Women in War radio series

The Women in War radio series tells the untold stories of the vital roles played by women in wartime and highlights the enormous contribution they have made and continue to make.

Annie Sturzaker - teenager during First World War


Annie Sturzaker was just 14 when the First World War broke out. She reflects on the moment when she found out about the war.

Transcript

LIZ HAYES: I’m Liz Hayes. For International Women’s Day 2019, we recognise the role of women in wartime. Women like Annie Sturzaker, who was just 14 when the First World War began. More than 60,000 Australians lost their lives during that war. And while those who didn’t return home will always be remembered, it was often left to the women and girls who had loved ones fighting to deal with the news. As Annie recalled.

ANNIE STURZAKER: I remember coming in and saying "well your tea is all ready, I got good news for you". Just as I was going to say what the good news was, they said "wars broke out, Australia’s…" and of course we forgot about the tea. I remember it as of this day, I felt real sick. A lot of them were expecting it of course. And when it come out, these fellas all said: "My word, I’ll go. I’ll be there, I’ll be there". And then when we was counting them up, the ones that was going to go, there wasn’t going to be any boys left.

Poor old Mrs Brewer. She only had one the son, and I had to go and tell her he was dead. No one else would tell her. I still think of it. It’s not as easy as it sounds, you know.

LIZ HAYES: Women in Wartime – recognising their role and their sacrifices during war and peacekeeping efforts.

Beryl Gant - son killed in Vietnam War


Beryl Gant’s son, Kenny, was one of the first National Servicemen to be called to fight in the Vietnam War. Beryl remembers the moments her worst fear came true.

Transcript

LIZ HAYES: I’m Liz Hayes. For International Women’s Day 2019, we recognise the role of women in wartime. Women like Beryl Gant. Whose son Kenny was one of the first National Servicemen called up to fight in the Vietnam War. In August 1966, her worst fears were realised. Kenny had been killed in the Battle of Long Tan.

BERYL GANT: I just happened to be sitting near this window, and I saw this army car coming down the road. And I knew as soon as I walked through the hallway and seen the army man there and the padre, I knew, you know, straight away what had happened. I couldn’t believe it though. It’s very hard to believe. They didn’t tell me much at all, they just said he’d been killed and that it was instant. That he didn’t suffer. I couldn’t believe it myself, although I broke down and that, you know I, because I often think of him. I can’t get him out of my mind. I thank God now that he’s resting in peace.

LIZ HAYES: Women in Wartime – recognising their role and their sacrifices during war and peacekeeping efforts.

Bree Bailie - current serving member | Australian Army


Bree is a current serving member, the night before she was due to enlist in the Australian Army Bree’s world was shaken when she received some terrible news

Transcript

LIZ HAYES: I’m Liz Hayes. For International Women’s Day 2019, we recognise the role of women in wartime. Women like Bree Bailie. The night before she was due to enlist in the Australian Army, Bree’s world was rocked by some terrible news.

BREE BAILIE: I was with my sister. Nervous. Unable to really settle down and I received a phone call sometime late in the afternoon from my cousin. She’d been notified that somebody had been killed in action. Both my cousin and myself had partners who were deployed at the time, and we couldn’t get any clarification as to who had been killed.

It was much later in the evening that we finally had some confirmation that it wasn’t either of our partners, but it happened to be one of their friends. And I immediately thought of his partner. What she would be going through. The emotions that she would be feeling.

For me, this story is one that I hold very dear. That friend and his family and loved ones that he left behind so that he could serve his country.

To consider the pain and the emotion that I felt in this one incidence, it seems minute compared to the pain and sorrow that would have been felt across the nation with the 60,000 lives that were lost in the First World War and the many more thousand lost in the subsequent wars since then.

LIZ HAYES: This International Women’s Day we pay homage to our women in wartime and recognise their role during war and peacekeeping efforts.

Dorothy Clarke - homefront nurse | Second World War


Dorothy Clarke’s unit of nurses were helping with the repatriation efforts at the end of the Second World War. Dorothy reflects on an emotional moment during this time.

Transcript

LIZ HAYES: I’m Liz Hayes. For International Women’s Day 2019, we recognise the role of women in wartime. Women like Dorothy Clark, whose unit of nurses was helping with repatriation efforts at the end of Second World War. Rewarding as the work was, sometimes Dorothy had to fight back the tears.

DOROTHY CLARKE: When the War ended our unit was sent down to Darley outside Melbourne to take the overflow of the prisoners-of-war. Naturally it didn’t take us long to see the condition that those young fellows were in. What stands out in my mind was the day I was in the dayroom where we had all the food brought down from the kitchens that we had to distribute around the wards. And this old-looking young man came in and said: “Nurse, could I please have a piece of bread and jam”. Well I managed to hold the tears back until he’d gone out, because I thought it was dreadful that our young men had been reduced to that. I still get tears when I think of it.

LIZ HAYES: This International Women’s Day we pay homage to our women in wartime and recognise their role during war and peacekeeping efforts.

