre and nursed both civilian and military casualties. Five months later, on 10 November 1915, the town fell to Austrian troops. The entire British unit, as well as women from the Scottish Women's Hospital run by Dr Elsie Inglis, were captured and became prisoners of war. After lengthy negotiations by American diplomats and assisted by the bad publicity the Germans received after the earlier death by firing squad of English nurse Edith Cavell, the group of forty women and doctors were freed, unharmed. Travelling in open cattle trucks, they reached Belgrade in February 1916, then journeyed to Vienna, Zurich and Paris, finally reaching London and safety. In an extract from her diary, Ethel wrote: 'now it is over I am so glad to have been through it. Glad too to have done my little bit for Serbia. Poor little Serbia! How my heart aches for her and her brave people'.

A poster with the portrait of a woman on it with writing.

She gave all, EB Studios poster, circa 1915, lithograph, 77.3 x 50.6 cm. AWM ARTV00002

A boat with troops standing up at the bow and some lying down on stretchers at the stern of the boat. A smaller boat is near the bow of the boat.

A flat-bottomed barge arriving with stretcher cases and walking wounded beside the hospital ship Gascon, off Anzac. These barges went inshore to Anzac Cove and other parts of the nearby shoreline from which they could evacuate the wounded, then were towed out to the hospital ships by naval launches and steam boats. AWM A02740


The vast majority of Australian nurses who served in World War I enlisted in the AANS. Weaknesses in the structure of the AANS affected the running of the fledgling organisation. Sister Grace Wilson described it as a very 'disconnected body', with neither the nurses themselves nor the medical military authorities really aware of how and where these women were to fit into the Australian Army Medical Corps (AAMC). The first twenty-five nurses to leave Australia with the AIF in November 1914 had no Matron-in-Chief or recognised seniority lists. Almost all had been on the AANS reserve list and most had served in the Boer War, as had Nellie Gould, who was in charge.

The second group of 161 nurses left Australia for Egypt in the Kyarra the following month. Most were sent to the 1st Australian General Hospital (AGH), established in the grand Heliopolis Palace Hotel on the southern outskirts of Cairo. Due to the huge influx of patients from Gallipoli—the first boatload of wounded arrived on 28 April 1915—the 1st AGH was hastily expanded. But if there was drama concerning the influx of wounded, it was nothing compared with the problems swirling about the AAMC. Personality clashes, a lack of clear guidelines for nurses and inadequate policies concerning control of the Australian nursing staff caused conflict between the AAMC and senior nurses. As Nellie Gould later wrote:

The idea of Staff Nurses was entirely new to Australia in the Army Nursing Service and it is due to the innate good breeding of the individual members of our Service that we came through what was really an ordeal for so many equally qualified nurses, to settle down to work in the various ranks.

Miss Jane Bell, Principal Matron, one of the founders of the Australasian Trained Nurses' Association (ATNA), Lady Superintendent of the Melbourne Hospital, and in charge of the AANS 3rd District (Victoria) since 1913, had several serious disagreements with the 1st AGH Commanding Officer, Lieutenant-Colonel William Ramsay Smith, and the Registrar, Melbourne ophthalmologist Dr James Barrett, over who controlled the nurses.

Eventually Jane was recalled to Australia and her appointment terminated. She resumed her position at Melbourne Hospital. The others involved were also moved sideways. But the important issues of nurse accountability, independence and levels of military and medical control were eventually ironed out. By 1916, Australian nurses had their own Matron-in-Chief and officer status but, unlike those in the British nursing services, were compelled to resign their appointments on marriage. Some, like Elsie Cook, got around this by returning home and re-enlisting with the Red Cross as a Bluebird. Others shared the experiences of Sister Amy Curtis of the 3rd AGH, who discovered she was pregnant on arrival in Egypt and was hastily despatched to England, her appointment terminated. Tasmanian nurse Elsie Gibson, who enlisted in the 2nd AGH in late 1914, served on the hospital ship Gascon in 1915 and in France and Flanders, then had her appointment to the AANS terminated on her marriage to Captain Henry (Harry) Hamilton on 12 April 1917. For this reason, some nurses kept their wartime marriages secret.

Most of the nurses from the 2nd AGH, under Matron Gould, were transferred to England, but some, like Elsie Gibson, were seconded to British hospital ships sailing between the 'Red Triangle' of Lemnos, Egypt and Malta. These nurses included Australian Sisters Ella Tucker, Alice Joan Twynam (mentioned in despatches and later awarded a Royal Red Cross (RRC), 1st class, for her service in France and Flanders), Daisy Richmond (who also received an RRC), and Elsie Gibson, who were anchored just off Gaba Tepe on the day of the landing and had shells raining down around their hospital ship. Gibson recorded the following entry in her diary:

Sunday 25 April 1915

... About 9am my first patients from battlefield commenced to pour in (We had gone in during night & anchored outside Dardanelles). We wakened up & could plainly hear sounds of guns. They came in an endless stream, some walking holding arms, hands covered with blood, some on stretchers with broken legs, some shivering & collapsed through loss of blood & some with faces streaming with blood ... we went for the worst cases first & worked like fury while all the sound of firing was going on ... we took on board 570 wounded ... we filled every space, mattresses lying everywhere on deck ... in my ward I had 118 patients (one Turk badly wounded) ... we got to bed between 2 & 3 am.

Sent on from Lemnos because it was overflowing with wounded, Gascon sailed to Alexandria in Egypt, where the wounded were unloaded. It immediately turned around and headed back to Gallipoli. The next trip, on 4 May, was just as bad, with ghastly wounds, gangrene and multiple amputations. Forty-one patients died on this voyage alone.

Sister Lydia King was on the hospital ship Cicilia in Lemnos Harbour, where many of the troopships massed before the landing. Cicilia picked up wounded from the original landing on 25 April. King 'saw our men taking up positions on the brow of the nearest hill about half a mile from where we were, and as they ran to cover advancing many were shot down. A Truly Apalling [sic] Sight!'

The work did not stop for eight months. All up Gascon alone transported over 10,000 patients off the peninsula. The nurses became exhausted: one sister collapsed and Elsie Gibson felt 'dog tired' and fainted at one point. However, she 'bucked up' and pulled herself together and got on with it, as that was what nurses were expected to do.

Staff and patients in a hospital ward.

Sisters and Red Cross VAs of the No. 2 Australian General Hospital, sited in the Ghezireh Palace, Cairo, pose with their patients, September 1915. AWM P00152.009

Women in uniform sitting on the deck of a ship.

Matron Evelyn Conyers, Matron-in-Chief of the AANS (centre) and colleagues return to Australia on board the troopship Orvieto after overseas service, c1919. AWM H06813

Australian Army Nursing Service (AANS)

The vast majority of Australian nurses who served in World War I enlisted in the AANS. Weaknesses in the structure of the AANS affected the running of the fledgling organisation. Sister Grace Wilson described it as a very 'disconnected body', with neither the nurses themselves nor the medical military authorities really aware of how and where these women were to fit into the Australian Army Medical Corps (AAMC). The first twenty-five nurses to leave Australia with the AIF in November 1914 had no Matron-in-Chief or recognised seniority lists. Almost all had been on the AANS reserve list and most had served in the Boer War, as had Nellie Gould, who was in charge.

The second group of 161 nurses left Australia for Egypt in the Kyarra the following month. Most were sent to the 1st Australian General Hospital (AGH), established in the grand Heliopolis Palace Hotel on the southern outskirts of Cairo. Due to the huge influx of patients from Gallipoli—the first boatload of wounded arrived on 28 April 1915—the 1st AGH was hastily expanded. But if there was drama concerning the influx of wounded, it was nothing compared with the problems swirling about the AAMC. Personality clashes, a lack of clear guidelines for nurses and inadequate policies concerning control of the Australian nursing staff caused conflict between the AAMC and senior nurses. As Nellie Gould later wrote:

The idea of Staff Nurses was entirely new to Australia in the Army Nursing Service and it is due to the innate good breeding of the individual members of our Service that we came through what was really an ordeal for so many equally qualified nurses, to settle down to work in the various ranks.

Miss Jane Bell, Principal Matron, one of the founders of the Australasian Trained Nurses' Association (ATNA), Lady Superintendent of the Melbourne Hospital, and in charge of the AANS 3rd District (Victoria) since 1913, had several serious disagreements with the 1st AGH Commanding Officer, Lieutenant-Colonel William Ramsay Smith, and the Registrar, Melbourne ophthalmologist Dr James Barrett, over who controlled the nurses.

Eventually Jane was recalled to Australia and her appointment terminated. She resumed her position at Melbourne Hospital. The others involved were also moved sideways. But the important issues of nurse accountability, independence and levels of military and medical control were eventually ironed out. By 1916, Australian nurses had their own Matron-in-Chief and officer status but, unlike those in the British nursing services, were compelled to resign their appointments on marriage. Some, like Elsie Cook, got around this by returning home and re-enlisting with the Red Cross as a Bluebird. Others shared the experiences of Sister Amy Curtis of the 3rd AGH, who discovered she was pregnant on arrival in Egypt and was hastily despatched to England, her appointment terminated. Tasmanian nurse Elsie Gibson, who enlisted in the 2nd AGH in late 1914, served on the hospital ship Gascon in 1915 and in France and Flanders, then had her appointment to the AANS terminated on her marriage to Captain Henry (Harry) Hamilton on 12 April 1917. For this reason, some nurses kept their wartime marriages secret.

Most of the nurses from the 2nd AGH, under Matron Gould, were transferred to England, but some, like Elsie Gibson, were seconded to British hospital ships sailing between the 'Red Triangle' of Lemnos, Egypt and Malta. These nurses included Australian Sisters Ella Tucker, Alice Joan Twynam (mentioned in despatches and later awarded a Royal Red Cross (RRC), 1st class, for her service in France and Flanders), Daisy Richmond (who also received an RRC), and Elsie Gibson, who were anchored just off Gaba Tepe on the day of the landing and had shells raining down around their hospital ship. Gibson recorded the following entry in her diary:

Sunday 25 April 1915

... About 9am my first patients from battlefield commenced to pour in (We had gone in during night & anchored outside Dardanelles). We wakened up & could plainly hear sounds of guns. They came in an endless stream, some walking holding arms, hands covered with blood, some on stretchers with broken legs, some shivering & collapsed through loss of blood & some with faces streaming with blood ... we went for the worst cases first & worked like fury while all the sound of firing was going on ... we took on board 570 wounded ... we filled every space, mattresses lying everywhere on deck ... in my ward I had 118 patients (one Turk badly wounded) ... we got to bed between 2 & 3 am.

Sent on from Lemnos because it was overflowing with wounded, Gascon sailed to Alexandria in Egypt, where the wounded were unloaded. It immediately turned around and headed back to Gallipoli. The next trip, on 4 May, was just as bad, with ghastly wounds, gangrene and multiple amputations. Forty-one patients died on this voyage alone.

Sister Lydia King was on the hospital ship Cicilia in Lemnos Harbour, where many of the troopships massed before the landing. Cicilia picked up wounded from the original landing on 25 April. King 'saw our men taking up positions on the brow of the nearest hill about half a mile from where we were, and as they ran to cover advancing many were shot down. A Truly Apalling [sic] Sight!'

The work did not stop for eight months. All up Gascon alone transported over 10,000 patients off the peninsula. The nurses became exhausted: one sister collapsed and Elsie Gibson felt 'dog tired' and fainted at one point. However, she 'bucked up' and pulled herself together and got on with it, as that was what nurses were expected to do.

Both the night nurses were given the Croix de Guerre, which we all appreciated. Still, a medal isn't much compensation for a foot, is it?

Sister Lynette Crozier on the French front line, July 1917, describing how a Canadian nurse had her foot blown off during a bombing raid over their hospital.

In early 1916, there was a complete overhaul of the AANS by the Surgeon General, RHJ Fetherstone. The major changes included the appointment of a Matron-in-Chief responsible for 'posting, promotion, pay, discipline, leave, invaliding, reinforcement and other concerns'. Evelyn Conyers was appointed to the position, which she held until 1920. The question of rank was also qualified. Although Australian nurses were considered honorary officers, it was decided that AANS nurses would wear badges of rank according to their position. So, for example, a matron would wear a crown on each shoulder, as a major did, and a sister would wear two stars like a 1st lieutenant. But this comparable ranking did not extend to pay. Unlike Canadian army nurses, who had military rank and the same pay rates as their male counterparts, Australian nurses received salaries considerably less than their male equivalents. For example, a nursing sister earned about 9 shillings a day while a male lieutenant earned 17 shillings and 6 pence (not including field allowance). There were also new fraternisation rules, such as not mixing with non-officers, which annoyed many free-spirited Australian nurses.

Following the AIF and its transfer to the Western Front, the AANS nurses were soon ensconced in hospitals across England and France. The 1st AGH was sent to Rouen in April 1916, the 2nd AGH to Wimereux, with the 3rd AGH staying on in Cairo for much of 1916. It finally arrived in France in May 1917, and was based near Abbeville on the Somme. On 18 September 1916, fresh-faced Sister Gertrude Doherty, in her mid-twenties, from Western Australia and with the 1st AGH, wrote home in the middle of what became known as the Battle of the Somme to her cousin Muriel Doherty, at that time a young VA working at Graythwaite, a Red Cross convalescent home in North Sydney.

We look forward to our letters on mail days. Of course we can never make our letters as cheerful as yours, I am sure you will quite understand why when I tell you that we are surrounded by sadness & sorrow all the time ... do you know Muriel that as many as seventy-two operations have been performed in one day in our hospital alone ... you could not imagine how dirty the poor beggars are, never able to get a wash, mud & dirt ground in & nearly all of them alive with vermin. They feel ashamed being so dirty, so we always tell them that if they come down any cleaner we would not think they had been in it at all.

Later in 1917, during the Battle of Passchendaele, Gertrude was transferred to a casualty clearing station, which she found both exciting and terrifying. Being so close to the front line and being constantly shelled was frightening but Gertrude felt that lives were saved because nurses were so close to the battle. Gertrude later received a Royal Red Cross, 2nd class, for 'valuable services in the field'.

Many Australian nurses saw active service in the casualty clearing stations of the western front. Positioned just behind the front lines in France and Flanders, these portable hospitals, often next to a railhead, provided a wide range of surgical treatment. The Australian nurses joined their British and Canadian counterparts, but initially at least there was resistance from sections of the AAMC to women being so close to the front. But the nurses soon made themselves indispensable in helping to save lives, even though their own lives were sometimes in great danger due to shelling, bombs and gas attacks. Many nurses described their ordeal, including AANS nurses Elsie Grant and May Tilton from the Australian casualty clearing station near Ypres in July 1917. They had already been 'shelled out' as Elsie described to a friend, Rose Harris, at home in Clermont, 'three times but this last time was too dreadful'. Before they were evacuated to France, Elsie wrote how the twenty or so nurses were taken into a dug-out during an air raid and Australian officers came from far and wide to assist them. She continued:

Well the boys stayed with us & a Canadian Colonel brought down a big box of Maple Sugar & a jug of water & then to finish up a Scotch officer carried down a gramaphone [sic] to the dug out door & played Pack up your troubles in your old kit bag & smile ... [O]ur hospital is a total wreck now.

Two nurses standing in the doorway of a sandbag fortification.

Two nursing sisters of No. 2 Australian General Hospital stand at the entrance to the nurses’ dugout, Wimereux, France, c1916. AWM H04152

In 1916, Australian nurses found themselves working on another continent, far away from the western front. The crisis on the Mesopotamian front, where British forces were fighting the Turks, and the disastrous siege and fall of Kut in April 1916 led to the British government asking the Australian Government for nurses to staff hospitals and assist with the medical crisis in India. Hundreds of QAIMNS nurses had been transferred to Mesopotamia, and they needed to be replaced. While the Australian Government allowed its nurses to work in India, it refused to send them on to Mesopotamia, as it believed the weather and physical conditions were too extreme for women. The first group of AANS nurses, led by Matron Emily Hoadley from 3rd AGH, arrived in Bombay from Egypt in July 1916.

During the war over 550 Australian nurses served in India, either as part of the AANS or seconded to the QAIMNS. Many of them worked at the Victoria, Colaba and Cumballa War Hospitals in Bombay. Their work ranged from treating heat stroke, dysentery, paratyphoid and jaundice to treating war wounds. Matron Babs Moberly described her work in the dysentery and malaria wards of the Cumballa Hospital in a letter to her fiancé in February 1917:

Here I am on day duty, and Sister-in-Charge of two wards. Oh, these poor men from Mesopotamia! They are ... only skin and bone (men from the Kut campaign). This is amoebic dysentery, and treated with hyperdermic injections of "Emetin" ... most of the poor men are not long for this world ... Oh, Pete, the men with dysentery would make one weep! Why are men allowed to suffer like this? And we hear folk in Australia and England talking about boys who have made the 'Supreme Sacrifice', and I suppose stone monuments etc, will be erected to their memory 'of our glorious dead'. What about the living? The blind, crippled, disfigured and those poor mad men and women.

After fighting broke out on the frontier border between India and Afghanistan in 1917, the No. 18 British General Hospital was opened at Rawalpindi. AANS nurses were then posted to remote field force hospitals such as at Tank NW where they worked in extremely difficult physical conditions in a hospital built of mud, with a permanent picket of Gurkhas for protection. Sister Vera Steel, from Ashfield in Sydney, who was stationed at Tank from May to November 1917, was awarded an RRC, 2nd class, 'in recognition of valuable services rendered in connexion with military operations on the Indian Frontier'.

Nurses who served in India endured many problems with administration, language, uniform and climate. The tropical monsoon was extremely trying and physically draining. 'We leak so much on duty with clothes on that by the time we get off our one desire is to strip and get under a fan on our bed and get sufficient energy to go on next' lamented Narrelle Hobbes. The nurses even had to pay income tax to the Indian government. Questions as to who was in charge of the nurses—the Australian or Indian government—also dogged them throughout the war. India was an expensive and isolated appointment many wished to avoid.

AANS nurses were also posted to Salonika in Greece, where they made up about one fifth of all nurses in the British hospitals. These were largely tent hospitals in Kalamaria and elsewhere. Issues of who controlled these nurses, dissatisfaction at not nursing Australians (their patients were mainly British and Greek, as well as Turkish and Bulgarian prisoners-of-war), and the horrendously difficult climate and primitive conditions were a feature of this theatre of war. There were the pneumonic diseases in the harsh winter and malaria and dysentery during the extremely hot, fly and mosquito-infested summers. Staff nurse Laura Grubb wrote home in November 1917 about the severe cold, and how the nurses lived 'in balaclavas and scarves, topcoats and anything else in the way of warmth we can get on'.

A woman standing in front of a grand building dressed in an all white unform.

Staff Nurse Edith Philp, AANS, stands on the roof of the Victoria War Hospital in Bombay, India, c1917. AWM P02523.001

Five woman wearing protective headwear.

A group of AANS nurses don mosquito netting in preparation for night duty at the 52nd British General Hospital at Kalamaria, Salonica, Greece, c1918. AWM H15761

Sister Pearl Elizabeth Corkhill AANS

From Tilba Tilba, New South Wales, Pearl enlisted in the AANS on 4 June 1915 and embarked two weeks later on the Orsova, bound for London. Twenty-eight years old, with four years training at Burilda, a private hospital in Summer Hill, Sydney, Pearl was a typical Australian nurse. Initially she worked in Egypt at the 1st AGH and in 1916 was transferred to France. In July 1917, Pearl was working at the No. 38 British Casualty Clearing Station (CCS), which was bombed in German air raids during the Battle of Passchendaele.

Pearl was on night duty during the week of 27 July when, the official citation reads, she 'continued to attend to the wounded without any regard to her own safety, though enemy aircraft were overhead. Her example was one of the greatest value in allaying the alarm of the patients'. Pearl was awarded the Military Medal, an honour only a few Australian nurses received. On hearing about the award, she wrote to her mother, that 'the CO sent over a bottle of champagne and they all drank my health'.

A studio portrait of a female nurse.

Sister Pearl Corkhill worked at various hospitals in Egypt before being posted to France in April 1916. To commemorate the first Anzac Day, on 25 April 1916, she and two other nurses pinned gum leaves to their capes, on which they had written "Dardanelles 1915". They also distributed small gifts to their patients. AWM A04728

Mrs Mildred Davies

When her husband, Lieutenant Colonel Jack Davies of the 12th Australian Light Horse (ALH), enlisted in May 1915, Mildred did not want to be left behind on their property at Scone in New South Wales. Undeterred by the threat of danger and with the ability to pay her own way, she travelled with her three small children to Egypt, where she could be close to her husband. While some other Australian women did follow their husbands, very few took their children as well. Mildred worked as a VA, administering and supervising medical stores in the Middle East, including the Heliopolis Palace Hotel, which housed the 1st AGH in Cairo. She was awarded an MBE for her war work.

A woman standing on rock.

Mildred Davies in Cairo, Egypt, 1918. AWM P02447.003

War workers

There were other Australian women who worked overseas during the war, in paid and unpaid capacities. Many were in Europe on the outbreak of war and stayed there, or followed the troops to Egypt and London. Louise Mack, a popular novelist and writer who had been living in England and Europe headed off almost immediately to Belgium to report on the war. There were few female war correspondents during World War I. Mack's first report from Belgium, entitled 'An Englishwoman in Antwerp' was published in The Daily Mail on 3 September 1914. In it, she described the human dimensions of the war, the refugees, the homeless and wounded soldiers all fleeing the fighting. Before she returned to Australia in 1916, A Woman's Experiences in the Great War was published, detailing her exploits as a war correspondent and her escape through Holland as the Germans occupied Belgium.

Some Australian women, like the enigmatic Ethel Cooper, originally from Adelaide, were caught behind the lines. Highly musical and well educated, but restless and non-conformist, Cooper spent much of her adult life travelling and living outside Australia and on the outbreak of war she was in Leipzig. On 6 August 1914, in her second letter to her sister Emmie in Adelaide, she wrote 'There is no possibility of posting this, but I am going to write every week as usual, and send the letters some day when the world has got so far into order again that one can talk of posts and trains and banks and such things'. Her weekly letters (227 of them in all) were smuggled out or hidden until after the war. They provide a fascinating insight into what life was like for an expatriate Australian woman who chose to stay in Germany and record her experiences. There has also been some unverified speculation since the war that she was a spy.

Scores of Australian women followed the AIF to the Middle East and worked, generally in a voluntary capacity, for a range of organisations such as the YWCA and Red Cross. Mrs Alice Chisholm rushed to Egypt to be near her wounded son, and the beautiful Rania MacPhillamy followed her beau. They ran a soldiers' canteen that provided food, welcome showers, and rest for thousands of men throughout the war. Kantara, established at a railway junction used by the soldiers on their way to and from Sinai and Palestine, became an oasis. It was said that Rania and Alice were 'the two [most] loved women in the whole of Egypt'.

Men and women preparing food.

Rania MacPhillamy (left) with staff of her canteen at Kantara, Egypt, February 1919. AWM B00864

Another woman who became indispensable was Vera Deakin, the 24-year-old daughter of one-time Australian Prime Minister Alfred Deakin. She arrived in Egypt in September 1915, with her friend Winifred Johnson, to begin work with the Australian Red Cross Society Wounded and Missing Enquiry Bureau, supplying information on missing, sick and wounded soldiers for relatives in Australia. The army gave only basic information to concerned families such as 'missing', 'killed in action' or 'died of wounds'. Relatives were desperate for more information. Once Australian troops were transferred to the Western Front, the Australian section of the Bureau, under Vera Deakin, followed to London, where it became inundated with requests from heartbroken families in Australia.

Gilbert Anschau's anguished family is one example out of thousands who sought answers from the Bureau. Gilbert was involved in the second battle of Bullecourt. He died on 5 May 1917, but such was the intensity of the fighting that he was not reported missing until a week afterwards, and was only confirmed killed in action some four months later. Along with 2423 other Australian soldiers who went missing on the muddy and blood-soaked Bullecourt battlefield, Gilbert was never found. His body simply disappeared into the wasteland that was the Western Front in 1917. Gilbert's family could not understand why no identity discs were returned to the family. His father wrote repeatedly to the army asking for some tangible, physical verification of his son's death, but to no avail. So they turned to the Bureau and Vera Deakin for help. The Red Cross had searchers in the field, and a team of investigators. They recorded eyewitness accounts of Gilbert's last moments. 'I was in the same trench with him in front of Bullecourt', Private Philip Ottaway recalled, 'he was standing on the fire step and was shot through the eye by a sniper. He made an exclamation and immediately went over the top and had gone about 500 yards towards the German line when he was blown to pieces by a shell'. This information was distilled and edited, and then passed on to the family.

For many women like Vera Deakin, volunteer war work was a voyage of discovery. Vera found out that she was a good organiser, could manage people well, and had leadership potential. The Bureau was very busy, with over '25,000 answers to inquiries in one year alone'. She was awarded the OBE in 1917 for her work with the Red Cross. Vera stayed in London until 1919, when she returned home to marry the Australian airman Captain Thomas Walter White, whom she had met through the Bureau—he had been a prisoner-of-war of the Turks, and they had corresponded during the war. What she did during the war was highly emotional and draining. Yet at times she felt that her work could never match the men's experiences, and that 'the gulf between the sexes seemed to increase, and our futility in war was borne home to us'.

Vera Deakin and Thomas White were not the only ones to fall in love during the war. Not surprisingly, thousands of soldiers met and married while in the AIF. Over 5000 returned home with their war brides, many with children; the Australian Government chartered ships to bring them to Australia. These boats were the least favoured by returning nurses, as they were considered very hard work. Hilda Loxton 'felt very depressed' at being allocated duty on the Zealandia with 450 AIF wives and 140 babies. She commented in her diary that 'the only compensation we have for travelling on so unpleasant a boat is that the Sisters are really needed by the babies—some of the Mothers are helpless and incompetent'.

Dorothy May (Dolly) Higley was a war bride. From Cardiff in Wales, Dolly met her husband Bill Chamney (originally from County Wicklow in Ireland) in late 1916 when he was recovering from wounds and gassing at Pozières. Hospitalised for months, Bill was recuperating in hospital in Cardiff when he met Dolly, who was visiting her brother in the next bed. The hospital romance blossomed, Bill survived the 1917 battles of Bullecourt and Polygon Wood, and the couple were married on 11 February 1919. Shortly afterwards, Bill returned to Australia, leaving his new wife behind; Dolly followed on one of the war bride ships. Bill applied for a soldier settlement block near Canowindra and named the property 'Hereford' after Dolly's home town.

A studio portrait of a female military officer.

This image shows Vera Deakin in her Red Cross uniform in 1918, when she was running the Australian Wounded and Missing Inquiry Bureau in London. AWM P02119.001

A picture of a Red Cross certificate.

Certificates of service were issued to Red Cross war workers. This one belonged to Mrs Guyot from Melbourne. Guyot family

A women and children of the deck of a ship with male officers present

Sisters Winifred Hough (far left) and Hilda Loxton (second from left), two of the nurses sent to France by the Australian Red Cross, returned to Australia on board Zealandia in November 1918 with 450 AIF wives and 140 babies and young children. AWM P01908.032

Sister Elsie Grant, AANS

In August 1915, at twenty-four years of age, Elsie Grant, Matron of Emerald Hospital, enlisted with her brother Allan Grant. Both were soon serving on the Western Front. After two years of war, Elsie was desperate for a break from frontline nursing, and considered transferring to a hospital ship, but she did not want to leave her brother, who was serving in the 40th Battalion. After being evacuated from the 2nd Australian Casualty Clearing Station in July 1917, Elsie had a chance meeting with her brother. It was the last time she ever saw Allan, for he was killed in action near Passchendaele on 12 October. Charles Bean, Australia's official war historian, mentioned Lieutenant Grant. Allan's body was never recovered and his name appears on the Menin Gate at Ypres.

Elsie then returned home to Queensland on a hospital transport, only to learn that her elderly mother had died. She went on to marry and bear four children. But a combination of post-natal depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (all undiagnosed) and the loss of her beloved brother ten years before almost to the day was too much for her. Elsie committed suicide in September 1927, when her youngest child was 6 months old.

A female nurse in uniform.

Sister Elsie Grant, AANS, August 1915. (AWM P02234.001)

Australians at Royaumont Hospital, France

Royaumont Hospital was established by the Scottish Women's Hospital in a 13th century abbey 45 km outside Paris. It was the brainchild of Dr Elsie Inglis, the Indian-born Scottish doctor who spent a couple of her formative years in Tasmania and who together with other qualified female doctors had been spurned by British officials at the outbreak of war, and was operated under the auspices of the French Red Cross. It attracted trained female nurses, doctors, masseuses and VAs from across the Empire. Built out of the ruins of a disused monastery, the Abbeye de Royaumont became a 600-bed field hospital with a fully functioning laboratory and operating theatre. It is unknown how many Australian women served there, but their numbers include Dr Elsie Dalyell and Roselyn Rutherford, a trained masseuse from New South Wales who, after working with the Almeric Padgett Military Massage Corps from 1 June 1917 to 25 May 1918, arrived at the Abbeye in June 1918 for six months, receiving an annual salary of £35.

A female nurse attending to a male patient inside a hospital ward.

Australian female doctors and nurses worked at Royaumont Hospital, established by the Scottish Women’s Hospital in an old abbey near Paris.
[ARC Victorian Division Archives ARCV P00297-12]

Loss and bereavement

More than 60,000 Australian soldiers died during the war, and at least twenty-five nurses. There was scarcely an Australian family or community not affected in some way by the carnage on the other side of the world. Although there were voluntary organisations established to assist war widows, theirs was a tragic experience. Gertrude Dean's story was not uncommon. She, her husband Ezra, and their infant son John Ezra had migrated to Chinchilla in Queensland in 1913. Originally from Derbyshire, Ezra had a blacksmith's shop, and enlisted on 22 September 1915, aged 26. A sapper in the Australian Engineers, he was wounded in action on 31 July the following year, and died the next day from severe chest wounds. Almost a year went by before Gertrude received his personal effects: two identity discs, a purse, four coins, testament (given to him by the Chinchilla Methodist Sunday School as a gift the week before he enlisted), note book, watch (damaged), ring receipt, two handkerchiefs, letters, photos, postcards, fountain pen, pencil and watch chain. With no family in Australia, the war widow and small son eventually returned to Derbyshire to live.

Hilda Rix Nicholas, an Australian artist from Melbourne, was living in the artists' colony in Ètaples, France, with her mother and sister Elsie. They were evacuated to London on the outbreak of war but her mother and sister died from enteric fever. In October 1916, Hilda married Major George Matson Nicholas, a dashing young officer from the 24th Battalion. Nicholas, a school teacher with the Victorian Education Department before the war, with an interest in art, had stumbled upon Hilda's studio in Ètaples whilst stationed nearby, and was very much taken with her work. While on leave in London, he tracked the young artist down and their love affair began. But only six weeks after they were married, Nicholas was killed in action on the Somme. The young widow, consumed by grief, threw herself into her painting.

Australia, unlike Canada and Britain, did not appoint any female war artists during World War I. But a number of Australian women, like Hilda Rix Nicholas, in Europe at the time, sketched and painted throughout the war. They included Dora Meeson, Evelyn Chapman, Vida Lahey, Dora Ohlfsen (a sculptor who trained in Italy and became a medallion artist) and Iso (Isobel) Rae, originally from Melbourne, who, like Hilda lived in the artists' colony of Ètaples. In her fifties, Rae and her sister Alison worked as VAs in Ètaples—Rae in the YMCA camp and Alison in the British Red Cross hospital. Ètaples was a huge base for Allied troops, from which soldiers were transferred to the Western Front. By 1917 there were over 100,000 troops from Australia, Canada, Scotland and Britain camped in tents. Creating soft pastel pen-and-ink drawings, Rae captured the feeling of life behind the lines during the war.

Hilda Rix Nicholas returned to Australia in 1918 and exhibited her paintings on Armistice Day, 11 November. The exhibition was opened by Lady Helen Munro Ferguson, the wife of the Governor- General. Lady Helen was mindful that that great day also 'brought dark shadows to those whose sons or husbands would never return'. Rix Nicholas' paintings struck a cord for her personally, as Lady Helen had lost a brother, Lord Basil Blackwood, on the Western Front in 1917.

A family including a man, woman, and young boy.

Ezra Dean with wife Gertrude and son John Ezra, on his enlistment, Chinchilla, Queensland, 1915. Ezra was killed in action on 1 August 1916. Chinchilla Shire Council, chi00088

A painting of a woman with a distressed expression, dressed in a robe, with no shoes, on a barren landscape.

Desolation, by Hilda Rix Nicholas, c1917. There were a number of different versions of this haunting artwork based around Hilda’s despair following the loss of her mother, sister and husband during the war. Her husband was killed in action on the Western Front in November 1916, just six weeks after their marriage. NLA, Rix Nicholas Papers

At home

At home, women dealt with the uncertainty and the distance from the war, not by 'standing and waiting' but by involving themselves in a range of patriotic funds and volunteer work. From the beginning, the home front was bristling with the voluntary activity of hundreds of thousands of Australian women. Whether it was the young female factory workers from the Melbourne biscuit company Swallow and Ariel knitting socks in their lunch hour or Dame Nellie Melba (who was encouraged not to knit but rather sing) giving huge fund-raising concerts where thousands of pounds were donated, all did their bit. A huge number of patriotic funds (or war charities) were established. There was little government regulation. Women were principally involved in patriotic funds that assisted women and children, both in Australia and overseas, and in making comforts for the soldiers. They also raised money for many odd organisations, such as the New South Wales Blue Cross, established to care for the thousands of horses sent overseas with the Australian troops. In Victoria and Tasmania, this equine fund was called the Purple Cross Fund. In all, from a population of just over five million people, nearly £14 million was raised over the four years of war. This significant figure does not include gifts in kind, such as knitted garments, food items and other produce.

