Chance meeting led to change of career

Name: Joyce Neal
Date: 1942-1945
Unit: 4AD RAAF
Location: Boulder, WA

A chance meeting on a train journey changed the course of Joyce Neal's career. She had been in the WAAAF for a year and was returning to her base in South Australia after some home leave in Perth when she got chatting to other girls on the train.

They told her they were going to attend a course in Sydney that would enable them to work on aircraft when they had qualified.

Joyce Neal was intrigued by this idea and decided she would apply for the course. After passing an IQ test she was accepted and told to travel from Adelaide to Ultimo in Sydney, arriving on 5 July 1943 after two days and nights travel by train.

"Cold and bedraggled, we were glad finally to be at our destination and it was, 'where to next?'," she recalled.

"On reporting to the Railway Transport Officer, and with the formalities over, we were soon aboard a truck and transported to the 'Oceanic Hotel', Coogee, a beach side suburb of Sydney. The hotel had been taken over by the Air Force and this was to be our living quarters," she said. "Our training was to take place at Sydney Technical School, situated in Ultimo, an inner city suburb.

"All the fittings had been removed from the hotel, it was stark and bare. We slept on folding wire beds with straw palliasses, and never felt warm, but it didn't really matter, we were young, and this was part of service life, and we were now known as Technical Trainees."

Having arrived on a Saturday the girls decided that the first thing to do was get to know the great bustling city of Sydney in war-time. Black-out conditions were in force but they had no trouble finding their way around, and eventually got to know the place well.

Their working days were to be long and hard. It was up early while it was still dark, beds to be made, and room left tidy, various cleaning jobs to be done in the bath rooms and toilets, a hurried breakfast, then straight out to the courtyard for daily parade, and the march to the tram stop.

"Special trams took us to Ultimo and back to the hotel at evening, going a different route home. The morning trip seemed to go all over the place but ended up in Harris Street, Ultimo."

"Going through the older suburbs was always full of interest and much quieter than the homeward bound trip, which was up busy Broadway and Oxford Street and so on to Anzac Parade. As none of us had ever been to Sydney before it was always an adventure.

"Alighting in Harris Street there was always silence. The ladies who lived in the terrace houses were usually outside, big and strong looking. They stood with arms folded, and were very formidable in appearance, so that we quickly got away and marched up to the College where the WAAAF drill instructor was waiting. We were more in awe of the ladies of Harris Street than our drill instructor, and we gave her many a headache.

"As we drilled on the square, so the men who had been on night shift prepared to go back to their living quarters. As the College was in operation twenty-four hours of the day, and at this particular time in the morning it was always a scene of great activity, but in no time the men would be gone, and we would have been marched up to the work room, headquarters staff having already started their day earlier, and everything went smoothly.

"Our first day in the work room we had taken up positions at the benches, and always returned to that area of our choice. As we proceeded with our practical work, the instructors came around to see if we were doing it incorrectly and in the beginning many long hours were spent filing a piece of steel straight, all sides of it! As we got more confident, there was plenty of light-hearted chatter, and singing, and it was a pleasant atmosphere. Morning tea was a welcome break, this was in the mess room and especially provided for the Technical Trainees. Sometimes there would be a big tray of freshly-baked scones, but there were never enough. However, they looked nice and smelt nice, even if you didn't get any!

"Lunch was a hurried meal with the mess-room crowded, then it was back to work again. Sometimes we went to lectures in a different part of the College in the afternoon to learn Electricity and Technical Drawing, but most of our time was spent in the work room.

"Graduating from the filing, we went on to learn about other tools and their uses, so that we hammered, sawed, drilled, tempered steel, as it was set out in the book. At lecture time taking notes and coming in on the tram in the morning comparing notes, as that seemed about the only time we had for study.

"On arrival back at the hotel in the evening, once we had eaten there was washing and ironing to be done, sometimes the cleaning you had done in the morning wasn't satisfactory and had to be done again. There was a big inspection by "Madam" the WAAAF officer every Tuesday, and that night you joined the men quartered at the Coogee Bay Hotel and went on a long route march up and down the hilly streets of Coogee. If there was time to spare, and as the weather got better we sometimes went for a walk along the beach front, but mostly, it was to bed early, and usually everyone was asleep before "lights out" at 10pm.

"The lack of study did not seem to make any difference to our progress. Everyone applied themselves to the best of their ability. We sat for a test every Friday and no one was taken aside because their marks were not up to standard, and as the months went by we knew we would soon be on our way elsewhere. Forms came around to see what our preferences were and even though my first choice was to be an armourer, was happy enough with the second choice to receive further training at Ascot Vale in Victoria and became a Flight Rigger.

"Even though our days had been long and sometimes the conditions harsh, as besides being cold, girls were often sick with influenza and other minor ailments, sometimes we were all sick through eating food that must have had that effect, with everyone being confined to bed in the hotel. We were sorry to leave Sydney Technical College. The instructors had been patient and helpful, and we knew they had taught us well. At the weekends we had been able to explore Sydney and do all the other things young girls do, we became attached to the hotel, and regarded it as 'home', but it was time to move on. But not to forget! And to remember those days, and the friendships made, some as strong today as then, and to say with all sincerity "looking back, yes! I enjoyed every minute of it" and know others who shared those days with me, say exactly the same. We are proud to be part of the history of this great College."

After completion of her training, Joyce Neal went on to work as a Flight Rigger at 9 EFTS Cunderdin in Western Australia.

In later years she became President of the Western Australian branch of the WAAAF branch of the RAAF Association (WA) Division.

The material for this article was supplied by Joyce Whiting (nee Neal) of Western Australia

Last updated: 3 June 2019

Cite this page

DVA (Department of Veterans' Affairs) (2019), Chance meeting led to change of career, DVA Anzac Portal, accessed 20 September 2021,
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