Phyl Ahearn's story

Phyl Ahearn (nee Platt) enlisted in the Australian Women’s Army Service (AWAS) in February 1943 at Lakemba, New South Wales.

Phyl served as a private in the 1st Australian Base Postal Unit. She did basic training at the Ingleburn Army Camp and was then sent to work at the base post office in Mary Street in Sydney. Her next posting was to North Parramatta, where she worked at the field post office as part of 2nd Australian Army Headquarters.

Phyl remembered Easter and Christmas being particularly busy times. She enjoyed visiting the dance halls during her spare time.

Phyl was discharged from the service in April 1945 after marrying her husband, whom she had met in Sydney. He served in New Guinea, and they became engaged while he was on leave.

When the war ended, Phyl remembered the large crowds in Sydney going crazy, but she was disappointed that she could not join the celebrations owing to her being pregnant. She loved her time in the AWAS, although she was disappointed that she was not given the opportunity to learn to drive a postal truck.

Second World War veteran (AWAS)


The outbreak of war

I was sitting on the floor beside the wireless, listening to a show on the wireless radio as they call it and mum had been to church and she came in from church, came in bursting through the front door saying "Phyllis, turn the news to the ABC" and then I turned it on to the radio and I heard a solemn voice reporting that England was at war. I can remember that as plain as anything.

Father and brother enlist

My brother was 17 and he went to join up and he had to be 18, so he wanted Dad to sign him away. And Dad said, "I'm not signing you away."

He said, "Well if you don't sign me away, I'll go under an assumed name." And Dad said "You're not going under an assumed name. If anything happens to you, we won't know."

So, he said, "If I sign you away, I sign myself away." So, Dad joined the Second AIF. And he was over in the Middle East. He put his age back seven years to get in. That's where the determination comes from.


I joined up on my 18th birthday, which was the 30th of December, '42.

When I was 17, I tried to join up and I put my age back instead of saying I was born in December, I said I was born in January so that made me being old enough to join in. So, I joined up in September.

I was only 17 and I went all through the procedure and I saw the officer stamp my paper A1. I thought "Good, I'm in" and blow me next thing a voice down the end, "Have you got your birth certificate?" I thought "Oh, no". So, I said "No".

She said, "How old are you?" And I said "Seventeen". Said, "When will you be 18?" I said on the 30th of December. Said, "You come back on your birthday and we'll be glad to have you."

So, at 8 o'clock on my birthday and I didn't get called up 'til the 9th of February, so I had to wait a few weeks before I could go in. But it was, it was born in us with Dad, you know, so.

Love of training

And I remember when we were getting up into the trucks to take us to Ingleburn Camp. There were some soldiers standing over the edge over there and they're singing "You'll be sorry, you'll be sorry". But I was never sorry I joined the army, no. So then that was to me, out of the truck we were sitting in the back of a truck eyeing off the soldiers driving the truck behind us.

Oh, we were bits of flirts in those days. Anyway, I remember seeing the guards on duty in the gateway into Ingleburn Camp. They were so straight, and I thought "Gee, I'm gonna love this", which I did. I loved the drill. I loved the discipline. I loved it all.

Yes. The only thing was a bit of a shock when we first went into the toilets for the first time or the showers for the first time. Horror of horrors. No doors! And I thought "ugh" and then I heard a girl behind me go (gasp) so I thought "Oh, you've gotta put up with", so that's just what it was.

Yeah, and I loved the discipline. I really loved the drill, really loved that. Even now.

AWAS Accommodation

After that I was sent down to base post office down in Mary Street, Sydney, 1st Base post office to do a three-week postal course. And after the postal course was finished, they called for six volunteers to go up to field post office 039, which was in headquarters, 2nd Aust Army Postal, 2nd Aust Army Headquarters.

They were built in Burnside Homes at North Paramatta. Now Burnside Homes was a former children's home and when the Japanese were coming down through the islands north of Queensland, north of Australia they sent the children all up to the Blue Mountains for safety. Then the army took over the homes. And the homes are like little houses like we see today only in village, looked like a village type place. And the army had different sections in each of those housses.

So, there was quite a few houses there so the AWAS billeted in two of the houses and then there was all the other sections of the army that were headquarters that took the other houses.

Postal duties

A truck used to go down from Parramatta down to Base Post Office, pick up all the mail for the area all around Parramatta. There was Kellyville and Walgrove and there was other, which I don't know the names of them now. And we'd bring the mail back, they'd bring the mail back to the base, the field post office. And then we'd sort it all into sections for the different camps around Parramatta and then a truck from that camp would come down and pick up the mail and take it back to their unit and sort it out between their servicemen.

Telegrams were done through Parramatta post office. We had a bike and we used to ride down to Parramatta post office in our hats and in our stockings, no tracksuits those days. We used to ride down on the bike to pick up the telegrams or take down the telegrams that had to be sent from Parramatta. Sent out.

So that was quite an experience, you know, got us out of the post office for a while to go for a ride on the bike. But as far as the mail, we used to stamp the mail, hand stamp it. They wouldn't be doing that now.

Yeah, it was just normal post office duties that we had to do, so I enjoyed it. Had the nice soldiers come in and serve them. That was nice.

Working in the post office

Being in the post office we were pretty popular girls, you know because even when I was walking through Sydney on leave a soldier would come up and say (gasp) and he'd see the colour patch he'd say "Any mail for me today, postie?"