Ernest Scott, Professor of History at the University of Melbourne, who wrote the official history of the homefront, noted that the volume and type of voluntary war work was quite new, especially with regards to the numbers of women volunteers. He believed that this represented 'not only good-will towards a cause ... but also an appreciation of the obligations of citizenship'. Although the soldiers were 'the ultimate factor', in modern warfare, 'the women who work for the men who are fighting' were also essential.

Group photograph of girls knitting.

Students from Uley Bury School in South Australia knit socks for the troops, c1916. Knitting was a popular pastime for children during the war. SLSA B 35688

The newspapers regularly published lists of donors to the patriotic funds, so there was considerable peer group pressure to give generously. But the war was an inclusive one, and 'War Chest' boxes were placed in factories and offices so that ordinary workers could donate their pennies and shillings anonymously to the fund without feeling ashamed of the amount. In its first year of operation, the Citizens' War Chest Fund collected almost £24,000, of which over a third came from boxes located in working-class areas. This money was used to buy goods for the embarking AIF; it also supported various funds such as the Belgian Relief Fund and gave 'relief' to dependants of soldiers.

The War Chest became the official New South Wales organisation for the federated Australian Comforts Fund (ACF), established in August 1916, to oversee the distribution of comforts to 'fit and well' Australian troops overseas. In a country that had federated only fifteen years before, the ACF was one of the first national organisations, operated under a unified Australian banner of a red sixpointed star. The State organisations that made up the ACF were the Queensland Patriotic Fund, the Victoria League of Western Australia, the Tasmanian On Active Service Fund, the Lady Mayoress' Patriotic League from Victoria, and the League of Loyal Women from South Australia, the only fund organised entirely by women. The ACF looked after the fit and well soldier, and worked alongside the YMCA and Salvation Army, both well known before the war as philanthropic organisations. They ran hostels and provided entertainments, concerts, pastoral care and welfare work both at home and at the front.

One of the most popular and practical initiatives of the funds was the comforts parcel. Although individual families sent parcels to their loved ones, the idea of volunteers lovingly packing parcels for all AIF troops was very well received by the men. Towards the end of 1915, while the troops were still on Gallipoli, it was decided to send each man an Australian billycan packed full of goodies including tinned fruits, condensed milk, boiled sweets, pipes, tobacco and sardines. The most useful item, of course, was the billycan itself. Due to the surprise evacuation of Gallipoli in December 1915, most Australian troops eventually received their billies either on Lemnos or back in Egypt.

But the organisation most synonymous with the war, and with women, is the Australian Red Cross. Formed within a week of the outbreak of war in August 1914 by Lady Helen Munro Ferguson, the Australian Branch of the British Red Cross Society (its official title) became an Australian institution and one of the most successful charitable organisations of the twentieth century. The Red Cross looked after sick and wounded soldiers both at home and overseas, and also helped the dependants of soldiers and civilians caught up in the war. It developed a key role in supplying medical equipment, ambulances and hospitals to the army and, in conjunction with the Department of Repatriation, ran a range of convalescent homes across Australia and organised meeting places such as the Anzac Buffet and Blind Soldiers' Tea Rooms.

Most importantly, it provided an army of unpaid workers. It was up to the Red Cross to mother the sick and wounded Australian soldier, 'to send him a shirt and a pair of socks, a towel and a muffler, a packet of cigarettes and a box of chocolates, a deck chair and mosquito nets, crutches and artificial legs'. These sentiments appealed to Australian women and they flocked to the organisation.

The figurehead of each State Division was the Governor's wife, who received a telegram from Lady Helen in Melbourne instructing her to establish a Red Cross Division. As Lady Galway in South Australia later wrote, 'when she [Lady Helen] lifted a finger I stood, metaphorically speaking, to attention'. Lady Helen established the national headquarters in Melbourne, run out of her own home, Government House. She turned the ballroom into a large receiving and despatching depot where hundreds of volunteers, mainly women, worked. Long trestle tables piled high with goods sent from all over the country stretched the length of the ballroom, presided over by busy workers assembling and packing Red Cross parcels in stiff brown paper and twine. Sewing machines placed in the corners busily whirred away, creating the atmosphere of 'an idealised factory', with 'system and labour-saving devices' everywhere. The use of vice-regal space gave Lady Helen direct control and power over the organisation. So when mischievous newspaper reports alluded to mice plagues overtaking Government House in August 1917, she invited 200 women to afternoon tea to inspect the premises. Not a mouse was found.

A woman handing out rations to troops.

Volunteers distribute Christmas billies to soldiers at Heliopolis, Egypt, in 1915. The original idea was to deliver the billies to the boys on Gallipoli, but they were evacuated just before Christmas. AWM J02506

A large room with women sorting supplies.

Volunteers work in a corner of the ballroom of Melbourne's Government House, its entire space given over during the war to storing and packing parcels for the troops. 'Already there are neat stacks of pyjamas, flannel shirts, socks (both knitted and cashmere), and also rolls of material ready to be made up', a newspaper reported before the war was three weeks old. (AWM J00346; Melbourne Argus, 22 August 1914, p. 16)

Her Ex [Lady Helen Munro Ferguson] was at a meeting where there was talk of over 120,000 pair of socks—and the supply being arranged she observed that what was now wanted was 120,000 pair of martial feet to fill them!

Ronald Munro Ferguson, Governor-General, to General Birdwood, letter 10 May 1917 [AWM 419/76/1]

The Junior Red Cross

Australian children were attracted to wartime organisations such as the Junior Red Cross and the South Australian based Children's Patriotic Fund, established by Adelaide Miethke. Over £70,000 was raised by school children through this fund during the war. The Junior Red Cross was formed in New South Wales by Eleanor MacKinnon in 1914. Thousands of Australian boys and girls became involved in fundraising, collecting donations and making a range of goods for the war effort. Knitting was a favourite pastime organised through the schools, and children knitted socks for their heroes in the trenches. In 1915, for example, children from New South Wales knitted about 54,000 pairs of socks. Tia Public School in the north of the state made twenty-seven pairs of pyjamas, six day shirts, three cholera belts, twenty-two pillow slips and thirty-three washers. There is little doubt that the Junior Red Cross 'kept ...thousands of tiny fingers moving'. They also learnt and recited poems such as 'O Feet!—For which I Knit these Socks', written by George Nash and published in The Education Gazette in August 1917.

A young girl in a nurses uniform holding a tray of flowers.

Young girl dressed up as a Red cross nurse, c1915 Annie Campbell collection

Miss Elizabeth Chomley

Elizabeth Chomley was in charge of the Australian Red Cross Prisoners of War Department, an organisation established in 1916 after it was realised that Australian POWs required special needs that were not being addressed elsewhere. Miss Chomley, as she was always known, contacted the POWs, sent parcels and comforts, notified relatives of their whereabouts, and facilitated letter exchanges. For many POWs, Miss Chomley became their lifeline to a world outside captivity, and many corresponded regularly with her. Originally from Melbourne, Miss Chomley was awarded the OBE for her war work. She stayed on in England after the war, championing the rights of working women and female migrants.

A black and white portrat photograph of a woman standing by a table with a vase on it.

Miss Elizabeth Chomley AWM H01366

Many younger Australian women were attracted to the Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD) scheme run by the Red Cross. The VA, attending to the sick, dressed in white with a red cross on the bosom or sleeve, was a powerful and evocative image. Throughout the war, and in much of the Red Cross publicity, the VA was a main feature. The VA was patriotic and feminine, dutifully administering to those in need in a selfless way; she was the face of Australian womanhood. Much of the VA work, however, was of the menial and domestic kind undertaken in the Red Cross rehabilitation and convalescent facilities. VAs were trained in home nursing and first aid, with a month's work experience in a major hospital. Essentially it was 'housework on a large scale' involving traditional women's domestic labour of cooking, cleaning, washing, serving and nursing.

Muriel Doherty is an excellent example of the typical VA in World War I. She gave up a teaching position at Abbotsleigh School in Sydney after undertaking her VA training at night and on weekends, to volunteer full-time. She joined VAD 6, a detachment from North Sydney. Initially they met returning hospital ships and served dinner to invalids at No. 4 General Hospital (Randwick) and Rose Hall (a Red Cross establishment that provided accommodation for soldiers). But in early 1916, Muriel and VAD 6 began working at Thomas Dibbs' grand old North Sydney home, bequeathed to the New South Wales government the previous year. Graythwaite convalescent home cared for the most disabled ex-servicemen. Working twelve-hour shifts, Muriel was on duty at Graythwaite every alternate month until 1919, when the VAs were seconded to other hospitals during the influenza epidemic. Her jobs included washing, cleaning wards, cooking, polishing, cleaning silver, and making beds. Muriel had, however, found her vocation and after the war undertook training at Sydney's Royal Prince Alfred Hospital. She later went on to have a distinguished career in nursing, both in Australia and abroad, and was the Chief Nurse and Principal Matron with the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA) unit that liberated the Belsen concentration camp in April 1945.

A nurse sitting with a patient in a wheelchair.

VA Muriel Doherty and one of her favourite patients, Private Robert Martin (aka Kenrick William Myers), in the grounds of Graythwaite, North Sydney, a Red Cross convalescent home bequeathed to the New South Wales government by Sir Thomas Dibbs. Martin was a paraplegic and had a head injury, and lived at Graythwaite until his death in 1934. AWM, Muriel Doherty scrapbook WWI, 3DRL/2518/9

A car with a male soldier standing on either site and three women wearing medical clothing including masks.

A lethal influenza popularly called the Spanish Flu spread across the globe in 1919, adding another twelve thousand Australian dead, most of them civilians, to the sixty thousand killed in the war or soon to die from wounds. These nurses' aides at Randwick Military Hospital in Sydney take elementary precautions against the new enemy. (AWM P02789.001)

Dr Mary Booth

Few Australian women did more during World War I than the indefatigable Dr Mary Booth. A trained doctor, she dedicated the war years to assisting soldiers, their families and civilians overseas caught up in the fighting, through a range of voluntary organisations. In November 1914, she established the Babies' Kit Society to send baby clothes to civilians in distress in Allied countries. The Soldiers' Club was next. Booth noticed that when the thousands of men came to Sydney to enlist there was a delay between their volunteering and enlistment, and that many ended up on the streets. She found an empty hotel—the Royal—and, assisted by a host of volunteers, opened 'The Soldiers' Club' in June 1915, where men could get a bed and hot meal. Concerts and dances were held, but it was strictly an alcohol-free zone. The club ran until 1923, staffed by volunteers and funded by donations and button selling. Violet Day, held originally on 13 August 1915, sold violet buttons and raised almost £7000 during the war. Mary Booth's sister, Eliza Booth, ran the Centre for Soldiers' Wives and Mothers, which focused on counselling, support and amelioration. In 1921, Mary Booth founded the Anzac Fellowship of Women, an organisation given special permission by Prime Minister Billy Hughes to use the acronym, to foster the commemorative nature of Anzac Day for future generations. The following year, on Anzac Day, the group opened a memorial fountain at Woolloomooloo in Sydney to commemorate World War I soldiers.

A woman drinking from a fountain.

The memorial erected by the Centre for Soldiers Wives and Mothers on behalf of the women of New South Wales, 'to commemorate the place of farewell to the soldiers who passed through the gates opposite for the Great War 1914–1919’. The memorial is made of sandstone and contains a drinking fountain. It was dedicated by the Governor-General on 25 April 1922. NLA, Sydney Mail, photographer Andrew Howell

One of the other features of World War I was the strong opposition in some quarters to the war. Anti-war activists often supported patriotic funds that assisted dependants of soldiers and civilian victims of war overseas. Marian Harwood from Sydney believed that 'the country at large and the Red Cross movement do their best to look after the warriors, but the women and children are often forgotten'. But the anti-war protagonists were most effective through their voluntary organisations. The Women's Peace Army, with its motto 'we war against war', was founded in July 1915 in Melbourne by Cecilia John and Vida Goldstein. The Peace Army attracted a number of influential women, such as Adela Pankhurst, to its cause. Vida Goldstein, a key personality in the earlier suffrage debates and the first woman in the British Empire to stand for parliament, used her international celebrity status as President of the Women's Peace Army to spread its message. While never arrested, Cecilia John was carefully watched by military authorities throughout the war. It was said that she sang the anti-war song 'I never raised my son to be a soldier' in her contralto voice so effectively that the song was banned. Other organisations like the Sisterhood of International Peace and religious groups such as the Quakers were increasingly vocal in their opposition to both the war and to conscription.

The two conscription referenda, in October 1916 and December 1917, tore the country apart. By mid-1916, Australia was the only combatant country that had not introduced conscription. With the Somme offensive's increasing carnage on the Western Front, Australia's Labor Prime Minister, Billy Hughes, decided that for the Australian troops to survive as an independent force and not be integrated with the British regiments, conscription must be introduced. However, conscription was against the platform of the Australian Labor Party (ALP), and many in Hughes' party felt strongly about the issue. To bypass the party and the parliament, Hughes decided to take the matter to the people. With the full weight of government resources behind him, and to the amazement of those in power, the government was narrowly defeated.

The recruitment problems were not resolved and the war continued to exact a heavy casualty toll, so a second conscription campaign was held towards the end of 1917. Hughes, freshly expelled from the ALP, joined forces with the conservatives to create a new party, the Nationalist Party, and won a landslide election in May of that year. The second campaign was much fiercer than the first. As women over the age of twenty-one had the vote in Australia, they became very important for both the pro- and anti-conscription lobbies, and much of the propaganda was aimed at them. This referendum was fought in an atmosphere of distrust and social upheaval.

An advertisement with the heading "The blood vote" with illustration depicting a woman placing a 'YES' vote into a ballot box with a devil figure watching in the background.

'The blood vote', leaflet drawn by Claude Marquet, with a poem by WR Winspear. (AWM RC00337)

While the AIF was fighting the Third Battle of Ypres in Flanders, the home front was ablaze with discontent and disharmony. Through the winter of 1917, New South Wales and other states were paralysed by 'The Great Strike', an industrial dispute between railway workers and the government over workplace reform. Huge rallies and demonstrations were held, including one on 9 August when hundreds of women, representing the families of those on strike, met with the Acting Premier, George Fuller. This was followed ten days later by a demonstration of more than 100,000 people. Melbourne did not escape the turmoil, with a series of food riots in August 1917 that brought the precarious wartime situation of high prices and inflation to the fore. Three women—Alice Suter, Jennie Baines and Adela Pankhurst—were arrested for addressing the crowd. It was against this backdrop that the second referendum was held. Once again, the government lost, albeit narrowly. Conscription was never introduced in Australia during the war and the AIF remained an all-volunteer force.

By the time the war ended, significant political changes had been brought about by the war. The creation of the Department of Repatriation (now the Department of Veterans' Affairs) in 1918 to assist with the reintegration of ex-servicemen and women into Australian society and the development of an extensive system of repatriation benefits was a landmark social welfare decision that had an impact throughout the twentieth century.

At war's end, there was hardly an Australian family not touched by the war. In 1914, no-one could have foreseen the events and changes. Australian women actively participated both on the home front and at war, and some sacrificed their lives for their country. Many women's lives were changed forever. There were thousands of widows, children without fathers, families who had lost sons, brothers and cousins. Others had to deal with lifelong illnesses, physical and psychological scarring and permanent disfigurement. And when the men eventually returned home throughout 1919, the troops brought with them a pandemic influenza that killed thousands. The Nivison family from Walcha in northern New South Wales had joyously welcomed back two sons from the war, only to suffer the sudden death by flu of another who had travelled to Sydney to welcome the boys home. A younger sister recalled all their new white dresses (made in celebration of their soldier brothers' safe return home) being plunged into the copper and dyed black for mourning.

But in another way, the wartime experiences for the majority of Australian women had other significant repercussions. The scale and impact of their voluntary war work was unprecedented. The guns may have ceased but the momentum at home did not. Much of the women's voluntarism continued into the inter-war period. The Australian Red Cross refocussed on peacetime initiatives and continued to cement its position as one of the most influential and important social welfare organisations in Australia. The Country Women's Association (CWA) was formed in 1922 and became a powerful non-political women's lobby group looking after the interests of rural women and children. Other women's political pressure groups, such as the United Associations of Women and the Australian Housewives' Association, were formed or consolidated in the inter-war period. The seeds for social change were sown in World War I but the bigger changes were to occur twenty-odd years later in World War II.

An elderly woman amongst flowers.

A woman mourner lays a wreath after the war. State Library of New South Wales (SLNSW), Hood Collection, a239002

A doctor, nurse, and patient.

Sister May Miles and Captain McDonnel prepare to dress the wounds of a patient at the Australian Voluntary Hospital, St Nazaire, France, in 1914. AWM P01064.010

Women in a basket being hoiseted up to ship.

Australian nursing sisters are winched aboard the transport ship SS Hororata in a padded cane basket en route to the Middle East, Fremantle, Western Australia, March 1915. AWM P02226.013

Nurses marching on a lawn in front of a large castle.

Red Cross VAs, in their white uniforms with distinctive emblem, march past their President, Lady Helen Munro Ferguson, in the grounds of Government House, Sydney, c1915. AWM H11580

A male soldier and a female nurse walking under a guard of honour given by male soldiers.

An Australian soldier marries a nurse at the Church Camp at Lemnos, October 1915. (AWM P01360.001)

A male soldier and a female nurse standing on a dirt path with rows of tents on either sides with more male soldiers and female nurses.

Medical staff and nursing sisters of the 3rd Australian General Hospital on the island of Lemnos, approximately 100 km from Gallipoli. Many Gallipoli casualties went to Lemnos; others were shipped to Egypt, Malta or England for treatment. (AWM J01438; photographer: Albert W Savage)

Women in a packing room with a couple of men.

Australian Red Cross workers pack parcels for Australian prisoners of war. AWM H11793

A cover of a book featuring a woman holding a vase of flowers.

'The Rose of No Man’s Land’, music by James A Brennan and words by Jack Caddigan. This popular World War I song eulogised the role played by nurses in the war. The only problem was the popular image on the cover and the two last lines: 'Mid the war’s great curse, stands the Red Cross nurse, she’s the Rose of "No Man’s Land" depicts the amateur Red Cross VA nurse rather than the trained professional nurse. NLA MUS mba 784.71 B838

A sheet music cover featuring writing over a map of Australia.

Cover sheet of wartime song 'Forward Australia’, dedicated to Lady Helen Munro Ferguson, the wife of the Governor-General and President of the Australian Red Cross Society, 1914–1920. NLA MUS N mba 782.5421599 M987

A map of Australia with a cross in the middle.

Hundreds of school children mass together to form 'Australia’ and a red cross as part of a display for Australia Day, July 1915. SLNSW GPO 1-16327

A cardbox with a picture of a wattle sprig, a map of Australia with a red cross in the middle and writing.

An Australian Red Cross Christmas box, complete with wattle motif, sent to all sick and wounded soldiers in 1918. AWM REL32657

Female nurses on camels in front of the Sphinx and pyramids

In their time off in Egypt, nurses engaged in souvenir-hunting or went on excursions to the pyramids. Socialising with officers was also popular. Matron Grace Wilson wrote, "I suppose we did most of the things one is supposed to do in Egypt – sailed in feluccas on the Nile, rode donkeys, rode camels across the desert to Sahhar [sic], watched the moon rise in front of the Sphinx, [and] had our fortunes told in the sand." AWM PR01870; AWM P00411.001

Women with luggage standing in front of a truck with a cross on it.

Nursing staff of 2nd Australian General Hospital wait at the railway station in Cairo, Egypt, en route to France, March 1916. AWM P00156.043

Male troops on board a naval ship prior to departure. A group of female nurses stand at the rail, centre foreground.

The adventure begins for a group of Australian nurses departing from Melbourne in the troopship HMAT Euripides, May 1916. On the long sea voyage, the women were kept busy assisting with vaccinations and operations, and training male orderlies. AWM PB0381

People mourning in a graveyard.

Nurses and soldiers lay flowers on the graves in Old Cairo Cemetery after attending a memorial service and march through the city streets on Anzac Day 1916. In the foreground is the grave of Sister Norma Mowbray, AANS, who died of pneumonia in January 1916. AWM C01794

A nurse touching the hand of a man being carried on a stretcher.

Australian Sister Hilda Loxton farewells a wounded French soldier being evacuated from the mobile hospital stationed south-west of Amiens in early 1918. The hospital was established and funded by a wealthy American, Mrs Bordern Turner. AWM P01790.003

Medical staff attending patients outdoors in front of a large tent.

Staff of 2nd Australian General Hospital tend patients in beds in the sun outside a tent at their newly occupied site at Wimereux, near Boulogne, France, 1916. AWM P00156.049

Woman in military uniform wearing medals.

Studio portrait of Olive May (Kelso) King, who joined the Serbian Army as an ambulance driver. She wears her Serbian medals and awards, including the Serbian Order of St Sava, 3rd Class. AWM P01351.003

A woman in nurse uniform stand in front of a tent.

Sister Ada Smith, Australian Army Nursing Service, stands outside her tented quarters at the 2nd Australian Casualty Clearing Station (CCS) at Trois Arbres, France, in 1916. Describing her work in the front line of medical care on the Western Front, she recalled: ‘all those healthy men came in dead, dying, unconscious or moaning’. The saddest ward in a CCS was the resuscitation or ‘moribund’ ward. In this ‘hopeless, heartbreaking place’ nurses like Smith would battle to restore warmth and life to men in shock from severe wounds, ‘saturated and covered in mud ... stone cold and pulseless’, before they could even be considered for surgery. (AWM P00156.058)

A patient having his injured let attended to by medical staff.

Sister Lynette Crozier and medical staff apply a dressing on the leg of a wounded French soldier in a mobile hospital attached to the French forces. Originally from the Sydney Hospital, Sister Crozier was one of twenty Australian nurses sent to France by the Australian Red Cross in 1916. AWM P01790.001

A group of mostly women in military uniform standing outside of the entrance to a building.

A group of Australian nurses and soldiers outside the YMCA Lounge in the Strand, London, about to leave on a trip to Hampton Court. AWM H15635

A man with an injured leg sitting down with a nurse standing behind.

A nurse prepares to use electro-therapy to treat a patient for 'trench feet’ disease at the No 1 Australian Auxiliary Hospital at Harefield, England, in April 1916. AWM P02402.003

People in a sleeping carriage.

A nurse of the 1st Australian Auxiliary Hospital with patients in a hospital train at Denham, England, in April 1916. AWM P02402.004

Hospital ward full of patients.

Christmas Day 1916 in one of the decorated wards of the large 600-bed Victoria War Hospital in Bombay, India. AANS nurses staffed the hospital and their patients included British troops from the Mesopotamian campaign and captured Turkish prisoners. AWM P00562.174

A man in uniform accompanied by a woman walking through two columns of nurses.

AANS nursing staff of No 1 Australian General Hospital at Rouen, France, form a guard of honour to greet Her Majesty Queen Mary, July 1917. AWM K00019

A group of women and girls dressed in fancy clothes and holding flowers.

A group of women and children from Dungog in New South Wales dress as the Queen of England and her Ladies-in-Waiting to raise money for France Day, 1917. Holding pageants and dressing up was a popular form of fundraising during the war. AWM P02406.010

An advertisement with the heading, 'God bless dear Daddy who is fighting the Hun and send him Help' and illustration of woman sitting on a chair and holding a little girl praying on her knees.

'God bless dear Daddy, who is fighting the Hun and send him Help', recruitment poster by Norman Lindsay. (AWM ARTV05469)

A black and white leaflet of three women firing a big gun with the word 'YES!' inscribed on the shell being fired.

Pro-conscription propaganda leaflet by Edward Nuttall AWM RC00320

Women with washing basins in front of tents.

Nurses in Salonika wash their clothes outside their rudimentary tent quarters. Extreme climate, limited food and water, and rampant disease were features of the Salonika campaign, 1917. AWM C04337

A woman standing behind patients lying on deck chairs.

Australian Dr Hodgson with her French patients recuperating in the sun, Royaumont Hospital, France. ARC Victorian Division Archives ARCV P00297-06

A female nurse attending to a male patient inside a hospital ward.

Australian female doctors and nurses worked at Royaumont Hospital, established by the Scottish Women’s Hospital in an old abbey near Paris.
[ARC Victorian Division Archives ARCV P00297-12]

a room full of women sitting down and sewing around a table full of materials.

Women at Melbourne Town Hall sew shirts and vests for the Australian Comforts Fund, while men in the rear of the photograph model the results. 'On the average', the Melbourne Argus reported in August 1915, 'upwards of forty women have worked in the sewing-room at the Town Hall each day for a year'. (AWM J00360; Melbourne Argus, 17 August 1915, p. 8)

Women sitting at work tables and working with hats.

Young war widows in millinery classes. This was one of the employment programs aimed at assisting soldiers’ widows to become financially independent. AWM P00158.011

Soliders in uniform with women and a child holding donation boxes.

A group of women, soldiers and children collect money on Allies’ Day in Martin Place, Sydney. Australians were generous donors to overseas causes. The boxes read 'To relieve the Distress of the Allied Nations’. SLNSW, At Work and Play collection, 05514

A woman at an easel in front of ruined buildings.

Artist Evelyn Chapman sketches the ruins of the church at Villers-Bretonneux, 1919. Chapman was one of the first Australian women to visit the Western Front after the war; she accompanied her father, who was working with the New Zealand War Graves Commission. AWM E05495

A painting of a bombed out building.

Ruined church at Villers-Bretonneux, by Evelyn Chapman, 1919. Tempera on felt paper, 57.3 x 41.5 cm. AWM ART19588

A woman being introduced to a badly wounded patient by a military officer with two nurses in the background.

Sister Edith Horton (far right) and an unidentified colleague escort Queen Mary on a visit through the wards of the Sidcup Hospital in Kent. An Australian facio-maxillary section was based at the hospital to treat soldiers with severe facial injuries. AWM P03040.001

Three nurses standing in front of an entrance with flags.

Australian nurse Ruby Ingram (far right), Assistant Superintendent of the Suffolk Red Cross Hospital (Ampton Hall), Bury St Edmonds, Suffolk, with two VAs on Armistice Day, 11 November 1918. Ruby was awarded the Royal Red Cross for her war work. ARC Victorian Archives

A poster of a woman holding her arms outstretched with an Australian flag background.

Women! Help Australia’s sons to win the war, by John Sands Pty Ltd, c1918. Lithograph, 74 x 50 cm. AWM ARTV05621

A large factory with workers seated at work tables.

The Commonwealth Clothing Factory opened in Melbourne's Southbank in 1912 to make uniforms for the militia. By 1915 its main product was the baggy, pea-soup coloured uniform worn by Australian soldiers overseas. The factory offered better working conditions and wages than its predominantly female staff might have received from private employers, but workers were expected to labour selflessly for the war effort. (AWM DAX2294)

People sitting at a large dining table.

AANS nurses share a meal with wounded Australian soldiers, nearly all of whom have eye or facio-maxillary injuries, aboard No 1 Australian Hospital Ship Karoola, as it returns home, 1919. AWM P01667.002

A row of women and girls rejoicing and waving flags on a city street.

Australia's streets had begun to fill with people in anticipation of the armistice, and city streets seethed with moving bodies once the news broke. The noise seemed incredible—singing and cheering, young men and women beating on tin cans and blowing on whistles. Effigies of the German emperor were mocked, hanged and torched. (AWM A03281)

Soldiers sit in a room at table with food and drinks in front of them.

Family and friends anxiously await the arrival of cars carrying returned men, including some wounded, at the Anzac Buffet in Hyde Park, Sydney, June 1919. AWM H11576

A family standing outside a house with flags and other items including a broom and wheel.

Welcome home for returning soldiers, Lewisham, New South Wales. It took until the end of 1919 for most of the soldiers to return home to Australia. SLNSW, At Work and Play, 05156

A large dining hall with a small group of nurses standing inside.

Interior view of the Cheer Up Hut Canteen, Adelaide, 18 December 1919. The Cheer Up Society was formed on the outbreak of war to farewell troops heading off overseas and to welcome home the sick and wounded soldiers. The Cheer Up Hut, located near Adelaide Railway Station, provided meals, concerts and dances for soldiers, staffed by volunteers. SLSA, B 5505

Two men in beds with wheels outside accompanied by nurses and two men in suits.

Nurses and a VA tend war veteran patients in mobile hospital beds in the grounds of the Glenelg Anzac Hostel, South Australia, c1925. AWM P03845.007

A photograph of a headstone.

The sacrifice of mothers. The gravestone of Annie Whitelaw, from Briagolong in Victoria, whose six sons enlisted. Three were killed during the war and her eldest son, Ken, died from his wounds in 1922. The Gippsland Times, Sale, Victoria

A photograph of memorial scroll.

The memorial scroll given to next-of-kin for British soldiers and nurses that died in World War I. Australian nurse Narrelle Hobbes enlisted in the British nursing service, and served in Malta, Sicily, India and Mesopotamia, where she spent eight months in Basra and Amara. She fell ill and, after a failed recuperation in the Himalayas, died en route to Australia on 10 May 1918. AWM, Papers of Narrelle Hobbes, 2 DRL/0162

A photograph of a badge.

Sterling silver Female Relative’s Badge with a blue enamelled oval issued to Australian women by the Department of Defence. The two bars indicate that this badge’s owner, Mrs Alice Crook, had three sons serving overseas, one of whom died of wounds on 4 October 1918. AWM REL/11143

Female crew members onboard a boat on the water.

A launch operated by three members of the Women's Royal Australian Naval Service (WRANS). AWM P00444.194

World War II

... the second line of defence ...

The year 1939 began ominously in Australia. A scorching summer with temperatures hovering around the century mark in the Fahrenheit scale sparked the worst bush fires in living memory. The Black Friday fires claimed seventy-one lives, a number of towns were destroyed and a million acres of forest across Victoria and New South Wales were burnt. If the weather was out of control, so too was the political stability of the western world. Another world war was imminent. No-one seriously believed that British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain's policy of appeasement would curtail the German leader Adolf Hitler. Anzac Day ceremonies across Australia saw increased numbers of participants and spectators. 'These are dreadfully anxious days' wrote South Australian Kathleen Kyffin Thomas. 'It seems now as if only a miracle—or a series of miracles—can possibly keep us out of one of the most ghastly wars imaginable.'

A woman using an angle grinder of a block.

A female volunteer uses a grinder to pierce steel in a factory. This sort of image was unheard of before the war. Women became involved in nearly every aspect of industrial activity as they released men for active service. AWM 044521

Australian women wondered what role they would play in the looming national emergency. Their lives had subtly changed since World War I. Female workforce participation had increased, especially in areas of business and office work and in manufacturing, where women were mostly paid 50-60 per cent of the male wage. Educational opportunities opened up (by 1939 one quarter of university students were women) and doors once tightly shut were gently prised open by the persistent and strong-willed. Health outcomes were better: child and maternal mortality rates declined, self-help voluntary organisations such as the Country Women's Association (CWA) were established, domestic laboursaving devices and smaller family sizes all helped to chip away at the obstacles faced by women. Many bore the brunt of the Depression of the 1930s, when the morale and health of their menfolk were shattered by unemployment; and many women still had the problem of caring for disabled and now middle-aged veterans from the earlier war.

Australian women wanted to help in tangible ways both before and after the declaration of war on 3 September 1939, but they had trouble convincing the government, especially if they wanted to step outside the traditional boundaries of what was considered the women's sphere. The story of the Women's Voluntary National Register (WVNR) demonstrates this lack of interest on the part of government.

The seeds of the WVNR were sown in early 1939. A deputation representing thousands of Australian women from organisations such as the Anzac Fellowship of Women, the Australian Red Cross, the CWA and the Australian Women's National League met with the Minister for Defence, Brigadier Geoffrey Street, on 14 February 1939. Mrs Mulcahy, President of the Central Women's Auxiliary of the Returned Sailors' and Soldiers' Imperial League of Australia (RSSILA), represented 'between 60,000 and 100,000 women'. As she explained to the Minister, 'We, as you know, in the last war stood behind our men, but in this emergency we would like to stand with them'. 'Women want to be doing something. We are very keen', urged another participant, Mrs Moss, from the Australian Defence League.

The deputation to the Minister for Defence in Melbourne shows that Australian women were determined not to be ignored in the event of a 'national emergency', as the impending war was called. They were already mobilising independently of government, long before the auxiliary services were formed. Quasi-paramilitary organisations such as the Women's National Emergency Legion (WNEL), established by Mrs Helen Ryan in Queensland in 1938, trained women for a range of tasks including signalling, transport driving and motor maintenance. The WNEL is best known for providing transport and ambulance drivers to the Americans in Queensland during the war. In January 1939, the Women's Voluntary Service (WVS) was formed in New South Wales and, in April 1939, the Women's Emergency Signalling Corps (WESC) was established in Sydney by Florence McKenzie. She offered wireless telegraphy courses to women volunteers, and later trained thousands of men wanting to enlist in the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF).

