Pat Guest's (nee Bourke) veteran story

Pat Guest enlisted in the Australian Women’s Army Service (AWAS) in 1942. She was from Singleton in New South Wales. Pat joined with her cousin Doris, and they both put up their age so they could enlist.

When waiting at the train station at Newcastle to travel to Sydney, Pat, Doris and two sailors they had met, witnessed the shelling of Newcastle by a Japanese submarine.

In the AWAS, Pat worked initially as a mess steward but then trained as a driver and drove on various jobs.

Pat recalled her time as an ambulance driver, ferrying the returned prisoners of war (POWs) to hospital. This was the worst time of her service, owing to the poor condition of the men’s health and the anxiety of their friends and relatives trying to find more information about them.

Pat’s brother, Jim Bourke, had been a POW and returned home weighing only 5 stone (32kg).

Second World War veteran (AWAS)


Becoming a driver

After the Sigs came in I thought we'd be going back and finish our rookie course.

"No. We need staff. So you two, you can be cooks." They were two that joined up for changing ... They were dressmakers and they were going to work in the Q store altering uniforms and that sort of thing. No, they were cooks. "You two, can you drive?" "Well, yeah. I did have a license." "All right. You can be drivers. The rest of you? Well, let's see. One, two, three, four. We need four mess stewards. You four can be the mess stewards." This is how we started off.

We were just railroaded into it. So I worked in the mess for a fortnight and I hated it. God, I hated it and they had a new CO came in. Every now and again he'd come into the mess and he'd look at me. Then he'd stand at the door and he'd be staring at me and I thought, "What's wrong with him?"

So eventually he came in one day and he said, "Look, I'm sorry." He was a new Colonel. He said, "I'm sorry. I'm upsetting you a bit, I can see that. I'm just ... My daughter," he said. "She was killed. She was 18. She was killed a fortnight ago. You're the living image of her." He said, "Do you like what you do?" I said, "No, I hate it."

He said, "What do you want to do?" I said, "I wanted anti-aircraft." "Oh, I can't do that," he said. "How would you like to be a driver?" I said, "I can't drive." I hadn't even sat in the car. He said, "I can fix that. Send you to a driving school, they'll teach you how to drive." He said, "I'll fix that for you.

Mixed company

We marched out of the unit. He called us in and he said, I've never forgotten his words. I'm 95 now and I can still remember. "You are the cream of Australian womanhood. You are the future mothers of Australia. Your health cannot be jeopardized by the roads in New Guinea."

He wouldn't let us go and so I was put into a pool of drivers. The first job I was only ... I hadn't been in the army ... By that time I'd only been in the army three months. The first job the male driver of a male unit where they did repairs to fences and huts and things like that. He'd broken his legs quite badly and they needed a temporary driver until they found another male driver, so they sent me out. They'd never had a female driver.

In between jobs they used to play cards, play poker or anything else and I didn't know what to do, so I just disappeared into the furthest corner of the hut. Got a book and just lay there and then they got a bit excited. They were playing poker and they got a little bit excited and one fella slammed his cards down. I heard him say, "Three Johnnies." Then the other fella threw his cards down and he said, "Six Tits." Then all of a sudden there was dead silence. They suddenly realized that I was sitting in the room. I didn't know what to do, so I just let out a gentle snort to let them know I was sound asleep and didn't hear them. That was the first thing.

Then the next thing they go out on a job. I said, "How long are you going to be?" They said, "Two hours." I said, "What do I do?" "Oh, do what you like." I said, "What?" I thought, "Well I'll just park in a nice shady spot and I'll have a little snooze. I had my cap on, I just pulled it down over my eyes and stuck my boots out the window. I heard steps coming along and then somebody tapped me on the boot. "Excuse me, driver. Where's the shit house." I pushed my cap, I said, "I beg your pardon?" "Oh Christ," he said, "A Sheila." He took off.

Army rations

Well we had lots of stews and we had ... we didn't get things like steak or roast or anything like that. We got sausages and we got stew. We had more sausages and we had more stew. I think that's all we had. Mashed potatoes.