Ethel Lane - nurse serving abroad | Second World War


Ethel Lane was a Second World War nurse stationed in the Pacific. Ethel recalls memories that remain seared in her mind.

Transcript

LIZ HAYES: I’m Liz Hayes. For International Women’s Day 2019, we recognise the role of women in wartime. Women like Ethel Lane, a Second World War nurse stationed in the Pacific. When news of war’s end came, the nurses started receiving Australian Prisoners-Of-War, an experience that remained seared in Ethel’s memory.

ETHEL LANE: It was pretty distressing - they were so thin, but they were so grateful, whatever you did for them, they just thanked you so much. Some of them were just lying there they couldn't move - others could move around. And then the most dreadful thing happened. They got their first lot of mail that they had received from home. And a lot of them - their home conditions had changed; families had split up and all sorts of things. And one little boy, used to follow me round and say, “Sis, you read this - you read this and tell me what it means.” And I don't know how many times I had to try and explain to him about the break up of his family back here. And for so many years he had his mind that was home, on that corner, and this was where he was coming back. But it wasn't going to work out that way. We couldn't do enough for them. I never forget some of those boys.

LIZ HAYES: This International Women’s Day we pay homage to our women in wartime and recognise their role during war and peacekeeping efforts.

Jean Scott - Women’s Land Army | Second World War


Jean Scott was part of the new class of working women, the Women’s Land Army, and recalls her role in challenging the positions women took during the war.

Transcript

LIZ HAYES: I’m Liz Hayes. For International Women’s Day 2019, we recognise the role of women in wartime. Women like Jean Scott. During the Second World War, with most able-bodied men having gone overseas to fight, it was up to the women to take over many of men's jobs. A new class of working women formed what became the Women's Land Army, which included Jean.

JEAN SCOTT: The farmers and the government didn't consider that the girls would be capable of doing the work. However, we showed them that if we couldn't do the work the way the men did, we initiated our own way. For myself, I wasn't too sure that I was able to do the work. Having been a photographic assistant, suddenly I was traipsing through orchards with 15 foot ladders to carry around. I almost ran home. However, a letter from my mother put the end to that, when they told me how proud they were of me, and I stayed for nearly four years and enjoyed every moment of it. If it hadn’t been for these girls I’m afraid the pantry of the pacific wouldn’t have been filled and there would have been a lot of hungry people in Australia. And there was a lot of satisfaction in knowing that we were certainly helping Australia win the war.

LIZ HAYES: Women in Wartime – recognising their role and their sacrifices during war and peacekeeping efforts.

Libby Swinden - RAAF medico | Bali Bombings


Libby Swinden, a RAAF nurse, was sent to Bali to help the severely injured victims. Libby recalls the selfless nature of the victims

Transcript

LIZ HAYES: I’m Liz Hayes. For International Women’s Day 2019, we recognise the role of women in wartime. women like Libby Swinden, a RAAF nurse who was sent to Bali to help evacuate the seriously injured victims of the 2002 nightclub bombings. More than 200 people lost their lives, including 88 Australians. Libby recalls the selfless nature of some of the victims.

LIBBY SWINDEN: I vividly remember one chap, who was, you know, quite oedematous from the burns and he would have been in an enormous amount of pain, and he refused treatment, he wanted us to look after the others. It was actually the footballer, Jason McCartney, yes, he was very selfless. We talked him into having some morphine but it took a while. It took a lot of encouragement to have some pain relief because he just saw other people coming in, so, he was certainly a very selfless gentleman.

LIZ HAYES: Libby relied heavily on her training to get her through.

LIBBY SWINDEN: You just can’t get emotionally involved if you’re looking after people. You can feel things, but if those feelings get in the way of being objective, then you’re not doing your job. I did stop a number of times and have a look around and swallow a few tears.

LIZ HAYES: This International Women’s Day we pay homage to our women in wartime and recognise their role during war and peacekeeping efforts.

2-minute nurses montage - across all wars from the Boer War to today


Women have played vital roles as nurses for Australia across all wars, conflicts and peace keeping operations

Transcript

LIZ HAYES: I’m Liz Hayes. For International Women’s Day 2019, we recognise the role of women in wartime. Women like the many nurses who have served Australia across all wars, including; the Boer War,

BOER WAR NURSE: I remember one young chap – he couldn’t lie on his front at all. He got wounds all down his back. I was sorry for him. And he was only a boy really;

LIZ HAYES: the First World War,

FIRST WORLD WAR NURSE ESSIE FUSSELL: You couldn’t imagine anything so distressed as these people trying to hold oxygen masks, gasping for breath. It was really worse than any bad wound I think;

LIZ HAYES: the Second World War,

SECOND WORLD WAR NURSE: There were some who’d lost limbs; there were others who’d lost their minds. You felt that somehow that a lot of them would have been battle casualties on way or another, and that others would go home and require help for the rest of their lives;