Well established organisations such as the Australian Red Cross responded by re-opening branches, and women once again became Voluntary Aids (VAs). Then there was the Australian Women's Flying Club, formed in 1938, where women aged from sixteen to thirty-five attended classes and lectures on aeronautical topics. In 1940, the club became the New South Wales branch of the Women's Air Training Corps (WATC). The WATC was formed in February 1940 by Mary Bell, whose husband was in charge of the RAAF Directorate of Organisation in Melbourne, and Freda Thompson, a pilot who tried to join the Air Transport Auxiliary in Britain but was refused a travel permit to leave Australia. The WATC later provided the basis for the Women's Auxiliary Australian Air Force (WAAAF).

But all this feverish action was useless if the government did not acknowledge or respond to the women's initiatives, and recognise the role that women could play. One of the protagonists at the February deputation was Mrs Ivy Brookes, a leader of women's organisations in Melbourne, the eldest daughter of former Australian Prime Minister Alfred Deakin, wife of leading Australian businessman Herbert Brookes, and sister to Vera White (née Deakin) who had done so much in World War I. Ivy had recently returned from Europe and Britain, where she witnessed first hand the British government's home front emergency plans. She was particularly taken by the support the British government was giving to women's organisations.

Ivy Brookes returned to Melbourne full of ideas, but was disappointed to find a Federal government, led by an ailing Joe Lyons, uninterested in womanpower. A debate was also underway concerning a national manpower register that specifically excluded women. Most politicians reflected the commonly held view that it was not necessary or desirable for women to be involved in a national register. Defence Minister Street, so fulsome in praise to the women during the February deputation, was somewhat duplicitous in a confidential cabinet document two weeks later when he stated that there would be little demand for women and that in the eventuality of war their work would be limited to the traditional domestic roles of caring, relief work and knitting socks.

So it was with some reluctance that the Australian Government established the WVNR. In some ways it was a token gesture. It was to be set up in each State and run voluntarily by women's organisations similar to those in the Victorian deputation. The Register enabled women who wished to be involved in the war effort, either in a paid or unpaid capacity, to nominate various types of work, should the need arise. A system of voluntary registration, guided but not controlled by government, was established. The government offered no training, back-up or allocation of work, either paid or unpaid.

This, of course, was not what the women had in mind. They wanted to train and prepare in many areas of defence where women had not previously worked. They wanted to develop driving and mechanical skills, to learn signalling, to become wireless operators, navigators and engineers. They wanted to learn these skills so that men could be free, if the need arose, to fight. They also wanted to learn how to shoot and join rifle clubs to protect themselves if the country was invaded. This interest by the women in the traditionally masculine world of guns and war, and their eagerness to participate, was often pilloried in the press. Cartoons of women dressing up in military uniform, playing war games and generally causing havoc were common. The creation of female paramilitary organisations, with their special uniforms, was 'humbug and play-acting, involving time, energy and money which could surely be put to better use', some argued. There was innate prejudice within Australian society towards women undertaking these sorts of activities, and women had to fight hard to be taken seriously.

Thousands of Australian women registered with the WVNR, most of them aged between seventeen and thirty-five, single and already in the paid workforce. Their male equivalents were enlisting in the services, and they wanted to be part of the war effort too, so they registered with the WVNR. By December 1939 there were more than 26,000 women registered across the country, many of them young typists, stenographers and office workers.

But once the WVNR was set up, nothing happened. Mrs Ray Ellis, State Secretary of the Western Australian WVNR, lamented in June 1940: Many of my members are growing restive in their inactivity, despite the fact that I tell them our job is to be prepared to undertake any instructions from the Defence Dept. and that for the present, waiting is the job to be done. I wondered if it would be possible to form classes for a Women's Defence Corps, as they all want to fire rifles or do something equally drastic.

To counter government inertia, the Women's Australian National Service (WANS) was formed in New South Wales, led by Lady Wakehurst, the wife of the Governor. The objective of the WANS was to 'mobilise women's maximum war effort' through coordination and training. More than 10,000 women, mostly aged under forty, signed on. General training included physical fitness, first aid, home nursing, squad drill, air raid precautions, signalling, map reading and canteen cookery. At the age of seventeen, Peggy Williams, with her father and brother in the army, was typical of the young women attracted to the WANS. She was employed at the biscuit factory Peak Freans, and although the company began producing the hard, solid army biscuits for the troops, she 'still didn't feel that that was enough' so joined the WANS. Many of its leaders, such as Eleanor Manning, were originally from the Girl Guides movement, and later went on to join the auxiliary services.

A poster of women dressed in various uniforms.

Join us in a victory job, by Maurice Bramley, 1943, lithograph on paper, 49 x 60 cm. AWM ARTV08836

How can I Help?—I can knit sox; I can knit babies' clothes; I can sew; I have leisure and can type; I could drive an ambulance; I could learn first aid; I could do ARP work; I can raise funds; I could draw posters.

Daily Telegraph, 18 September 1939

Women in the services

There was only one women's service on the outbreak of war—the Australian Army Nursing Service (AANS). A special nursing service for the RAAF, the Royal Australian Air Force Nursing Service (RAAFNS), was formed in July 1940 with rates of pay and conditions similar to the AANS. Margaret Lang was appointed Matron-in-Chief, and Muriel Doherty, who was a VA in the previous war and had trained to be a nurse, was recruited to become the Matron of No. 3 RAAF Hospital at Richmond, New South Wales. More than 600 nurses from the RAAFNS served during World War II in Australia and Papua and New Guinea.

Seventeen months after the beginning of the war, faced with increasing shortages of manpower, Federal Cabinet decided, very reluctantly, to introduce women into the armed services. It was no accident that the Women's Auxiliary Australian Air Force was the first women's auxiliary to be established. The head of the RAAF, Air Chief Marshal Sir Charles Burnett, seconded from the RAF in late 1939, supported the concept of women in the air force. He set about introducing airwomen into the RAAF, but it was to take almost twelve months for the WAAAF to be formed.

Military leaders and politicians reflected the attitude of Australian society that a woman's place was a domestic one. The idea of women invading the officers' mess was abhorrent. Issues of equal pay and of women taking men's jobs at the end of the war, and the threat such changes may make to society, all helped to instil fear. The idea was bounced from one committee to the next throughout 1940. As late as January 1941, the Advisory War Council recorded that 'the feeling of the Council was against the enlistment of women in the Fighting Services, particularly for duties which, in civil life, are performed by men'.

But the air force, navy and army desperately needed wireless telegraphists, and there were simply not enough suitable men available, trained or otherwise. Women were finally given the green light when the formation of the WAAAF was announced in the newspapers on 26 February 1941. This announcement was followed by the creation of the Women's Royal Australian Naval Service (WRANS) in April, the Australian Women's Army Service (AWAS) in August, and the Australian Army Medical Women's Service (AAMWS) in December 1942.

Women in uniform marching along the street.

Members of the Australian Women’s Army Service give 'eyes right’ as they pass the saluting base during the servicewomen’s march through the city, Melbourne, September 1942. AWM 136899

Lieutenant Colonel Sybil Irving

Controller, Australian Women's Army Service (AWAS)

Perhaps one of the best known female leaders from World War II, Sybil Irving was born into the military—at Victoria Barracks, Melbourne, on 25 February 1897. She was a Voluntary Aid (VA) during World War I and Secretary of the Girl Guides Association of Victoria throughout the interwar period. Sybil became Assistant Secretary of the Victorian Division of the Red Cross in 1940, but resigned to take up the position of Controller of the newly formed AWAS. From 1941 to 1947, she led the AWAS with great distinction. From 1951 to 1961 Sybil was an Honorary Colonel of the Women's Royal Australian Army Corps (WRAAC), with her best friend Kathleen 'KB' Best.

A portrait painting of a women in uniform.

Colonel Sybil Irving, by Nora Heysen, 1943, oil on canvas, 76.8 x 56.2 cm. AWM ART22214

First Officer Sheila McClemans

Women's Royal Australian Naval Service (WRANS)

Sheila had a meteoric rise through the WRANS ranks, reaching the position of First Officer in November 1943. From Perth, the former lawyer and barrister had, in the 1930s, established the first all-female law firm in Western Australia, revealing her strength of character and ability to get things done in worlds where women were not always welcome—the law and the military. Sheila was discharged in February 1947 and returned to Perth, where she was involved in a range of legal organisations such as the WA Legal Aid Commission. She married Frank Kenworthy in 1949. Sheila was awarded the OBE, CMG and Silver Jubilee Medal. She died in 1988.

A portrait painting of a women in uniform.

First Officer Sheila McClemans, WRANS, by Nora Heysen, 1943, oil on canvas, 77.4 x 57 cm. AWM ART23416

Lieutenant Colonel Kathleen Best and Lieutenant Colonel May Douglas

Controllers, Australian Army Medical Women's Service (AAMWS)

The AAMWS was the last women's auxiliary to be formed, in December 1942. Sydney-born nurse Kathleen Best was Matron of the 2/5th AGH in the Middle East and Greece, where she was awarded the Royal Red Cross for her courage during the evacuation from Greece in April 1941. She was appointed Controller of the AAMWS, but relinquished the position in February 1943 to Lieutenant Colonel May Douglas. Best then worked for the Department of Post-War Reconstruction, and in February 1951 was appointed to the Women's Australian Army Corps (WAAC) as foundation Director. Lieutenant Colonel May Douglas was Controller of the AAMWS from 1943 to 1946, having been a VA and then in the AWAS. She returned to the Girl Guides after the war, becoming State Commissioner in South Australia.

A portrait painting of a women in uniform.

Lieutenant-Colonel May Douglas, by Nora Heysen, 1944, oil on canvas, 76.4 x 56.6 cm. AWM ART22217

Matron Annie Sage

Matron-in-Chief, Australian Army Nursing Service (AANS)

Too young for World War I, Annie trained at the Melbourne Hospital and the Women's Hospital, Carlton, graduating in the 1920s. On 1 January 1940, she joined the AANS and was posted as Matron of the 2/2nd AGH, serving in the Middle East. Returning to Australia in 1942, she was promoted to the rank of Colonel and took over the organisation of the AANS in the South-West Pacific Area, as well as overseeing training of AAMWS. Although her AANS appointment was terminated in 1947, Annie continued in a part-time capacity as well as involving herself in a range of nursing bodies and organisations. She was awarded the Florence Nightingale Medal (1947), the Royal Red Cross and the CBE (1951). She died in 1969.

A painting of  a female nurse.

Nora Heysen, Matron Annie Sage (1944, oil on canvas, 76.6 x 56.4 cm, AWM ART22218)

Group Officer Margaret Irene Lang

Matron-in-Chief, Royal Australian Air Force Nursing Service (RAAFNS)

A veteran of World War I, Margaret trained at the Wangaratta District Hospital in Victoria, and enlisted in the AANS on 25 May 1917. She served in Salonika as a staff nurse, and was later promoted to Sister in 1919. On the establishment of the RAAFNS in July 1940, Margaret was appointed Matron-in-Chief, a position she held for the duration of the war. She was awarded the OBE in June 1950 for her services to the RAAFNS.

A portrait photograph of a women in uniform.

Matron-in-Chief Margaret Irene Lang, RAAFNS. AWM P00553.002

Group Officer Clare Grant Stevenson

Director, Women's Auxiliary Australian Air Force (WAAAF)

From Wangaratta in Victoria, Clare attended the University of Melbourne in the early 1920s, completed a Diploma of Education, and was involved with the YWCA until hired by the Berlei company in 1931, where she became a senior executive. Selected to head the WAAAF in June 1941, she served with great distinction through the war as leader of the first and largest World War II women's service. She retired as medically unfit in 1946 and returned to Berlei, where she continued to work until 1960. In the post-war years, Clare was involved in a range of voluntary and social welfare organisations, and received the MBE. She was awarded the Order of Australia on 26 January 1988, just nine months before her death.

A portrait painting of a women in uniform.

Group Officer Clare Stevenson, by Nora Heysen, 1943, oil on canvas, 77 x 56.8 cm. AWM ART22215

Women's auxiliary Australian Air force (WAAAF)

Two women in uniform looking over documents.

Newly qualified WAAAF meteorological officers consult weather reports during a flight at the end of their training course, Laverton area, Victoria, c1944. AWM VIC0203

The WAAAF was to become the largest women's auxiliary service. Clare Stevenson was the reluctant appointee to lead the fledgling organisation. She later recalled they wanted a 'working girl', not a socialite, to run the WAAAF, and she felt obliged to take up the position. After all, 'men were not running away from the possibility of death; who was I to run away from the unknown circumstance just because I was scared stiff?' Margaret Blackwood, a squadron leader in the WATC and botany tutor at the University of Melbourne, was one of the first WAAAF recruits. She turned up to a recruitment centre as directed at 9 am on Saturday 15 March 1941, and threw it into confusion because no woman had ever been recruited before and no-one knew what to do.

The leaders selected for the women's services needed a steely nerve, because there were many issues to resolve: pay, awards and entitlements, repatriation benefits, and compensation for single servicewomen. Equal pay was a thorny issue. The types of jobs for which WAAAF servicewomen were in greatest demand included radio telephony, signals, radar operations, aeronautical inspections, meteorology, catering, messing and clerical work. WAAAFs were not allowed to fly or to serve outside Australia.

More than 27,000 women enrolled in the WAAAF during World War II. They were posted across the country from Cairns and Townsville in Queensland to Geraldton in Western Australia, to RAAF bases and flight training schools and aircraft factories in the major cities. Most of the WAAAF women were in their twenties and had never been away from home before. They had to cope without the comforts of home, sharing sleeping quarters and barracks with little privacy: 'no doors on toilets or showers was a bit too much'. Coming to terms with military life meant learning to obey, salute, sleep on 'iron camp stretchers with hessian bags which we had to fill with straw for our mattresses'; they had to cope with marching, drilling, injections, and 'new overalls with all those buttons that one hardly managed to undo'. Recruits from Western Australia had to come east, travelling further than they had ever been before. Arriving in Melbourne in the middle of a cold, dark, wet, winter night made some women wonder what they had let themselves in for.

Olive McNeil was in many ways a typical WAAAF recruit. She joined up on 15 April 1942 soon after her twenty-first birthday and did her 'rookie' training at Bradfield Park in Sydney, after which she was transferred to work in accounts at No. 5 Service Flying Training School at Uranquinty, commonly referred to as 'Quinty'. She described their primitive sleeping quarters in the unlined, corrugated iron non-partitioned huts: 'Ice was often on our blankets in the morning'. One of the more exciting tasks given to selected recruits was to assist in breaking Japanese morse code messages, and Joy Linnane was one of the WAAAFs selected for Kana training. The war gave Joy new opportunities. The daughter of a Sydney tram driver, she had left school early to work as a shop assistant and office worker. Like Olive McNeil, she joined the WAAAF in April 1942 and after passing the Kana operators' course was transferred to Point Cook in Victoria. 'It was not an easy course', Joy remembered:

Our first assignment was to intercept all messages within range from the Japanese Navy ... we set up operations in a hut ... which became known as the 'hush hush' hut ... we had to keep a 24 hour watch, working 4 hours on and 4 hours off, with no standdown for many months.

WAAAFs were also trained as flight mechanics and electricians. Alma Get, a flight mechanic posted to Point Cook, explained:

A propeller plane with two women pilots on board.

WAAAF members fit a machine gun to a RAAF Wirraway at Hamilton, Victoria, in June 1943. AWM 139157

The sceptics around the place said ... we were theorists and would be no good when it came to doing the practical work ... it wasn't long before we were out to prove those sceptics wrong and prove it we did ... When I found myself solely responsible, this five foot two nineteen year old, for looking after a plane engine that had to carry human beings in flying day after day, I found it hard to believe.


The AWAS was formed in August 1941 after the War Cabinet approved the formation of a women's army auxiliary to release men for active service. AWAS were initially not allowed to serve outside Australia, a ruling that later changed. Sybil Irving was selected to lead the AWAS, and her role was crucial from the start. She had developed a reputation as a good manager and capable leader in the Girl Guides and the Australian Red Cross; and she would have a longstanding influence on AWAS matters, from the uniform (a plain, well-tailored, sensible suit with the hat modelled, it is said, on the brown felt hat Irving wore when reporting to Victoria Barracks for the first time on 6 October 1941) to the strict code of behaviour. 'Do let us remember always' she said in a speech to AWAS officers 'that this is the Australian Women's Army Service. If our conduct is based on good taste and good sense it will naturally follow that our conduct will be unobtrusive, courteous and natural'. And on working with men: 'don't be hearty—be womanly'.

This focus on womanliness was to occupy the leaders' thoughts. Much was riding on how the women behaved. Sybil continued:

... we will have in the AWAS many different types of young girl and older woman, some of them will not have been connected previously with any organisation and the young Australian at any rate is an independent and often very opinionated young creature, but she is sound and she is joining the Service entirely of her own free will, and with all of us is bound to uphold the code of discipline set for us.

Initially AWAS women were recruited for employment as typists, cooks and clerks, but events quickly changed the attitude to and role of women in all the auxiliary services. As the first AWAS officers were training at Yarra Junction, Australians learnt of the sinking of HMAS Sydney off the coast of Western Australia by the German raider Kormoran, on 19 November 1941. All 645 men on board Sydney were lost. Then, on 7 December, Pearl Harbor was bombed. Three days later it was announced that the British battleship HMS Prince of Wales and the battle cruiser HMS Repulse had been sunk. In January 1942 the Japanese swept south through Malaya, with the ultimate humiliation occurring on 15 February in the fall of Singapore. About 130,000 Allied troops became prisoners of war, including more than 18,000 Australians. Then came the bombing of Darwin on 19 February, with a death toll of more than 250 and the sinking of nine ships. The invasion of Australia was now possible and believed to be imminent.

Women in uniform.

Major Eleanor Manning OBE, c1943. AWM P00709.001

The grimness of 1942 motivated many women. Lucy Crane, for example, enrolled in June 1942, in response to the war and her own personal tragedy. 'I joined the Australian Army because a World War was raging ... I was 28 years of age at the time, my fiancé had just been killed in action in the Middle East in the battle of El Alamein'. Lucy became an audit clerk and comptometer operator but her 'mind was a flood with uncertainties ... was I physically and mentally suited to serve, could I cope with community living over a long period, what about working in hostile terrain conditions, or maybe women would be used only for menial tasks'.

AWAS women manned anti-aircraft and coastal artillery gun sites, worked in ordnance, cipher, electrical, mechanical and intelligence units, and as parachute re-folders, transport drivers, butchers, clerks, canteen workers and cooks. They served in places like Darwin, Cairns, Townsville, Alice Springs, the Atherton Tablelands and Rottnest Island.

In May 1945, the rules for overseas engagement for AWAS were relaxed and 340 women were seconded to New Guinea to release servicemen who were pushing the Japanese north through the Pacific Islands. Apart from the AANS, it was the largest overseas deployment of women. Led by Lieutenant Colonel Margaret Spencer from Sandy Bay in Tasmania, who was appointed Assistant Controller, the AWAS worked as signallers, typists, clerks and draughtswomen and in canteens and administration. For many of them, serving in New Guinea was the highlight of their war careers. In all, more than 24,100 women enlisted in the AWAS during the war.

Women who join the AWAS will be given every encouragement to remain entirely feminine. Women's service that tends towards the masculine is just silly.

Eleanor Manning on her appointment as assistant controller of the AWAS in NSW, Daily Telegraph, 11 November 1941

Women in uniform disembarking from a ship.

AWAS disembark at Lae, New Guinea, from the troopship Duntroon in their tropical uniform of khaki drill trousers, gathered and buttoned at the ankle, with gaiters and boots, a khaki drill safari jacket and slouch hat, May 1945. Amy Taylor collection

42 AWAS Barrack and Japanese POW Breakout

Cowra 5 August 1944

The preceding weeks had seen an outbreak of scarlet fever and the worst dust storm on record, but nothing would prepare Lieutenant Nell Gould and her one hundred AWAS for what happened on the night of 5 August 1944. Four Australian soldiers and 231 Japanese POWs died and more than one hundred were wounded during a breakout of Japanese POWs from Cowra in western New South Wales. Hundreds of POWs escaped, and the area was declared a battle zone until all 334 prisoners were recaptured. Nell later wrote that it was a very stressful time for everyone, including herself:

I am not ashamed to confess that many, many times I would stand alone in the lines in the darkness of night, too terrified to move further ... I had to remember that I must never show fear, except when alone, for the morale of the troops had to be kept at any cost.

A woman in uniform.

Lieutenant Nell Gould was the officer in charge of the AWAS barracks in Cowra at the time of the breakout. AWM P00585.001

Amy Millgate, WANS & AWAS

Amy joined the WANS while working at Snows Department Store in Sydney. She learnt morse code, first aid, air raid precautions and drill. Once eighteen, she enlisted in the AWAS on 13 April 1942, and was posted to the New South Wales L of C Records Office at the Sydney Showground, where she served for three years. Amy was one of the 350 AWAS selected to serve in New Guinea, arriving on the MV Duntroon in May 1945. She was attached to the Barracks staff, working in stores and supply. Their living quarters were sak-sak roofed, louvred type huts built in neat rows and surrounded by an eight foot barbed wire fence complete with guards, with twenty-two AWAS to each hut. Amy stayed in New Guinea until February 1946, when she returned to Sydney and was discharged. Swapping one uniform for another, Amy joined the Women's Police Force, stationed at Central Police Station. She married a fellow policeman, Constable Bruce Taylor, in 1950 and resigned her job on marriage. Amy has always maintained a close connection with a range of returned servicewomen's organisations, including being State President of the AWAS Association, a position she has held for more than thirty years. She has been awarded the OAM and AM.

A photograph of a woman in uniform.

Amy Millgate, AWAS, 1944 Amy Taylor collection

Women's Royal Australian Naval Service (WRANS)

The smallest of the women's auxiliaries was formed on 25 April 1941, when fourteen young women signallers were enrolled as wireless telegraphists at HMAS Harman Wireless Telegraphy station near Canberra. Members of the WRANS were later stationed at HMAS Rushcutter in Sydney with the anti-submarine school, HMAS Mindari, a gunnery school, HMAS Magnetic in Townsville and HMAS Cerberus in Victoria. HMAS Molonglo, which dealt with all the British Pacific Fleet traffic, was the only station run and staffed completely by the WRANS. More than 2000 women became WRANS during the war, carrying out a range of jobs as transport drivers, coders, stores assistants, office orderlies and translators, and serving in all branches except on ships. On the night of 19 November 1941, three WRANS telegraphists were rostered on at Harman when contact was lost with HMAS Sydney. Subsequent shifts were kept busy attempting to make contact, but to no avail. Later, one of the WRANS members on duty, Jess Prain, was very upset to hear someone say 'The Sydney's lost. I hope one of those damned women hasn't missed the message'. Jess was also the signaller who, in December 1941, dispatched to all ships from the Harman transmitting station the message that Australia was at war with Japan. After this, the workload increased dramatically for the WRANS at Harman. Much of their work was classified and confidential, with the WRANS keeping 'secret information [such] as the movement of ships, composition of convoys, the facilities of various ports and information on merchant shipping'.

Queenslander Brenda Kaarlund joined the WRANS as a driver in November 1942 after being in the Motor Cycle Squad of the WNEL. It was a bit of a shock:

Oh yes! 'Swing your bloody arms!' the Petty Officer bawled as we drilled, 'What do you think this is? A bloody corroboree?' And we'd whisper to one another, 'Who the bloody hell does he think he is?' We were issued with PKs, 'Passion Killers' (bloomers), 2 pairs navy, 2 pairs khaki. Wow! They had a waistband with a button fastener.

A woman in a diving suit holding a helmut.

WRANS member Gwenda Cornwallis in full diving gear, Sydney Harbour, August 1945. AWM P02632.002

A painting of a nurse sponging down a patient.

Sponging a malaria patient, by Nora Heysen, October 1945, oil on canvas on plywood, 45.5 x 60.7 cm. Heysen, one of the three official female war artists, depicts AAMWS Private Hazel Lugge sponging malaria patient Private Ken Glover at the Medical Research Unit, near Cairns, Queensland, in October 1945. AWM ART24373

Australian Army Medical Women's Service (AAMWS)

The last women's auxiliary to be formed was the AAMWS, in December 1942. The Australian Army was already employing hundreds of Red Cross Voluntary Aids, both in Australia and overseas from 1941, and the creation of the AAMWS was a way for the army to take administrative control of the huge pool of voluntary labour already operating within the medical system. Originally, VAs were untrained, unpaid volunteer nurses and domestics. To prevent confusion between the untrained VAs and the trained nurses, their white VA uniform was replaced in early 1940 with a light blue linen dress with a distinctive red cross emblazoned on the left bosom. VAs had to be fit, energetic and able to roll up their sleeves to carry out a range of essential but menial tasks in hospitals. As VA Nina White said, her work was 'bedpans, bedpans and more bedpans'.

In February 1941, VAs had been divided into two groups: 'active' and 'reserve'. Those on the 'active' list were to be unmarried, between the ages of twenty-one and forty, in good health and willing to enlist for service in military hospitals. These VAs were then selected to serve overseas, and later transferred to the AAMWS. Those on the 'reserve' list remained VAs working in a part-time or sometimes fulltime capacity for the Red Cross.

In October 1941, VAs embarked from Sydney on the HMT Queen Mary under the leadership of Mabel McElhone. Arriving in Palestine on 23 November 1941, they were seconded to a number of army hospitals, including the 2/1st, 2/6th and 2/7th AGHs, as clerks, domestics and ward orderlies. The experiment of replacing some male medical orderlies with VAs was hugely successful. Sue Other Gee recalled how they coped with. casualties from the Battle of El Alamein in late 1942:

We had them straight off the battlefield with field dressings. I think we had 1,500 admissions in two days ... the VAs were on duty for weeks for long shifts as we were grossly understaffed ... some of us were alone in charge of a ward on night duty, the less serious cases, small wards, helped by the night sister with injections etc.

VAs were later seconded to the 2/12th AGH in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), where they worked in a large tropical hospital caring for a wide range of patients including members of the 6th Australian Division and survivors from the British ships Prince of Wales and Repulse.

Almost all of the original recruits into the AAMWS were young, unmarried, full-time VAs on the active list. They were issued with a khaki uniform, given the rank and wages of a private, and made eligible for promotion. Tensions developed between the AAMWS and the nursing profession, for the AAMWS received a higher wage and larger uniform allowance than the equivalent trainee nurse. VA June Prior, who joined the AAMWS, said that the blue uniform of the VA was considered a status symbol. Posted to New Guinea in 1943, June was allowed, but not encouraged, to wear her beloved blue uniform. Patsy Adam-Smith wrote about the transfer difficulties from VA to AAMWS, of having to learn how to drill and salute. 'We were a recalcitrant bunch', she said.

AAMWS were posted to medical units across the country and overseas. They continued to work at the large military hospitals such as Concord in Sydney, Heidelberg in Melbourne and Hollywood in Perth. Many AAMWS worked in the Army Blood and Serum units in Adelaide, Sydney and Brisbane, where the work included 'cleaning equipment with an acid that bites great holes in ... overalls'. AAMWS were sent to the Northern Territory, to small remote units in Alice Springs and Halls Creek and, from November 1943, to Papua and New Guinea. AAMWS were involved in establishing the hospital at Buna and, as hospitals moved forward, were posted to Lae and Finschhafen. Joan Richardson from Perth served in the Middle East and New Guinea with the 2/5th AGH, where their work was essentially domestic: cleaning the kitchen, tidying the wards, sponging patients, taking temperatures and preparing special foods.

Towards the end of the war, the AAMWS served in New Britain, Bougainville, Morotai and Borneo, and after the war served in Japan. More than 8500 members of the AAMWS officially served, making it the third largest women's auxiliary after the WAAAF and the AWAS.

Women in a kitchen with trays of food.

VAs serve meals to troops in the Middle East, c1941. They later became AAMWS. AWM P02481.005

Royal Australian Air Force Medical Air Evacuation Transport Unit (RAAFMAETU)

With the changing nature of warfare, and developments in medicine during World War II, air evacuation became a quick and reliable way to transport seriously wounded troops out of the front line in New Guinea and surrounding islands to base hospitals on the mainland. Training began in April 1944, with fifteen recruits selected from the RAAF Nursing Service, formed in 1940. They would fly in Douglas C47s, capable of carrying up to eighteen stretcher cases. Senior Sister Nancy Kendrick was the nurse in charge. By August 1944, the unit was operating with members of the American 804 squadron at Nadzab in the Markham Valley, a busy American airbase. From here, Sisters, called the 'Flying Angels', flew to many forward areas such as Finschhafen, Hollandia and Jacquinot Bay. Evacuation flights were made back to Townsville, Brisbane, occasionally Melbourne, and even to San Francisco with sick American servicemen.

When the Americans moved out as part of General Macarthur's push to retake the Philippines in March 1945, the unit moved to Lae, where the RAAF 33 Squadron was based. The unit was enlarged and, with ten new nurses, was split into two. Once the war was over, the priority was to account for and repatriate the thousands of POWs scattered across the region. Number 1 MAETU was sent to Singapore to assist with the repatriation and Number 2 MAETU operated from Morotai.

On 18 September 1945, a Dakota A65-61 from No. 38 Squadron, with Sister Marie Craig and eighteen patients on board, went missing between Moratai and Townsville. The wreckage of the aircraft was discovered in December 1970 in West Irian, and the bodies were recovered in 2005. Sister Verdun 'Chick' Sheah was killed in a plane crash on 15 November after leaving Jacquinot Bay en route to Rabaul. The terrain was so rugged it took two weeks for a ground party to get to the crash site. The bodies were retrieved in February 1946 and buried in the Rabaul war cemetery.

A man lying on a stretcher being loaded on to an aeroplane.

Senior Sister Elizabeth Bray, RAAFNS, serving with No. 1 MAETU, checks patients into a Douglas aircraft of the RAAF Transport Command at Nadzab, New Guinea, c1944.AWM OG3340, photographer John T Harrison

Captain Kathleen Hope Barnes, AANS

Aged 30, Kathleen volunteered for active service with the Australian Army Nursing Service in December 1939. She was an experienced nurse, having graduated from the Children's Hospital in Perth in 1932. Kathleen spent almost the entire war outside of Australia, first in the Middle East and then in New Guinea. Posted to the 2/2nd AGH as a staff nurse, she left Fremantle on the Nevassa in April 1940 with the first group of Western Australian nursing sisters and medical officers. Kathleen nursed at Gaza Ridge and Nazareth, Palestine, where she was seconded to the British nursing services. Rejoining the 2/2nd at Kantara on the Suez Canal, she nursed casualties from the fighting in Greece, Crete and the desert campaigns. Recalled to Australia in February 1942, Kathleen was later posted to Port Moresby, where she served with the 105th Casualty Clearing Station (CCS). Promoted to Lieutenant and then Captain, Kathleen was put in charge of the first group of AANS to arrive at Jacquinot Bay, New Britain, in March 1945. She was mentioned in despatches for her distinguished service in the South-West Pacific Area and appointed an associate of the Royal Red Cross in 1947 for her 'outstanding devotion to duty and solicitude for soldiers'.

After the war, Kathleen became involved in post-war nursing associations in Western Australia. For her leadership qualities and her 'outstanding and meritorious service in the nursing profession, both in wartime and in peace', Kathleen was appointed MBE in 1963; she died in 1981.

A woman in a uniform.

Captain Kathleen Barnes, Jacquinot Bay, New Britain, March 1945. AWM 018239, photographer Reg J Edwards

Australian Army Nursing Service (AANS)

The AANS was the 'grand dame' of the women's services. An AANS Reserve was established in the 1920s under the leadership of Matronin- Chief Grace Wilson, who had been the Matron of 3rd AGH during World War I. Just under 3500 nurses served in the AANS during World War II. Within a few months of war being declared, the first group of AANS nurses was on its way to Egypt with the 6th Division. Although well trained medically, the nurses had little military training. They were given honorary officer status but did not, at that point, hold a military rank. This came later, in March 1943. Matron Connie Fall, who was in charge, said 'I would like you to try & visualize 54 women all more or less unknown to one another, all more or less thrown together to form a team'. Once the 2/1st AGH was established at Gaza Ridge, there were other problems. Many of the instruments were out of date and unusable, and the nurses had to go to Jerusalem and buy equipment with their own money.

The hospital treated most of the Australian injuries in the Middle East until June 1940, when the Italians entered the war. Due to the increased fighting, the 2/2nd AGH opened at El Kantara in December, staffed by seventy-eight members of the AANS originally seconded to England during the Battle of Britain. On 27 March 1941, fifty nurses and five physiotherapists of the 2/4th AGH arrived in Tobruk, but within a couple of weeks they were evacuated. The nurses were very upset at having to leave upwards of 900 patients, and left under protest. The siege of Tobruk began three days later.

AANS nurses also served in Greece and Crete. Nurses from the 2/5th AGH, under Matron Kathleen Best, had a narrow escape from Greece: 'In truth, we had no idea if we'd get out'. She continued: We were given orders one night to move ... We took one small suitcase each and a rug. Everything else had to be abandoned. Some nurses thought it a pity to leave their stockings, so they pinned them inside the sleeves of their coats and carried them that way ... we were taken aboard a lighter and taken out to a big ship packed with troops—Four cabins were allocated to the forty of us ... early next morning dive bombers found us ... several bombs fell very close indeed. Shrapnel came through my cabin. It wasn't very pleasant I can tell you.