Yeah, we had ... I could remember, see my mother never referred to lollies. They weren't lollies, they were sweets. We never called them anything else but sweets and at Christmas we always got our little bag of sweeties as mum called it.

When I first joined the army, one of the girls was saying that came in, I was the last one in the mess. She came in and she said, "Are you finished, Pat? Are you coming out now?" I said, "Yeah I suppose so." She said, "Have you had your sweets?" I said, "Oh you get sweets, too. Great." I'm waiting for my lollies, for sweets. We had banana and custard. Oh that's right we did get banana and custard but I was waiting for my lollies. I felt so stupid.

Returning POWs

Apart from that, I think the worst time I had in the army was when the POWs were coming back. We got the first lot of stretcher cases out. They all the same, their eyes were sunken in. Their faces were ... and they had new uniforms.

My brother, Jim, was just under five stone when he came back and he was six foot tall. He looked like a scarecrow with a new uniform on him. It just hung on him because no matter how small they were, it still wouldn't fit them. They had nothing. They had no flesh. They had bones.

Anyway, the stretcher cases came and I took off. We went to two hospitals in Sydney. You get about a mile down the road and there'd be a whole heap of people all standing across the road. "Are you going to the hospital? Did you come from the R.N.?" I said, "Yeah. Could we find out if there's anybody that knows so and so?" I'm in the back of the ambulance and they’re yelling out, "Do you know this one? This one?"

They're calling out names after names and everybody was trying to get their call first. The poor people in the back of the ambulance, they could hardly ... they were just lying there like skeletons. Then they threw in flowers, cigarettes, and chocolates. That happened three times before I even got to the hospital. The time I got there I was crying so much I could hardly drive.

We carried everything off. There was a lot of TB patients, very badly off with TB. We used to take the end of the stretcher, help them out and then go back in the ambulance, go and pick the next one up. There was no such thing as booties and masks and what have you but it was terrible.

Sorrow and celebration

I drove over to the post office and the post office was in a little shop and it was all this fruit in the window. Everybody was excited and they all told, "The war's finished."

There was a woman staring at the fruit and I walked over to her and I said, "Did you hear that? The war is over, it's finished." She just turned around and she said, "My two sons were killed in Tobruk. It will never be over for me." I thought "Oh, dear". I felt terrible then.

But when I got back to camp, oh God the whole camp was up. But we danced and sang right through the night until daylight. It was great.

Family Reunion

Then I had to go out to Ingleburn because Jim was one of the walking ones, even though he was skin and bones. He went out to Ingleburn and all the thousands of people at Ingleburn. Everywhere you went there were about five people trying to get their arms around one soldier. Mothers, fathers, uncles, and children. They were all crying.

I'd gone through enough carting those people back and forth to the hospitals. At the time I got up to see Jim I'm crying my eyes out. I would've walked straight past Jim, I wouldn't even have known him. And poor Sonny, our baby Sonny. He was trying to talk to Jim and he kept pulling Jim's sleeve saying, "Jim, Jim." Jim turned around. He got really angry and he said, "Piss off, mate. Family only." Sonny said, "Jim, I'm Sonny." Jim said, "You can't be Sonny. Sonny's only that high." Sonny had shot up.

Missing in action

Sonny, he was very upset when the war ended because he wasn't old enough to go like his brothers. He wanted to be like Pat and Jim and go into the army and go to war but he was too young when the war ended. But Korea started and Sonny was old enough then and he joined the AIF and he went to Korea.

We never knew what happened until we got the citation. What happened with Sonny, as I said, is just over there. Mum was terribly upset about Sonny. Recurring nightmares all the time. Mum had almost the same nightmare. One was where she was in a jungle and she was running to tree to tree looking behind her, hoping that she would find Sonny. We didn't hear anymore. They're still looking you know.

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DVA (Department of Veterans' Affairs) ( ), Pat Guest's (nee Bourke) veteran story, DVA Anzac Portal, accessed 4 December 2023,
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