LIZ HAYES: the Korean War,

KOERAN WAR NURSE JULIE ROLFE: I think seeing a tiny Korean child. We gave her an orange. And she’d had both hands blown off. She wouldn’t have been any more than 3. And it was quite pathetic really;

LIZ HAYES: The Vietnam War,

VIETNAM WAR NURSE COLLEEN THURGAR: You become mother, sister and girlfriend to the boys that are dying. And so you just have to learn to hold their hand, pretend to be who they want to be, and give them the best death they can have;

LIZ HAYES: The Gulf War and Afghanistan,

AFGANISTAN WAR NURSE: I felt fear. The fears were for your own life; the fears of your own mortality; the fears that you may die;

LIZ HAYES: And the Peacekeepers,

RAAF NURSE LIBBY SWINDEN: I vividly remember one chap and he would have been in an enormous amount of pain, and he refused treatment because he just, saw other people coming in. He was certainly a very selfless gentleman.

LIZ HAYES: This International Women’s Day we pay homage to our women in wartime and recognise their role during war and peacekeeping efforts.

Little Patti - entertainer | Vietnam War


Little Patti, went to Vietnam in 1966 as an entertainer. During one of her performances the Battle of Long Tan started to rage, but it wasn’t until the next day that the extent of the battle hit home.

Transcript

LIZ HAYES: I’m Liz Hayes. For International Women’s Day 2019, we recognise the role of women in wartime. Women like, Little Patti, went to Vietnam in 1966 to perform for the Australian troops serving in the war. While on stage with Patti and Col Joye, the Battle of Long Tan started to rage just a few kilometers away. But it wasn’t until the next day that the extent of the battle really hit home.

LITTLE PATTY: Col and I were asked to visit some injured people in the evac hospital in Vung Tau, and of course they were our fellas. And that was really creepy, because we were now looking at faces of young fellas who were, you know, shrapnel-wounded. Very badly wounded. Who only 24 hours before we'd been giving concerts to and they were as happy as Larry. So, I think that was probably the only time I nearly broke down. and you must understand, everyone looked like my brother to me. They were just a bit older than me. So it was hard to always be brave.

We visited a real lot of hospitals and wards in the time that we were there, but that particular day was a very moving one for both of us.

LIZ HAYES: This International Women’s Day we pay homage to our women in wartime and recognise their role during war and peacekeeping efforts.

Air Vice-Marshal Tracy Smart AM - currently serving | RAAF (most senior female)


Air Vice-Marshal Tracy Smart AM, currently runs health services in the Australian Defence Force. She is very proud of the many and varied roles undertaken by women during war, conflicts and peacekeeping operations.

Transcript

LIZ HAYES: I’m Liz Hayes. For International Women’s Day 2019, we recognise the role of women in wartime. Women like Air Vice-Marshal Tracy Smart, who currently runs all the health services in the Australian Defence Force. She’s intensely proud of the many and varied roles undertaken by women during war and peacekeeping missions.

AIR VICE MARSHALLTRACEY SMART AM: Well, the role of women in wartime has evolved over the years. But they have been there right beside the men from the beginning and one of the things we don’t talk enough about is the role of those who stayed behind, picking up the pieces, filling in the roles that were traditionally male roles, like in munitions factories, like in blood banks; all of these areas right through to those who perhaps became what we call now carers for the rest of their lives; put their lives on hold to try and pick back up the pieces of the broken lives of their loved ones.

In terms of those serving in uniform, the nurses were the real trailblazers for women in the Defence Force. And I’m very proud to be part of that heritage and also to pass on the baton to the next generation of women coming through who are just going to achieve so much more.

LIZ HAYES: Women in Wartime and recognising their role and their sacrifices during war and peacekeeping efforts.

Wendy James - child evacuee | Second World War


Wendy James was just six years old when her mother and siblings were evacuated from their home in Darwin, just before the bombing of Darwin. Wendy revisits the challenges her family faced during the war.

Transcript

LIZ HAYES: I’m Liz Hayes. For International Women’s Day 2019, we recognise the role of women in wartime. Women like Wendy James from Darwin. Together with her mother and siblings, 6-year-old Wendy was evacuated just before the Japanese started bombing the top end in February of 1942.

WENDY JAMES: Being a refugee in the wartime was probably one of the most unpleasant memories of my life. We lived in people’s back rooms and we had no money. And my father’s letters would arrive and they would fall out of an envelope like confetti because of the censorship. They would just be snipped all the way through, so we’d sit in the kitchen table trying to put all these lines of writing together to say — well, we know he’s alive, but umm, yes, we don’t know what’s going on.

I believe we were refugees; economically and physically, because although we had a lot of family in Western Australia, they had their own terrible problems. Their sons and their husbands were all away at war. In fact, it wasn’t that long after the Depression, really, and people had only just started to gather themselves together when this happened. So they really didn’t want a family of three and four people landed on their doorstep, much as they loved us.

LIZ HAYES: Women in Wartime – recognising their role and their sacrifices during war and peacekeeping efforts.