When the 6th and 7th Divisions were recalled to Australia in early 1942, the majority of the nurses returned too. Only the 2/6th and 2/7th AGH and 2/3rd CCS stayed with the 9th Division during the Battle of El Alamein. By early 1943, all the AANS had returned home. Because of the threats associated with the Pacific War, members of the AANS were stationed across Australia. Hospitals were established in places such as Katherine, Alice Springs and Adelaide River. The 2/1st AGH was stationed in Western Australia until sent to New Guinea in September 1943. After returning from the Middle East with the 2/2nd AGH, Sister Mary Everard, from Adelaide, found herself at Watten Siding—or Rotten Watten, as the nurses called it—about 30 kilometres from Hughendon in Queensland, 'reputedly the front line of communication for sick troops from Darwin, Brisbane and Townsville if Australia was invaded'. It was rather inhospitable country as Mary recalled: 'the country was dry and flat, hardly a tree in sight. This wartime hospital was not unusual, as it was all tents. There were no coverings to the dirt floors, and it was hot and dusty' with temperatures up to 51 degrees Celcius in the tents. After a cyclone hit the hospital, it was moved to the Atherton Tablelands.

From October 1942, New Guinea was considered 'safe' for servicewomen, so sixty-eight nurses and three physiotherapists were posted to the 2/9th AGH, under Matron Nell Marshall. The hospital treated the wounded from the Kokoda Track and the Buna campaign. Sister Dorothy Gellie described the scene as 'stretcher after stretcher of filthy blood-stained bodies, often in pain, and some of the extent of their wounds was unforgettable'. There were major changes to AANS uniforms to cope with the hot and humid tropical climate: their traditional outfits of veils, dresses and starched collars gave way to grey safari suits which offered protection from dreaded mosquitoes and other tropical insects. There were other challenges, as Sister Mollie Nalder from the 2/9th AGH explained:

We had been taught very little during our training about how to cope with tropical diseases ... malaria with its frequent rigors and the comatose conditions of the patients with scrub typhus, for which there was no specific treatment beyond constant attention, the sparing of exertion and intake of copious fluids.

A nurse smiles as she bandages the forearm of a casualty lying in bed in a tent hospital wearing striped pyjamas. In the background three other casualties smile for the camera.

Sister Nellie Luke of the Australian Army Nursing Service bandages the wound of Private Geoffrey Abson in a tent ward of the 2/3rd Casualty Clearing Station at Heldsbach Mission, New Guinea, in March 1944. AWM 071020

Towards the end of the war AANS nurses served in Morotai, Balikpapan, Jacquinot Bay and Bougainville. Sister Joan Crouch, who served with the 2/9th AGH at Morotai, remembered 'the main complaints were malnutrition, beri-beri, oedema, malaria, dysentery, helminth infections and tropical ulcers on legs'.

Many nurses found themselves in the line of fire, and discovered to their cost that being evacuated at the last moment did not necessarily result in lives saved. Sister Margaret De Mestre was killed when the hospital ship Manunda was bombed in Darwin harbour on 19 February 1942. Eleven AANS nurses drowned after the hospital ship Centaur, sailing northwards from Sydney to Cairns and Port Moresby with more than 330 on board, was torpedoed and sunk by a Japanese submarine off the Queensland coast on 11 May 1943. Only sixty-four people survived the early morning attack, including one nurse, Sister Ellen Savage, who received the George Medal for her brave actions following the sinking. She later described the ordeal from her hospital bed:

I remembered to hold my life belt in the right direction so that I didn't break my neck and just went into the water and by then the ship was sinking and I went down with the suction of the ship and I thought that I would not come up again because I was twirled and terrific suction and I went down ... I was entangled in rope and then all of a sudden I was released and I seemed to be still under the water and I couldn't breathe at all and then I suddenly shot up and my life jacket saved me.

But the vast majority of AANS members who died on active service were in Singapore, and were either killed by the Japanese or died while prisoners of war (POWs). Of the sixty-five nurses evacuated from Singapore on the Vyner Brook, twelve were lost at sea, presumably drowned, eight died in captivity and twenty-one were massacred by the Japanese at Banka Island, with Vivian Bullwinkel the sole survivor.

Those nurses who became POWs endured three and a half years of internment. The six nurses from the 2/10th AGH captured in Rabaul were sent to Japan. The others were held in various camps in Sumatra. Constant ill treatment, poor sanitation, little food and appalling conditions took its toll on the women. Thinking about her POW experiences years later, Wilma Oram of the 2/13th AGH remembered not only the 'sordidness of the camp' but 'also the dedication we had to each other, the helping of each other, what we did for each other when we were sick. We'd try to keep the others going'. When the surviving nurses were found at the end of the war, their rescuers looked in disbelief at the bedraggled group of twenty-four ex-POWs standing there in their 'forlorn uniforms patched with bits and pieces'. 'Where are the rest of you?' they said simply. Seventy-two AANS nurses in total died during the war.

A man sitting beside a female patient in a hospital bed.

Sister Ellen Savage of the Australian Army Nursing Service (AANS), the only survivor of twelve nurses on the hospital ship Centaur, is interviewed at Greenslopes Army Hospital about a week after the sinking. When the ship was sunk she reached a life-raft, and her subsequent behaviour, described in the following citation, earned her the George Medal: Although suffering from severe injuries received as a result of the explosion, and subsequent immersion in the sea, she displayed great heroism during the period whilst she and some male members of the ship's staff were floating on a raft, to which they clung for some thirty-four hours before being rescued by an American destroyer. She rendered conspicuous service whilst on the raft in attending to wounds and burns sustained by other survivors. AWM 044428

Nurse with fruit handing a banana to a female patient with severe malnutrition.

A former prisoner of war, AANS nurse Sister Kathleen Blake, recovers in hospital, 1945. It took months for the former internees to regain their health after three and a half years of captivity by the Japanese. State Library of Victoria (SLV) an005114

The Banka Island massacre and Vivian Bullwinkel's remarkable survival

Just before the fall of Singapore on 15 February 1942, all AANS staff from the 2/10th AGH, 2/13th AGH and 2/4th CCS were evacuated. Six nurses left on 10 February, and a further sixty on the Empire Star the next day. All returned safely to Australia. The final group of sixty-five nurses, led by Matron Drummond, were evacuated on the Vyner Brook. The boat reached the Banka Strait, where it was attacked by Japanese planes and quickly sank. Many were drowned, including twelve nurses. A large group made it to shore on Banka Island, and decided to surrender. Civilian women and children were despatched to a local village while the nurses remained behind with the sick and wounded. Japanese troops arrived, separated the group, and executed the men. The nurses were then ordered to walk into the sea and the Japanese opened fire. 'They just swept up and down the line and the girls fell one after the other', Vivian Bullwinkel later recalled. Shot above her left hip, she fell into the sea and pretended to be dead. Vivian and the badly wounded Private Kingsley were the only survivors of the massacre. They hid out for about twelve days until eventually surrendering. Kingsley died shortly afterwards. Vivian met up with the remaining thirty-two AANS nurses from the Vyner Brook on 2 March 1942, and told them what had happened. A close friend, Wilma Oram, said they accepted the news quietly and never mentioned it again while they were prisoners.

A photograph of a woman in a uniform.

A studio portrait of Staff Nurse Vivian Bullwinkel, taken in May 1941. She was the sole survivor of the Banka Island massacre in February 1942. She subsequently survived three and a half years as a prisoner of war and went on to have a distinguished career as an ambassador for nursing and veterans associations; she died in July 2000. AWM P03960.001, photographer FB Mendelssohn

A photograph of a woman in a uniform.

Matron Irene Drummond, AANS (AWM P02783.001)

A photograph of a woman in a uniform.

Sister Elaine Balfour-Ogilvy, AANS (AWM P02783.002)

A photograph of a woman in a uniform.

Sister Alma Beard, AANS (AWM P02783.010)

A photograph of a woman in a uniform.

Sister Ada 'Joyce’ Bridge, AANS (AWM P02785.001)

A photograph of a woman in a uniform.

Sister Florence Casson, AANS (AWM P02783.005)

A photograph of a woman in a uniform.

Sister Mary 'Beth’ Cuthbertson, AANS (AWM P04131.001)

A photograph of a woman in a uniform.

Sister Dorothy 'Buddy’ Elmes, AANS (AWM P01180.001)

A photograph of a woman in a uniform.

Sister Lorna Fairweather, AANS (AWM P02783.006)

A photograph of a woman in a uniform.

Sister Peggy Farmaner, AANS (AWM P02783.007)

A photograph of a woman in a uniform.

Sister Clarice 'Clare’ Halligan, AANS (AWM P02783.016)

A photograph of a woman in a uniform.

Sister Nancy Harris, AANS (AWM P02783.013)

A photograph of a woman in a uniform.

Sister Minnie Hodgson, AANS (AWM P02783.009)

A photograph of a woman in a uniform.

Sister Ellen 'Nell’ Keats, AANS (AWM P02783.004)

A photograph of a woman in a uniform.

Sister Janet Kerr, AANS (AWM P02783.012)

A photograph of a woman in a uniform.

Sister Mary McGlade, AANS (AWM P02785.002)

A photograph of a woman in a uniform.

Sister Kathleen Neuss, AANS (AWM P02783.033)

A photograph of a woman in a uniform.

Sister Florence Salmon, AANS (AWM P02783.034)

A photograph of a woman in a uniform.

Sister Esther 'Jean’ Stewart, AANS (AWM P02783.032)

A photograph of a woman in a uniform.

Sister Mona Tait, AANS (AWM P02783.035)

A photograph of a woman in a uniform.

Sister Rosetta Wight, AANS (AWM P02783.017)

A photograph of a woman in a uniform.

Sister Bessie 'Peggy’ Wilmott, AANS (AWM P02786.002)

Mobilisation on the home front

As in World War I, the Australian home front was buzzing with activity. Hundreds of thousands of women responded by undertaking volunteer work in their local community. This grassroots activity was broad based and crossed class boundaries. As writer Miles Franklin pointed out, 'All the women in our street are making pyjamas or socks to keep the men dressed'. Sewing and knitting were part of the domestic sphere and reflected the heart of the women's world. This type of volunteer work was intergenerational. Shirley, a young mother whose husband was in the navy, became involved in the Red Cross and the Country Women's Association with her mother. 'We did a lot of knitting for the Red Cross; I'd often put the children to bed and sit by the fire knitting'. Betty Cox used to knit socks 'on a knitting machine. Miles of these wretched khaki socks ... then there was the Voluntary Aid Detachment', she continued, 'we used to all march around in blue uniforms and do voluntary work at the hospital and first aid and home nursing courses. I hated nursing, I loathed it. But I went every week to that hospital'.

The most obvious way for women to participate in the war effort was through patriotic funds that concentrated on providing recreational activities, food, accommodation and comforts for servicemen and women, as well as assisting the dependants of soldiers and victims of war overseas. About £28 million was raised across Australia—a staggering $1.6 billion in today's terms—from over 8000 patriotic funds. Hundreds of organisations were established during the war. Many were uniquely State based, such as the South Australian 'Cheer Up Hut Canteen' that offered cheap meals, accommodation and a place to go for servicemen travelling through Adelaide. At Central Railway Station in Sydney, one of the busiest train stations in Australia, the Women's All Services Canteen offered free meals, drinks, first aid, rest and reading facilities. Joy Boehm, a young secretary, spent hours volunteering there after her paid work was done. 'I'd serve the troops that were coming down and wanted refreshments and I'd do that until nearly midnight and then go home'. More than 2000 women volunteered at the Canteen during the war. Each volunteer worked a six-hour weekly shift, raised money for the Canteen and also gave weekly donations.

Another feature of the war was small community based funds such as the Wallacia Comforts Club, formed in March 1941. Money was raised and food parcels were sent regularly to the forty-eight servicemen and women from the small community of Wallacia, near Penrith in New South Wales. Fruitcakes, together with an assortment of other foodstuffs and clothing were regular items in these parcels. A bricklayer's cement mixer was used to mix the ingredients for the forty-eight fruit cakes, which were then transported in an old pram to the local bakery, where they were baked overnight. This ritual went on throughout the war.

Women could also join the State-based National Emergency Services (NES) to assist in the eventuality of an air raid or enemy attack. The City of Sydney NES had a Warden's Women's Auxiliary of 1850 members—750 in first aid posts, a roster of 600 voluntary telephonists, sixty canteen members, and 1000 registered to help house, feed and clothe civilians. There were also more than 2800 members of the Volunteer Air Observers Corps (VAOC) across Australia trained to report the movements of all aircraft to the RAAF. South Australian Joy Noble, a teenager during the war, remembered her wartime work:

I would spend Sunday afternoons holed up by myself in a hut erected in the sandhills outside Port Augusta ... to report on any planes that flew overhead. Instruction was through a card showing the characteristics of different aircraft. On the odd occasion when a plane did fly over, I was in a sweat in case I had wrongly identified an enemy plane as one of ours.

A poster of a woman holding piles of clothes and a slogan written underneath.

Our job to clothe the men who work and fight, poster made in 1943 to encourage women to enter the manufacturing industries that worked to full capacity during the war. Colour photolithograph with block printing on paper, 73.8 x 47.9 cm. AWM ARTV01064

Women already in paid employment (about 32 per cent of women aged between fifteen and sixty) often undertook volunteer war work in meal breaks, in the evenings and on weekends. This volunteer work was either related to their paid employment, using their skills as typists and clerks, or else used their domestic skills of making, mending, cooking and serving. Ruth Playford Smith worked full time in a reserved occupation, so she joined the VAs and worked in private hospitals on weekends and at the Cheer Up Hut Canteen. 'We all did voluntary work of some kind', said Ruth. Thelma Prior also worked full time, in her case at the Holeproof factory in Melbourne, but still managed to participate in a range of volunteer war work in her spare time, including going into the country on weekends to 'pick rose hips and haws which were crushed up to obtain Vitamin C for the troops'.

The war provided many opportunities for Australian women. The CWA ran classes on public speaking and how to conduct meetings, tasks that many women had never done before. As Dorothy Mirls, CWA's Queensland convenor of the Public Speaking and Study Circle, said: Women are being called upon to take the place of men ... Many, for the first time in their life, are asked to take the Chair at meetings; to go on Committees; to speak in public; to prepare Reports and Balance Sheets; to make speeches etc and, in fact, do many things they would have deemed impossible a short time prior to the war.

As in the earlier war, Australian women who were in Britain on the outbreak of war banded together to assist the welfare of Australian service personnel. An Australian Women's Voluntary Service (WVS) was established to run a social centre and comforts distribution centre at Australia House on The Strand. In April 1942, the Boomerang Club opened. Staffed mainly by volunteers, it soon became a hub and meeting place for Australian servicemen in London, serving cheap meals and providing services such as haircuts.

The YWCA was another organisation that played a significant role during the war. Once the auxiliary services were formed, the YWCA joined other official philanthropic groups appointed by the Federal government, the Salvation Army, YMCA and Australian Comforts Fund (ACF), to care for the fit and well service personnel, providing cheap accommodation and recreational facilities.

Women holding donation boxes.

Wartime fundraising was a key activity for women. Here Brisbane women collect for the Freedom Fund, c1943. State Library of Qld (SLQ) 161594

Australian Red Cross

One of the outstanding organisations of World War II was the Australian Red Cross. Upwards of 450,000 Australians were members of the Red Cross during the war. With 95 per cent of members being women, the Red Cross was probably the largest women's organisation in Australian history. Based on a federated network of branches and State divisions, the Red Cross was most vigorously supported in rural and regional areas. Its main duties were to provide VAs, hospital visitors and comforts, to knit and sew, and to raise money.

One of the key areas of Red Cross fundraising involved the POWs. More than 21,000 Australians were POWs of the Japanese, and close to 8000 were captured by the Germans and Italians. Thousands of civilians were also interned. The Red Cross re-established its Wounded and Missing Enquiry Bureau in each state. Working closely with the Army, the bureaux focused on despatching parcels and mail, informing next of kin and keeping relatives informed. The POW 'will always be our number one priority', asserted the Red Cross in April 1942. Three months later, an 'Adopt a Prisoner Scheme' was introduced, as well as the idea where suburban streets adopted a prisoner. The aim was to raise £1 a week from residents of each street. A monthly Red Cross Prisoner of War magazine was issued to relatives, who were also given maps of where their loved ones might be held.

From 1943, thousands of VAs enlisted in the AAMWS, but many stayed on with the Red Cross. One of the most exciting events to involve VAs was the call to staff relief units on a series of mercy voyages in September 1945, immediately after the war, to repatriate ex-POWs on the British aircraft carriers HM Ships Formidable and Glory. Truda Davis was selected out of hundreds of applicants. In her thirties, Truda had joined the Stanmore VAD early in the war. In 1942 she was 'manpowered' (compulsorily directed by the government into war work) and began working in the aircraft factory at Mascot where Beaufort Bomber components were produced. 'We made some lovely tools', Truda remarked, 'I only wish I could have kept some of them'. Truda's gruelling work schedule included waking at 5 am, travelling by bus from her home in Marrickville to Mascot to begin a nine-hour shift from 7 am to 4 pm. With her paid work over for the day, Truda then travelled by bus to the 113th AGH at Concord to undertake her unpaid VA work, which she also did on weekends. The three-month mercy voyage on Glory, as an unpaid quasi-nurse, was a career highlight for Truda and her nine colleagues.

As in World War I, the Australian Red Cross sent representatives and supplies with the troops. The first World War II Red Cross Unit sailed with the AIF to the Middle East in April 1940. Lady Blamey, wife of the Commander in Chief Sir Thomas Blamey, and Elizabeth (Betty) Larke began visiting the hospitals in Egypt, Palestine and Syria. Soon there were about nine women undertaking this role, which became known as the Red Cross Field Force. About 540 people, including 193 women, served overseas as part of the Field Force during the war.

Two women holding a fire hose.

Two VAs at fire drill, 110th Australian General Hospital, Hollywood, Western Australia, 1943. AWM P01641.044


Australian women became crucial in the paid workforce during World War II. In 1939, on the outbreak of war, about 640,000 women were in the paid workforce, primarily in clothing, footwear and food manufacturing, business and domestic positions. But as men were called up, women were increasingly sought after to take their place. By May 1942, the government estimated that 300,000 workers were needed in the major essential wartime industries. Earlier, in January, the government had established the Manpower Directorate, which was given wide-ranging new compulsory powers and controls within the Department of Labour and National Service. A year later, these powers were extended. Women without children, between the ages of eighteen and forty-five, had to register and many were 'manpowered' into certain occupations. They were directed into a range of industries and jobs previously the preserve of men: becoming tram conductresses, railway porters and dental mechanics; delivering blocks of ice, using heavy machinery, and working in the manufacture of munitions and aircraft. Women were generally paid 54 per cent of the basic male wage. At the peak of female employment in 1943, there were about 800,000 women in the workforce, of whom only a tiny fraction earned the equivalent to the men many had replaced.

A black and white photograph of of people working on an aeroplane.

Women and men work alongside each other at the Department of Aircraft Production’s Beaufort Division complex at Fairfield, Victoria, c1942. The woman in the foreground is using an electrical riveting gun. AWM P02825.004

Australian Comforts Fund

In terms of money raised, active volunteers and community support, the Australian Comforts Fund (ACF) was the second largest patriotic fund during World War II. The original ACF disbanded at the end of World War I, but its national framework was re-formed in January 1940. The ACF was made up of individual State-based patriotic funds: New South Wales was represented by the Lord Mayor's Patriotic Fund; South Australia had its Fighting Forces Comforts Fund; and Western Australia initially had the Victoria League Camp Comforts Fund, which changed its name to the WA Division of the ACF in 1941. In Victoria, Tasmania and Queensland, the organisation was simply called the State division of the ACF. The federally based ACF was run out of Sydney, with Sir Clarence (Roy) McKerihan, a World War I veteran and head of the Rural Bank of New South Wales, as its honorary federal administrator.

As well as the Salvation Army, YMCA, and later YWCA, the ACF looked after the 'fit and well' serviceman and woman. Wherever the troops were, these organisations were not far behind. The essential aim was to provide comforts, sporting equipment, recreational centres, clothing and a range of personal items such as toothpaste, razor blades, cigarettes, pens and paper to help the morale of the Australian troops. The regular parcels and Christmas hampers were especially welcomed. Thousands of volunteers raised money, either bought or made a range of items to put in the parcels, then packed the parcels up carefully before shipping them to New Guinea, the Middle East and across Australia, where ACF Commissioners worked with the troops in distributing the comforts parcels. Almost £7 million was raised across Australia during the war on behalf of the ACF; it was disbanded in 1947.

Women packing boxes.

ACF women volunteers pack Christmas comforts boxes for the soldiers. The idea was that each fit and well soldier received a parcel of his own. SLV an005638

Mrs Florence Violet McKenzie

Electrical engineer and founder of Women's Emergency Signalling Corps

Known as 'Mrs Mac, the mother of the WRANS', Florence was the first fully qualified female electrical engineer and the first female licensed ham radio operator in Australia. Attending Sydney Girls High School and the University of Sydney, she graduated from Sydney Technical College in the early 1920s. She established a radio repair shop in the Royal Arcade, Sydney, and ran an amateur wireless station (VK2GA). She married Cecil McKenzie, a fellow engineer, in December 1924, and later founded the Electrical Association for Women. In early 1939, Florence formed the Women's Emergency Signalling Corps, training both men and women in wireless telegraphy, signalling and morse code. More than 12,000 servicemen and merchant seamen and 1000 women were trained by the WESC during World War II. Florence received the OBE in 1950.

A black and white portrait photograph of woman.

Mrs Florence Violet McKenzie in her WESC uniform, Sydney, 1939. AWM P01262.018

Women carrying a patient on a stretcher out of a vehicle.

National Emergency Service volunteers in training exercises. Training included first aid and air raid precautions in the event of invasion or evacuation. SLV an004715

Working on the land

One of the main areas where women were needed was in the agricultural sector, where there was a huge shortage of labour. Australia had to feed its own population, its beleaguered ally Britain and the hundreds of thousands of American troops in Australia. From 1939 voluntary organisations established schemes to employ women on the land. The Women's Agricultural Security Production Service (WASPS) from the rural New South Wales centres of Armidale, Oberon and Maclean were quick to provide women to assist with harvesting local crops. The WANS were involved in recruiting rural women workers. In Victoria, the Country Women's Association Land Army (CWALA) was formed, and in Tasmania, a Land Army was formed in Launceston in August 1940.

A national scheme was introduced by the Manpower Directorate on 27 July 1942, and the Australian Women's Land Army (AWLA) was born. At its peak in December 1943, there were more than 2300 permanent members and 1000 auxiliary members. A vast majority of the women who joined the AWLA were from the cities and were unfamiliar with the rigours of farm life and work. As Jean Scott later said, 'Probably 85 per cent of the girls who went into the Land Army were city. The country girls were much too wise, they knew how hard the work was, they all went and joined the WAAAFs and the AWAS'. The Land Army girls worked about 48 hours per week for a minimum weekly wage beginning at 30 shillings. This was considerably less than the wages paid to the male workers they replaced.

Clarice Gomer's motivations and experiences as a Land Army girl were typical. From South Australia, Clarice wanted to do something for the war effort, but at seventeen she could not enlist in the auxiliary services, so she chose the Land Army. In 1943 she was posted to Baroota, about 200 kilometres north of Adelaide, where she picked peas for six weeks. It was very rough, 'living in no-star accommodation ... we squatted, crawled, sat, bent, kneeled and used every other position we could find' and she often wondered what possessed her to enrol. For the next three years, Clarice was posted all over the state, working on farms where she 'drove the tractor, did the milking, chopped wood and planted trees', in a cannery on the Murray River where she peeled apples endlessly, in the Adelaide Hills where she picked stone fruit, and on a flax farm at Undalya, where she laboured in the freezing cold.

Despite a vigorous advertising campaign, the AWLA was competing with the other women's services, so in January 1943 Cabinet decided to make the AWLA an 'official fourth service', to be brought under the National Security Regulations. However, delays meant that at war's end, the AWLA was not officially recognised as an enlisted auxiliary service, despite being issued with khaki uniforms. This meant that they were discharged as a civilian body—they had signed on with the Directorate of Manpower, not the defence forces, so members of the AWLA were not eligible for the same benefits as the other women's services, nor were they allowed to march on Anzac Day until 1985. Twelve years later they were awarded the Civilian Service Medal.

Women working with sheep.

Carmen Virgoe and Helen McGregor of the Country Women’s Association Land Army yard sheep at 'Killara’ station near Stawell, Victoria, in September 1941. AWM 009714/32, photographer Edward LF Cranstone

Women on a wagon forking hay.

Flora Hendy of the CWALA carts hay near Stawell, Victoria, in September 1941. AWM 009786, photographer Edward LF Cranstone

War correspondents and war artists

A few Australian women became war correspondents and war artists during World War II. Because of the nature of war reporting, the Australian Government was reluctant to employ women war correspondents or to permit female reporters to travel overseas, but their attitude softened, especially once the auxiliary services were formed. From late 1942, it was decided that each Australian newspaper could have one female war correspondent to report on the women's services. They were then given permission to report from parts of Australia that were declared war zones, but not to report from overseas—only a few women ever managed to do that.

Women war correspondents faced discrimination, sexism and prejudice on a daily basis, from the army hierarchy and male colleagues alike. Lorraine Stumm, married with a young child, did eventually report from New Guinea, India and Japan for the London Daily Mirror. She was reportedly the first Australian woman into Hiroshima after the bomb. At least twenty Australian women were accredited as war correspondents, with six (three of whom were from the Australian Women's Weekly) allowed to leave Australia and report overseas, during and in the immediate aftermath of the war. They included journalist Elizabeth Riddell, who worked for the Sydney Daily Mirror and was sent to New York to open a bureau in late 1942. The first Australian woman to report from overseas was Adele (Tilly) Shelton-Smith, who travelled to Malaya in March 1941 and reported on the 8th Division. Not allowed anywhere near the troops due to 'insufficient toilet facilities', Shelton-Smith wrote light hearted articles about Australian soldiers on leave, that were well received by her largely female readers of the Australian Women's Weekly, but not by the military. The next Australian journalist, Dorothy Gordon Jenner, who arrived in Malaya six months later, reporting for the Sydney Sun, wrote that 'I arrived in Singapore somewhat under a cloud, but this was not of my own making. General Gordon Bennett ... had been put off women journalists by Tilly Shelton-Smith's story'.

The Australian Women's Weekly was an important magazine with a large circulation. It actively supported the war effort, and its messages to Australian women involving recruitment drives and manpowering were eagerly devoured by its readers. So it was no surprise that the Weekly's editor, Alice Jackson, was given permission by the government to travel to New Guinea in December 1943 to report on the war and especially what servicewomen were doing there. According to Jackson, she was allowed 'as near to the New Guinea battle front as a woman war correspondent has been permitted to go'.

Three women were appointed as official war artists for the first time during World War II. In October 1943 Nora Heysen, daughter of the famous South Australian landscape artist Hans Heysen, was appointed as the first official female war artist. Nora was also the first woman to win the Archibald Prize. In her early 30s, Nora was commissioned to depict women's war efforts and spent time in New Guinea and northern Queensland. Wearing the AWAS uniform, Heysen was appointed a Captain and paid the same rate as the male war correspondents. She found her work very challenging. Not only were the conditions in tropical New Guinea demanding, but Nora had difficulty fitting in with her female subjects. At a casualty clearing station at Finschhafen, she felt isolated and rejected by the women. In a letter home to her parents she wrote:

I certainly don't get on very well with the sisters but to counteract that I have found understanding & help amongst the men. Spent most of my time at Finsch in the Officers mess (out of bounds) & a few of them were constant visitors to our mess. This made me most unpopular with the head sisters & relationships grew intensely strained.

Nora also found the communal style of army life, sharing showers and toilets 'intensely embarrassing', and with the feeling that no-one was really interested in or had a good knowledge of art, she felt 'strangely apart, almost an outcast'. She completed more than 170 artworks during her commission, most of which are held by the Australian War Memorial.

Stella Bowen actively sought a wartime position as a war artist. Originally from Adelaide, she had been living in England and France for some years. From February 1944, when her commission began, Stella Bowen carried out her main brief to record the activities of the RAAF in Britain. As she wrote, 'my line is portraiture. I would much welcome a chance to do group portraits treated in a formal decorative scheme ... uniforms and symbols would lend themselves to this treatment'. One of her best-known wartime paintings was Bomber Crew. Stella had started work on preparatory drawings of the seven men—six Australians and one Englishman—when, on 27 April 1944, they left for a night-time bombing raid. The plane did not return and only one man survived the war. Stella wrote 'It was horrible having to finish the picture after the men were lost. Like painting ghosts'. The third official female war artist, Sybil Craig, worked primarily in Melbourne, capturing munition workers.

There were a number of other women artists, painters, photographers and cartoonists who, while not commissioned war artists, did capture the war. Elsa Russell and Madge Massingham (both WAAAFs), Dorrit Black, Dore Hawthorne, Yvonne Atkinson and others created enduring works of art on women's wartime experiences.

Woman in uniform chatting with a man in front of huts.

There were a number of Australian women employed as war correspondents for the first time during World War II. Alice Jackson, editor of the Australian Women’s Weekly, travelled to New Guinea in February 1944 to report on the servicewomen stationed there. AWM 016535, photographer RJ Edwards

A magazine cover of a women pinning a badge to the lapel of a man in uniform.

Cover of Australian Women’s Weekly, 20 June 1942. (NLA)

A man sitting in front of a woman drawing.

War artist Captain Stella Bowen sketches Flying Officer John McCarthy of No. 466 (Halifax) Squadron RAAF, Yorkshire, England, December 1944. AWM UK2338

A painting of a group of men in military pilot attire.

Bomber Crew, by Stella Bowen, 1944, oil on canvas, 86.1 x 63.3 cm. This well-known painting depicts a crew of No. 460 Squadron RAAF, serving as part of RAF Bomber Command. Bowen was stationed at Binbrook in Lincolnshire where the Squadron was based, and began making pencil sketches of this crew of six Australians and one Englishman on 27 April 1944. The following day they were reported missing. She finished the painting in her London studio—she later wrote it was 'like painting ghosts’. AWM ART26265

A woman in a uniform.

Official war artist Captain Nora Heysen at the 106th Casualty Clearing Station, Finschhafen, New Guinea, in June 1944. AWM 073883

A painting of a woman in in a medical outfit sitting at a table of medical bottles and tins.

Sister Minnie Goldstein working in the blood bank, Alexishafen, by Nora Heysen, 1944, oil on canvas, 40 x 45.6 cm. Goldstein, an AANS nurse from Western Australia, was serving in the 111th Australian Casualty Clearing Station at Alexishafen, New Guinea. AWM ART23921

Absence and loss

As in World War I, one of the main concerns for women on the home front was the constant worry and anxiety for loved ones. For women who were wives, sweethearts, mothers, sisters and daughters, the war brought the absence and loss of their husbands, lovers, sons, brothers, fathers and cousins. In Grace Cossington-Smith's early 1940s painting of a service in St James Church, Turramurra, the congregation of mainly women reveals the traditional position of women in war: to watch, to wait, to pray. Even if their loved ones later returned home safely, there was the constant fear of something going wrong. As Queenie Shepherd, a woodyard proprietor and mother from Adelaide explained, 'I was on tenderhooks for a while, frightened ... sometimes I wouldn't get a letter for two perhaps three months, it would be held up—and you'd think the worst'. As one contemporary later reflected:

There was a pall of grief spread over the community like today's pollution is spread over our cities. And everywhere you went there was a family bereaved: parents and girls who'd lost their boyfriends, and women who'd lost their husbands—and it was all-pervading if you scratched the surface. And it was dreadful, it really was.

The official death toll for World War II was 39,366; so many thousands of telegrams were received by relatives in Australia. Elizabeth Edmondson, the mother of Corporal John (Jack) Edmondson, the first Australian to be awarded the Victoria Cross in World War II, had a premonition that all was not well with her precious only child. After attending Hurlstone Agricultural School and Sydney Technical College, Jack had joined the reserve, leaving Australia with the 7th Division in September 1940. Elizabeth recorded that on 14 April 1941 she felt something was wrong, and her nerves were unsteady. She cleaned the house to deflect her thoughts. 'I must keep busy', she wrote in her diary. Her sense of foreboding did not improve. On 25 April 1941 the diary entry reads:

Got up early & made 2 rich fruit cakes for Jack ... shall go in & post it in the morning. I am feeling afraid of something all the while I was working & packing cake etc. had a couple of brandys to tide me along. The following day Elizabeth received a telegram. All alone in her kitchen she read the news—her son had been killed in action at Tobruk on 14 April 1941.

During the war and for years afterwards, many Australians lived with the uncertainty of not knowing whether their loved ones were alive or dead. When the Catalina A-24-22 went missing with all nine crew on board on the night of 8 March 1943, it was believed to have crash-landed into the sea off Gasmata in New Britain, after a fire on board. No trace was ever found of the plane or its crew despite persistent rumours for years that its pilot, Wing Commander Frank Chapman, had been captured and beheaded by the Japanese, or alternatively had been taken POW. Frank left behind a young widow, Bernice, and two small daughters. Bernice Chapman was convinced her husband was still alive, and she wrote to the authorities urging them to keep searching. Returning to live with her mother in Sydney, she always believed that Frank would somehow return to her, and continued to write to the authorities with new leads well into the 1950s, including the possibility that Frank was a POW in Russia. But Frank never did come home. Bernice eventually remarried, but she never got over the loss of her first husband. Similarly, in May 1944, the mother of crew member Leading Aircraftsman Robert Docking pleaded with authorities by telephone. She felt desperate with the impossibility of presuming death under the circumstances. The crew were officially declared dead on 14 October 1946. That one Catalina crash left four widows, a number of fatherless children and nine sets of grieving parents, who for years lived with uncertainty and lingering doubts.