So, I would say no, not today or whatever. Yeah, so we were popular where we were because they knew that we were the contact with their loved ones you know, so. It was a good life.

Christmas and Easter workload

Well, on special times of the year like Christmas and Easter and things like that it'd be pretty, they were full mailbags. And us girls used to have to drag them up from the truck. I suppose about a hundred yards, it might not be a hundred yards that we had to drag them up three flights of stairs ... Not three flights of, three steps I mean. And they were rather heavy because it took two girls to drag them. And then we had to sort them out.

Missing out on driving the truck

They sent the girls, each girl to learn to drive the truck so they could drive the trucks into Sydney to pick up the mail. And, because I was the youngest in the group, I was left 'til last. And then they all went and learned the truck. They learned to drive a truck.

And when it came to my turn the girl before me, she crashed the truck so that ended. So, I missed out on, that was to me a disappointment because even now I'd still love to be able to drive a truck, you know. Yeah, so that was a disappointment because I was looking forward to learning to drive a truck and ...

Dancing in Sydney

Well, if we worked from 9 'til 5 it meant that we didn't have to sort of worry that much through the day so then if we had to leave well then we'd ... Because we were camped at Parramatta we'd go down to the dance at the Parramatta Town Hall. So that's the kind of thing we did.

We'd go dancing when we had leave. I went out at least, I'd say at least two nights a week. Probably more. And then we'd go into Sydney and we'd go to the Stage Door Canteen or we'd go to Sydney Town Hall. We'd go to the Women's Weekly Club. So, there was plenty of dance places to go to.

Meeting her husband

Well, I met my future husband on Manly Promenade. I heard a little wolf whistle and I looked around and saw this lovely tall soldier. And I was with my girlfriend, I said to her "Don't look now but there's two soldiers following us" and then we had a stop on the grass because someone we knew was coming ahead so we didn't want to meet him after seeing the soldiers behind me.

So, we stepped on the grass and they caught up to us and we went and sat on the sand and within 5 minutes he said, "I love you." He wrote in the sand. He said, "Who do you love?" And I wanted to say him but being only as young as I was, I thought, "How would you know".

I was only 16, that's right. I wasn't even in the army then, that's right. I'm talking out of sequence. Anyway, so it ended up he went off to New Guinea for two years, came home on 24-day leave. We got engaged, then he went away for another 22 months. He came home, we got married. So that was our romance, just all through letter writing. Yeah, so we were married for 63 years, weren't we darling?

Mother making camouflage nets

Phyllis: Well, speaking about blackouts, my mum was an NES warden for our street at Hillard Street, Lakemba. And it was her duty when they had these organised blackouts, it was her duty to patrol the street, see that there was no light shining through anywhere in the house. So that was her role in the war.

I also had a brother and a sister in the war as well. My brother was in the army, of course, and he was in the armoured division over at Western Australia. And then my sister worked in the same post office as I did. So, we both, we were both together in the post office, right. And I had a younger brother and sister, but they were too young. They were only 14 and 11. But the rest of us were all in, even mum doing her share. And then mum used to, of a daytime, she used to make the camouflage nets. So, she really did her, she wasn't in uniform, only the NES white uniform but as far as being in the services you could say she was in the services because she did her role as well.

I used to come home on leave and see this big camouflage net hanging off the ceiling, all hooks up around the architrave area and this big net hanging down the wall half still with the shuttle hanging in it ready to continue. I used to look at that net. That's a wonderful thing. And I used to wonder if it shaded my Jim's ... You never know.

Speaker 2: You never know, but there's always a possibility.

Phyllis: That's right. Because they'll have had camouflage and that's all over their ammunition. Half a mind if she sat there making net and was covering Jim. No, she was very conscientious. She did her role. She might not have been in a uniform, but she was doing her job.

End of the war celebrations

When the war ended, I was out of the army because Jim had come home from New Guinea. We'd got married and I'd fallen pregnant early in the marriage. And Jim ... that's right, they were sent home from camp to come home to go to Sydney to celebrate and he came home and he's telling me that there was a celebration regarding Sydney so I said I'd like to go in. And we went in and you could hear the crowd even before you got up the steps at Town Hall you could hear the crowd up in George Street. And that to me was a disappointment because I couldn't join in the celebrations.

They were jumping around and jumping up and down and dancing and I just couldn't do that. And that to me, that would have been the biggest disappointment of the whole war for me. That I couldn't join in those celebrations with them all going crazy, you know so. So that was a very happy day for everybody, but I can still see the crowds in Sydney. The noise of the crowds in Sydney and the bunting flying, coming down from the high buildings, all throwing paper out, and that was a wonderful sight. It was a good thing over.

Opinion on Hiroshima bombing

I know, they had to end the war but no, you can't help but feel sorry for those people, the people that got that bomb. No. No, I wish there had been some other way. No, that must have been awful.

Anzac Day

We never missed an Anzac Day and I think that's why I feel like I do about the army because I remember when I was little I used to stand and watch them coming down the road and I'd look at all the soldiers' faces and I'd think "Oh, brave, brave men".

They went to the war, you know. The war to me was something really, really bad and I thought they were so brave to go to the war. That's why it's been embedded in us, you know.

We've never missed an Anzac Day.

Last updated:

Cite this page

DVA (Department of Veterans' Affairs) ( ), Phyl Ahearn's story, DVA Anzac Portal, accessed 8 December 2023,
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