Many wives of servicemen experienced domestic, financial and emotional problems. Social work was in its infancy and voluntary organisations, not governments, fulfilled these basic functions during the war. The Australian Red Cross, Family Welfare Bureau, Victorian AIF Women's Association, Queensland's Mothercraft Associations' Auxiliary War Fund, Fighting Forces Family Welfare Bureau in South Australia, Western Australian Patriotic Fund Soldiers Dependants Appeal, and the ACF Welfare Department in Tasmania were the major providers of material and emotional help. Sometimes money was given to buy food; at other times furniture, clothes, bedding and blankets were offered. Illness and the hospitalisation of wives of servicemen were recurring problems. If women had no support networks to draw on in times of unexpected need, housekeepers were provided to look after their children when a hospital stay was required. Some of this dislocation and upheaval was experienced by Australian women and children evacuees, especially from Singapore, New Guinea and Queensland, who had left their menfolk behind to an uncertain fate.

A group of people walking up stairs carrying flower wreathes.

Friends and family of men killed in action bring wreaths to lay at the Shrine of Remembrance in Melbourne on Anzac Day, 1946. AWM 127089

Mrs (Edith) May Falkenmire, mother of five enlisted sons

May Falkenmire was in many ways typical of her generation. Her main job was to raise a family and to be involved in community organisations. As the mother of seven boys and one girl, May had a full life, but she was also a stalwart of a number of community based organisations in Tamworth, New South Wales, where she lived with her husband, George Falkenmire, who worked on the railways. May's involvement and committee work extended from helping to establish the first troop of Boy Scouts in Tamworth to setting up the first ambulance station, fire station and town hall in the city. May was a member of the Red Cross for fifty-eight years, was also a member of the Benevolent Society and the Tamworth Base Hospital Auxiliary, and worked for many years with St John's Anglican Church and Sunday school. She was a president of the St John's Girls' Friendly Society, and was involved with the St John's Mothers' Union. During the war, while five of her sons enlisted in the services, May Falkenmire continued her voluntary community service by joining the Volunteer Air Observer Corps. This quiet, gentle and unassuming woman died on 28 May 1973 at the age of eighty.

A black and white family photograph.

May Falkenmire and her sons, 1926. Left to right: Alex, Frank (who served in the RAAF), Bob (AIF), May, Ken (RAN), Joe, Geoff (AIF) and Bruce (AIF). Geoff Falkenmire collection

A photograph of a badge.

May Falkenmire’s World War II Mother’s Badge, with five stars representing her five sons serving in World War II; all returned home. Geoff Falkenmire collection

War brides

Another phenomenon of World War II was the war bride. It is estimated that more than 12,000 Australian women left the country as war brides in the post-war period, and thousands more arrived from Britain as wives of Australian servicemen stationed in Europe during the war. By 1945 many of these women had babies and small children and had to be reunited with their husbands, most of whom had already been transported back home and discharged. The vast majority of the women who left Australia were married or engaged to American servicemen. In 1942, there was a great fanfare when the Americans and General Macarthur arrived in Australia. Seen as saviours and heroes who protected Australia from a Japanese invasion, more than 150,000 American troops were based here during the war. Australian girls were expected to welcome and entertain them. Although there was a certain amount of resentment towards the Americans—they were 'oversexed, over paid and over here'—Australian girls found them relatively suave, exotic and well mannered, and many fell in love. Marriage was not encouraged by the authorities and there was a range of obstacles that couples had to negotiate, such as police and citizenship checks. But thousands of young Australian girls, many under the age of 21, were swept off their feet and the result was an exodus of Australian women at the end of the war.

Although some managed to get berths on troop ships, special 'bride ships' were organised from Sydney and Brisbane. War brides from the west had the longest and most arduous journey, crossing the Nullabor by steam train to Adelaide and then Melbourne. Red Cross VAs were on hand at each stop along the way, as well as on the train, to assist these women, many of whom had babies and toddlers. Florence Ross recalled her work with the war brides:

On arriving at Pyrmont, the mother was asked if she would like to have her children bathed and fed, before settling down for a rest on the stretchers ... the wee passengers [babies] had to pass the Medical Officer and receive an inoculation.

It was equally hard for the war brides arriving for a new life in Australia. A small group of nineteen Scottish brides, four babies, one child and two husbands arrived in Sydney in August 1946 on the SS Orbita. They travelled to Brisbane by train in unreserved seating, so the group was scattered throughout the train. Josephine Nelson, a Red Cross VA, described the somewhat chaotic nature of post-war train travel in the middle of winter, on a journey that took more than twentyfour hours:

After the train left Central at 7.40pm, thirty-six blankets, pillows and hot water bottles were distributed. The babies' bottles were filled and supper, consisting of tea, biscuits and sandwiches was served. It was far from a simple operation and, owing to the length of the swaying train, took three hours ... and involved stepping over sleeping bodies and avoiding suitcases while balancing tea pots and bottles of milk. Brides were visited again at 1.30am and 4.00am ... at 2am Mrs Ross [a VA] was washing napkins.

A woman and man under a propeller.

A young Australian woman talks to an American soldier during the war. Much of this fraternising ended up in wartime relationships and marriage. SLV an016766

Women washing and putting nappies on babies.

Red Cross VAs give the babies of war brides a bath and change of clothes before embarking for the United States, Sydney, 1945. Melanie Oppenheimer collection

War's end

On 15 August 1945, after six long years of war, Prime Minister Ben Chifley announced on the radio, 'Fellow citizens, the war is over ... let us remember those whose thoughts, with proud sorrow, turn towards gallant, loved ones who will not come back'. The reaction to the news was mixed. The elation of victory and the parties and celebrations that followed the announcement were tempered by the realisation of what had come to pass. As Kathleen Loneragan from Gulgong in New South Wales explained:

I had always said, 'We'll have a party when the war ends'. But when it came, I didn't have the heart for it. I just felt we'd all been through so much. A lot of the boys were dead, and some were still away, including my husband. So it wasn't quite the celebration we'd planned.

But one thing was for sure: life was never going to be the same again. Australian women had undertaken 'a magnificent service' during the war, and exceeded all expectations. There would be no turning back, or so they thought.

A group of women in uniform standing together waving and smiling.

Members of the Voluntary Aid Detachment (Red Cross) depart aboard the Royal Navy aircraft carrier HMS Formidable for Tokyo, Japan, to assist in the treatment and repatriation of Australian ex-POWs. In the months after the Japanese surrender on 15 August 1945 more than 13,700 ex-POWs were repatriated to Australia from various locations in both north and south-east Asia. AWM 115909

A woman with a pram and children amongst confetti.

Absolute jubilation during the victory celebrations, August 1945, Melbourne. SLV an013005

A black cartoon of various scenes.

'Not so Quiet on the Home Front’. Ted Scorfield’s humorous comment on women rushing to volunteer and don a uniform appeared in The Bulletin on 27 September 1939. Melanie Oppenheimer collection

A woman attending to a motorbike.

Eve Warnaby, a motorcycle messenger for the National Emergency Service, checks out her vehicle, Sydney, April 1941. Volunteers had to provide their own uniforms and motorcycles. AWM 006679

Women standing with life jackets on and holding blankets.

AANS nurses from the 2/4th AGH aboard the British Hospital Ship Dorsetshire on their way to Tobruk, March 1941 AWM P01348.016

In the uniforms of French-grey and carmine, female nurses form up for inspection.

2/5th AGH colour patch, worn on the tunic sleeve. AWM REL/13906

Women in uniform with flags.

Members of the Women’s Australian National Service (WANS), a women’s voluntary organisation formed to train women in skills such as first aid, transport driving and aid raid precautions, practice their signalling in Sydney, April 1941. The WANS uniform was a two-piece tailored suit with a peaked cap and tie in French teal blue, worn with a grey shirt and stockings and black accessories. Many of the WANS later enlisted in the auxiliary services. AWM 006666

A group of female nurses wearing helmuts sitting in the back of a military vehicle.

Australian and New Zealand nurses arrive safely on Crete. Matron Best wrote: "We took one small suitcase each and a rug. Some nurses thought it a pity to leave their stockings, so they pinned them inside the sleeves of their coats." AWM 007614

A black and white photograph of injured men laying on stretchers with medical staff.

Casualties lie on stretchers in the monastery where the 2/1st Casualty Clearing Station was established, Nazareth, Palestine, May 1941. AWM P02212.056, photographer Dorothy A Vines

A male patient receiving medical attention from medical staff.

A patient on an operating table at No. 3 Casualty Clearing Station, Port Moresby, attended by a doctor, nurse and anaesthetist in December 1942. The soldier had suffered a bayonet wound during the Kokoda fighting. Australian nurses were sent back to Papua New Guinea in November 1942 as the threat of Japanese invasion receded. AWM P02038.139

A woman in a uniform analysing a device.

A WRANS signaller checks her equipment, Fremantle, Western Australia. AWM P00444.195

Four women in uniform walking dow a road.

Jean (24 years old), Norma (21 years old), Mary (20 years old) and Olive (18 years old). Their father, school teacher Thomas Keddie, a World War I veteran from the 8th Battalion, was wounded at the landing on Gallipoli and discharged in December 1915. AWM 139303

A man and a woman in uniform.

Aboriginal servicewoman Aircraftwoman Alice Lovett of the WAAAF poses with her uncle, Private Samuel Lovett, 2/5th Battalion, in Melbourne, 1942. Members of the Lovett family served in Australia’s armed forces in World Wars I and II, Korea and Vietnam. P01651.003

A group of four women carrying life jackets standing in front of a ship.

Australian Army Nursing Service nurses and physiotherapists aboard 2/1st Australian hospital ship Manunda, c1941. Sister Margaret de Mestre, third from left, was killed in action when the ship was bombed during the raid on Darwin harbour, 19 February 1942. AWM P01081.005

Two woman and two children is a small space with sandbags.

Women and children take cover in a backyard shelter, Melbourne, 1942. SLV an003318

A man swinging a mallet in the rain.

Private Amber Bushell, Voluntary Aid Detachment, in wet weather clothes, tries to hammer a tent peg more securely into the muddy ground, Gaza, Palestine, 1942. AWM P02480.008

Women gathered around a piano.

Members of the AWAS enjoy a sing-song around the piano in a Melbourne city servicewomen’s hostel, June 1942. AWM 136357

A woman pushing a dog sitting on logs in a pram.

Australian women accepted the new restrictions and rations implemented as part of the 'all in’ effort to win the war. Here a woman takes home her ration of firewood in an old pram, Melbourne, June 1942. AWM 136430

Women lining up at desks attended by officials.

Wartime restrictions meant queues for ration books at the Central Richmond School, Melbourne, June 1942. Placing the country on a war footing, and enacting a range of legislation for identity cards, manpower, and the rationing of a range of consumables and goods including clothing, petrol and food stuffs was all part of a new 'austerity’ campaign. AWM 136467

A second world war recruitment poster for Australian Womens Army Service.

Recruitment posters such as this one drove home the message that women joining the services or taking on jobs in essential industries freed men to enlist and serve overseas. Release a man … Join the AWAS. Ian McCowan, Second Aust Army Svy Mob Reproduction Section, 1941–1945, lithograph, 61 x 48.3 cm. AWM ARTV01049

This is a recruiting poster for the WAAAF, with an image of a uniformed WAAAF in the centre. The poster has the slogan 'Keep them flying! There's a job for you in the WAAAF' printed in red. In a grey box on the lower left, 'Apply at RAAF Recruiting Centre

Keep them flying! There's a job for you in the WAAAF, Walter Jardine poster, [Photolithograph on paper 24.8 x 31cm; image 23.4 x 29.8cm. AWM ARTV01114]

Two women wearing aprons and working.

Volunteer workers make camouflage nets for the army, Brisbane, Queensland, September 1942. This activity was undertaken by thousands of women across Australia throughout the war. SLQ 161198

Two female soldiers standing next to each other with one peering out of a concrete bunker.

Two members of the Women's National Emergency Legion (WNEL) on duty as mine-watchers on the bank of the Brisbane River, November 1942. Mine-watchers, under the control of the Royal Australian Navy, were women volunteers who manned posts along the river, many of which were sited in private backyards. AWM P01554.002

A woman with a little girl asleep on her lap.

Mrs Hardy, with a resigned sense of uncertainty of what the futures holds, watches her husband in a RAAF passing out ceremony while her daughter, Barbara, sleeps on her lap, Melbourne, November 1942. AWM 136993

Women in uniform standing behind a barricade and waving flags.

Those not taking part in the servicewomen’s parade cheer on the marchers, Melbourne, September 1942. AWM 136908

Woman wearing aprons with trays of empty cans.

Women work in a can making factory, Leeton, NSW, June 1943. AWM 014936, photographer Earl McNeil

A woman standing and pointing on a large map while colleagues take notes.

Members of the WAAAF plot the movements of aircraft in the operations room of No. 4 Voluntary Air Observers Corps in Townsville, Queensland. On the left is Aircraftwoman Joan Johnson. AWM NEA0046

Women soliders working outdoors with a search light.

Members of an AWAS searchlight crew overhaul their equipment while another member continues to search for planes, Melbourne, January 1943. AWM 137832

A woman demonstrating a mask to other women all in uniform and holding masks.

Members of the WRANS receive instruction in the use of anti-gas respirators at the first WRANS training school, Flinders Naval Depot, Victoria, January 1943. AWM 137722

A line of women wearing uniforms with helmuts on and getting into the back of a truck.

Members of the AWAS enter a mobile gas chamber to test the efficiency of their respirators during a training course in Melbourne, March 1943. AWM 138155

A line of women in uniform outside the entrance to a church.

AANS nursing sisters file into St Andrews’ Cathedral for a memorial service for the 286 people who lost their lives when the hospital ship Centaur was sunk by a Japanese submarine in May 1943. Only one woman, Sister Ellen Savage, was among the sixty-four survivors. She was awarded the George Medal for Bravery. AWM 052204, photographer WD Martin

Depicts the Hospital ship, 'Centaur' being attacked by the Japanese off the coast of Queensland, during the Second World War. In the water, below the ship, are some nurses and sailors from the ship.

Work, save, fight and so avenge the nurses! recruiting poster, c1943-45. AWM ARTV09088

A man with a broken leg being cared for by three nurses.

AANS Sisters and an AAMWS member work together to assist a patient at the 2/1st AGH, Port Moresby, Papua, February 1944. Among the group are Sisters Mary Kiel and Mary Patterson. AWM 070603

Three nurses cleaning equipment in a corridor.

AAMWS, including Corporal Lesley Warne (left), polish operating trolleys at 113th AGH, Concord, New South Wales, c1944. Much of the AAMWS work was domestic and unglamorous. AWM 100357, photographer John Lee

A black and white photograph of girls and boys with bags and boxes.

Children collect bottles and paper for the war effort, Guildford Red Cross, Western Australia, March 1944. State Library of Western Australia (SLWA) 221634PD

Three women in uniform looking out of an open window.

AWAS about to leave Melbourne for a posting to the Northern Territory, March 1944. Left to right: Corporal Gwendolyn Blackett, Corporal Betty Moore, and Corporal Eileen Boland, all from Sydney AWM 140514

A poster of a women in uniform with cows in the background.

Join the Women’s Land Army, by H&G Pty Ltd, 1943, lithograph on paper, 74.6 x 47.8 cm. This poster encouraged young women to join the Women’s Land Army to combat an acute shortage of rural labour during the war. AWM ARTV06446

A poster of two giant hands holding objects with a crowd of people in uniform gathered underneath.

ACF gives and can keep on giving!, produced by the Australian Comforts Fund, 1939–45, lithograph, 101.5 x 76.4 cm. AWM ARTV06426

Two woman sorting through a pile of garments.

AWAS work was sometimes not very glamorous or exciting. Here three members of the AWAS at 3 Army Salvage Depot turn khaki drill uniforms into rags, Melbourne, March 1944. AWM 100372

A woman pushing a trolly with baskets and crates on it.

Given the opportunity, there was no job that women could not do. Here a woman railway porter employed by the Victorian Railways pushes a heavy trolley laden with wicker baskets and boxes, Victoria, c1944. AWM P00784.195

A woman and a man operating radio equipment.

WAAAF and RAAF radio telephone operators keep radio contact at the console of a transmitter, c1944. AWM 133670, photographer DH Wilson

Nurses in rows doing an exercise.

Members of the AAMWS undergo physical fitness training, c1944. AWM P00784.100

Woman in uniform standing on a tram.

In a role traditionally undertaken by men, a tram conductress changes the sign at the front of a tram, Melbourne, c1944. AWM 044516

A woman carrying a block of ice on her shoulder

Another role filled by women during wartime labour shortages: a woman ice carter carries a block from her truck on her regular round servicing homes and businesses, c1944. AWM 044519

A woman in uniform with a young boy on her lap with a themometer in his mouth.

Captain Millicent Stevenson takes the temperature of a Chinese child at a Casualty Clearing Station, Bougainville, March 1945. AWM 018283, photographer Jack Band

Three medical staff performing surgery on a patient.

Lieutenant Gwendoline Smyth, AANS, assists at an operation in the 2/5th General Hospital, Morotai, May 1945. AWM 092229

A painting of three woman in uniform working with gloves on.

Soldering bay (Cartridge Bundling Section, Commonwealth explosives factory, Maribyrnong), by Sybil Craig, 1945, oil on canvas on plywood, 40.2 x 45.4 cm. Official war artist Sybil Craig’s work was close to home. The subjects of her sketches and paintings centred around Melbourne and especially the Commonwealth Explosives Factory, where women were employed in war work. AWM ART22137

A painting of women working in a field.

Land Army girls on cotton, by Grace Taylor, 1945, oil on hardboard, 40.8 x 55.8 cm. Among the work of the Australian Women’s Land Army was picking cotton in Queensland. AWM ART29759

A womem and a small child and a pile of clothes.

A British MP, Dr Edith Summerskill, outfits a toddler with woollen clothing donated by Australian women for London children affected by the war, c1945. SLV an003215

Sailors and nurses in a large dining hall.

Sailors at the Cheer Up Hut Canteen in Adelaide enjoy a meal served by volunteers, c1945. SLSA B 62156, photographer Henry Krischock

Female military nurses and former prisoners of war standing and waving with bouquets of flowers in front of a car with a sign reading 'RETURNED P.O.W. SISTERS FROM JAPAN'.

Only a handful of the captured members of Lark Force survived the war, as most were killed when the Montevideo Maru was sunk in 1942. Among those to return were the Army nurses captured at Rabaul. Four are pictured on their arrival at Sydney on 13 September 1945: from left, Captain Kay Parker and Lieutenants Lorna Whyte, Daisy 'Tootie' Keast and Mavis Cullen. AWM 115953

Two army nurses push hypodermic needles into the arms of a pair of shirtless ex-POWs in a corrugated iron shed, as two other nurses look on.
Ex-prisoners of war returning from Japan are inoculated by Australian Army Nursing Service personnel in Manila, 4 September 1945. AWM 030261/19
Thre female soldiers looking at flowers placed by a war memorial.

A memorial service on the beach at Rabaul on 23 January 1946 in memory of over 1000 civilian internees and prisoners of war who died when the Japanese transport Montevideo Maru was sunk off the Philippines four years earlier. It has been difficult to create a site of mourning for an incident that took place at sea, and the shores that they left at Rabaul are distant and have been covered in volcanic ash. The men in the background wearing crossed white webbing are members of the Royal Papuan Constabulary band. AWM 124109, photographer: BA Harding

A mass of people departing on a ship with confetti.

Australian servicemen and women line the decks of HMAS Westralia as she prepares to depart for the southern states, Darwin, March 1946. These women were the last members of the AWAS, AAMWS and AANS to leave the Northern Territory. AWM 126013, photographer Keith B Davis

Four female nurses looking ata the ruins of a building.

Australian army nurses based in Japan with BCOF visit the ruins of Hiroshima in 1955. Captain Barbara Probyn-Smith recalled: "We often visited the very sick Japanese in Hiroshima and surrounds, taking food, clothing … and giving them what little comfort we could". AWM HOBJ5720


... from Japan to Vietnam ...

Following the dropping of atomic bombs on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan surrendered. Mary Verco was in Darwin, and described the atmosphere on 15 August 1945 when the message came through that the war was over: 'The room erupted in cheers ... outside we heard horns tooting, bells ringing, voices calling. We spilled out into the heat to celebrate with them. It was over. We could go home. Pick up our lives again'.

But if the Allies had won the war, they still had to win the peace. The Australian military turned its attentions to Japan, and the part Australia would play in the British Commonwealth Occupation Force (BCOF). Comprising British, Indian, New Zealand and Australian troops, the main role of BCOF was to administer the disarming and repatriation of Japanese troops, and to assist with rebuilding the shattered infrastructure in southern Japan around Kure, the devastated naval city on the vast Inland Sea near Hiroshima.

A women holding a smiling little boy.

Australian Red Cross member Carolyn Eacott holds a Vietnamese child at an orphanage in Vung Tau, January 1970. Much of the work of voluntary organisations went towards assisting the hundreds of children orphaned and displaced by the war. AWM P02120.002

Two female soldiers standing opposite each other at a table and both looking at a document that is being held up.

Lieutenant Rosina Judd gives Private AV Crawford her discharge certificate from the Australian Women's Army Service at the General Details Depot, Royal Park, Melbourne, on 23 October 1945. When asked if anyone had said anything to him when he left the Army in June 1946, Edward Asquith, New Guinea Air Warning Wireless Company, replied: Well, they did. The officer, I think it was a major, said 'Good luck in civvy life and thanks for a job well done' or something like that. Some salutary comment. [Edward Asquith, Australians at War Film Archive] AWM 117406

At its peak, there were upwards of 12,000 Australian servicemen and women stationed as part of the 40,000 BCOF forces in Japan, alongside more than 150,000 American troops.

As soon as the war was over, the demobilisation of women began in earnest, and the auxiliaries were disbanded. Despite their achievements women had been admitted only reluctantly into the armed services during World War II.

Some women found it difficult to re-adjust to civilian life and ex-AWAS Betty Gill expressed a common view: 'My Army Service had broadened my thinking, especially concerning women'. Some, like Cynthia Cadd from Western Australia, had trouble settling down; she headed back east. For others, it was different—they were happy to be demobbed, as Patricia Rattray, an ex-AWAS signaller, suggests:

They wanted to meet a nice Serviceman and settle down before any more time was lost. They didn't want any more orders, instructions, courses, schools or lectures. Just get off the uniform and get back into civilian life quickly ... Now I no longer wanted to dress the same as thousands of other women. I wanted a choice! High heeled shoes, nylon stockings, soft, pretty dresses and hats. Jewellery!

In December 1945 Federal Cabinet decided that, unlike their BCOF allies and the Americans, no Australian servicewomen were to be sent to Japan, apart from nursing and medical staff. The Australian Government did not want the women's auxiliary services to be a regular component of the armed services, and to send too many women to Japan might imply that women were needed in the services at present and, presumably, into the future. Despite the acute shortage of qualified typists in Japan, repeated requests for AWAS staff from the Australian military there, and the fact that the military was keen to retain female signallers, the government would not change its position.

By 1947, the AWAS, WRANS and WAAAF were disbanded, and the AAMWS was significantly reduced, with only a core group being sent to Japan. The AANS continued because this service was more than forty years old and did not challenge military or social codes.

Jessie Mary Vasey and the War Widows' Guild of Australia

At the end of World War II, there were more than 10,000 widows like Jessie Vasey, whose husband, General George Vasey, was killed in a plane crash off Cairns, north Queensland, in March 1945. With an average age in the mid-20s, and with at least one child, war widows looked forward to an uncertain future. Their personal losses were compounded by an inadequate pension that was considerably less than the basic wage. They were the forgotten victims of war. That is, until Jessie Vasey and her friends from the AIF Women's Association in Melbourne formed the War Widows' Guild in 1946. Branches were soon established in other States, with the federal body, the War Widows' Guild of Australia, formed the following year.

Jessie felt that 'real help for widows could only come from among themselves', and 'now, as one of them, I am sure of it'. Armed with a determination and leadership skills only matched by her energy and passion, Jessie Vasey devoted the next twenty years of her life to fostering and developing the War Widows' Guild into a powerful and respected post-war voluntary organisation. She championed their cause, regularly lobbying politicians across the country, in order to boost war widows' pensions and to secure adequate accommodation.

The mascot and symbol for the organisation was the kookaburra: a resourceful bird who mates for life, and which, as Jessie Vasey argued 'goes out after what he wants— fights for his family. Isn't that what we're doing?' A silver member's badge featuring the kookaburra and designed by the noted Hungarian sculptor Andor Meszaros was created in 1951.

A black and white portrait photograph of woman.

Jessie Mary Vasey, founder of the War Widows’ Guild

BCOF In Japan

Hundreds of Australian women volunteered for service in Japan. The first group of Australian servicewomen, including thirty-three members of the Australian Army Nursing Service (AANS) under Matron Monica McMahon, fifty-four members of the Australian Army Medical Women's Service (AAMWS) and four AAMWS officers, left Sydney in the hospital ship Manunda on 9 March 1946. Half the AAMWS were nursing orderlies, and eleven worked as clerks in medical records or the orderly room, or as secretaries to the Matron. Also on board was an Australian Women's Weekly reporter, Dorothy Drain, and members of the Red Cross Field Force. The contingent was to support Australian troops serving in Japan, and to staff the 130 AGH, first based at Eta Jima (a former Japanese naval academy), then from the end of 1948 at Kure.

The conditions they faced were primitive to say the least. The war had taken a terrible toll on the Japanese civilian population and there were significant cultural differences. As Dorothy Drain reported back to her readers in Australia:

I slop through mud puddles or dust ... my room has mats on the floor, a camp stretcher, and cupboards with sliding doors, and a bamboo rod for coat-hangers. There's also a desk and a camp stool, and I don't know whose mattress I've got, but I don't ask ... Now I'm back in my room, and any minute now the rats will start running across the ceiling.

There was also a shortage of basic hospital supplies. Everything was rudimentary—but it did improve with time.

Another group of the AAMWS and AANS sailed to Japan soon afterwards on the overcrowded HMAS Kanimbla, with more than 1000 troops. On docking at Kure on a wet and dreary late afternoon, Edna Carlton, a 22-year-old member of the AAMWS from Werribee, near Melbourne, was 'astonished at the devastation of the dockyard area'. She was stationed at Eta Jima for two years. Her outstanding memory of Japan was her visit to Hiroshima, which was 'beyond description', and the orphanages for children who had survived the atomic bomb.

Bertha Reeves from Paddington in New South Wales was in the AWAS during the war as a typist and telephonist. Also aged twentytwo, she was asked to take a discharge from the army in order to take up a civilian contract with the Australian Army Canteens Service for a secondment in Japan. She was among a group of up to thirty-five women, mainly ex-AWAS, who sailed to Japan as civilians and worked in a variety of leave centres and canteens for civilians and BCOF officers.

During earlier wars, wherever the Australian forces went, the philanthropic organisations were not far behind. It was no different in post-war Japan: the Red Cross worked in the hospitals, and the YWCA looked after the needs of BCOF servicewomen. In addition, there was the Salvation Army, YMCA and Women's Voluntary Service (WVS).

By early 1947, there were seven Australian female Red Cross Field Force officers in Japan, including June Thorpe, Win Skelly, Maureen White and Sheila Graham. Much of what the Field Force did was occupational therapy. They also dealt with welfare enquiries and were often conduits between patients and their families. 'To say that the Australian Red Cross gave appreciable help is rather an understatement', said Maureen White, 'it really was vital aid ... ARC provided a range of essential items: refrigerators, material for curtains, warm pyjamas, dressing gowns ... fruit juices, canned fruit—so many things'.

These voluntary organisations also supported another important group: the wives and children of Australian servicemen encouraged to travel to and live in Japan. Almost 500 wives and their children lived there between 1947 and 1952. They provided a 'touch of home life', and gave the 'troops some relief from their otherwise strange and bewildering surroundings'. A small village was built on a disused airstrip near Hiroshima, called Niji Mura. Wives set up a preschool run by volunteers and there were children's groups such as the Junior Red Cross, Boy Scouts and Brownies. Australian school teachers, mainly women, were recruited to teach the children.

There was some limited contact with the Japanese population, through the use of domestic servants and cooks. Few Australian women could speak Japanese. Mary Bleechmore was one exception—a law graduate from the University of Sydney, Mary spoke Japanese fluently and put that skill to good use by teaching Japanese women English. She also gave classes on Australian culture to those engaged or married to Australian servicemen, to assist them on their arrival in Australia.

Despite strict fraternisation rules, there was considerable interaction between the local population and BCOF troops, and high rates of venereal disease. There was concern regarding Australian men marrying Japanese women. Objections and prejudices abounded, and life was very difficult for these couples. It took until March 1952 for the government to authorise the arrival of 150 Japanese war brides, of whom fewer than half had children. Their entry requirements were more stringent than for other migrants, and they were initially given only five-year entry visas. More than 650 Japanese and later Korean women migrated to Australia in this way in the 1950s. Cherry Parker was the first Japanese war bride to settle in Australia, arriving with her two children in June 1952, amid extensive and favourable press coverage.

Two women in military uniforms standing by a door.

AAMWS members Mary Monk and Joyce Crane, both fluent Japanese speakers, served as BCOF election observers in Hiro, Japan, April 1946. AWM 126908, photographer Alan Queale

Children presenting flowers to women with two soliders looking on, one is holding a child.

Small Japanese girls present flowers to the arriving families of Australian servicemen in Eta Jima, Japan, 1948. The Australian troops were there as part of the large BCOF in the aftermath of World War II. SLV an010782

Maureen White, Australian Red Cross Field Force

In December 1940, Maureen was sixteen years old when she survived the sinking of the phosphate ship Triona and capture by a German raider. Left with only the clothes they stood up in, she always remembered the assistance given to her, her mother and other survivors by the Red Cross when the group eventually reached Townsville. So, in October 1944, Maureen joined the Red Cross Field Force. After her training at Heidelberg Hospital, she was transferred to the 106th AGH at Bonegilla, the 121st AGH at Northfield, South Australia and, in October 1945, the 2/9th AGH and POW Reception Centre at Morotai Island, Indonesia. The following year, Maureen travelled to Japan as a member of the Field Force. She worked in the 56 Mobile Field Hospital, Iwakuni, which provided for the medical needs of airmen of BCOF. The Australian Red Cross provided extra food supplies for patients, supervised the store, ran the hospital library and offered occupational therapy classes for patients in leather work, weaving and toy making. Returning to Australia in April 1948, Maureen left the Field Force but not the Red Cross. She devoted herself to the organisation, fulfilling a variety of roles over the years, before eventually retiring in 1989.

Men and women in uniform.

Gathering of staff and patients at the RAF Hospital at Iwakuni, Japan, war occupation forces. where Maureen White (second row, far left) was stationed in 1948. Maureen White collection

Joan Merritt Haigh, YWCA

Responding to the nationwide advertisements of the YMCA–YWCA for experienced welfare workers to go Japan with BCOF, Joan Haigh, who worked for the Red Cross during World War II, arrived in Kure to help establish the main YMCA–YWCA centre there. Joan: ... wondered how [she] would react to dealing with the Japanese ... After five long weary years of war and memories of Japanese atrocities we went to Japan supported by our Christian faith, [and] conscious of our responsibility to deal with our recent and defeated enemies.

The strict fraternisation rules imposed by the authorities were almost impossible to adhere to and over time relationships thawed. 'Not only did we cease to hate', Joan wrote, 'but we learned to love the Japanese women and children—soft, gentle folk who quietly captured our hearts'. Intermingled with hard work and long hours was the opportunity to travel around Japan, including attending a session of the war trials in Tokyo. Rather than return home once BCOF began to wind down, Joan requested a transfer to Europe, where she worked with the YWCA in Germany as part of the postGathering of staff and patients at the RAF Hospital at Iwakuni, Japan, war occupation forces.

People sitting and standing at the front of a building with archways.

Spectators watch the BCOF farewell parade from the verandah and roof of the YMCA–YWCA centre in Kure, Japan, November 1948. AWM 146023, photographer Alan Queale

The Korean War

There were 339 Australian deaths and thousands of casualties during the Korean War. It was a war that most Australians ignored, which made it especially difficult for wives and families of servicemen. June White's husband was a parachute jump instructor at RAAF Williamtown who was posted to Japan and Korea in early 1952. The worst part 'was the loneliness & lack of knowledge of what was happening to my man on the other side of the world'. With two pre-school aged children, June found it hard to cope. 'Korea was little publicised in day to day living', Jean said. 'I can remember being at a party at my sister's house & a woman asked me where my husband was that night. When I told her he was in Korea she asked me what he was doing in that country!'

Australian voluntary organisations were on hand to provide relief to the Korean people displaced and made homeless, of whom there were about four and a half million by July 1952. The organisations included church based groups such as the Oriental Missionary Society (which had operated in Korea since 1907), Salvation Army, Presbyterian Women's Missionary Union, Australian Red Cross, National Council of Women, Save the Children, YWCA and Australian Association for the United Nations.

Other work involved traditional fundraising and dispatching of goods to Korea. By November 1950, for example, the Australian Red Cross had dispatched £500 worth of anti-tetanus serum, £500 of fingering wool (to be knitted into warm clothing by the Japanese Red Cross) and £500 worth of medical supplies. The concept of the comforts parcel continued, and the Australian Red Cross continued to supply patients in hospital with an array of goods. The Red Cross Field Force sent female representatives to Korea, where they visited hospitals, distributed papers and magazines, and handed out comforts to the men.

A photograph of a women standing outdoors in uniform.

Sister Ruth Carter stands beside a 38th parallel marker in Korea on a freezing day in January 1954. Ruth Hough collection

Nurses in the Korean War

The AANS, having been re-named the Royal Australian Army Nursing Service (RAANS), was incorporated into the regular army in 1949, and in February 1951 became a corps, the Royal Australian Army Nursing Corps (RAANC). For the first time, it had officers (trained nurses) and other ranks for orderlies and nursing aids. Colonel Jessie Bowe was the Matronin- Chief and Director of Army Nursing Services from 1952 to 1961.

Although Australian nurses had been working in Japan since 1946, they were not allowed into Korea until mid-1952. The first group of six Commonwealth nursing sisters was posted to the British Commonwealth Zone Medical Unit (BCZMU), established in a two-storey derelict school in the suburbs of the capital Seoul, only thirty miles from the front line. The conditions were extremely challenging. As Sister Perdita McCarthy described:

There was no running water. The building was tapless ... no heated water ... electricity was almost non-existent. There was a generator but it rarely worked. Night 'rounds' were carried out with the aid of a hurricane lamp or candles ... it was back to basics nursing.

The Queensland nurse Valma Keylar joined up in response to the recruitment drive of the newly formed RAANC, and worked at both the Kure Base Hospital in Japan and the BCZMU in Korea. She described how patients were placed under their beds during air strikes, with the nursing staff crawling from patient to patient to attend to them. The work was intense and almost overwhelming: 'We had all sorts of war casualties. Arms and legs blown off and shrapnel wounds, bullet wounds ... It was an awful shock actually'.

The casualties were brought into the BCZMU straight from the battlefield on trucks and jeeps, often in a most dreadful state. The most serious cases were treated first and stabilised, then evacuated by plane to Japan. These flights included highly trained and specialised medical air evacuation RAAF nursing staff, who flew direct from Seoul to Iwakuni in Japan. There the patients were transferred to the Ambulance Train Hospital for the journey to Kure. Sometimes this meant working non-stop for hours until all the casualties were attended to. Nurse Betty Crocker, who was working as a theatre sister in Kure, became physically sick when, after a long shift, she:

... had to leave the theatre for a short while to vomit copiously. A severely wounded British soldier ... had lain for 12 hours ... his wounded leg had been placed in a plaster in Korea ... but a gross infection had occurred and when I raised the leg to remove the cut plaster my hands were immediately covered with maggots and dripping putrid pus.

A woman in uniform crouching down to a man lying on a stretcher.

RAAF nursing sister Cath Daniel talks to a fighter pilot of the South African Air Force who had the toes amputated from his right foot whilst a prisoner of war in North Korea and became one of the first group of POWs to be exchanged and medically evacuated, Seoul, South Korea, April 1953. AWM JK0718

The airlifting of wounded out of Korea was a new phenomenon which resulted in hundreds of lives saved. Gay Bury, from Victoria, joined the RAANS in 1951, and was posted to Japan and Korea the following year. Despite arriving when the cherry blossoms were in full bloom, Gay found acclimatising to the flying conditions only one of the many challenges.

We felt the intense cold especially when flying and were warned by the experienced Sisters that when we flew to put 'under our flying suits everything on but the kitchen sink!'

When she later transferred to Korea to work in the BCZMU, Gay described travelling to the hospital by jeep:

The journey was harrowing, pathetic and tragic; casualties from the many battles fought in the city, the squalor beyond belief together with the stench of foul smelling seepage everywhere. There were numerous maimed children hobbling about with makeshift crutches, often wooden poles supporting their stumps, all ragged and barefoot and some shell shocked and crazy with parts of their faces blown away.

A common theme for those who served in Japan and Korea was the climate—hot humid summers and intensely cold winters. In Korea, the nurses were clad mostly in male issue clothing such as long johns, complete with back flap, fur lined Canadian flying boots, beanies and long trousers. But no amount of clothing could keep the chill at bay. The effects of the cold were even worse for the civilians. Sister Barbara Probyn-Smith was haunted by the images of 'frostbitten gangrenous faces and limbs of battle casualties ... I still see, even now'. Betty Crocker described how the freezing conditions affected the medicines. 'Aqueous medicine froze or ingredients separated, some ointments became solid, penicillin in oil required a considerable degree of warming before it could be administered'. When they were expecting casualties, the nurses warmed the medicines in their pockets.

After the ceasefire in July 1953, the nurses were kept busy with illnesses due to the extreme weather. 'We were well off compared with the conditions the soldiers had to endure in the harsh terrain' remembered Ruth Carter. Many patients were victims of burns from the small kerosene heaters used in the tents. Nurses were also painfully aware of the destruction wrought by the war on the Korean people and their miserable desolation and poverty. 'The view from my cubicle window reminded me of it every day & is a picture which remains in my memory', recalled Ruth. More than 140 AANS, RAANS and RAANC officers were to serve in Japan and Korea from 1946 to 1956.

Two women dressed in winter clothing sit outside of a building entrance with snow under foot.

Sisters Marjorie Haynes and Betty Crocker, Royal Australian Army Nursing Corps (RAANC), wearing a combination of Canadian and US cold weather gear. They were supervising the evacuation of British Commonwealth patients to the British Commonwealth Medical Zone Mobile Surgical Hospital in Seoul, January 1953. (AWM P02044.008)

Reforming the women's Services

It soon became apparent to the Australian Government that whether they wanted it or not, women were going to be needed in the services. Against the backdrop of the escalating cold war, heightened regional tensions and the Korean War, the Australian Government sought to increase numbers through a recruitment drive, but they fell well short. As part of the general reorganisation of the military by the newly elected Liberal government of Robert Menzies, the women's services were re-formed. The Minister for Defence, Eric Harrison, announced on 28 March 1950 that women would be sought for employment in the Army Headquarters' Signals Regiment. Military commitments were made to Malaya in May 1950 and Korea in June 1950. The following month Cabinet approved the re-formation of the women's services, and a new era for women in the Australian military had begun.

A poster of a women in a green uniform with the slogan, 'Picture yourself in the WRAAC'.

Recruitment poster for the Women’s Royal Australian Army Corps, 1963. allowed to fly. NAA B1552 21


On 5 April 1951, the Women's Royal Australian Army Corps or WRAAC (formerly the AWAS and AAMWS) was announced. It was to be headed by the highly respected Kathleen Best, Controller of the AAMWS during World War II. She was assisted by her best friend, Honorary Colonel Sybil Irving, the equally capable wartime leader of the AWAS. The establishment of a separate women's corps was difficult. Entrenched attitudes towards women in the military, even in their own segregated corps, were hard to dislodge; paternalism and even open hostility were challenges to overcome. Reminiscent of the war years, Best and Irving wanted the women of the WRAAC to be feminine, and to fit with the standards of decency and morality of Australian society in the 1950s. 'We were told to be ladies first and soldiers secondly, and we were' stated WRAAC member Janet Firth.

Other features of the Australian workplace in the 1950s and 1960s such as unequal pay, limited promotional opportunities and marriage bars impeded servicewomen. Perhaps because of these issues, retention rates were low. It was a fight every step of the way for 'KB' Best, Sybil Irving, and those who came after, whether it was arguments over access to mess dress, or training facilities like the Australian Staff College. As KB wrote in 1954:

I feel I am unfair to insist on high standards of leadership, morale, efficiency and loyalty based on the importance of the Corps to the Country and the army when I know that in return they have little prospect of receiving reasonable conditions of service.

It was a similar story with the Women's Royal Australian Naval Service (WRANS) and the Women's Royal Australian Air Force (WRAAF). The last members of the World War II WRANS were discharged in July 1948, but almost as soon as this happened, groups within the navy began to request female volunteers for certain jobs. As Margaret Curtis-Otter, Acting First Officer with the WRANS during the war, perceptively observed, members of the WRANS had been integrated across the Navy in various departments and 'the senior officers had been accustomed to being driven by smart little WRANS, and very capable ones'. When Cabinet approved the re-formation of the WRANS in July 1950, Margaret Curtis-Otter, by then mother of a small child, was appointed to assist in the task. She asked a poignant question: 'Is it beyond the bounds of possibility that WRANS might be considered part of the Navy rather than joined with other Women's Services?' This, of course, was not possible.

The new women's air force was also formed in July 1950, and formally became the WRAAF in 1951. Restrictions were placed on what jobs servicewomen could do. Women were employed in positions deemed 'suitable' for them, and served as signallers, telephonists, administrative and office workers and cooks, as well as in some mechanical and driving positions. As in World War II, they were not allowed to fly.

Like her counterparts in the WRAAC and WRAAF, Margaret Curtis-Otter fought tirelessly for issues that affected the conditions of women's employment, such as age and marital status: members of the WRANS were discharged on marriage until 1968, and women had to retire at fifty. Permanency provisions were introduced in 1959, which meant that women could contribute to the Defence Forces Retirement Fund. It took until 1968 (and 1969 for the WRAAF) for the services to approve the retention of married women.

Another major question for the WRAAC, WRAAF and WRANS was overseas service. Recruitment advertisements in the 1950s pushed the idea of the women's services as an adventure: 'There's no doubt about it—for every girl with a determination to make a worthwhile career, a love of travel, and a genuine desire to help Australia, there's the ideal job in any of the Women's Services'. But there were restrictions. Although two members of the WRAAC accompanied the 2nd RAR and their families (seventy-three wives and 200 children) returning to Malaya in 1961, WRAACs and WRAAFs were not allowed to serve overseas, and members of the WRANS were not allowed to serve at sea. This issue, as Colonel Dawn Jackson, Director of the WRAAC from 1957 to 1972 wrote, had been 'weaving a mysterious pattern for twenty years. Time, lost files, diverse subject headings have all helped to cloud the issue'. Despite the publicity, 'Girls with go', as they were labeled in the recruitment campaigns, were restricted to 'travel around Australia, security of employment, pleasant social life, and worthwhile job training'.

RAANC officers were the only Australian servicewomen posted overseas during the Malayan Emergency, which was fought against communist insurgency forces. In July 1955, the Minister for the Army, Joseph Francis, announced that Australian troops would be sent to Malaya. RAANC officers were based mainly at the British Military Hospital at Kamunting (near Taiping), as well as Butterworth, the large RAAF base opposite the island of Penang, where there was a large 120- bed hospital for servicemen and their dependants; and at Terendak Garrison, 20 kilometres north of Malacca. Even the Australian Red Cross was given accreditation to provide female hospital visitors in Malaya in October 1955, as part of the Field Force. They signed up for a twoyear period at 27 shillings 8 pence per day. Members were accredited to the army, eligible for repatriation benefits as were private soldiers, and given three weeks annual leave.

Overseas postings were finally approved in May 1967, but not to Vietnam, where Australian troops were committed. Despite the presence of hundreds of American servicewomen, it was considered too dangerous for Australian women. Servicewomen were allowed secondments to Singapore, and these postings continued until 1975. For many, these postings were the highlight of their service.

Women and a man operating telegraph machines.

WRAN telegraphists at work at HMAS Harman, Canberra, ACT, 1955. AWM 306159

Sister Ruth Carter, RAANC

In July 1951, South Australian Ruth Carter was nursing in Tasmania when she and a friend saw reports in the newspapers about the war in Korea and the dangers faced by Australian troops. They wanted to do something to help, so enlisted in the RAANC. By August, they were in the Army at the 2nd Camp Hospital, Ingleburn, in New South Wales. Ruth left for Japan on 24 November 1952, travelling via Darwin, Borneo and Hong Kong. She worked at the Britcom General Hospital at Kure, nursing soldiers from the war. After a year, Ruth was transferred to Korea, flying in a very uncomfortable and extremely cold DC3 to Pusan and Kimpo airport in Seoul.

... It was quite exciting travelling from the airport & over the long & narrow Han River Bridge, which was still all wired up with explosives. We had to go very slowly over the uneven planks ... we had to be very quiet.

Ruth returned to Australia on compassionate grounds in March 1954, and was discharged to the Reserves seven months later.

Two men on either side of a woman dressed in a nurses uniform.

Patients with Sister Ruth Carter enjoy the fresh air during summer, July–August 1953, Kure, Japan. Ruth Hough collection

Colonel Kathleen Best, First Director, WRAAC

'Kathleen Best was a woman who considered honour was a master not to be denied'. So stated Sybil Irving in her eulogy at Best's funeral in November 1957. Nicknamed 'KB', she died at the age of forty-seven, from melanomatosis. KB had a distinguished nursing career before enlisting in the AANS and being appointed Matron of the 2/5th AGH in May 1940. Awarded the Royal Red Cross for her dedication and courage after the evacuation from Crete in 1941, she returned to Australia to take up the position of Controller of the newly established AAMWS. KB was a talented leader and administrator, particularly in policy development. She transferred to the Department of Post-War Reconstruction, and focussed on the needs of servicewomen and female war workers. On the formation of the WRAAC, Best was invited back as Director and appointed to the rank of Honorary Colonel in September 1952. She spent the next six years building up the WRAAC, dealing with removing the discrimination, prejudice and inequitable employment conditions faced by women in the services. KB received the OBE for her work in 1956.

A studio portrait painting of a female military officer.

For her courage and efficiency throughout the evacuation, Matron (later Lieutenant Colonel) Kathleen Best was awarded the Royal Red Cross.

Nora Heysen, Lieutenant Colonel Kathleen Best (1944, oil on canvas, 76.6 x 57 cm, AWM ART22216)

Two women in uniform walking down a street with a market stall.

Australian Nursing Sisters Captain Perditta McCarthy and Lieutenant Nell Espie, serving with the Commonwealth Division in Korea, walk along one of the market lined streets of Seoul, July 1953. AWM HOBJ4467, photographer Phillip Oliver Hobson

Brigadier Perditta McCarthy, RAANS/RAANC

Perditta McCarthy was the first Australian armed services nurse to be promoted to the rank of Brigadier. A career army nurse, she served at Jacquinot Bay in Papua New Guinea in 1945, with BCOF in Japan, and then later in the Korean War. Her career also included postings as Matron of 2nd Camp Hospital, Ingleburn, and Assistant Director Armed Nursing Services HQ Northern Command. Her long and distinguished career included serving as Matron-in-Chief AGH Melbourne from 1970 to 1972. She retired after thirty-one years in the army, and in retirement was one of the founders of the Royal Australian Army Nursing Corps Association.

Colonel Nell Espie, RAANC

Nell Espie was appointed in June 1951 to the RAANC at the rank of Lieutenant. She served with the Corps throughout the Korean War, Malayan Emergency and Vietnam War, before retiring as Director of Nursing Services–Army, Queen's Honorary Nursing Sister, with the rank of Colonel. Of her time in Seoul, Nell recalled:

... most evenings planes flew over the city. As the nursing staff had to report to the ward on the sound of the siren, they didn't retire until the all clear was sounded. Just before my arrival at the unit ... two bombs were dropped, landing on either side of the hospital.

In 1969 she began a 12-month tour of duty as Matron of the 1st Australian Field Hospital at Vung Tau in Vietnam:

The hours were long and the days were long. It was a stressful time, particularly for the younger nursing officers on their first time of active service upon arrival at the hospital, the patients on the stretchers were carried to the triage; the Q Staff having already removed the weapons or grenades the soldiers were carrying when wounded ... rapid evacuation helped to save lives, and following surgery the high standard of nursing care which I witnessed in the hospital wards contributed to the recovery of the patients.

The Vietnam War

In 1962 Australian military advisers were sent to another regional trouble spot, Vietnam. Conscription was controversially introduced in 1964, and the following year the Menzies government committed a battalion, the 1st RAR, attached to the United States 173rd Airborne Division. Australian troops were later based at Nui Dat to administer the province of Phuoc Tuy. Initially it was government policy not to have Australian servicewomen in Vietnam. However, as the war escalated, the policy was amended.

In May 1967 the first four RAANC nursing sisters arrived at the 8th Field Hospital, situated at the centre of the 1st Australian Logistic Support Group, in the sandhills of the Vung Tau peninsula, about 130 km south-east of Saigon. First impressions of the hospital were not very good. Nurse Leslie McGurgan, arriving in 1970, described the compound enclosed by a fence, as 'the most depressing sight' she'd ever seen.

The first RAANCs to arrive in South Vietnam had the difficult task of establishing themselves within the largely male hospital environment. Captain Amy Pittendreigh, an experienced military nurse, remembered that, on taking over her ward, one of the male medical assistants wrote, 'Sister took over the ward today and changed all the mixtures and treatments', so there were some tricky negotiations on practices and procedures to be dealt with. The nurses' roles consisted of working in triage—the most seriously wounded Australians were sent to American hospitals—and assisting in surgery and intensive care units. In general nurses were running the wards and looking after the variety of patients from the Regimental Aid Post, where minor day to day injuries and illnesses were attended to, as well as a special venereal disease ward that was well patronised. Although well trained, nurses were not well prepared for what war nursing would be like—such as dealing with amputations, head wounds, shrapnel and abdominal wounds in theatre and intensive care.

After the Tet Offensive, the 8th Field Hospital was closed in March 1968, and the larger 1st Australian Field Hospital was established. The working conditions were arduous. During the monsoon, it teemed with rain every day and the hospital became a quagmire. For the rest of the year it was a dust bowl. Jean O'Neill, Matron of the 1st Australian Field Hospital in 1968–69, recalled 'sand blowing through' the hospital, 'sand everywhere'. Leslie McGurgan remembered the long work hours. It 'was tough ... I was almost ga-ga ... during the first four months when I was nursing in intensive care, we worked 12-hour shifts ... we had six nights on and one day off a week then we did six days back on'. The sound of the helicopters, or 'dustoff choppers' as they were called, bringing in the wounded from battle was seared into their memories. In medical terms, the use of helicopters was revolutionary. Within twenty minutes a battle casualty from the field could be on the operating table, and in this way many lives were saved.

Women in uniform holding a baby with young children all around.

RAANC sister Lieutenant Margaret Ahern, serving with the 8th Field Ambulance out of Vung Tau, holds a Vietnamese child in the village of Hoa Long, June 1967. Ahern was one of the first four Army nurses to serve in Vietnam. AWM GIL/67/0483/VN, photographer Barrie Winston Farleigh Gillman

At age twenty-four, Liz Symons, a RAAF nursing sister, was stationed at Butterworth, the Australian airbase in Malaysia where RAAF Hercules operated evacuation flights (medivacs) for seriously wounded soldiers from Vietnam back to Australia via Malaysia. On long flights, the primitive conditions on board planes with no toilet provisions required careful planning. Flights to Australia from Butterworth were tedious. Planes refuelled at Cocos (Keeling) Island, then Pearce in Western Australia. After an overnight stop, it was on to Edinburgh in South Australia, and finally to Richmond in New South Wales.

After the withdrawal of Australian troops, the hospital, including nursing sisters and most medical staff, left Vietnam at the end of 1971. Over the four years, a total of forty-three RAANC nurses had served there. Like all nurses across the century, the women who served in Vietnam are often reticent about their wartime experiences. Some have been scarred and prefer not to talk about it. As Norma Dickson said: 'my memories are not pleasant memories, especially my memories of being in the triage area when the wounded came in straight from the field. All they had were a bloodied field dressing on and the blood was soaked into their dirty green uniforms'. Pamela West believed her Vietnam experience was a mix between China Beach and M*A*S*H. 'Those two series are what field nursing and nursing in uniform is about. It is about hard work, nursing non-stop, working with sometimes no equipment, working with just what you have got'.

A women in a aircraft with patients lying on stretchers.

A RAAF nursing sister tends to one of her many patients aboard a C-130 Hercules on an air evacuation flight from Vietnam. Not many flights carried doctors, so responsibility for the patients during the long series of flights home rested solely on the nurses. AWM P01948.008

When Jan McCarthy returned from her twelve-month tour of duty in 1968–69, she 'did not talk too much about Vietnam because ... people got sick of hearing about the war'. An experienced nurse, Jan had always enjoyed her work but wanted 'a little more of another string to my bow' and enlisted in the Army in mid- 1966. Within two years she was on her way to Vietnam. Arriving in Vung Tau on a helicopter, she looked around at the 8th Field Ambulance and thought 'What am I doing here?' Jan trained as a theatre nurse but was unfamiliar with the American system of triage with incoming patients, 'something that nurses did not do in Australia'. She found this quite overwhelming at first. 'I was the only sister in theatre and that was very, very difficult'. On her return from Vietnam, Jan continued on in the RAANC, eventually becoming Matron-in-Chief/Director Nursing Army Service from 1988 to her retirement in 1992.

Two women hanging out washing with one wearing a bikini.

In Vietnam, the nurses' quarters were built on sand dunes close to the beaches of the South China Sea. In the steamy tropical climate, the surf provided welcome relief for off-duty nurses.

Red Cross nurse Margaret Young (left) and Lieutenant Jan McCarthy hang out their washing before heading off to the beach. AWM P02017.022

Civilian nurses and volunteers

When the RAANC nurses arrived in Vietnam in 1967, they joined the Red Cross Field Force, civilian nurses, journalists, entertainers and other Australian women already there. It is estimated that about 1000 Australian women went to South Vietnam over the course of the war. In 1965, the first Australian female Red Cross Field Force officer, Pam Spence, arrived only weeks after the Australian Army. She was posted to the United States 3rd Field Hospital in Saigon, and 'lived with the American nurses in a French villa next door' to the hospital. Others soon followed to work in the Australian 2nd Field Hospital and 8th Field Ambulance. Their duties were to provide welfare services in the hospitals for patients, including writing letters to family and friends, shopping for them in the local markets, taking them to the beach to swim, distributing books, papers and magazines, and acting as a link with their families in Australia. Captured wounded and sick POWs, including some Viet Cong women, were also treated at the hospitals. Marie Hunter from South Australia, who joined the Field Force in 1966 and for the next six years worked in Vietnam, Malaysia, and Singapore, described how one POW was pregnant. She was asked by the medical officer 'to buy her a bra in Vung Tau which proved to be amusing when I went to the Markets – I had no idea what the size was in Vietnamese'. Former Adelaide journalist and Red Cross worker, Jean Debelle, felt 'it was the most fascinating year of my life. I have never worked so hard and such long hours in such appalling conditions, and never worked in such a warm, needing atmosphere'.

Little is known about another group of Australian nurses and doctors who worked in Vietnamese hospitals caring for civilians during the war. From 1964 to 1972, following a plea from the Department of External Affairs, scores of trained medical practitioners from the major teaching hospitals across Australia formed Civilian Australian Surgical Teams. Jenny Antons was working at Prince Henry's Hospital in Melbourne when she volunteered as a Second Theatre Sister for a six-month secondment to the Long Xuyen Hospital in the Mekong Delta, 100 miles south-west of Saigon. She was paid $3000 per year by the Australian Government and left Australia on 19 October 1966. They were warned about the primitive conditions and lack of suitably qualified staff, but it took time to adjust to the numbers of people crowding into the hospital. Relatives of the sick lived in the hospital, camping next to the patients. Sometimes there were two or three people in one hospital bed.

In October 1968, Patricia Deal arrived at the same hospital. 'Our main casualties were from trauma associated with fighting that was going on around us in the Delta. Gunshot wounds, napalm burns, head injuries and fractures were the most common on the operating lists', she recalled. Another Australian civilian surgical team worked at Bien Hoa from January 1966. Dot Angell was there and 'since the beginning of January', she wrote, 'we have performed 116 operations ... the work is hard because beside nursing, one has to be general slushy and mop and scrub to try and keep the place reasonably clean'.

The conditions were extremely difficult, as another nurse, Maureen McLeod explained, especially when it rained: 'we walked through the water in the hospital compound, all the dirty bandages and dressings would be floating past you in the water. Horrendous'.

Some women from these civilian surgical teams returned to Vietnam. After her six months contract expired, Jenny Leak, from South Australia, became involved in the education of poor, orphaned and refugee children. 'In Vietnam, education is not free', she said. 'Parents care about their children, but even when both work seven days a week the cost of food is so high that many families have only enough money to survive from day to day'. So in 1968, she founded the nonprofit interdenominational Vietnam Christian School Program, where Australian families sponsored the education of a Vietnamese child.

Others, like trained nurse Ruth O'Halloran, travelled to Saigon in 1967 hoping to find welfare work with the thousands of displaced war refugees. Instead she ended up at the Minh Quy hospital at Kontum in the central highlands, established by an American female doctor. Mother-of-two Iris Roser heard about a local doctor who was working with an American program called Project Concern in Da Lat Hokm and needed an assistant. So in 1968, just after the Tet Offensive, she arrived at the Project Hospital by helicopter. After several Viet Cong attacks and evacuations, Iris returned home to Australia. Within a couple of months she was back, this time with the non-profit organisation US Aid Vietnam, working as a welfare officer with Vietnamese orphanages.

Margaret Moses, from South Australia, went to Saigon in March 1971 to join her friend Rosemary Taylor, who ran an extensive western adoption program and orphanages for abandoned or orphaned children. With the fall of Saigon imminent and Operation Babylift underway, Margaret and fellow South Australian nurse Lee Makk were killed when an American plane crashed on take-off, on 4 April 1975, killing seventy-eight children and their escorts. The other Australian female death in Vietnam was that of 20-year-old singer Cathy Warnes, who was shot by a deranged American soldier in July 1969.

The Australian military in Vietnam was generally nervous about women war correspondents or 'warcos'. The women were discriminated against in many ways, sometimes subtly, sometimes not. But the well-worn excuse that there were no latrines for female correspondents when covering military operations was treated with indifference by many women journalists. If there was a story to be covered they could, and would, be there. Dorothy Drain, a journalist for the Australian Women's Weekly and veteran war correspondent from Japan and Korea, reported the Vietnam War in the early years. Jan Graham, Kate Webb and Helen Keayes all had different reasons for being there. Jan spent more than ten years in Vietnam, and saw so much horror that her life was never the same again. Helen Keayes originally went to Saigon as a secretary for the US military, and 'fell' into journalism. After working for the Daily Mirror in Sydney, writing articles about soldiers going to Vietnam, the veteran journalist Kate Webb travelled there to see for herself. Able to speak French, Kate got a job with United Press International. One of her big assignments was to cover Jackie Kennedy's visit to Cambodia in 1967. In a terrifying ordeal, Kate was also captured by the Viet Cong and kept prisoner for three weeks.

Female medical staff carrying a patient on a stretcher with woman and children looking on.

Sisters Dorothy Angell (back right) and Pamela Matenson (front right), members of a medical team from The Alfred Hospital, and Vietnamese colleagues, 1966 AWM P03122.002

A woman wearing glasses and holding luggage is standing and facing a military worker in overalls next to an aeroplane wheel.

Traditional reporting still had (and has) its place in war. Dorothy Drain of The Australian Women's Weekly was one of the first Australian war correspondents in Vietnam. She had earlier reported on World War II and Korea. Drain was photographed interviewing a member of the RAAF Transport Flight Vietnam underneath a Caribou. AWM 044130

A male soldier and woman embracing in front of a large ship.

Pte David Llewellyn, 1st Field Squadron, says goodbye to his wife, Jo, 1968 AWM CUN/68/0123/EC

R & R Hospitality Service, 1967–1972

The R & R Hospitality Service was established on 1 October 1967 by the Australian American Association and other organisations including the CWA, Red Cross Younger Set, Royal Overseas League and YWCA, after it was decided to trial a rest and recreation (R & R) program for American servicemen. Rather than stay in Singapore or Hong Kong, it was decided to use Sydney, 5000 miles away. With an information desk at the Chevron Hotel in Kings Cross, the R & R Hospitality Service, run by volunteers, briefed American servicemen, allocated them accommodation, organised the hiring or purchase of clothing, and arranged for tours, home stays and trips into the countryside. The Committee also had a very popular twice weekly 'Welcome Party' held at the Chevron Hotel, where young servicemen could meet people of their own age. There were more than 2500 registered host families who opened their doors to American servicemen during the war. Organisations such as Apex, Rotary and RSL Clubs and various councils across the state assisted with the program. During the war, about 280,000 soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen visited Australia on R & R as part of this successful scheme.

Ethel Lane

Ethel Stalker trained at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital and enlisted in the AANS in 1942. She served at the 113th AGH, 13th Camp Hospital at Dubbo and 2/9th General Hospital at Tamworth, where she met her future husband, Captain Ray Lane, a doctor on the staff of the 2/9th. Together they moved with their unit to Morotai Island, where they worked in difficult tropical conditions. Widowed in 1948 and with a six-monthold son, 'Stalky' threw herself into veterans' support. She was secretary of the Nurses' Memorial Club from 1966–75; served as President of the NSW Branch of the War Widows' Guild; as State and National President of the RAANC Association, Deputy Chairman of the RSL Veterans' Retirement Village; and on the ANZAC Health and Medical Research Foundation. She received an AM and MBE for her services to veterans.

At home

In Australia there were increasingly divergent views on the war and what to do about it. Just as in earlier wars, voluntary organisations were established to assist servicemen, their wives and dependants. Very different from the scale and 'all-in' feel of World War II, organisations such as the R & R Hospitality Service were established. This group organised home stays and introductions for American servicemen in a bid to steer them away from the sleaze of Kings Cross and to show them Australian hospitality.

The Australian Red Cross was active throughout the war, raising funds for medical supplies for Vietnamese civilians, and meeting and greeting the plane loads of Australian servicemen returning home or leaving for Vietnam from Richmond airbase. Wives of soldiers formed their own organisations for self-help purposes, to provide friendship and support and to raise funds for causes such as the War Widows' Guild.

However, there was also increasing opposition to both the war and to conscription. Although most of the population initially supported Australia's involvement in South Vietnam, by the end of the 1960s there was increasing civil unease and criticism of the ongoing war. Although women generally did not have leadership roles in the main anti-war organisations, they did much of the hard, mundane background work and 'kept the peace movement going'. Beverley Symons recalled that women 'did the typing, did the Gestetnering [photocopying], made the endless cups of tea'.

A number of women's organisations became involved in the anti-Vietnam War movement. For example, the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, a pacifist organisation with no political affiliations, aimed to educate and help abolish the causes of war. The Union of Australian Women, a working-class organisation established in 1950 to improve the status of women in Australia, raised money by selling badges, stickers and posters, ran cake stalls and fetes, produced and distributed leaflets, organised campaigns to write to politicians, and supported objectors and draft resisters. Its members also were involved in the formation of Save Our Sons (SOS), one of the wellknown anti-war groups.

SOS was formed in Sydney in May 1965 to protest at the concept of conscription, particularly as 20-year-old men could be conscripted but could not yet vote. Within six months of being formed, the SOS had 300 members across New South Wales and branches in other states. SOS attracted women from across the political spectrum and from all walks of life. Conscription had been introduced in 1964, and the men conscripted were chosen by their birthdays, in a ballot. According to a Morgan Gallop poll held in November 1967, conscription was supported by 65 per cent of the population, but only 37 per cent believed these men should be sent to the Vietnam War. The anti-war movement culminated in the Vietnam moratorium campaigns of 1970 and 1971. Modelled on the American moratoriums, the rallies attracted hundreds of thousands of people and were some of the largest public demonstrations ever seen in Australia. The moratorium held on 8 May 1970 drew more than 150,000 protesters to the streets. From April 1970, Australian troops were gradually withdrawn from Vietnam. The election of the Whitlam government in December 1972 saw conscription abolished and the final troops withdrawn.

Australian women were certainly contributing to, and being affected by, war in different ways post-1945. Although there was a continuation of the reluctance to incorporate women into the services at an official level, in practice women continued to undertake a wide range of paid and voluntary roles, similar to the latter years of World War II. While the changes were gradual in this period, the final transformation for women, both in society and in the services, was just around the corner.

Women removing items from a box.

Four Red Cross workers pack antibiotics for South Vietnam, NSW, 1960s. RC Vic Div P00253

A crowd behind a barricade with signs.

Family and friends of the crew of HMAS Hobart, returning from its third deployment to the coast of Vietnam, crowd the wharf at Garden Island, Sydney, in October 1970. AWM NAVYM0742/01

Personnel loading packages from a vehicle.

Australian Red Cross volunteers in Perth load war relief parcels for the Korean War, 1950. SLWA 007068D

A women holding a baby with a another women in uniform holding a cup and a man in uniform.

A member of the RAANS presents a trophy to a mother and baby in a competition at a fete organised by members of the BCOF in Nijimura, Japan, in aid of the NSW Flood Relief Fund, August 1950. AWM DUKJ3417, photographer Harold Vaughan Dunkley

A sister tends a Korean War casuality with a arm wrapped in bandages with a sling

A sister of the Royal Australian Army Nursing Service tends a Korean War casualty in the British Commonwealth General Hospital at Kure, Japan, in February 1951. [AWM DUKJ3856]

A man lying in bed and a women standing next to him looking at a weaving loom.

A member of the Red Cross Field Force teaches a patient how to work a weaving loom at the BCOF General Hospital at Kure, Japan, in February 1951. AWM DUKJ4271, photographer Harold Vaughan Dunkley

Women packing up parcels.

Members of the Hiro Ladies’ Cheer Fund pack comforts parcels, February 1951. Left to right: Mrs C Raymond, Mrs BJ McNevin, Mrs ER McMillan, Mrs C Harrison and Mrs LC Griffiths. The fund, organised and run by wives of servicemen from BCOF in Japan, regularly sent parcels to the troops in Korea. They raised money themselves and also received money from RSL sub-branches in Australia. AWM DUKJ3933, photographer Harold Vaughan Dunkley

Women lying on the ground with rifles while a man is crouching and pointing.

Members of the RAANC, including Sister Betty Crocker (left) and Sister Maxine Larkin (centre) are given rifle training at an army camp at Woodside, Victoria, before their departure for Korea in 1951. Nurses were given rifle and pistol training because authorities were concerned that the North Korean troops would not respect the Geneva Convention or the sign of the Red Cross. AWM P02044.001

Nurses sitting on chairs with a dog.

RAANC sisters watch the farewell parade for Lieutenant General Horace Robertson, Commander in Chief of BCOF, at Anzac Park in Kure, Japan, November 1951. AWM LEEJ0007, photographer Douglas Herbert Lee

Four medical staff wearing masks and aprons  working in a surgical theatre.

A Canadian and Australian medical team operate on a casualty at the British Commonwealth Hospital in Kure, Japan. (AWM P02044.006)

Two women and a man in uniform at the back of an open truck.

Commandant Lorna Robinson of the Australian Red Cross greets one of a group of recently exchanged prisoners of war on their arrival in Japan from Korea, August 1953. RAAF nursing sister Helen Blair (middle) accompanied the group on the flight. AWM JK0957

A very busy street.

RAANC Privates Gladys Devine and Rona Cooper of the BCOF General Hospital in Kure, Japan, cross a busy road in Tokyo while on leave in April 1955. AWM HOBJ5741, photographer Phillip Oliver Hobson

Six women on a ramp with a large crowd of people in the background.

Six sisters of the RAANC embark for service in Malaya (Malaysia) in September 1955. They worked in British hospitals at Kamunting, Kuala Lumpur and in the Cameron Highlands. AWM DUN/55/0824/EC, photographer Harry Dunkley

A women in uniform attending to a man lying in a stretcher with headphones on.

RAAF nursing sister Squadron Officer Harriett Fenwick adjusts the strap of a casualty being evacuated by Hercules to Australia from Vietnam for treatment, August 1965. AWM MAL/65/0083/03, photographer Dereck B Travers

A women crouching over to attend to a patient on a stretcher on the ground in a full hospital ward.

Australian civilian nurse, Sister Maureen McLeod crouches to attend to a patient in the very crowded hospital at Bien Hoa, South Vietnam, 1966. Dot Ansell collection

Two women, a man, and a boy in a truck.

Australian Army nurses Lieutenant Colleen Mealy (centre) and Lieutenant Terrie Roche (right) with US Army Captain Dick Church and a young Vietnamese boy, Hoa Long, Vietnam, 1967. AWM GIL/67/0479/VN, photographer Barrie Winston Gillman

Female nurses standing outside in a row with injured patients.

Commandant Janice Webb, Australian Red Cross, 8th Field Ambulance, with patients awaiting medivac, 1967 AWM P02017.016

Photograph of three men and two women standing in a row with the man in the middle holding a box.

Queensland Returned Services League (RSL) 'Girl in a Million’ Katrina Chijoff and her sister Lana pass over audio taped messages they brought from Brisbane for troops of the ANZAC Battalion at the Australian Task Force Base, Nui Dat, Vietnam, in November 1967. AWM CAM/67/1133/VN, photographer Bryan Campbell

Women singing in front of an audience of troops.

Brisbane singer Merriel Hume performs on stage at the Luscombe Bowl in a concert party at the 1st Australian Task Force Base, where 1200 Australian troops gathered to watch the show, Nui Dat, South Vietnam, August 1968. AWM ERR/68/0810/VN, photographer William Alexander Errington

A colour photograph of a women standing and two girls sitting at desks.

One of ten RAANC nursing sisters posted to the 1st Australian Field Hospital, Lieutenant Patricia Yorke devoted much of her free time to teaching English to Vietnamese children in Vung Tau. AWM EKN/69/0034/VN

A woman sits on cushion on the floor and speaking into microphone recorder
RAANC Lieutenant Diane Lawrence takes time to tape a letter home, Vung Tau, South Vietnam, July 1969. AWM COM/69/0476/VN, photographer David Reginald Combe
A group of military medical staff standing together.

Theatre staff of the 1st Australian Field Hospital, which was stationed at Vung Tau from April 1968 to November 1971, gather for a group photograph outside an operating theatre. The nurses are (left) Lieutenant Yvonne Werndley and Lieutenant Norma Dickson. The four men were theatre technicians whose names, unfortunately, remain unrecorded. AWM P01702.009

Children sitting in a large dining hall with a couple of women and a dog can be seen.

THIS PAGE Rosemary Griggs (right), a Red Cross worker at 1st Australian Field Hospital, helps at the meal table of a Catholic orphanage in Vung Tau, South Vietnam, in October 1969. Betty Fitzpatrick (left) was an Australian on staff at the orphanage as an assistant. AWM BEL/69/0737/VN, photographer Christopher John Bellis

Medical staff perfoming surgery on a little boy.

Registered Nurse Betty Lockwood, one of more than 450 civilian medical and surgical staff who volunteered to work in hospitals in Vietnam, assists at an operation on the wounded legs of a young Vietnamese child at Bien Hoa, April 1970. AWM P05522.003

A solider and his family cuddling each other.

Lance Corporal Kevin Sloan, 7 RAR, is welcomed home from Vietnam by his sister Anne (left), girlfriend Maryann Lee, and other family members, 10 March 1971. AWM PEA/71/0099/EC, photographer Reg G Pearse

A man holding a woman wearing a wedding dress.

Lieutenant Barbara Green, a nursing sister with the 1st Australian Hospital, and Lieutenant Jim Heard, New Zealand Army Training Team, soon after their marriage at the 1st Australian Logistic Support Group Chapel in Vung Tau, Vietnam, September 1971. AWM PJE/71/0502/VN, photographer Philip John Errington

A female soider crossing a bridge with two young children.

Leading Aircraftwoman Mitch Stevens, RAAF, a member of the United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC), on patrol at the temple complex of Angkor Wat accompanied by some local children, June 1993. AWM P01744.182, photographer George Gittoes

The Modern Era

... 1970s to the present day ...

If World War II was a turning point for Australian women, then even greater changes were to come from the 'social revolution' of the 1970s and 1980s. This revolution involved a wide-ranging reassessment of the status of women and their roles in the family, in sexual relations, in work and politics. A raft of significant legislation enshrined these changes in law, revolutionising the lives of both women and men. Equal pay to servicewomen was granted in 1979, fundamentally affecting traditional female categories of work. The Sex Discrimination Act, 1984 codified the changes already underway—although the military was exempt. This was the context behind the idea for the full integration of women into the services and the disbanding of the Women's Royal Australian Army Corps (WRAAC), Women's Royal Australian Naval Service (WRANS) and Women's Royal Australian Air Force (WRAAF). Despite facing enormous challenges, integration was completed by the mid-1980s. Since then, demographic shifts, increased manpower shortages, advanced technological changes and the emergence of peacekeeping as a key activity for the Australian defence forces have all contributed to the transformation of women's roles in the military.

A female in medical clothing washing her hands.

Captain Peta Durant works in the theatre at Kigali Central Hospital, Rwanda, as part of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Rwanda (UNAMIR), October 1994. Dept of Defence MSU94_0026_08

Three soliders wearing a light blue beret. A male solider is pinning a medal on to the lapel of a female solider.

United Nations Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET) Force Commander General de Los Santos presents the United Nations Peacekeeping Medal to Corporal Jodie Mason, 31 May 2000. Mason served with the Australian National Command Element in Dili, and recalled: 'The most significant aspect of the deployment has been the people I have met and come close to and seeing the local people and the way they live’. Dept of Defence VKO104-2, photographer Corporal Kevin Piggott


The 1970s and 1980s were challenging times for men as well as women, and for the traditional leaders—male—of the services. Female integration was a difficult issue to navigate for both the military and the women involved. WRAAF Squadron Leader RL Hall believed that 'the fight was so hard' and the servicewomen were 'so browbeaten that most of them left before they could take advantage of the new conditions'. Admiral Chris Barrie, a former Chief of the Defence Force, acknowledged the early problems, and reflected that for women it was 'So difficult a choice to make in the first instance; so difficult a path to row in the reality of it. We owe them a great deal'.

Women were allowed to retain their jobs on marriage from 1966 in the Commonwealth Public Service, and this flowed through to the WRAAC and WRANS in 1968, and in 1969 to the WRAAF. Similarly, automatic discharge on pregnancy was removed in 1973 for the public service and the following year for the services. Equal pay was granted to all servicewomen in 1979. Weapons training and integrated training was progressively introduced at different times for each service. But just as the air force was the first service to inaugurate a women's auxiliary in 1941, so too was it the first to integrate women into the mainstream services. The WRAAF and Royal Australian Air Force Nursing Service (RAAFNS) were integrated into the RAAF in 1977; the WRAAC was disbanded in 1984 and the WRANS the following year.

There were many problems to overcome during the integration phase, especially being accepted on equal terms. Lieutenant Colonel Melva Crouch, originally from South Australia, began her Army career in the WRAAC, graduating in 1981. Later, when integrated into the regular Army, Melva faced 'an uphill battle to overcome the stigma of her early training as a WRAAC ... I've had to put up with the attitude: WRAAC School? That was flower arranging and deportment, wasn't it?' Integrated training began in 1985, and the first female cohort entered the Australian Defence Force Academy (ADFA) in 1986. Crouch persevered, overcoming the many obstacles. The first female instructor at ADFA, she later undertook exchange service with the British Army in Germany, and in the early 1990s spent seven months in Cambodia as part of the United Nations Transitional Authority Cambodia (UNTAC). In 1994, she said:

The army has been good for me. They take you out and leave you in the bush for three weeks with nothing but a wet sleeping bag. Then they wake you up at some ungodly hour of the morning to start moving trucks and you say: 'What am I doing here?' But I do it because it is different, it's interesting, it's exciting ... I am tested—and I enjoy it.

There are few issues to raise such heated debate in an infantry mess as the role of women in the armed forces, and more specifically, the possibility of their participation in combat.

Captain MS Barry, Royal Australian Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (RAEME), 1993

Patricia Downes, from Dubbo in New South Wales, joined the WRANS in the late 1960s, and was one of the women who served through the integration phase. Her story is typical of many Australian girls at the time, who looked to the services as a way of finding adventure, and doing something different. Originally a teacher, Patricia applied to become a naval communications officer with the WRANS. When she enlisted, the WRANS was small, with about 800 members and fewer than thirty female officers. Patricia remembered the 'strong sense of sisterhood among the female officers, and also a strong sense of connection to the wartime service, although I think our only wartime member was our director, Captain Streeter'. After postings across Australia, in Melbourne, Canberra, Darwin and Nowra, Patricia was promoted to First Officer (Lieutenant Commander) in 1978, on the staff of the Director of Naval Communications, and served as Director from 1989 to 1991. Reflecting on her career, Patricia said it 'gave me everything I had hoped for: travel, variety, camaraderie, challenge'.

After 1978, women officers in the WRANS began common training with their male counterparts. There were 1085 women, including 146 officers, in the WRANS when it disbanded in 1985. In April 1990, it was announced that women could serve in all classes of ships in peacetime, with the exception of submarines, a step that came later. In 1991, Commander Sandy Coulson said that the navy was 'reflecting and responding to the society that supports us'. She continued: 'Society is now expecting women to bear arms in defence of the State as part of the obligation they have as equal citizens'. But at the same time 'young women joining the Navy today need to understand that being equal to men doesn't mean they have to be the same as them. One doesn't have to modify one's behaviour to a supposedly masculine stance in order to prove one's efficiency'.

The Australian Defence Force was exempted from the Sex Discrimination Act, 1984 in regards to combat duties and combatrelated duties. In the Act, combat duties were defined as 'those requiring a person to commit, or participate directly in the commission of, an act of violence against an adversary in time of war'. Combatrelated duties, on the other hand referred to duties 'requiring a person to work in support of, and in close proximity to, a person performing combat duties'. Positions were opened up to women based on merit in competition with men, training and promotion requirements were standardised for both male and female recruits, and all female personnel received weapons training. However, there were problems. One of the unintended consequences of the Sex Discrimination Act, 1984 was to prohibit women continuing in a number of areas where they had already been working. So while the numbers of women enlisting in the three services increased, many of the jobs had limited career paths, and lacked a level of excitement. In 1987, a psychologist with the Australian Army, Major Kathryn Quinn, surveyed 1400 servicewomen, focussing on what the women themselves wanted in terms of career opportunities and what their expectations were regarding the military. Their responses concluded that most servicewomen wanted to work throughout their adult lives; they wanted careers, not just jobs; and most intended to marry and have children, and to continue their careers in the services. In terms of combat-related duties, 77 per cent thought they should be allowed to serve in combat-related positions and 57 per cent in combat positions.

A female wearing a helmut holding binoculars on a ship with a helicopter in the background.

A crew member of HMAS Darwin, operating as part of a coalition force with United States and British ships to enforce United Nations sanctions in the Persian Gulf, keeps a watch out for potential threats approaching the ship, March 2003. Dept of Defence JPAU05MAR03WG01

The doors were opened to female pilots in 1986, and the first two female RAAF pilots to graduate were Flight Lieutenant Robyn Williams and Flying Cadet Deborah Hicks. Flight Lieutenant Joanne Mein, from Sale in Victoria, grew up watching the Roulettes and wanted to fly from an early age. She got her pilot's licence while still at school and joined the RAAF at 19 years of age, graduating as dux of her course. In August 1999, during the Royal Brisbane Show, Joanne was the first woman to fly in a military precision flying team as a member of the Roulettes. As she said at the time, 'people see me as being a role model and a trailblazer and stuff like this—but I don't think that at all ... As I said before, I'm not a female pilot I'm just a pilot doing a job I love doing. I don't think it's dangerous otherwise I wouldn't do it'.

In terms of military nurses and integration, once male nurses were appointed in 1972, it was only a question of time before equal pay was introduced and there was a change in uniform. Then came female dentists and air traffic controllers. For the RAANC, integration meant becoming a specialist officer corps. On 1 September 1988, enlistment, other than for officers, was to be through the Royal Australian Medical Corps (RAAMC) for medical and nursing training. Marie Dean, who served in the RAAFNS from October 1965 to December 1987 and who was in the services throughout the integration period, viewed the changes positively. After a twenty-two-year career in which she was posted across Australia and overseas to Butterworth in Malaysia, Marie ended as Commanding Officer at Laverton Hospital, retiring in December 1987.

In May 1990, the Australian Government announced that women would be allowed to serve in combat-related positions. This decision was welcomed, and opened up significant career opportunities for women. It meant that about 94 per cent of positions in the Air Force and Navy and 55 per cent in the Army were opened to women. The only positions deemed combat positions were in the infantry, artillery, clearance diving teams, combat engineers and airfield defence.

Australian women served in combat-related positions for the first time during the Gulf War, when Australia joined the UN-sanctioned but US-led coalition to remove Iraq from neighbouring Kuwait. From August 1990 Australia committed naval ships to enforce a blockade in the Gulf. Two female officers and five female sailors were on board the supply ship HMAS Westralia when it sailed to the Gulf War. They joined twelve Australian nurses who were stationed on the US hospital ship Comfort. At this time, there were 2600 women in the Army (8.7 per cent of the service); 1919 women in the Navy (12.3 per cent) and 3230 in the RAAF (14.8 per cent).

Four women in uniform walking away from an aeroplane.

Among the women deployed to Kuwait with the Boeing 707 aircraft were Leading Aircraftwomen Kayleen McNamara, Victoria Marrett, Gail Blizzard and Stephanie Apps, all with No. 33 Squadron RAAF. Dept of Defence MSU98-729, photographer Sergeant Dave Broos

As well as the Australian female medics and those serving aboard naval ships, Margaret Larkin, an RAAF Intelligence Officer, was deployed to the US-led Joint Imagery Production Complex at Riyadh International Air Base in Saudi Arabia in late 1990. She was part of the original five-person team, and the only woman. Once the war started she was on twelve-hour shifts, seven days a week. Fears of chemical or biological attacks meant they 'lived most of the time in NBC protective suits, carried gas masks and anti-nerve agent tablets and injections. We all received anthrax injections too'.

Margaret also described the 'real fear' of SCUD missile attacks, of the 'coppery taste of saliva in the mouth, adrenaline, sweat and heat, all at once'. She mentioned the difficulty of finishing a shift 'knowing that within the next 12 hours people would die ... and that your work was part of the "killing chain"'. Margaret was exasperated with practical problems, such as going to the toilet and coping with menstruation while wearing the NBC suits, as well as being required to wear the black abbaya and face veil over her uniform when outside the military compound. There was no equality and integration in the society outside the army.

Debates continued about women's involvement in the military, especially the right for women to bear arms in defence of the country. The Australian Government announced in December 1992 that women could serve in all units in the Australian Defence Force except direct combat units. 'The ADF needs to reflect the principle of equal employment opportunity', the Defence Minister, Gordon Bilney, argued.

The arguments regarding women and combat continue to bubble away. By 1999, women made up more than 31 per cent of the intake into ADFA, and 36 per cent of the graduating class were women. In 2001, an internal Defence report suggested that women could be admitted to combat roles if they met the same standards as men. A survey then revealed that 63 per cent of servicewomen were in favour and 31 per cent against women being admitted to combat roles. Debate again surfaced in mid-2005, amid a crisis in military recruitment. The Australian Government examined an Army proposal to allow women to occupy frontline positions, while not engaging in hand-to-hand combat. Once again Australians were divided on the question. Amy Taylor, President of the AWAS Association and a World War II veteran, was reasonably positive, believing that if women were properly trained 'I can't see how they wouldn't be able to do it. By gee, we've got some very strong women out there, and I'd say give it a go'.

Others were less enthusiastic. Neil James from the Australian Defence Association said 'the battlefield's an unforgiving environment, and no amount of gender equity theory can defy the laws of physics and biomechanics'. But with the changed nature of war, through technological advances, and the use of civilians as combatants and targets, perhaps Gulf War veteran Margaret Larkin was right when she remarked that although women in the Defence Force do not have fully combatant roles, in modern warfare, 'no woman, regardless of her role, is safe in a war zone. The reach of weapons systems and the tactics of asymmetric warfare mean that all personnel in uniform (and civilians) are targets and training must prepare them for it. Our society must also accept the danger to servicewomen, and hopefully accept that they are equally as capable as the men'.

Trying to get the work and family balance right is an ongoing problem faced by many Australian women generally, and in particular women in the services. Family responsibilities and career opportunities for married women affect many servicewomen, as those married to men in the services often put their careers on hold. 'I look forward to the day when I do not have to trade away my career for co-location', said one RAAF member. Another major issue concerns the question of motherhood and the military, and retention. As a mother and commanding officer in the RAN, Vicki McConachie, appointed CO of HMAS Kuttabul, said the challenge is to retain women, and this 'starts in dealing with the aspirations of pregnant women, by acknowledging that for many women this is an integral part of their career path'. This is particularly difficult for single mothers who juggle work and family responsibilities, especially when deployed overseas for long periods. Sergeant Denise Armstrong, who recently left the army after twenty-one years, had to leave her teenage daughter in the care of her parents when she was posted to the Persian Gulf on a two-year deployment on HMAS Kanimbla in October 2001. Returning from the Gulf in January 2003, the Captain gave permission for a family member to travel on board from Cairns to Sydney so Denise's daughter could join her to 'get the feeling of what it was like for us'. The challenges of combining children and work are not specific to the Defence Force, and nor are they specific to women, but recruitment and retention strategies and work and family balance are ongoing issues for all Australian women and men.

A female solider climbing up a ladder in a submarine.

Able Seaman Rachel Irving, one of the first female submariners, on board HMAS Collins, 1999. Australia began allowing women to serve on submarines from 1998, only the second country in the world to do so. Dept of Defence SUB990637_29

Keeping the peace

Once integration occurred and the restrictions on combat-related positions were lifted, Australian servicewomen began to serve in increasing numbers in peace operations. During the 1980s and 1990s, Australian troops were deployed in a variety of peace operations including in Cambodia, Somalia, Rwanda and East Timor. Australian Federal Police have also undertaken peace operations that have included women. The first mission where armed Australian police served overseas was in October 1994, when a contingent of thirty, including three women, was sent to Haiti. Sergeant Delia 'Dee' Quigley was one of the three women who went on to serve in East Timor in 1999 and Cyprus in 2000, where she undertook humanitarian work, liaising with United Nations (UN) agencies and assisting with medical transfers and family reunions.

A male solider in uniform is standing up a female solider in uniform is sitting down at the controls of a radio.

RAAF Leading Aircraftwoman Kylie Kiddle at work with colleague Corporal Mick Hicklin in the Communications Centre of UNTAC, Phnom Penh, Cambodia, November 1992. AWM CAMUN/92/067/17, photographer Wayne Ryan

In Cambodia in the early 1990s, Australian peacekeepers were sent to join the United Nations Advance Mission in Cambodia (UNAMIC), which was attempting to resolve the problems left over from the destructive Pol Pot regime of the 1970s. In February 1992, twentyfive soldiers, including five women, supplemented the forty signallers already there to assist with repairing infrastructure such as bridges and roads, and with mine clearance. Once UNTAC was established to facilitate free elections in 1993, more than 500 Australian troops served, providing military and civil communications infrastructure.

However, it was in Rwanda where the most significant numbers of Australian servicewomen were deployed. In the mid- 1990s, the small landlocked African nation of Rwanda exploded in genocide, resulting in more than half a million people being killed and two million people becoming refugees. By the time UN forces were mobilised, it was too little too late. On 25 June 1994, Cabinet approved supplying medical and support services. It was to be the largest medical contingent assembled since the Vietnam War. There were two tours of duty for 600 personnel drawn from all three services. In August 1994, as part of the UN Assistance Mission in Rwanda (UNAMIR), the first Australian contingent took over Kigali hospital. Although they were intended to provide surgical and medical assistance to the UN troops and humanitarian assistance to the Rwandans, much of their work was treating the local population with a range of medical conditions ranging from shattered limbs requiring amputations to machete wounds and malnutrition. The Australian Medical Support Force included female medical and supply clerks, storemen and technicians in charge of pharmaceutical and medical supplies, scientific officers, nurses and doctors. The Australian Red Cross also had a representative, Mary James from South Australia, attached to the unit.

On 22 April 1995, Australians were witness to the massacre of up to 4000 people at Kibeho, a refugee camp holding about 50,000 people. Captain Carol Vaughan-Evans, the officer in charge of the Casualty Clearing Post, arrived four days before the massacre. The mood was ugly and dangerous: 'we certainly weren't wanted. The government forces made that very, very clear but did respect the UN's presence'. When the people began to run 'they were shot, bayoneted and the government forces chased them down ... my role was to treat patients, was to organise the evacuation of them ... to make sure that I got people out of there alive'. The war photographer, George Gittoes, witnessed the 'incredible human courage from the Australian peace keepers'. Squadron Leader Kathleen Pyne, who flew in by helicopter the day after the massacre, wrote in her diary that she had:

... witnessed hell on earth today ... a few visions are etched in my mind: a man face down in a puddle of water; a body with a bullet in the head and a machete in hand; a mother and child looked up at me from inside the toilet pit.

Soliders in uniform standing around with people on stretchers and vehicles.

Members of UNAMIR work at Kibeho refugee camp, the scene of a horrendous massacre, Rwanda, May 1995. AWM P02211.021, photographer Justin White

East Timor

The blurring between front line combat and combat-related positions was particularly evident in East Timor when the largest Australian deployment of troops since Vietnam was undertaken. Occupied by Indonesia since 1975, the former Portuguese colony was allowed to undertake a UN-sanctioned referendum in 1999 that resulted in a vote for independence. Despite a limited UN presence, pro-Indonesian militia terrorised the local population, with hundreds killed and made homeless. In September 1999, with UN approval, a multinational force called Interfet was formed to restore order. The four-month operation was highly successful, and in February 2000 it handed control to the UN Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET).

About 100 Australian servicewomen were deployed in East Timor to carry out a range of roles such as transport driving, in construction and support battalions, and as supervisors and coordinators of the unloading of stores and equipment on the docks in Dili. Women from the RAAF were involved in air medical evacuations, and Lieutenant Sana Fernandez was flying reconnaissance helicopters. Others were part of the 1st Australian Field Hospital, established in the grounds of the Dili museum and in regimental aid posts. The servicewomen carried rifles and wore camouflage uniforms, helmets and flak jackets.

A female solider and a mother holding a baby with small children.

Lieutenant Kerrie Muir and local Timorese children, East Timor, 2005. Kerrie Muir collection

Much of their work was captured by Australian artist and Archibald prize-winner Wendy Sharpe who, with Rick Amor, was selected as an official war artist to record visually the work of Australian peace keepers in East Timor and the local people. Wendy became the fourth official Australian female war artist. Her experiences were quite different to those of her predecessors: she was there for only three weeks, remained a civilian and wore a plain khaki shirt and trousers. Wendy was also allowed to travel around East Timor, with two bodyguards, and was largely left alone to work. She painted what she saw, rather than being restricted to the activities of women, as were Nora Heysen and Sybil Craig.

Wendy initially refused the commission, but once the situation improved she changed her mind, arriving in Dili in December 1999 by troop ship, where she 'felt like a bohemian flower that's been thrown onto a war zone'. Wendy was struck by the destruction wrought by the conflict: 'when I drove through the city streets every single building was destroyed'. This dark aspect of human nature was reflected in some of her paintings as she sketched the local population as they began to recover from their ordeal. As Wendy said, 'the look on their faces I can't even begin to think what they have been through'.

The Australian female soldiers also impressed her. 'What immediately struck me was how young most of the women were', Wendy said. 'I don't think I came across anyone older than 25. They were young but they were so kind and competent. And so fearless. They were also emotionally balanced'. She depicted them in a range of ways, generally when off duty, such as playing cards or cleaning their rifles.

Australian peacekeepers remained in East Timor for the next few years, overseeing independence, general elections, and reconstruction of the new nation. Kerrie Muir was deployed in December 2004 for six months. A registered nurse for almost twenty years, Kerrie joined the Army Reserve in 2003 because, as a mature entrant, she felt she had much to offer the Defence Force. She was also 'horrified by all the terrorism and general unrest of some countries—Timor in particular, because of its close proximity to Australia'. Kerrie finished her field nursing and specialist officers' courses in 2004 and within two months was in Timor, where she was to monitor and observe the peace process in post conflict areas. Although in a non-combat role, she carried a 9 mm pistol. As Kerrie was on the last rotation, her duties included packing up and sending stores back to Australia. She worked in the UN hospital in Dili run by the Australian Resuscitation Team and the Pakistan surgical team. 'We worked well together and came to tolerate the difference of expertise and education and ... the cultural differences both of our fellow colleagues and the locals'. Despite the fact that 'there was no roaring of helicopters, air raid sirens, mass casualties or acts of heroism worthy of a medal', Kerrie believes her 'role as a Nursing Officer cannot be overshadowed' and that whether peacekeepers or in a war 'action' zone, they all played important roles.

Australian forces have also been involved in missions to assist in peace operations in civil war ravaged places such as Bougainville and the Solomon Islands. Lance Corporal Poppy Wenham was posted as part of the Peace Monitoring Group (PMG) to Bougainville in 2000. Her posting was as a driver/signaller, where they spent up to four days a week patrolling the local villages. As Poppy explained, being a woman was useful for the Australian peacekeepers because:

As I spoke quite good pidgin and was the only woman in our patrol I was able to use the time in the villages to talk with the women and children. This provided valuable information that could be compared with the information the patrol commander had obtained talking to the men. Bougainville is a matriarchal society, and the inclusion of women in patrols in the PMG greatly increased our effectiveness and credibility.

The war in Iraq commenced in 2003 with the invasion of Iraq by forces of a 'coalition of the willing' led by the US and supported by Britain and Australia. Air traffic control at Baghdad International Airport was managed by an RAAF detachment from May 2003 to August the following year. Wing Commanders Sheryl Steele and Angela Rhodes were two senior air traffic controllers who completed a tour of duty in Iraq. In 2004, the latter, as Senior Air Traffic Control Officer, managed the transition to the Iraqi forces, and was also responsible for moving the detachment to Balad, where it continued working with the US Air Force.

Women from all three services have served in and continue to serve with Operation Catalyst. In mid 2008 more than 1550 ADF personnel were working to assist in the reconstruction of Iraq, including a group of female soldiers as part of the Al Muthanna Task Group based in southern Iraq.

A female solider is standing with a man with small children in the foreground.

Peacekeeping missions will rarely be successful if they cannot win over the local people to their cause, a role in which Australian servicewomen often play a part. Here, Captain Rachael Leal hands out information leaflets to villagers in northern Malaita in 1993. She was a member of the Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands (RAMSI), which aimed to restore order and disarm militias in the troubled state. AWM P04225.281, photographer: Stephen Dupont

Corporal Julie Baranowski, Somalia

In January 1993, a battalion size force was deployed to assist with the UN Operation in Somalia (UNOSOM), to protect the humanitarian aid organisations from warring clans in the chaosridden country. Julie Baranowski, a member of the Military Police, was observed by Australian war artist George Gittoes undertaking a street patrol, where she was asked to search a Somali woman suspected of carrying arms. It was suspected that Somali men were hiding weapons beneath women's clothes because male soldiers would not search women. So Julie carried out the task. However, a riot nearly broke out as the Somalis thought Julie was a man. Gittoes noted:

To Somali men, a woman soldier is unthinkable ... It was only when Julie took her helmet off and showed the angry crowd her long blond hair, they began to believe this foreign soldier really was a woman.

A woman solider in uniform standing on the back of a military vehicle.

Corporal Julie Baranowski on street patrol in Mogadishu, Somalia, March 1993. AWM P01735.010, photographer George Gittoes

Major Susan Felsche (1961–1993)

Susan Felsche was the first Australian woman to die on active service since World War II. Born in Brisbane into a military family, she excelled at school and studied to be a doctor at the University of Queensland. In 1983 Susan joined the Army, and was appointed Medical Officer at Duntroon in 1987. Promotion to Major followed in 1991. Susan accepted a six-month contract as part of the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in the Western Sahara (MINURSO). She arrived in the Western Sahara in early 1993 to operate local clinics and provide medical assistance to the Australian contingent of about forty-five peacekeepers. Susan joined a small medical team that was operating from a Minurso tent camp at Asward in the Sahara Desert. Here, on 21 June 1993, she was killed in an aeroplane crash together with a number of crew and passengers. Her body was returned to her husband in Australia, where she was given a full military funeral.

A woman in Australian army uniform with wide-brimmed hat and army fatigues stands before a grey background. She's facing left and smiling with her arms behind her back.
Portrait of Major Susan Felsche taken at the airport in New South Wales as she was about to depart for Western Sahara. 1993, photograph by Klaus Felsche. AWM P01763.001

Wing Commander Angela Rhodes (1952–2005)

Angela started breaking boundaries early in her career. She originally joined the army in 1972 as a driver, and then trained as an air traffic control officer, transferring to the air force in 1976. She was the first female military air traffic controller in Australia, a job that took her around the country serving at Mascot, Point Cook, Townsville and elsewhere. She spent a considerable part of her career as part of the School of Air Traffic Control (SATC), at East Sale, Victoria, where she was an instructor and later Commanding Officer. She also spent time as Station Leader with the Australian National Antarctic Research Expedition at Casey Station.

After twenty years she quit the military, only to be tempted back in 2001 when she was deployed to Iraq on Operation Catalyst as the senior air traffic control officer in Baghdad. Angela retired on 10 October 2005 after twenty-eight years in the Defence Force.

Angela Rhodes, always bright and bubbly with a great joie de vivre, was a perfect role model for other women in the military. She was held in high esteem by her colleagues, and was described by her superiors as 'an exceptional officer who consistently displayed professional excellence and outstanding dedication to duty in an extremely demanding and challenging staff environment'. In remission after an earlier brush with breast cancer, Angela finally succumbed to the disease on 27 October 2005; she was 53 years old.

A female solider in uniform wearing glasses.

Wing Commander Angela Rhodes Private family collection

Wing Commander Linda Corbould

From the age of eleven Linda knew she wanted to fly, after seeing the aerobatic Roulettes in action at Launceston, Tasmania. So she joined the RAAF in 1981, even though women were not allowed to train as pilots, hoping that one day the rules would change. She trained as an air traffic controller, and when pilot training was opened up five years later, she jumped at the chance to fly Hercules. Linda has flown Hercules for more than fourteen years, into combat zones many times, including Baghdad during the Gulf War. She was awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia in 2003 for planning and running a C-130 Hercules flight to the Iraqi capital on the night of 12–13 April.

By 2007 Linda was the most senior woman pilot in the Defence Force, and one of only thirteen female pilots in the RAAF. In November 2006, she was appointed the first female commanding officer of No. 36 Squadron RAAF, which will be the base for four of the giant C-17 Globemaster transport aircraft at Amberley in Queensland. She has predicted that 'There is a female navigator in F-111s, but it is only a matter of time before there is a woman jet fighter pilot'.

A female pilot leaning out of the cockpit window and giving a 'thumbs up' gesture.

Wing Commander Linda Corbould in the cockpit of a C-17, December 2006. Dept of Defence 20061204cpa52778_019

Asian Tsunami and Deaths of Flight Lieutenant Lynne Rowbottom and Sergeant Wendy Jones

On Boxing Day 2004, a catastrophic tsunami killed hundreds of thousands of people across the Indian Ocean and the Bay of Bengal. At the request of the Indonesian government, Australia deployed all services to assist in the disaster relief program. HMAS Kanimbla provided a floating support and logistics base off the coast of Banda Aceh, in northern Sumatra, where an Anzac Field Hospital was established as well as a water purification plant.

Three months later, on 29 March 2005, an earthquake hit Sumatra, especially the island of Nias. Kanimbla, including Navy, Army and Air Force medical teams, was again deployed to offer support and medical relief to the local population. A helicopter accident on 2 April killed nine Australians. Two RAAF servicewomen, Flight Lieutenant Lynne Rowbottom and Sergeant Wendy Jones, died in the crash. At 34 years of age, Lynne, originally from Launceston, joined the RAAF as a nursing officer in 1996. She served with distinction in East Timor in 2003 and had recently returned from a three month posting in Banda Aceh, helping victims of the Boxing Day tsunami. Lynne was buried with full military honours on 21 April 2005 in Townsville. Forty-year-old Wendy Jones was a medical assistant from the RAAF Amberley Base. She joined up in 1990 and was deployed to East Timor, Iraq and Afghanistan. Wendy was buried with full military honours in her home town of Broken Hill on 13 April 2005.

A painting depicting helicopter landing on the tarmac of a ship with a person on the ground signalling with arms opened wide.
Peter Hanley, Shark Zero Two coming home (2005, synthetic polymer paint on canvas, 73.8 x 73.8 cm, AWM ART92744)

Non-government organisations

If the role and make-up of Australia's defence forces have changed in the last thirty years, so too have the roles played by Australia's international non-government organisations (NGOs). Their focus today is on the civilian populations and their needs rather than on service personnel. Nowadays, the services supply clothing and food comforts. But in most places where the Defence Force is deployed, the aid agencies are there too. For example, in the 1990s, the Australian journalists Marje Prior and Heide Smith found a number of extraordinary women undertaking a range of voluntary and humanitarian related tasks in Cambodia. Some of their stories were captured in Prior and Smith's book Shooting the Moon. There was Sister Joan Healy from the Brown Josephite order, who had been in Cambodia since 1989 working in the refugee camps on the Thai border. When Prior and Smith caught up with her, Healy was in Battambang managing the Overseas Service Bureau (OSB) project that assisted traumatised Cambodian refugees to resettle and rebuild their lives. The journalist Sue Aitkin left her job with The Canberra Times to live in Cambodia and help re-establish the country's media networks.

The number of Australian NGOs providing humanitarian aid to the world's trouble spots has multiplied over the years. The Australian public has also been very generous, donating $871.81 million in 2005, up 71.2 per cent from 2004, which included the response to the Asian tsunami. More than eighty organisations are represented by the Australian Council for International Development (ACFID), formerly known as the Australian Council for Overseas Aid, formed in 1965. Peace workers from organisations such as Oxfam Australia, Save the Children Australia, World Vision Australia, and Caritas Australia can all be found in war-torn countries, often working alongside UN peacekeepers.

The Australian Red Cross Field Force was reorganised after the last of the Field Force Officers, Commandant Julie Van Schajik, returned to Australia from Malaysia when the Butterworth air base was closed in 1988. Although the role of the Red Cross with the Defence Force has diminished since World War II, the placement of skilled delegates in health, logistics and management continues through an expanded international program. Indicative of the rise of this type of humanitarian aid, the Australian Red Cross had forty-three delegates serving overseas in 1989–90, compared with eighty-seven workers in 2006.

CARE Australia, one of the most high profile non-government organisations, burst onto the scene in 1987. The original organisation started in the US in the aftermath of World War II, sending food packages to war torn Europe. One of the best known CARE Australia workers in the 1990s was Phoebe Fraser, who wrote about her experiences in a book, A Single Seed. For six years she worked as an emergency worker in twenty-three countries including Cambodia, Somalia, Rwanda, Southern Sudan, Bosnia and Serbia. She was part of the CARE Australia emergency response team sent to Iran in 1991 to cope with the humanitarian disaster created when 1.2 million Kurdish and Shiite refugees fled Iraq during the Gulf War. In a diary entry for April 1991 Phoebe wrote, 'I am apprehensive because I am ignorant. I know nothing of the country I am to work in, I know nothing of the people', her comment reflecting a common feeling that afflicts many aid workers and defence personnel alike when they are deployed overseas.

Two women standing by a 4wd vehicle.

Photographer Heide Smith (left) and journalist Marje Prior stand beside their United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) utility in the southwestern province of Takeo. Smith and Prior visited Cambodia in 1993 to document Australian involvement with UNTAC. AWM P03258.479

Those left behind

As the role and functions of the defence forces have changed since the Vietnam War, so too has the way Australian society reacts to war. Much of Australia's involvement since the 1970s has been as peacekeepers and the very nature of conflict has changed, with fewer casualties and (with the exception of Iraq) less controversy, and there has been a corresponding diminishing impact on Australian society generally. The concept of the mass comforts parcel, so much a part of both World War I and World War II, has almost completely disappeared, although the rise of the 'herogram' is reminiscent of the letters young women sent overseas to diggers in World War I. To the troops in East Timor, and now in Iraq, family members sent food packages, including cake, pudding and shortbreads, but not on the scale of earlier wars. Wives have also established organisations such as the Australian Army Wives Auxiliary to look after each other and help each other cope with the peripatetic lifestyle of service families. Modern technology such as the internet has also reduced the isolation for families left behind when troops are deployed overseas. Wife and mother of three young children, Michelle Whitelaw, described an internet site where families across Australia can chat to each other. 'It's hilarious', she said, 'at about nine o'clock at night it's full of women who have finally got the last child down to bed saying "I've had the worst day"'.

There are still many thousands of Australian women today who are involved in a range of small and not so small non-profit voluntary organisations established to assist veterans, their families and war widows. Despite the assistance of governments, there is still a role to play for self-help and advocacy groups, many of which are formed in reaction to a new conflict. Others are begun as a way for veterans to keep in touch, and they play a communications and welfare role. Indeed, the list of ex-service organisations is quite staggering, especially when both the national and state branches are included—there are about 320 currently listed in the Department of Veterans' Affairs Directory. Over the years women directly affected by war have gathered together to form many different types of support and pressure groups—some are large, but the majority are very small and almost unknown outside their circle. Some are attached to ex-servicemen's organisations as auxiliaries, others are separate, autonomous organisations. One such group is the ACT Totally and Permanently Incapacitated (TPI) Wives' Association, formed in 1981. This association represents one group of Australian women who share a common link, through marriage, to war veterans who were so badly injured as a result of their war service that they were not able to continue in the paid workforce. TPI veterans not only have to come to terms with the physical and psychological results of their wartime experiences, but also of not being able to participate actively in the paid workforce.

Many World War II veterans found it difficult to adjust to the idea that their wives had to enter the paid workforce, and this created enormous stresses on the family. Conversely, for wives of Vietnam TPI veterans, many had to give up paid work to look after their husbands, who required full-time care. Each generation of carers, therefore, has had its own particular problems associated with the effects of war service. It is estimated that more than 25,000 veterans are being looked after by a carer—mainly their wives, many of whom are over the age of sixty-five and perhaps not in good health themselves.

A recent organisation is Partners of Veterans Association of Australia Inc (PVA). Formed in 2000, and now with branches across the country, it offers friendship, support and education. In the spirit of earlier war-related voluntary organisations PVA originated through the hard work of a number of women who felt there was a gap not identified by other ex-service associations and government departments. PVA wants to assist the partners and families of veterans, inform them of their rights and entitlements, and offer advice, education and support for women (and men) and their children. In 2007, PVA presented a nationwide tour called 'Pe-ac-ed with Love—Story Quilts by War Veteran Families' in which family members of war veterans were 'invited to record their life journeys in textiles through the design and creation of individual quilts and an accompanying written story'. Originally shown at the 2006 Canberra Craft & Quilt Fair, the quilts were taken on a national tour so that Australians could 'consider the trans-generational cost of war to veterans, their families and the wider community'.

A small boy waving and his mother holding up sign amongst other people.

Family and friends of the crew of HMAS Anzac greet their return to Garden Island, Western Australia, after a six-month deployment of Europe and South Africa. Dept of Defence 20050815ran8097690_296019, photographer Able Seaman Jarrad Oliffe


Over the past one hundred years, the nature of war, how wars are fought, the roles played by the services, and the position of women in society have all shifted and brought fundamental change. For the first half of the century, the role of women in the services and in voluntary organisations was clearly defined. It was not the job of government to provide socks and cricket bats or counselling and cups of tea; that work was done largely by women and voluntary organisations. The Department of Repatriation (now Department of Veterans' Affairs, or DVA), established in 1918, heralded the beginning of a new way of assuming responsibility for war veterans and their families. Since World War II, DVA has continued to expand and consolidate its position. Due to the changing nature of warfare and the focus on peace operations, the home front has not really been tested in recent years. Having said that, the number of voluntary organisations, linked with war veterans and service personnel generally, suggests that people's expectations and needs continue to change and evolve with each conflict.

The transformation of the Defence Force is underway but is not yet finished. In the ADF today, Australian women make up about 13 per cent of the service personnel. The recruitment and retention of women in the Defence Force continues to hinge on career development, access to challenging and rewarding jobs, attitude of male colleagues, adequate maternity leave and child care, and the provision of familyfriendly principles.

In November 2006, Janelle Swan began her Army training at Kapooka. With two children, aged five and two, and a husband who is currently undertaking a nursing degree, Janelle had thought about joining up for years. She tried university and teacher training but realised early on that teaching was not for her. Keen to find a worthwhile career, and encouraged by her husband, she felt 'the opportunities are endless, which is what I like about the Army'. Janelle also wants her 'kids to have a good life and have things that I suppose I never had the opportunity to have, such as travelling Australia'. Time will tell whether Janelle finds all this in the Army, but there is little doubt that she represents the new confident Australian woman who enlists in the twenty-first century. Her predecessors, from Nellie Gould to Angela Rhodes, would most likely approve.

A female medical officer attending to a leg injury of a boy.
Tam with a patient during Operation Habitat, June 1991. She later said: "my service in Iraq helped me to understand and have faith in human compassion and the bigger picture of mankind. Despite the devastation of war, there is a capacity to help other human beings and to connect on a normal human level". Tyler, AWM CANA/91/0104/09
A group of medical staff in army uniform pose in an open grass area near a truck.
Tam (third from the left) with other medical staff in Iraq 1991. AWM P01762.014
Woman and man in military uniform squatting, inspecting their engineer work. On lookers in background interested in their work.
Corporal Francine Rigby, Royal Australian Corps of Military Police, checks for stolen equipment as part of the UNTAC, Phnom Penh, Cambodia, August 1992. AWM CAMUN/92/038/03, photographer Wayne Ryan
A cartoon drawing of a man on a motorbike.

Sergeant Jodie Clark, by George Gittoes, 23 May 1993, pencil on paper, 35.4 x 43 cm. Sketch of an Australian peacekeeper, Sergeant Jodie Clark, on a motorbike supervising the unloading of a train at Battambang, Cambodia, in May 1993. AWM ART90114

A female solider in uniform with a cross patch on her upper arm attends to a woman with an injury.

Medical Officer Captain Carol Vaughan-Evans treats one of the refugees leaving Kibeho DP Camp, April 1995. Dept of Defence MSU95_078_06, photographer Corporal Robin White

A female solider holding a water bottle smiles with some young boys.

A servicewoman of the Australian National Command Element talks to a group of locals while a navy ship is loaded at the Dili port, East Timor. Members of the Royal Australian Navy, Australian Army and Royal Australian Air Force have served alongside members from twenty-four other nations in the United Nations Peacekeeping Force in East Timor, providing security for the local people as the country works towards self-government. Dept of Defence VK 021206, photographer Corporal Jason Weeding

A female solider is walking in the rain carrying her gun, a backpack, and a water bottle with young children and other people in the background.

An Australian servicewoman deployed as part of Operation Annandale takes part in a patrol of the mountains near Suai, East Timor, in November 1999. Dept of Defence V99_205_19, photographer Warrant Officer Class 2 Alan Green

Two female soliders attend to a patient lying injured in a bed.

Captains Kristy Sturtevant and Jenny Plummer, Australian soldiers with the 1st Australian Field Hospital resuscitation team on deployment with the International Force in East Timor (INTERFET), c2000. AWM P04643.005

A painting of a four people sitting in a circle.

Female soldiers playing cards, Robertson Barracks, Darwin, by Wendy Sharpe, 2000, gouache and pencil on paper, 25 x 34.8 cm. Wendy Sharpe was appointed an official war artist for INTERFET in 2000. AWM ART91123

A painting of a group of people.

Soldier with refugees, Dili, East Timor, by Wendy Sharpe, 2000, gouache, crayon on paper, 39.6 x 55.4 cm. As an official war artist, Wendy Sharpe captured not only the Australians but also the local East Timorese people and how they interacted with each other. AWM ART91161

A female solider holding a gun walking up a path with a military vehicle beside her and sandbags in the background.

Warrant Officer Pip Iseppi on duty in East Timor, January 2000. Dept of Defence V00_018_28

A row of soliders standing with a female solider holding a medal and smiling to camera.

RAAF Flying Officer Sharon Cooper 'breaks ranks’ to proudly display her recently awarded UN Peacekeeping Medal, Operation Tanager, June 2000. Dept of Defence VKO107-02, photographer Corporal Kevin Piggott

A female solider wearing protective clothing stands with three women wearing head scarves.

Corporal Julie Baranowski from One Military Police Company talks to locals while on deployment in Mogadishu, Somalia, in March 1993. Dept of Defence MSU93_184_33, photographer Corporal Gary Ramage

A Navy crew navigating onboard a ship.

Lieutenant Kylie Beumer, RAN, monitors the course taken by HMAS Kanimbla while on a minefield transit operation through the Khawr Abd Allah waterway, Iraq, April 2003. AWM P04101.335, photographer David Dare Parker

A crowd of people waving flags and holding up signs.

Despite the changes in women’s roles, the welcome home scenes remain the same. Relatives greet the arrival home of HMAS Anzac from action in the Gulf War, 17 May 2003, Fremantle, Western Australia. AWM P04192.020, photographer Brad Rimmer

A female solider holding a small child.

An Australian Army Nursing Officer shares a few quiet words with a young patient at the Solomon Islands main hospital at Honiara, July 2003. Dept of Defence JPAU30JUL03035

A female solider croching down with a little boy.

Leading Aircraftwoman Jayne Butler shows her son an E2C Hawkeye aircraft at an open day held at RAAF Base Darwin in July 2004, where members of the public were able to talk to pilots and ground crews and were given a close-up look at the military aircraft and air defence systems from Australia, France, Singapore and Thailand involved in the Top End simulated air war known as Exercise Pitch Black. Dept of Defence JPAU24JUL04ML019, photographer Corporal Michelle Lucraft

A group photograph of soliders in full uniform.

Servicewomen of the Al Muthanna Task Group pose for a group photo at Camp Smitty, Iraq. The Al Muthanna Task Group of around 450 Australian Defence Force personnel were deployed to the Middle East in 2005 as part of Australia’s contribution to the rehabilitation and reconstruction of Iraq. Dept of Defence 20051024adf8182062_018, photographer Sergeant Craig Sharp

Soliders in uniform saluting.

Australian servicewomen take part in Anzac Day commemorations at RAAF Base Tindal in 2006. Dept of Defence 20060425raaf8181999

Soliders in uniform standing up.

Australian servicewomen take part in Anzac Day commemorations at RAAF Base Albany, Western Australia in 2006. Dept of Defence 20060425ran8097690_081039



Throughout this project, in the time available, I have endeavoured to find new stories with which to tell the story of Australian women and war. The general literature on the topic is quite extensive, so secondary sources were used as well as a range of archival repositories. The Australian War Memorial holds the largest range of material, especially for World War I and World War II. Other records were accessed from newspapers and from the National Archives of Australia, the Australian Red Cross and the National Library of Australia.

Abbreviations used in this bibliography include: Allen & Unwin (A & U), Angus & Robertson (A & R), Cambridge University Press (CUP), Department of Veterans' Affairs (DVA), Melbourne University Press (MUP), Oxford University Press (OUP) and University of Queensland Press (UQP).

Adam-Smith, Patsy, Australian Women at War, Nelson, Melbourne, 1984

Adie, Kate, Corsets to Camouflage: Women and War, Coronet Books, London, 2003

Angell, Barbara, A Woman's War: The Exceptional Life of Wilma Oram Young, AM, New Holland, Sydney, 2003

Australian Dictionary of Biography, MUP, Melbourne, various volumes

AWAS: Women making History, Booralong Publications, Queensland, 1988

Bassett, Jan, Guns and Brooches: Australian Army Nursing from the Boer War to the Gulf War, OUP, Melbourne, 1992

——, As We Wave you Goodbye: Australian Women and War, OUP, Melbourne, 1998

Biederman, Narelle, Tears on my Pillow: Australian Nurses in Vietnam, Random House, Sydney, 2004

Bomford, Janette, Soldiers of the Queen, OUP, Melbourne, 2001

Brenchley, Fred and Elizabeth, Stoker's Submarine, Harper Collins, Pymble, 2003

Butler, AG, The Australian Army Medical Service in the War of 1914–18, vol. III, AGPS, Canberra, 1943

Clark, Manning, A History of Australia, volume 6, MUP, Melbourne, 1987

Clark, Mavis Thorpe, No Mean Destiny, Hyland House, Melbourne, 1986

Corbett, Elsie, Red Cross in Serbia, Cheney and Sons, Oxon, 1964

Cornell, Judith and R. Lynette Russell (eds.), Letters from Belsen 1945: An Australian Nurses' Experiences with the Survivors of War, A & U, Sydney, 2000

Curthoys, Ann, 'Shut up you bourgeois bitch', in Joy Damousi and Marilyn Lake (eds.), Gender and War: Australians at War in the Twentieth Century, CUP, Melbourne, 1995

Damousi, Joy, The Labour Of Loss: Mourning, Memory and Wartime Bereavement in Australia, CUP, Melbourne, 1999

Darling, Pat, Portrait of a Nurse:Prisoner of War of the Japanese 1942–1945 Sumatra, Don Wall, Mona Vale, 2001

Deacon, LA, Beyond the Call: An Account of the Dedication and Bravery by Australian Nurses in the First World War, Regal Press, Launceston, undated.

Denholm, Decie (ed.), Behind the Lines: One Woman's War, 1914–18, Collins, Sydney, 1982

Fenton Huie, Shirley, Ships Belles: The Story of the Women's Royal Australian Naval Service in war and peace, 1941–1985, Watermark Press, Sydney, 2000

Fraser, Phoebe, A Single Seed, William Heinemann Australia, Melbourne, 1966

Grey, Jeffrey, A Military History of Australia, CUP, Cambridge, 1999 [1990]

Halstead, Gay, Whispers over Wildwood, Nungurner Press, Metung, 2003

Hardisty, Sue (ed.), Thanks Girls and Goodbye: The Story of the Australian Women's Land Army 1942–45, Viking O'Neil, Melbourne, 1990

Hasluck, Alexandra (ed.), Audrey Tennyson's Vice-Regal Days: The Australian Letters of Audrey Lady Tennyson 1899–1903, National Library of Australia, Canberra, 1978

Higonnet, Margaret (ed.), Nurses at the Front: Writing the Wounds of the Great War, Northeastern University Press, Boston, 2001

Higonnet, Margaret, Jane Jenson, Sonya Michel, Margaret Collins Weitz (eds.), Behind the Lines: Gender and the Two World Wars, Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 1987

Howard, Ann, You'll be Sorry: Reflections of the AWAS from 1941–1945, Tarka Publishing, Sydney, 1990

——, Where do We go from Here? Compelling Postwar Experiences of Australian Ex- Servicewomen, 1945–1948, Tarka Publishing, Sydney, 1994

Jeffrey, Betty, White Coolies, A & R, Sydney, 1957 (1954) Kirkcaldie, Rose, In Rose and Scarlet, Alexander McCubbin, Melbourne, 1922

Lamensdorf Debelle, Jean, Write Home for Me, Random House, Sydney, 2006

Londey, Peter, Other People's Wars: A History of Australian Peacekeeping, A & U, Sydney, 2004

Luckins, Tanja, The Gates of Memory: Australian People's Experiences and Memories of Loss and the Great War, Curtin University Books, Perth, 2004

Mack, Louise, A Woman's Experiences in the Great War, T. Fisher Unwin, London, 1915

McHugh, Siobhan, Australian Women and the Vietnam War, Lothian Books, Melbourne, 1995 [1983]

McKay, Gary, Bullets, Beans & Bandages, A & U, St Leonards, 1999

McKernan, Michael, This War never Ends, UQP, St. Lucia, 2001.

——, All In! Fighting the War at Home, A & U, Sydney, 1995 [1983]

——, The Australian People and the Great War, Nelson, Melbourne, 1980.

Moberly, G.F., Letters of a Dinki-Di Nurse, Australasian Medical Publishing Co, 1933

Mongan, Cheryl & Richard Reid, 'We have not forgotten': Yass & Districts War 1914–1918, Milltown Research & Publications, Yass, 1998Ollif, Lorna, Women in Khaki, Sydney, AWS Association of NSW, Sydney, 1981

Oppenheimer, Melanie, Oceans of Love: Narrelle—An Australian Nurse in WWI, ABC Books, Sydney, 2006

——, All Work, No Pay: Australian Civilian Volunteers in War, Ohio Productions, Walcha, 2002

——, Red Cross VAs: A History of the VAD Movement in NSW, Ohio Productions, Walcha, 1999

Penglase, Joanna and David Horner, When the War Came to Australia: Memories of the Second World War, Allen and Unwin, Sydney, 1992

Phelan, Nancy, Romantic Lives: Louise Mack, UQP, St Lucia, 1991

Pigot, John, Hilda Rix Nicholas: Her Life and Art, Miegunyah Press, Melbourne, 2000

Prior, Marje and Heide Smith (ed.), Shooting the Moon: Cambodian Peaceworkers tell their Stories, MPA Publishing, Canberra, 1994

Reeder, Lynne and Melanie Oppenheimer, Caring for the Carers—A History of the ACT TPI Wives' Association, Canberra, 2001

Reid, Richard, Just Wanted to be There: Australian Service Nurses, 1899–1999, DVA, Canberra, 1999

Robinson, G Forgotten Women: Personal Accounts of Australian Nurses Abroad in WWI, self published, Australia, 1989

Roe, Jill (ed.), My Congenials, Vol. 2, 1939–1954, A & R, Sydney, 1993

Scates, Bruce and Rae Frances, Women and the Great War, CUP, Melbourne, 1997 ,

Scott, Ernest, Australia during the War, vol. XI, UQP, St. Lucia, 1989 [1936]

Scott, Jean, Girls with Grit: Memories of the Australian Women's Land Army. A & U, Sydney, 1986

Speck, Catherine, Painting Ghosts: Australian Women Artists in Wartime, Craftsmen House, Melbourne, 2004

Spurling, Kathryn & Elizabeth Greenhalgh (eds.), Women in Uniform: Perceptions and Pathways, ADFA, NSW, 2000

Stevenson, Clare and Honor Darling (eds.), The WAAAF Book, Hale & Iremonger, Sydney, 1984

Stumm, Lorraine, I Saw Too Much: A Woman Correspondent at War, The Write on Group, Coopernook, 2000

Summers, Ann, Angels and Citizens, Routledge and Kegan Paul, London, 1988

Tamura, Keiko, Michi's Memories: The Story of a Japanese War Bride, Pandanus Books, ACT, 2001

Taylor, Rosemary, Orphans of War, Collins, London, 1988,

Thomson, Joyce, The WAAAF in Wartime Australia, MUP, Melbourne, 1991

Wilcox, Craig, Australia's Boer War: The War in South Africa, 1899–1902, OUP, Melbourne, 2002


Australian War Memorial, Canberra

'A Girl from Home', Red Cross Hospital Visitor, AWM114 837/4/1

Australian Red Cross Wounded and Missing Enquiry Bureau, 0110702, Corporal Gilbert Goldie Anschau, 3rd Battalion

Blyth, Sergeant Ida May, Papers, PR03070

Curtis-Otter, Margaret, interview by Dr Ruth Thompson, 15 June 1989, S00597

Doherty, Muriel K, Papers, 3DRL/2518

Donnelly, Roma, Papers, MSS1555

Dunleavy, Hilda, Papers PR01505

Eames, William, Collection, 'History of the Australian Voluntary Hospital', 1 DRL/0667

Felsche, Susan, Papers, PR00288

Ferguson, Sir Ronald M 3DRL/2574 419/76/1

Gibson, Elsie, Papers, PR01269

Haigh, Joan Merritt, Paper, PR01430

Honeysett, Nell, Papers, 'An Australian Army Wife's Account of Life for her during the United Nations' War in Korea 1950-1953', PR89/028

Kentley, Margaret, Papers, MSS0796

Larkin, Margaret, Papers, PR00082

Loxton, Hilda, Original Diary and Personal Papers, 2DRL/1172

Plummer, Doris, Papers, PR01902

Principal Matron EJ Gould's notes – 1919. AWM 41-975

White, June, Memoir, 'A Long Year for an Army Wife during the Korean War', PR89/183

National Archives of Australia, Canberra

'Selection of forty female teachers to work in the refugee camps in South Africa', A6661 554

'Despatch of Teachers to South Africa. Report by Walter E. Bethel'. A1 1927/11186

'Notes on Deputation which waited upon the Minister at Victoria Barracks, Melbourne, on Tuesday, 14/2/1939'. A663/1 0130/4/157

WVNR, A663 0130/4/118

Korean relief – action by Australian voluntary bodies, A1838/1 855/15/3, Part 1

Chamney, William Warren, Service Record, B2455

Marshall, Mary, Service Record B2455

Steel, Vera, Service Record

National Archives of Australia, Melbourne

Recruitment flyer, undated, circa early 1950s, Recruiting for Women's Services, B1552 35

National Library of Australia, Canberra

Heysen, Hans Papers, Series 2, MS 5073, folder 163, box 20

La Trobe Library, State Library of Victoria

Irving, Sybil, Papers, MS12758

Probyn-Smith, Barbara, unpublished manuscript, 'About Me. My Warrie', PA 01/144

State Records NSW

Register of General Nurses, 1926-1947, 7 June 1928. AO Reel 2146.

State Records Office of SA


Australian Red Cross Records, National Headquarters

Report written by Lady Vera White (nee Deakin), Miscellaneous Box WWI Box 4

Australian Red Cross Field Force Papers, uncatalogued

Australian Red Cross, Victorian Division Archives

Ethel Gillingham file

Other records

PLC Sydney Archives (email correspondence 8 May 2006)

NSW Teachers Rolls, ETIS, NSW Dept of Education & Training, Burwood, NSW


Bird, Katie, 'Australian Women War Correspondents', Lilith, no. 11, 2002, p. 75

Bomford, Janette, 'Army Women's Role still being defined', Wartime, Issue 15, Spring 2001, p. 20

Hopkins, Major General RWL, 'History of the Australian Occupation in Japan, 1946–1950', Royal Australian Historical Society Proceedings, vol. 40, no. 2, 1954, p. 109

Oppenheimer, Melanie, 'Home Front Largesse: Colonial Patriotic Funds and the Boer War', in Peter Dennis and Jeffrey Grey (eds.), The Boer War. Army, Nation and Empire, Army History Unit, 2000, pp. 200–214

——,'Gifts for France: Australian Red Cross Nurses in France, 1916–1919', Journal of Australian Studies, No. 39, December 1993, pp. 65–78

Riedi, Eliza, 'Teaching Empire: British and Dominions Women Teachers in the South African War Concentration Camps', The English Historical Review, vol. 120, no. 489, pp. 1316-1347.

'US Servicemen fly 5,000 miles for leave in Sydney', The 1968 Journal of the Australian-American Association, pp. 47-54


Airforce, Official Newspaper of the RAAF, vol. 46, no. 14, 12 August 2004

Australia Today, 'Women Warriors', April, 1994

Australasian Nursing Journal, vol. xv, no. 10, 15 October 1917

Australian Financial Review, Bronwyn Young, 'Women in Uniform', 6 October 1989

Australian Women's Weekly, 7 October 1939

Australian Women's Weekly, 27 April 1946

Australian Women's Weekly, 8 November 1967

Australian Women's Weekly, 8 July 1970

Australian Women's Weekly, 22 April 1981

Australian Women's Weekly, March 2000

Herald, 4 December 1959

Sun Herald, 10 March 1985

Sydney Morning Herald, 16 and 29 November 1899

Sydney Morning Herald, 1 February 1900

Sydney Morning Herald, 27 May 1902

Sydney Morning Herald, 21 August 1914

Sydney Morning Herald, 14 December 1940

Sydney Morning Herald, 24 September 1971

Sydney Morning Herald, 5 February, 1991

Sydney Morning Herald, 1 August 1992

The Age, 5 July 2000

The Bulletin, September 1917

The Sunday Mail, 12 December 1999

Town and Country Journal, 11 November 1899

Town and Country Journal, 24 February and 3 March 1900

United Service, 'The Role of women in the Armed Services', vol. 45, no. 1, July 1991


Australians at War, through my eyes, transcripts, Carol Vaughan Evans

Australians at War, interview no 0597, Iris Roser

Australians At War Film Archive, interview, Valma Keylar, Korean War

The World Today, ABC Local Radio, transcript, 11 August 2005, 'Dita' McCarthy, 'Lamp Ladies', Chapter 33, Korea Remembered


Bethel, Walter, 'With the Australian Teachers to Pretoria', no. 5, NSW Educational Gazette, vol. 12, no. 12, 1 May 1903, p. 280

Campbell, AE, 'I Serve. The Junior Red Cross in NSW, 1914-1924', BA Hons thesis, UWS, 2001

Hughes, Billy, War Gratuity Bill, CPD, vol 91, 19 March 1920, p. 629

Oldmeadow, Lila, 'Six Days to Live. American Servicemen in Australia on Rest and Recreation leave during the Vietnam War', BA Hons thesis, University of Sydney, 2003

Red Cross Work in NSW, May 1916

Scott, Ernest, 'Voluntary Workers and the War', Voluntary War Workers Record, compiled for ACF, 1918, p.7

South Coast Register, 'Sailing on the High Seas, dreaming of home', undated newspaper clipping, circa 2003

White, Maureen, personal papers, in possession of Miss White, Melbourne

Written recollections by Ruth Hough, née Carter, 'A Brief Report of my Time in the RAANC by Sister Ruth Carter', in author's possession


Armstrong, Denise, personal communication, October 2006

Bar, Joan, personal communication with author, 2006

Dean, Marie, personal communication, November 2006

Downes, Patricia, personal communication with author

Gibson, Mary, personal communication with author

Halstead, Gay, personal communication, October 2006

Hough, Ruth, personal communication, September 2006

Jardin, Olive, personal communication with author, September 2006

Lane, Lucy, interview, November 2006

Lawrence, Betty, personal communication, September 2006

Muir, Kerrie, email interview with author, September 2006

O'Neil, Jenny, personal communication, November 2006

Steele, Sheryl, personal communication, November 2006

Swan, Janelle, personal communication, October 2006

Wenham, Poppy, email interview with author, 2006

A line of female factory workers at their workstations.

Women work on ‘303’ bullets in a munitions factory in Footscray, Melbourne, during World War II. [State Library of Victoria an005668]


AAMC Australian Army Medical Corps
AAMWS Australian Army Medical Women's Service
AANS Australian Army Nursing Service
ADF Australian Defence Force
ADFA Australian Defence Force Academy
AIF Australian Imperial Force
AWAS Australian Women's Army Service
AWM Australian War Memorial
BCOF British Commonwealth Occupation Force
BCZMU British Commonwealth Zone Medical Unit
CWA Country Women's Association
CWALA Country Women's Association Land Army
HMAS Her/His Majesty's Australian Ship
HMAT Her/His Majesty's Australian Transport
HMS Her/His Majesty's Ship
HMT Her/His Majesty's Transport
MAETU Medical Air Evacuation Transport Unit
MV Motor Vessel
NAA National Archives of Australia
NES National Emergency Services
NGO non-government organisation
NLA National Library of Australia
NSWANSR New South Wales Army Nursing Service Reserve
PMG Peace Monitoring Group
QAIMNS Queen Alexandra's Imperial Military Nursing Service
RAAF Royal Australian Air Force
RAAFMAETU RAAF Medical Air Evacuation Transport Unit
RAAFNS Royal Australian Air Force Nursing Service
RAAMC Royal Australian Army Medical Corps
RAANC Royal Australian Army Nursing Corps
RAANS Royal Australian Army Nursing Service
RAN Royal Australian Navy
RAMSI Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands
SLNSW State Library of New South Wales
SLQ State Library of Queensland
SLSA State Library of South Australia
SLWA State Library of Western Australia
SOS Save Our Sons
SS Steam Ship
TPI Totally and Permanently Incapacitated
UNAMIC United Nations Advance Mission in Cambodia
UNAMIR United Nations Assistance Mission in Rwanda
UNTAC United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia
UNTAET United Nations Transitional Authority in East Timor
USNS United States Naval Ship
USS United States Ship
VAOC Volunteer Air Observers Corps
VA Red Cross Voluntary Aid
VAD Red Cross Voluntary Aid Detachment
WAAAF Women's Auxiliary Australian Air Force
WAAC Women's Australian Army Corps
WANS Women's Australian National Service
WATC Women's Air Training Corps
WESC Women's Emergency Signalling Corps
WNEL Women's National Emergency Legion
WRAAC Women's Royal Australian Army Corps
WRAAF Women's Royal Australian Air Force
WRANS Women's Royal Australian Naval Service
WVNR Women's Voluntary National Register
WVS Women's Voluntary Service
YMCA Young Men's Christian Association
YWCA Young Women's Christian Association


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